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Julian Meynell's Books

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Euripides' Medea

Medea - Euripides, Rex Warner

Famous as the greatest of Euripidea plays (I have read three and I don't think it is), its certainly a striking masterpiece.  The story is set after Jason has returned with the Golden Fleece and with Medea as his bride.  He abandons her and her children to make a new marriage, and the story concerns Medea's revenge.

The phrase "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned" was made for this play.  Albeit that Medea is revealed as more God than woman at the end of the play and we can never forget that she is a witch ( a supernatural being).  The language is bombastic and effective.  There have apparently been feminist interpretations of this play, but I do not know where this comes from.  Apparently, Euripides was thought of as a bit of a misogynist by the ancient Greeks, which definitely means that he was a misogynist, but I would not really see the book as a comment primarily about women or anything like that.  It is a fascinating look at evil.  Jason comes off as a bit of a putz which is a surprising characterization.  Medea herself is the fascinating part of the play.  She is clearly wronged.  She sucks many of the other characters and the audience into sympathizing with her as well as the audience.  Most fascinatingly she even sucks in the chorus and makes them sort of defacto guilty through inaction.  That is really interesting.  In its moral aspects it is a play about manipulation where a character manipulates others into sympathizing with them while doing horrendous things which are described very graphically.  In fact, it is some of the best description of graphic violence that I have read.  It is also a condemnation of unfettered revenge, which to the Greeks was not a platitude, as they could be very much about that, both in their art, their lives and most of all their politics.

Its also an interesting take on the important Greek theme of reason versus the passions.  These are contrasted in the usual Greek way, and while reason is seen as superior ethically, passion is seen as more powerful and effective.

It is also, as in the other two Euripides plays I have read a critique of the Gods.  It would be tempting to see it as Atheism, but I'm not sure that it is.  Instead, I think it is more an essay on the fact that the Gods are not pure goodness, but can do evil things as well.  From a philosophical point of view it rejects the idea that the universe is fundamentally just.

Its a very good work.  Well worth reading.  Challenging and complex, but despite all that I like The Phoenician Women and the Bacchae better.