Euripides and Seneca’s Version of Medea

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Updated: Aug 12, 2019
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“Compare and Contrast Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman World Using Euripides and Seneca’s Version of Medea” Romans had a tendency to adopt Greek Mythology and other stories and claim them as their own.  A great example of this is the play Medea, written by the Greek playwright, Euripides.  Did Seneca, the Roman playwright, edit Medea to please Roman culture? Why do the characters differ so much from the two versions and could it be because of their different societies and roles within? The greeks were thoughtful and that shows in Euripides, Medea but the Romans were brutal and it is clear to see that in the Seneca’s context.

Euripides was well known for changing traditional Greek tragedies by introducing characters that were thought less of or never even thought about. He made the female and slave characters strong, intelligent and sometimes independent. He also used a plot device called Deus Ex Machina to resolve his plays. He always looked to the Gods for answers. His characters were realistic in the emotions they portrayed. Euripides, style of writing did not get him the recognition he deserved during his time. (ANCIENT GREECE – EURIPIDES.)

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Seneca was a Roman Philosopher and was well known for being brutal and detailed in the way he wrote the scenes. Some would even say it was horrific to watch with all the amount of violence it portrayed. It was clear in his writing that he was fascinated with death and elements that were not earthbound like magic. Seneca’s work and style mainly focused on the teaching of Stoic Philosophy. (ANCIENT ROME – SENECA THE YOUNGER.) He relied on his own inelegance to resolve his problems and that questioned in whether he believed in the Gods.

Euripides version of Medea begins with the Nurse talking to the Gods and pleading for them to help her mistress, Medea, who has been wronged by her husband, Jason. She calls them to witness the evil that he has put his family through. When Medea is introduced her first line is she cannot bear the pain any longer and would rather die. She literally wishes for death. The version written by Seneca begins differently. Medea is pleading for herself. She calls on different Gods and Goddess to help get vengeance on her husband, Jason, who is about to be wed to King Creon’s daughter.

This was not in Euripides script. Jason and Creon’s daughter were already married and Medea did not have to witness it. Similar to all other Greek plays nothing violent happens on stage. It is heard through a messenger. So when Medea kills her children that is not staged but in the Roman version where they like brutality, it is seen that Medea murders one of her children in front of Jason. This would not have been acceptable during ancient Greek time. The endings of both scripts are similar in that Medea leaves with her dead children and Jason is left alone to think about the pain he caused her and the murders she committed because he was unfaithful to their marriage bed.

The characters differ from both stories even though the plot remains the same. In one version the Character is seen as noble and in the other version he is seen as pure evil. The difference in characters has to do with the different societies and they way they lived. That is the reason for the adaptation of the original script.  If left unchanged the Roman people would not have agreed with it because of the way it portrays certain characters.

“[Medea:] I complain vainly, and cry aloud with useless words, why do I not attack mine enemies?” (Seneca Script)  This specific line could have been written for two reasons. The first is to show that Euripides character Medea is weak and small minded. Seneca’s character Medea is strong and takes responsibility for her actions. The second reason is she does not need help from the Gods. This again questions whether he believes in the Gods. Medea in Euripides version calls on the Gods to help her punish Jason who has broken his promises to her. Even though she is a witch Euripides felt that she needed the guidance of the Gods and because they watch over the mortal men they should have all the answer they seek.

Jason in Euripides Version is evil. He intentionally got close to Creon’s daughter to gain political affiliations. He then leaves his family behind to create a better life for himself. He blames Medea for all the trouble she is causing him. He says he wants to help her but he never really shows it. “[Jason:] What mortals need is some other way to get our children. We ought to have no female sex and then men would be rid of all their troubles.”(EURIPIDES MEDEA.)  Jason is selfish and is only looking after himself even after everything Medea has done for him. He doesn’t acknowledge all the help she has given him. He thinks little of her and that is where he was wrong.

He tries to manipulate her into thinking he is doing this for the family to better their futures but Medea is smart and she twists his words around and ends up manipulating and playing him. Women do not get enough credit and it has to do with the little or no education they received. Jason really thought he could outwit her but was very wrong in the end and therefore pays for his actions. In Seneca’s version of Medea, Jason is seen as a noble Roman.

You could even say that his actions were heroic. “[Creon:] Verily I had thought to cut her off with the swift sword, but Jason[‘]s prayers availed to spare her life.”(Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.)  He in this script did actually care for her. He begged Creon to spare her life and they compromised on banishment. He also agrees to marry Creon’s daughter to prevent a war from raging on. In Medea’s eyes, this noble Jason is seen as a coward.

“[Medea:] Does Jason fear the king? Thessalian war? True love fears nothing. He was forced to yield,  unwillingly he gave his hand. But still he might have sought his wife for one farewell. This too he feared to do. He might have gained from Creon some delay of banishment.” (Seneca, Lucius Annaeus.)

Medea is clearly upset but not just with Jason or Creon she is upset with the gods. How could they allow this to happen?  This is the reason she takes matters into her own hands and does not just cry out for help like a damsel in distress. She takes responsibility for all her actions and therefore makes her the superior Medea between the two.

The Chorus in both scripts are also very different. One feels terrible for the injustice Medea has to live through. They praise her and tell her they are on her side except in the events when she wants to murder her children. The other is afraid of her and does not praise any of her actions. Medea is a strong and independent and wants to prove that to everyone and a great way that Seneca shows this is the chorus does not justify her actions.

Medea can do that all on her own. The chorus of Euripides treats Medea as if she’s a fragile, hopeless, woman who needs a shoulder to cry on. Seneca’s chorus is nothing like that. In fact, the rolls are reversed and the Chorus infuriates Madea more and that just adds to the list of people who undermines her ability. 

“[Medea:] But if the marriage doesn’t work, then death is much to be preferred.” (EURIPIDES MEDEA)  This is what is taught to the Greek women.  Women were seen merely as property and nothing more. Women’s Roles in ancient Greece were appalling. In mythology, they were portrayed as the lowest rank in the social hierarchy. They were written as deceitful, manipulative human beings who wanted to overthrow men and wanted to run the world. Playwrights wrote this to be a lesson to keep the women in the household and not to be affiliated with any kind of political matter.

If women were there would be disastrous consequences.(Meehan, Dessa)  Which is why ancient Greece was a male patriarchy. They were afraid that these myths could come true if women had any type of say. Therefore, women were not considered citizens. They ranked lower than the slaves and were not permitted to leave their homes. The men were allowed to get an education. They received an excellent education that taught them reading, writing, and mathematics and for those who were wealthy they could continue their education and learn about philosophy and public speaking. The women, however, hardly got an education. They were taught manners by a house tutor. They learned how to live a domestic life and how to make their male husband’s life easier.  (Athens vs. Sparta)

Women’s Roles in ancient Rome were different because they were seen as human beings and were granted citizenship but they were not entirely free because they were forced to obey their father or whatever man who was considered the head of the household. These women were praised for their modesty but most importantly they were known to be faithful. They were supposed to be devoted to one man only for the rest of their lives.

The character Medea had these qualities but she also had rage and that’s what overwhelmed and then consumed her. That caused Medea to curse the Gods because Roman women were taught to be faithful to one man and this is how he repaid her. She was angry and was blinded with vengeance. Another very important part of Ancient Roman life was religion, especially death. Which is why Medea gave Jason the dead children, unlike Euripides Medea who keeps their children and flies away with their dead bodies.

In ancient Rome, there was a tradition to leave a coin or two on the dead body so the ferryman could collect it and take their body to the underworld. (Culture in the Ancient Roman Republic)  Ancient Rome was very barbaric with their Gladiatorial games. This helped style the playwrights writing. Which is why Seneca’s version has a lot of graphic detail. They loved spectacles. The Greeks did not. They preferred literary stories that hardly had bloodshed but, that’s what the Romans lived for.  Therefore, their plays involve a lot of bloodshed to appease the Roman people.


In conclusion, as a reader, it’s easy to see the similarities and differences in the two versions of Medea.  It is the same story just told two different ways based on the time period and the playwright and through the script, we gain an insight into how they lived and what were their customs were. Thus, answers the question of why did Seneca, the Roman playwright, edit Medea?  It was to appease the ancient Roman People and change it to fit their culture and lifestyle.

Euripides and Seneca’s Version of Medea essay

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Euripides and Seneca's Version of Medea. (2019, Aug 12). Retrieved from