Feminism in Medea
Throughout history, the focus of media and literature was on “his”tory and rarely on “her”story. Majority of the protagonist in literature and popular media have been males. Nevertheless, not all works of literature focused on a male protagonist, for example in Euripides “Medea”, Medea was portrayed as a strong female protagonist with modern feminist characteristics, she can be rivaled to Odysseus from the great Greek Epic, “The Odyssey” by Homer in terms of the intelligence, a difference between the protagonists’ theme of revenge, and thus leads to discrepancies in the actions of these heroes because of their gender.
“Medea” is one of the earliest works of Athenian tragedies that would be categorized as modern feminism because it speaks to our age directly (Medea the Feminist). Throughout “Medea” she showed that she can be as strong as a man with her “most famous feminist statement in ancient literature” (Medea the Feminist). “I would rather face battle three times than go through childbirth” (Medea, line 245-256). This was an emphasis of gender roles, where men would go to war and women would be taking care of children or be used just for the essence and role of making children.
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War was glorified in order to win honor for the nation and for themselves as males, but in the point of view of Medea, war was nothing. It was not considered something of honor and males should not be considered heroes, but rather she asserts that a women’s life requires more courage than of their male counterparts do (Medea the Feminist) due to the pain of giving childbirth. Medea was also considered as a feminist because she was able to speak out her thoughts regardless of what others say. She speaks out of the inequality of men and women in during her time to the women of Corinth(Medea, Line 226-233).
In essence, she voices her opinion about disparity between men and women in Corinth: women have to sell themselves in order to just have “some men” that later will be a dictator over their body (Medea, line 230). She does not want to have a man to be a dictator over her body and pay the heavy dowry just to be married. She wants to in charge of her own body and be able to speak for herself with her own ideas.
Medea was able to do something that a lot of females were not able to do in fear of being ridiculed. She was able to speak of her own opinions and not fear of what others would say about her. Her speech to the women in Corinth was something that all Corinth women can relate to, she was able to speak of the inequality that was dealt with during that time like: why are men honorable and a hero because they went to war and won, instead females should be honorable and be considered a hero because they risk their life to give someone else a life through childbirth.
A similarity between Odysseus and Medea is in their intelligence. In particular, in one of the most famous scenes from “The Odyssey”, Odysseus was cunning towards the cyclops, Polyphemus. Amongst his long journey, Odysseus and his men are at sea and they become hungry and are in dire need of food. They find a treasure trove of food, thus leading them to stay in the cave and feast away. Until Polyphemus returns and starts to eat Odysseus’ men one by one out of anger.
Odysseus could not let this happen to his men, so he creates a plan and asks Polyphemus to try a sample of his wine from his ship. Soon enough, the cyclops becomes very drunk. The cyclops asks for Odysseus’s name and Odysseus replies that his name is Noman. Polyphemus then says that he will eat Noman last. As Polyphemus gets increasingly drunk, Odysseus pulls out a spear and stabs the cyclops’ only eye (The Odyssey, Book 9). Polyphemus says, “My friends! Noman is killing me by ticks, not force” (The Odyssey, Book 9).
Odysseus’ clever plan of telling Polyphemus that his name was Noman helped his crew of men to leave. If it was not for Odysseus’ quick thinking of a decisive plan of getting Polyphemus drunk and letting him think that his name is Noman, Odysseus would not be able to leave with the rest of his man. If it was not for the play on words for his name, the rest of the cyclops would come to surround Odysseus and his men. Just like Odysseus, Medea shows her intelligence through her actions. Creon, the king of Corinth, wants to exile Medea right away from the city.
Medea begs to stay for one more day (Masters of Manipulation, 325) by saying, “Just let me stay here for one more day so I can work out my plans for exile and make some arrangements for my sons […] show me some pity. You have children yourself […]”(Medea, line 337-340). Medea is able to use the element of pathos to manipulate the emotions of Creon in order to convince him to let her stay for one more day. She asks him to pity her as she would have nothing left after she leaves Corinth. She would have to start all over again and become a stranger at another city.
This led to Creon’s downfall because within that one day, Medea did not let her guard down and killed the princess and the king with her poison. Both protagonists were intelligent and cunning in their own ways. By being intelligent and making decisive plans; they are able to manipulate their enemy into believing them, which leads to both of their enemies’ downfall. To Medea, she needed one more day to plan out her revenge and with the time that Creon gave her, she was able to plan accordingly and arrange an escape route for a new home.
For Odysseus, he had to do what he knew best which was to be cunning and save his men from disappearing one by one. If it was not for the quick actions and manipulation of both protagonists, they would either die or be exiled. However, because Medea was a female, her actions were seen as evil and inappropriate. Since Odysseus was a male, his actions were justified, honored, and seen as heroic. Even though both protagonists were cunning and deceived someone else in order to get their way, Medea is criticized for wanting to kill Jason’s wife because she is a female and females are not supposed to be “dark”.
The women of Corinth said to the Nurse of Medea’s children, “If she would meet us […] she might let go of the rage in her heart, and soften her harsh temper.” (Medea, line 170-174). In other words, the women of Corinth perceive Medea’s course of action to kill her children as out of “rage”, even though her actions were justified. Medea follows this course of action in order to execute revenge against Jason for his wrongdoings of leaving and divorcing her, as well as to bring honor back to her name.
The women of Corinth see Medea following a course of evilness. On the other hand, Odysseus is seen as a hero by saving his own life and the life of his men because he was an important male leader. His purpose of killing the cyclops was to set his men and himself free in order to return home. By doing so, Odysseus is seen as a hero while Medea is seen as being destructive, even though she follows a similar course of action.
A difference between Odysseus and Medea is in their theme of revenge: Odysseus wants revenge for his honor and family, while Medea wants revenge for love and lust. Medea speaks of her plans of revenge to the women of Corinth while describing how she felt lonely and disowned by her husband, “So I have just one thing to ask of you: if some plan or scheme occurs to me by which I can get back at my husband and the king and his daughter, Jason’s new wife, say nothing” (Medea, line 251-259). Her plan arises from the pain and neglect she faced from Jason.
To her, love was everything and the only thing she had after she left her family. She is a foreigner from Colchis, so the only thing familiar to her ever since she immigrated to Corinth was Jason. However, Jason became so caught up with his prophecy of becoming a king of a land that he left Medea. Powered by the pain, she vow for vengeance. In order to hurt Jason for leaving her and breaking their vow of marriage, she decides to kill their sons as revenge. Medea says, “It is the surest way to wound my husband.” (Medea, line 801).
She wanted to kill her children as a way to hurt Jason because by killing the sons, Jason will have no one left that would love him and be by his side. In order to revenge for the pain and neglect she felt from Jason, the death of the children will hurt him the most because afterwards he would have nothing of his blood. Odysseus also seeks out revenge but his revenge has a different motive. After Odysseus reaches Ithaca, he meets Athena, who tells him everything that was happening with the suitors and his estate back home.
Odysseus becomes enraged and becomes determined to get revenge for what happened to his home. He says, “So, goddess, now weave me a strategy to pay them back. Stand by me, give me courage, and the drive to fight as when I broke the shining crown of Troy. If you will join me with that zeal and help me, goddess-queen, I could do battle against three hundred men at once.” (The Odyssey, Book 13, Line 385-391).
Odysseus wanted Athena to be by his side so that he can justify the killing of 300 men. He wanted justice for his wife and family because of everything the suitors did, from depleting their stock to decreasing his estate value. Odysseus makes a decisive plan with his son Telemachus to make a competition that no one can win except him: to be able to string his bow and arrow, then release it to go through several axe heads. He goes into the competition and strings his bow effortlessly and and releases his bow from his arrow through each axe head (The Odyssey, Book 22).
After completing the competition, Odysseus starts his revenge by killing Antinous first as an example of what is about to happen to everyone else. Odysseus says, “Dogs! So you thought I would not come back home from Troy? […] You did not fear the gods who live in heaven, and you thought no man would ever come to take revenge. Now you are trapped inside the snares of death.” (The Odyssey, Book 22, Line 35-40). Odysseus was fuming by what happened at his estate and he states everything he heard from Telemachus and Athena when he arrives back at Ithaca.
In essence, Odysseus said that everything the suitors did was a sin and they will be punished by death. The revenge was enacted in order to bring back honor to his name and his family because his suitors were taking over his land and his son Telemachus did not have enough power and authority to persuade the suitors to leave. The only way the suitors would leave the family alone was if Odysseus came back, but by the time Odysseus came back it was already too late. The suitors already took control of the majority of Odysseus’s estate and used up all of Odysseus’s resources. The only way to revenge for his honor was to kill all the suitors that ruined his estate and try to woe his wife while he was still alive.
For Odysseus, his revenge is justified because he is a male and since he is a male, this is what was expected of him. Odysseus reclaims his land, honor, and dignity through revenge. Medea reclaims her dignity and honor back as well, but because she is a female, her actions are deemed as unjustified and inappropriate. Dignity is of importance to men, but it is of importance to women too. To Medea, her dignity was on the line because Jason divorced her and married the princess in order to secure his spot as king.
However, by being a woman, Medea is depicted as being evil for killing the princess and Creon but to Medea, all she was doing was reclaiming her honor. This can be compared to how Odysseus reclaims his honor by plotting revenge against the suitors, which resulted in the death of all the suitors. No one criticized Odysseus’s actions of killing 300 suitors because it was deemed as appropriate and it was what Odysseus had to do to restore his dignity and to bring justice back to his estate and wife. It can be concluded that Medea’s course of actions to regain her honor and dignity may be regarded as appropriate and justified had she been a male, but because she was a female her actions were seen as unjustified and inappropriate.
In conclusion “Medea” by Euripides is a text of feminist work and is regarded as a proto feminist work during modern times because of the strong characterization that Euripides gave to Medea. Medea was a character fearless, intelligent, cunning, and calculating. These characteristics are what classify Medea as a work of Modern Feminism, for her to speak out about the unequal treatment when it comes to marriage between a male and female, intelligent and cunning in her way of creating a revenge for her love, and calculating in her way of being able to carefully think of a plan and execute it all in one day.
Without these characteristics of Medea she would just be a female that would just be a normal Corinth women being by the side of their husband and not care about what is really happening in reality. These characteristics of Medea can be compared to the great Greek Epic, “The Odyssey” by Homer because both protagonists are intelligent, but seek revenge for different reasons. With their skills of manipulation, they were able to complete their revenge for their honor. For Medea her skills of manipulation by lying to Creon that she just needed one day to prepare for her children’s future without her, lead her to a gateway of planning a plan and finishing it all in a course of one day.
She was able to kill the princess and Creon without leaving her house. For Odysseus he was able to manipulate the suitors that he was just somebody like them (a suitor) wanting to try the arrow competition and to see if he can just throw an arrow across the axe and when he did he started his warning of revenge of killing the rest of the suitors. Although Medea is a feminist work she is often criticized for her actions compared to the character Odysseus. There is a double standard to everything a female does compared to males in real life and in literature.
Her actions were seen to be evil and unjustified while Odysseus was seen as a heroic and his actions were justified just because he was a male. The perception of a female is to be loyal, docile, listening to everything their husband says and do, but when Medea plans for revenge for her dignity and honor her actions were deemed to be inappropriate and evil because it was to kill Jason’s current wife. But, Odysseus actions were justified because he had to reclaim his honor and land by killing all the suitors that invaded it. Both characters revenges were for their honor and dignity but because of the perspective that females are supposed to be behaving and innocent (angelic) her actions were unjustified and Odysseus actions were justified and deemed heroic.