Euripides' Medea

Commentary & reading guide


How many were required? [Work it out by seeing how many are required onstage at any one time. The children would not be "actors"].


Mum and kids Prologue 1 - 130 Nurse and Tutor: Medea within. How fully does Euripides draw the characters of the Nurse and the Tutor? What background and what new facts are imparted? How does Euripides ensure that we sympathise with Medea so far? What is the Nurse frightened about? Where is sophrosyne mentioned? Why?

Parodos 131-213 Chorus and Nurse: Medea within Who are the Chorus? Why? Why are Zeus, Themis and Artemis mentioned? Medea has been named a murderess twice in the play so far. Where and why?

First episode 214-409 Medea and Creon. Medea kneels(1). In what way is Medea's behaviour a surprise? How does she differ from the approved picture of Athenian womanhood? What would the effect on the audience be of her remarks on being foreign, dowries, divorce, marriage from the woman's point of view, child-bearing and the polis? What sort of a man is Creon? Look for clues in the way he talks and thinks in clichés. When does Medea kneel? Why? What is the significance of the "holy sun"( 1.352) in the play? Note how Creon pretends to be strong and Medea pretends to be weak. How in this scene does Medea think like a Greek male? What does she need before she can carry out her plan?

First stasimon 410-445 Chorus How is this ode relevant to the action?

Second episode 446-626 Medea and Jason The first of the crucial three confrontations. How would you describe their positions in this scene? "I could never bear ill-will"(1.463). Why not? How impressed are you with their respective arguments about Medea's services to Jason? Does he manage to justify his present behaviour?

Second stasimon 627-662 Chorus What is the theme of this song? How relevant is it? Who do they support?

Third episode 663-823 Medea and Aegeus. Medea kneels (2). Who is Aegeus? Why is his arrival opportune? Why exactly is he in Corinth (you may need to consult the map)? When does Medea kneel? What is the deal? The oath - note references to Earth and Sun. In Medea's speech p.41-2, what again reveals that she is thinking like a man? Why does she believe she has to kill her sons? This scene has been described as "irrelevant" and "futile". How would you answer such criticisms?

Third stasimon 824-865 Chorus In what way is this song a bridge between the scenes before and after? Note that Athens was traditionally hospitable to strangers (Pericles' Funeral Speech: Thucydides 2.39).

Fourth episode 866-975 Medea and Jason. Medea kneels(3). What dramatic function do the children fulfil in this scene? Pick out some phrases that demonstrate "tragic irony". How are Medea and Jason different from their first scene.

Fourth stasimon 976-1001 Chorus What do the chorus feel now?

Fifth episode 1002-1250 Medea and Tutor; Chorus: Medea and Messenger What arguments does Medea use with herself for and against killing her sons? What steels her resolve? "I understand the horror..."(1.1078-80). What is the significance of these lines? What effect does the messenger speech have on the audience? What lessons does the messenger himself draw?

Fifth stasimon 1251-1292 Chorus: children within. Note mention of Earth and Sun again. What is the chorus's attitude to Medea now? The children's screams actually interrupt the song. What is the point of the reference to Ino?

Exodos 1293-1419 Medea and Jason We are expecting the ekkyklema. (Why?) Instead we get the mechane. Aristotle criticised the ending of the play as "irrational".Why do you think Euripides used the sun-chariot for the final escape? How has the relationship between Medea and Jason changed since the first confrontation? What do you feel at the end? How do you think the ancient audience would have felt?


Masculinity (arete) - helping friends and harming enemies

Children and childlessness.


Greek and Foreigner.

Woman and Man - family relationships.

Oaths and Promises.