How does Medea defy Ancient Athenian expectations of tragedy and its presentation of women?
In Medea, the protagonist of the same name is cast aside by her husband, the hero Jason, for another woman. In the play, Medea has no say in any of her husband’s actions, as she is a woman in a male-dominated Greece, and she is a foreigner in the kingdom Corinth. Medea is a horribly flawed character and Euripides, with this play, revolutionized Revenge Tragedies by allowing Medea getaway with her murderous acts without any repercussions. Medea criticizes the male-dominated society at the time, with a radical anti-heroine protagonist who is sympathised by the audience. Medea’s pursuit of revenge is shown throughout the play, and Medea is a testimony of the outcomes of a person’s desire for revenge. Euripedes often criticised the oppression of the role of women. This leads me to the question: how does Medea defy Ancient Athenian expectation of tragedy and its presentation of women?
In ancient Greece, women had little to no rights compared to their male counterparts. They were unable to vote, to own land or to inherit it. Women’s purpose was to stay at home and bear children. Although in Greek Mythology, some major gods are women, revered for their intelligence, honour, and female fertility in agriculture. However, in the male-dominated literature, women are portrayed as problematic, and their role is to derail the plans of the male heroes. In Greek literature, women are often portrayed either as being ruled by passion and wild emotions, such as Medea, or completely submissive and loyal to their husband, like Penelope in Homer’s Odyssey. Greek tragedies in literature were used didactically, as a way to teach the audience a valuable moral lesson, and they also reflected the Athenian life, attitudes and values. The plots were drawn from existing myths. With Medea, Euripedes challenged the expectations of a tragedy as his story was not focused on the protagonist of the already existing myth of Jason and the Argonauts. Instead, it is focused on the point of view and narrative of Medea, previously a side character. And its didactic nature is more implicit than other Athenian Tragedies at the time, as the play shows how the protagonist commits the worst crimes possible: familicide, the murder of one’s family. And, even more surprisingly, gets away with it, saved by Helios’ chariot. Euripedes also defies the Ancient Athenian expectations
In Greek tragedies, the action is centred around the protagonist, a tragic hero. A tragic hero is a noble and great man; however, he is also a man of misfortune, because of a tragic flaw (hamartia), that leads them to violate moral codes and break the natural law, an error in judgement that is not realized until it is too late (hubris). The tragic hero experiences a reversal of fate (a peripeteia). The tragic hero also experiences a punishment from the gods he angered or disrespected (nemesis). And leading to the resolution of the play the tragic hero recognizes their true identity and the true nature of their situation. Throughout all of this, the audience feels pity for the fallen hero (catharsis).
Euripedes defies the set elements of a Tragedy in his play Medea, as the protagonist defies the role of women in plays, and defies the archetypal hero in previous Athenian plays at the time. Medea is neither a man nor a righteous person. She follows the archetypal attributes of a tragic hero: noble birth, supernatural capabilities, the reputation of being an unmatched warrior and a vast traveller; as she is the demi-god princess of Colchis, a barbarian land at the edge of the Greek world, she is a great sorceress who helped Jason complete his task of retrieving the Golden Fleece, and travelled with him to Iolcus and finally to Corinth. However. Medea is not a tragic heroine because Medea’s hubris was not an error, it was planned with the sole purpose and motivation of revenge. Medea challenges Ancient Athenian expectations of a tragedy.