Study Guide

Jason: Later Adventures and Death Medea

Medea

How do you solve a problem like Medea? Is she a terrible villainess, or a misunderstood heroine?

Jason would be nothing without her. If it weren't for Medea, he never would've been able to complete the quest for the Golden Fleece. She doesn't even seem to get mad that Jason gets all the credit, even though she's just as big of a hero as he is. It seems like Medea really does love Jason with all her heart. Buuuut... she's also kind of a serial killer. And not always the good kind of serial killer that only kills other serial killers.

Over the course of Medea's life, she chops up her own brother, tricks Pelias's daughters into bleeding him to death, melts the skin off of the king of Corinth and his daughter, and even kills her own children. Later on, she also tries to poison Theseus, another famous Greek hero. Is Jason really that awful for wanting to marry someone else? Someone who maybe isn't a murderer?

On the other hand, is Medea really that different from a lot of Greece's famous male heroes? Pretty much every single one slaughtered tons of people. A lot of times these killings were for flimsier reasons than Medea's. She killed her brother to save Jason and the Argonauts and assassinated Pelias only after he broke his oath to return the throne to Jason if the hero returned with the Golden Fleece. Ancient Greek society was really sexist, so it's possible that the character of Medea is shown in an evil light because men were intimidated by the idea of a woman with any real power.

We're guessing most people would agree that Medea crosses a line when she kills her sons to get revenge on Jason, but Heracles is famous for killing his own children as well. Why isn't he ever thought of as a villain? Usually, Heracles is excused for this because Hera drove him mad, but you could also say that Medea was driven just as crazy by Jason's betrayal. Could it be that the myths are making excuses for Heracles because he's a man?

In recent years, Medea has become a symbol of feminine revolt, and she is sometimes seen as a lady living in a man's world, just doing her best to survive. Some see her violent methods as an answer to the violent and oppressive world she lived in. What do you think? Is Medea bad or good... or both? Does she get shown in an evil light because she's a woman, or does she deserve her bad reputation?

For more Shmoop coverage of Medea, check out Medea, the tragedy by Euripides, Jason: The Quest for the Golden Fleece, and Theseus: Birth and Early Adventures.

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