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EURIPIDES was born at the island of Salamis, whither his parents had fled for refuge at the time of the Persian invasion. He died in 406 B.C., the same year as his senior Sophocles, just before the close of the Peloponnesian war. He lived the life of a student and studied philosophy, as a youth, under Anaxagoras; and, in later life, with Socrates. He is the latest of the Greek tragedians, both the most Attic and the most modern. He is saturated with the new skeptical spirit which was beginning to question old faiths, old traditions, and old customs.
His intellectual activity, his subtle speculations, his wide democratic sympathies give a special interest to his writings, though they have in the past often diverted attention from the high artistic value of his work. He has lately, in our own somewhat similar days, been restudied with new results. He abandoned the principle of the older tragedians, that all the interest and action should be concentrated in one character and theme, as in the Prometheus, Agamemnon, or Oedipus; and in many other respects he seems to break away from the canons of Greek tragic art. He is carried away by political feeling against Sparta or Argos; and he digresses into philosophical discussions. But the tenderness and pathos of his best work, the overmastering passion in which the rules of art are lost, the deep sympathy with every down-trodden or injured thing, give him a title to Aristotle's description-- "the most tragic of the poets."
He is said to have been deserted by his wife, with whom he was deeply in love. This, perhaps, explains the contrast between his frequent invective against women on the one hand, and, on the other, the marvellous beauty and strength of his female characters.
Medea was a devotee of the goddess Hecate, and one of the great sorceresses of the ancient world. She was the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchis, and the granddaughter of Helios, the sun god.
King Aeetes' most valuable possession was a golden ram's fleece. When Jason and the crew of the Argo arrived at Colchis seeking the Golden Fleece, Aeetes was unwilling to relinquish it and set Jason a series of seemingly impossible tasks as the price of obtaining it. Medea fell in love with Jason and agreed to use her magic to help him, in return for Jason's promise to marry her.
Jason fled in the Argo after obtaining the golden fleece, taking Medea and her younger brother, Absyrtis, with him. King Aeetes pursued them. In order to delay the pursuit, Medea killed her brother and cut his body into pieces, scattering the parts behind the ship. The pursuers had to stop and collect Absyrtis' dismembered body in order to give it proper burial, and so Jason, Medea and the Argonauts escaped.
After the Argo returned safely to Iolcus, Jason's home, Medea continued using her sorcery. She restored the youth of Jason's aged father, Aeson, by cutting his throat and filling his body with a magical potion. She then offered to do the same for Pelias the king of Iolcus who had usurped Aeson's throne. She tricked Pelias' daughters into killing him, but left the corpse without any youth-restoring potion.
After the murder of Pelias, Jason and Medea had to flee Iolcus; they settled next in Corinth. There Medea bore Jason two children before Jason forsook her in order to marry the daughter of Creon, the king of Corinth. Medea got revenge for Jason's desertion by killing the new bride with a poisoned robe and crown which burned the flesh from her body; King Creon died as well when he tried to embrace his dying daughter. Medea fled Corinth in a chariot, drawn by winged dragons, which belonged to her grandfather Helios. She took with her the bodies of her two children, whom she had murdered in order to give Jason further pain.
Medea then took refuge with Aegeus, the old king of Athens, having promised him that she would use her magic to enable him to have more children. She married Aegeus and bore him a son, Medus. But Aegeus had another son, Theseus. When Theseus returned to Athens, Medea tried to trick her husband into poisoning him. She was unsuccessful, and had to flee Athens, taking Medus with her. After leaving Athens, Medus became king of the country which was later called Media.
The story of Medea, as told by Thomas Bulfinch.
A summary and analysis of the play by Euripides
MEDEA CONTEMPLATING SLAYING HER CHILDREN
An original painting by Franz StuckThe Medea tells the story of the jealousy and revenge of a woman betrayed by her husband. She has left home and father for Jason's sake, and he, after she has borne him children, forsakes her, and betroths himself to Glauce, the daughter of Creon, ruler of Corinth. Creon orders her into banishment that her jealousy may not lead her to do her child some injury. In vain she begs not to be cast forth, and finally asks for but one day's delay. This Creon grants, to the undoing of him and his. Jason arrives and reproaches Medea with having provoked her sentence by her own violent temper. Had she had the sense to submit to sovereign power she would never have been thrust away by him. In reply she reminds her husband of what she had once done for him; how for him she had betrayed her father and her people; for his sake had caused Pelias, whom he feared, to be killed by his own daughters.