Medea, Euripides, Feminism, Misogyny


Medea, the alleged epitome of sophistication, does not deserve her title of the flawless feminist icon as she is praised to be. For context, Euripides’ Medea, first performed in 431 BC, portrays a young sorceress whose abusive husband abandons her for another woman and who takes revenge by murdering her own children to spite him. Throughout the tragedy, Medea speaks out on gender inequality, and by definition, such uncommon and advanced statements can be described by the modern term of feminism as the “belief in and advocacy of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes” (Merriam-Webster). Especially in regards to modern feminism, most articles concerned with Medea’s character fail to consider a middle ground in their discussions, and rather choose either liberal or conservative extreme positions. Since she is only ever viewed as either pitch-black or snow-white – an insane murderess or an innocent angel – my article will take on a more objective assessment and explore grey areas in her character. Therefore, my discussion will involve the consistency of Medea’s morals and actions, the extent of the influence patriarchal values have on her crimes, and an analysis of the quality of Medea’s persona. Despite Euripides’ seemingly transgressive and sophisticated message of Medea breaking free from masculine emotional abuse, she is not a strong character but rather static due to her ongoing obsession over her husband and physical escapism.

Several other papers I have found in my research process either contrast the aim of my own article or resemble it but lack the depth necessary to truly discuss Medea’s complex character. Like most articles concerned with feminism portrayed in Medea, Betine van Zyl Smit and Kyle Kim emphasize the innocence of Medea, the “icon of feminism” (van Zyl Smit 102), who suffers from misogynistic forces in her life that pressure her to commit her crimes. While the patriarchal oppression they repeatedly stress does have a great impact on Medea’s life, I definitely do not believe that a powerful witch who already has two people on her conscience way before the start of the tragedy is as helpless as the authors describe. As an attempt to debunk the conviction that Euripides himself was either a complete feminist or misogynist, Roderick T. Long’s article makes it clear that the tragedian’s works involving feminist characters tend to be misunderstood by both his contemporary audience and also modern-day critics. Since the author mainly focuses on another of Euripides’ tragedies but uses arguments equally applicable to Medea, I will take it upon myself to further expand his reasoning in regards to why Medea is neither an innocent saint nor the malicious sinner critics like Paul Salmond depict from a rather historical background. Even though Emily Cassello’s main argument evaluates this position in between these two extremes and is, therefore, exactly what I was searching for in an unbiased analysis of Medea’s character, some of her arguments conveniently leave out the tragedy’s protagonist’s hypocritical attitude toward women and accountability, which I want to illuminate further. Overall, these sources help me build the base of my article and allow me to investigate different interpretations of Medea’s personality and actions, thus leading to a more thorough characterization of the eponymous heroine.

Issue and Volume




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