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A Formal Comparison of Euripides Medea and Senecas Medea Essay


Euripides Medea and Senecas Medea are the two surviving ancient tragedies of Medea. Both versions are drastically different and contrast in several aspects. Euripides portrays Medea as more human. She is the epitome of the oppressed housewife and only after her suffering is she capable of the crimes she committed. Senecas Medea is even more vengeful than Euripides and she is angry from the very beginning. Senecas version also portrays Medea as a vengeful sorceress whereas in Euripides version, though she is known to be a witch and have remarkable skill in poisons and potions, that aspect is not as crucial and significant as in Senecas Medea. The two poets offer contrasting depictions and characterizations of Medea, the most prominent of which are the depiction of Medea herself and the Chorus actions towards her.

Euripides created a Greek tragedy in which a devoted wife is wronged by her husband and so, in an act of revenge, murders his new bride, his father-in-law, and, unthinkably, her own two children. The story begins with the Nurse detailing the events up to the present time. Medea herself is not present at the beginning, which allows her time to consider what she will do and contemplate her actions. Medeas transition from the background to the central character is executed very smoothly. She is first heard moaning in the background that she is wretched (53) and a hateful mother (54). She even asks to die, and so find rest, leaving behind this loathsome life (54). However, she comes forward, very composed, to address the Chorus, which shows that, though she is driven by her emotions and does not always have complete control over them, she does have the cunning to mask them when she needs. In Euripides play, Medeas cunning is even more prominent because of the improvisation of her plan. In the beginning, she is sure that she wants to exact revenge but the plan itself comes together as the story progresses. The nurse takes notice of Medeas troubled heart, savage temperament, stubborn will, and unforgiving nature (53) and worries and hints that Medea may try to harm the children because she hates her children and takes no pleasure in seeing them (52) and glares at them like a bull, as if she wanted to do something awful (53). However, no one in the play except the Nurse thinks for a second that Medea could bring herself to murder her children. Medea even has an internal debate over whether she could bring herself to commit such a crime, showing once again that she is not completely in control of her emotions. In the end, she decides to go through with it rather than leave them to the mockery of my enemies (78). In the end, Medea appears in the sky in a chariot drawn by dragons (84). She has already killed the boys and she attributes their death to Jasons weakness (86) and his lustful heart and new marriage (86). The play ends with Medea disappearing from view with the children.

Senecas portrayal of Medea is exceptionally different. Medeas story up to the present time is told from her own mouth, not that of the Nurse. The play opens with Medea praying to the gods to give [her] control (45) so that she may carry out her vengeance. Her rage and fury are present from the start. She tells herself to bare your rage for fighting, and prepare yourself to kill, work to a frenzy (46). She admits that she hopes men willpair [her] divorce with [her] wedding in well-matched rivalry (46). Senecas Medea is more in control than Euripides Medea. Euripides Medea is very emotional and pitiful in opening of the play whereas Senecas is composed throughout the play. Euripidess Medeas plan is improvised as the play progresses and, in contrast, Senecas Medea is sure of her plan from the start, fully aware of what she is going to do. Seneca also presents Medea as more of a sorceress than Euripides does. In Senecas play, Medea performs a ritual in which she prepares the fatal gifts to be given to Creusa, causing her death as well as that of Creon. The Nurse acknowledges that Medea plunged into her inner sanctum where she compounds death, opening every vial and cabinet, taking ingredients that even she had always feared (82). She, Medea, charms snakes and evokes everything snakelike, employs Saharan sand and Arctic ice, prays before sacred fire. She calls upon Hecate as well as silent hordes and gods of death (85) to witness her ritual. She even slashes her arms with a sacrificial knife, and lets her blood drip on the altar (87) to complete her ritual. In Euripides play Medeas sorcery is not as prominent. Medea promises to use her sorcery to grand Aegeus fertility and no more is mentioned of her powers. In the end, Medea kills her children, not only to punish Jason, but to sever her ties with the human world and reclaim her virginity. She kills the first child inside the house, but climbs to the rooftop with the second as Jason appears with his mob of Corinthians. She kills the second child in front of Jason, telling him that it is her sole, inevitable way of going into exile (97). She then gives Jason the bodies of the boys and departs in winged course upon the breath of winds (97). Jason then remarks that wherever she goes, she will prove the nonexistence of the gods (97).

Euripides presents Medea as more human; she is a typical woman in the ancient Greek period. In that aspect, the Chorus is able to relate to her. She, like the ladies of the Chorus, is bound to love one partner and look no further (57). She asks for their silence should she devise some ways and means of making [Jason] pay for this suffering of mine (57) and they oblige because they can empathize with her. They also have sympathy for her because of how Jason wronged her. They believe Jason is a wretched man (76) it is just (57) that Medea take revenge upon [her] husband (57) and that Jason has betrayed [Medea] and are behaving unjustly (65). The Chorus, while ignorant to Medeas full plan, believes that Medea will actually improve the female status. They believe that stories will change [their name] from foul to fair (61) and recompense is coming for the female sex. No more shall we women endure the burden of ill-repute (61). However, when they become aware of Medeas full plan, they are horrified at her plan and wonder if she will have the heart for that (72). They beg her do not this thing (72) citing that no woman would then know greater misery (72). They suddenly see Medea as a wretched, accursed woman (83) and pray to the gods to restrain her, hold her back, [and] drive her from the house. (83). However, they can do nothing to stop her because they are bound by their oath of silence, which they made because they had sympathy for Medea. It was only after her true plan was revealed did they see her as she was.

Senecas Medea presents a much more objective Chorus. They are not at all sympathetic towards Medea and they dont patronize her as Euripides Chorus does. Senecas Chorus celebrates the wedding of Jason and Creusa, calling it a wedding of kings (46) and they leave laughing and mocking Medea (48). They understand Medeas wrath because they are aware that no force of flamethreatens greater danger than a wife deprived of her husbands affection (76). Euripides Medea attests to this herself, saying that women are quite helpless in doing good, surpass any master craftsman in doing evil (61) and wrong a woman in love and nothing on earth has a heart more murderous (57). Euripides Chorus remains blind to this fact because of their sympathy for Medea. Senecas Chorus prays that the gods spare Jason [because] he had no choice (81) but to marry Creusa for the betterment of his sons. They consider Medea to be a heathen Colchian (89). They assert that she does not know how to rein in love or anger (89). Senecas Chorus is quite the contrast to that of Euripides. Euripides Chorus sides with Medea, yet Senecas not only disagrees with her, but is hostile towards Medea, viewing her as a savage and barbaric foreigner.

Both versions of Medea are as different as night and day. Euripides Medea gives a voice to the female sex, which was unheard of at the time, by portraying her as a character that has been greatly wronged and deserves justice. Euripides acknowledges the existence of the gods in his play as forces to be revered. Medea calls upon them for many reasons throughout the play, including death and salvation. Senecas Medea portrays Medea as a strong character, a force to be reckoned with. Senecas Medea can do what she wants, with or without the help or blessings of the gods. However, one there is one common element in the two plays: Medeas anger. In both plays, Medeas rage drives her to commit crimes almost unthinkable, proving to all that love and passion can drive anyone to do the unthinkable.

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