In Euripides Medea, the protagonist abandoned the gender roles of ancient Greek society. Medea defied perceptions of gender by exhibiting both “male” and “female” tendencies. She was able to detach herself from her “womanly” emotions at times and perform acts that society did not see women capable of doing. However, Medea did not fully abandon her role as a woman and did express many female emotions throughout the play.
In ancient Greek society, murder was not commonly associated with women. Throughout the play, however, Medea committed several acts of murder.
We learn that Medea has killed her brother. Medea does not have any guilt about planning and carrying out the murders of king Creon and his daughter Glauke. As the play develops, the reader realizes that Medea plans to commit infanticide.
I shall murder my children, these children of mine if die they must, I shall slay them, who gave them birth.(Euripides 207-213)
This contradicts societys view that women are the givers of life and that men take it away. It is especially unacceptable because she is the children’s mother. To kill a member of your family was frowned upon in ancient Greece, as it is today.[Chorus] Think. You are stabbing your children. Think By your knees we entreat you, by all the world holds sacred, do not murder your children. (Euripides 208)
Medea displays extreme pride, which is stereotyped as a “male” characteristic. She is willing to sacrifice everything, including her children, to restore her reputation. It is a common belief that a woman’s weakness is her children, but this is not the case with Medea. Her sense of pride prevails over her maternal instincts.
Good-bye to my former plans I cannot do it. And yet what is the matter with me? Do I want to make myself a laughingstock by letting my enemies off scot-free? I must go through with itI do realize how terrible is the crime I am about , but passion overrules my resolutions Its worth the grief You could not hope, nor your princess either, to scorn my love, make a fool of me and live happily ever after. (Euripides 212-219)
Medea seeks vengeance with the same forceful determination to rectify the situation as a man would. A woman seeking revenge challenges societys view of women as weak and passive. Medea will go to great lengths to hurt Jason for the wrongs he has done to her.
[Chorus]You will slaughter them to avenge the dishonor of your bed betrayed[Medea]O children, your fathers sins have caused your death(Euripides 211-219)
Medea dwells in self-pity until contriving a scheme that will avenge her hurt. Wallowing in self contempt is generally a quality attributed to women by society. Medea is so unhappy with herself after her marriage with Jason ended that she wanted to die.
Oh! My grief! The misery of it all! Why can I not die?O misery! The things I have suffered!Oh! Would a flaming bolt from Heaven might pierce my brain! What is the good of living any longer? O misery! Let me give up this life I find so hateful. Let me seek lodging in the house of death It’s all over my friends; I would gladly die. Life has lost its savor Ah! Double destruction is my unhappy lot! The troubles are mine, I have no lack of troubles.(Euripides 192-197)
Medea also experiences the “female” emotion of jealousy. Medea is jealous of Glauke, the daughter of Creon. Jason has left Medea for Glauke, who is younger, royalty and accepted by society.
Your foreign wife was passing into an old age that did you little credit As you loiter outside here you are burning with longing for the girl who has just been made your wife(Euripides 202-203)
The common opinion among society is that women tend to use deceit and trickery to achieve their goals. Medea is no exception. Medea persuades Creon to allow her to stay one more day in Corinth on the pretense of preparing for exile, while in actuality Medea was planning the murders of her enemies and children.
Do you think I would have ever wheedled the king just now except to further my own plans? I would not even have spoken to him, nor touched him either He has allowed me this one day, in which I will make corpses of my enemies.(Euripides 198)
Medea defied society’s stereotypes of male and female characters. Throughout Euripides Medea the protagonist showed extreme emotions of both sexes. At times she was the ultimate woman, and others the ultimate man.