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Is Medea A Tragic Hero?

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Works of literature are often framed to portray clear distinctions between heroic figures and those who are the complete opposite of them. Typically, readers know early on which character is the one they should be rooting for and are invested in seeing that person prosper. Euripides’ Medea complicates this notion. Medea betrayed her family, killed a king and his daughter and murdered her own children. However, Medea is undeniably the tragic hero of the drama. Throughout the course of the drama, despite Medea’s wrong doings, the play is written in a manner that elicits fear and pity for Medea. For every immoral act Medea commits, justifications for her actions are provided and readers cannot help but to empathize with Medea while also feeling immense fear and pity for the situations she finds herself in. By consistently emphasizing the reasons why Medea commits the acts she commits, the author was successful in ensuring Medea’s turmoil would arouse pity and fear in readers and the audience from the start of the drama to the end.

Early on in the drama, readers learn of the tragedy that surrounds Medea’s life. Her nurse explains “Poor Medea, mournful and dishonored, shrieks at his broken oaths, the promise sealed with his right hand(the greatest pledge there is) – she calls the gods to witness just how well Jason has repaid her.” (25) Her husband Jason used her in his quest for the Golden Fleece. Medea betrayed her family and used her powers to aid him on his quest. In her mind, it was all worth it because she genuinely loved him and wanted to spend her life with him. Once Jason completed his quest, he and Medea settled in Corinth with their two children. However, Jason left Medea to marry the princess of Corinth and to further his political agenda. This betrayal sent Medea on a vengeful and heartbroken path and it is because of Jason’s actions that Medea turned to murder.

Jason’s betrayal was too much for Medea to accept and she was committed to making him pay for the ways he ruined her life. Through foreshadowing, we are given a glimpse into how far Medea was willing to go in order to enact her revenge onto Jason. To Medea’s children, the Nurse exclaimed “Dear Children, your mother has stirred up her heart, she has stirred up her rage. Hurry up Now and get yourselves inside the house – but don’t get too close to her, don’t let her see you: her ways are too wild, her nature is hateful, her mind is too willful.” (110) The Nurse foreshadowed how Medea on her own quest to get back at Jason, would drag her own children into her plot. Medea doesn’t only kill her ex-husband’s wife and father-in-law, she also murdered her own children, all in an attempt to make Jason feel her full wrath. Despite this foresight, the nurse and other’s continued to sympathize with Medea because they also believed that her situation was indeed a tragedy.

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It seems almost inevitable that Medea would continue to engage in immoral behavior, such as murder, as she planed her revenge on Jason. The use of dramatic irony in the play makes it clear to the audience that Medea would resort to whatever is needed to successfully achieve revenge. Other character’s in the drama were also made aware of this. While Jason remained unaware of Medea’s plot, the Chorus, who served as the audience in the play, were aware of Medea’s plan from the beginning. Despite having full knowledge of what was to come, the chorus continued to empathize with her. In one scene, the chorus remarked “Ill do as you ask. You’re justified, Medea, in paying your husband back. I’m not surprised you grieve at your misfortunes” (270) and in describing the Medea’s situation, they expressed “The streams of the holy rivers are flowing backward. Everything runs in reverse – justice is upside down.” (420) The chorus knew how desperate Medea was to seek revenge. However, they viewed Medea’s situation as a tragedy and felt she was facing a grave injustice. They didn’t intervene to stop her from committing a quadruple homicide because it many ways they believed her actions were the only ways that she will receive justice.

Medea committed murder in order to make Jason pay for what he done to her. Even though she committed heinous crimes, she continued to get away with them. After murdering her sons, she expressed to Jason “But you will never touch us with your hand. My father’s father, Helios, gives me safety from hostile hands. This chariot protects me.” (1365) Not only does Medea have a safe place to escape to, a golden chariot comes down to carry her away. It is very clear to the readers that the drama is not only set up to elicit pity for Medea, but to also showcase the ways that her actions are consistently deemed justifiable. This is not only made clear to the readers; it is also made clear to the chorus as well. In the last lines of the play, The chorus remarks “Zeus on Olympus enforces all things; the gods can accomplish what no one would hope for. What we expect may not happen at all, while the gods find a way, against all expectation, to do what they want, however surprising. And that is exactly how this case turned out.” (1465) It would appear that the chorus believed the actions that have transpired were the will of the Gods and although Medea’s behavior was immoral, there was justification to them. From the beginning of the play, Medea was facing overwhelming heartbreak and pain and it was through her vengeful plot that she could address the tragedy she was faced with.

Medea is a play about how far women are willing to go to seek revenge. Medea risked everything for her husband and he easily betrayed her without giving it a second thought. This betrayal led Medea onto a bloody path in which she murdered four people, including her sons. Under normal circumstances, Medea would not be deemed a tragic hero because of the fact that she committed murder. However, this drama conveyed a tale in which readers learn first-hand the reasons behind each murder and are forced to have pity for her because we know of how much she had suffered and lost. Medea is certainly a tragic hero, a flawed individual with a conscious who engaged in complicated behaviors, all in an attempt to right the wrongs that were done to her.

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Is Medea A Tragic Hero? (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
“Is Medea A Tragic Hero?” Edubirdie, 09 Jun. 2022,
Is Medea A Tragic Hero? [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 22 Sept. 2023].
Is Medea A Tragic Hero? [Internet] Edubirdie. 2022 Jun 09 [cited 2023 Sept 22]. Available from:
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