Euripides' Medea - Exposing the True Nature of Mankind

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Euripides' Medea - Exposing the True Nature of Mankind “Euripides is not asking us [the audience] to sympathise with Medea…” This famous quote delivered by HDF Kitto from Greek Tragedy (p. 197), is a powerful and controversial statement. Medea audiences from around the world have expressed both similar and contrary opinions, and raised further enigmas regarding the subject. This essay will explore this statement as well as relating topics from different perspectives, and finally conclude with the author’s perception. First of all, when attempting to determine the message that the playwright is trying to convey through his drama, one must take into account the role and importance, which the tragic hero plays in the drama, as this is a direct indication of the playwright’s attitude. According to Aristotle1, “the tragic hero evokes our pity and terror if he is neither thoroughly good nor thoroughly evil, but possesses an equilibrium of both qualities. The tragic hero suffers a change in fortune from happiness to misery because of a mistaken act, which he performs due to his ‘hamartia’ – error of judgment. The tragic hero evokes our pity because he is not thoroughly evil and his misfortune is greater than he deserves, and he evokes our fear because we realize we are fallible and could make the same error.” An example of this ‘hamartia’ is excessive pride, also known as the ‘hubris’, which overwhelms the tragic hero’s conscience, hence leading him to violate or ignore a divine warning or moral law. There are reasons to both believe and deny that Medea fits Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero, or ‘heroine’. Medea was a victim of her own emotions in a very difficult situation, and her surroundings/society only deteriorated that situation. One could also argue that it was her society, which put her in such a circumstance in the first place. The Greeks should be held very much responsible for Medea’s excesses. “A good legal system will eliminate the need for vengeance.” 2 And as we know, The Greek judicial system did not do this. Euripides presents Medea’s sacrifices for Jason in such a way that the audience can see that she truly did love Jason in how she gave up everything for him. We understand her fury with Jason when she says, “… and in return for this you have the wickedness to turn me out, to get yourself another wife, even after I had borne you s... ... middle of paper ... ...ble? “He knew well that humanity is not an easy thing to define. In Medea he pushed the boundaries of human behavior so far that we question the very being of humanity.” 16 What could Euripides’s purpose for writing Medea be then? Perhaps to explain the true nature of mankind, that ‘such things are’ and to unveil the problems in the world he lived in. Medea makes for a timeless classic; she is the symbol of abused and excessive humanity, of abandonment and betrayal, of the slaughter of beauty and innocence, of what happens when nature is mistreated... And despite being written over two thousand years ago, we still see these themes repeat themselves in modern-day literature and every-day life. --------------------------------------------------------------------- 1 Aristotle’s definition of a tragic hero from an article relating to tragic playwrights. 2 Quote from a student in a discussion board on Euripides at gradesaver.com 3 Line 488-490 from Medea 4 Line 569-570 from Medea 5 Line 793 from Medea 6 Line 1323 from Medea 7 Extract from a study-guide on Medea at sparksnotes.com 8( See previous essay on Fate) 9 Line 804 from Medea 16 Quote from website about Euripides

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