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The Medea illustrates many characteristic features of Euripidean tragedy. The play begins with a prologue in which the central conflict of the tragedy is revealed to the audience. This prologue is not delivered by a god or by any member of the nobility, but by a nurse, a character of relatively humble status. Yet the story that the nurse relates contains many fantastic elements and supernatural details: For example, she speaks of the Symplegades (the Clashing Rocks that destroyed ships attempting to sail through them), the Golden Fleece, and Jason’s legendary ship, the Argo. Nevertheless, these mythological details will not be Euripides’ central concern in this play. The poet will devote far more attention to human psychology and ordinary emotions (jealousy, anger, and pride) than to the marvels of legend. Euripides’ answer to the central question of this tragedy—What could lead a mother to kill her own children?—will not be the Golden Fleece or even a tragic curse, but a combination of spurned love, the desperate plight of women and exiles, and the individual nature of this particular mother.

Euripides quickly shifts attention away from the wonders of the prologue to the troubles that exist in Medea’s marriage. For Medea, the predicament of a husband who intends to leave her is compounded by the low status of women in Greek society generally and by her further isolation as an exile. Medea speaks at length about the difficulties of women in ancient Greece (lines 231-251) and about the ill treatment accorded to foreigners (lines 252-258, 511-515). The audience observes that Medea has relatively few choices available to her. If Jason abandons her, Medea’s life will be little better than that of a slave.

Furthermore, in Medea’s debate with Jason (lines 465-519), the audience is reminded that Medea has...

(The entire page is 466 words.)

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