Medea (mih-DEE-uh), a princess of Colchis and the wife of Jason. Medea had aided Jason in avoiding the traps laid for him by her father, King Aeetes of Colchis, while regaining the Golden Fleece. Fleeing with Jason, she had murdered her own brother to aid in the escape. In Jason’s hereditary kingdom of Iolcus, where they first settled but where Pelias, Jason’s uncle, had cheated him of his rights, Medea tricked the daughters of Pelias into murdering their father. For this deed, Medea, Jason, and their two children were exiled. The play is set in Corinth, where they went after leaving Iolcus and where Jason has put Medea aside so that he can marry Glauce, the daughter of Creon, the king of Corinth. It is at this point that the action of the play begins. The dramatic development, centering around Medea, is perhaps the finest example in Greek drama of character development. Medea changes from a woman overwhelmed with sorrow at her husband’s desertion to a woman dominated by a fury of revenge in which every other feeling, even love for her children, is sacrificed to a desire to hurt Jason. The opening situation of the play concerns a sympathetic presentation of the sorrowful plight of Medea. She has given up home and position for Jason and can belong to no other except through him; these facts are conveyed by the nurse before Medea appears. Medea cries out violently against Jason before she appears and foreshadows the destruction of the children. When she appears, she is proud but courteous and self-possessed. She expresses her ills as those of all women, but greater, and she asks the Chorus not to betray her if she finds the means of vengeance. They promise secrecy. Creon appears to pronounce a sentence of exile on Medea and the children because he is afraid of her power as a sorceress. She is able only to convince him to grant her a one-day respite. When Creon leaves, Medea reveals her more barbaric and violent side in a terrible speech in which she decides to poison Creon and his daughter. At the appearance of Jason, Medea reveals her full fury as a betrayed mistress and becomes less sympathetic. Blinded by jealousy, she exhibits passion unchecked and untamed. Aegeus, the king of Athens, suddenly appears and promises refuge to Medea if she can make her way to his city alone. Assured of a place of refuge, she calls Jason to her and, feigning sweetness and repentance, forgives him, asking only that he obtain a pardon for the children through the princess, his wife. She then gives them a poisoned robe and a golden crown to present to the princess, and they leave. When the children return, the struggle between Medea’s love for them and her passion for revenge reaches a height in a speech in which the latter triumphs. A messenger enters with news of the death of the princess and Creon, and Medea enters the house. Immediately, the screams of the children are heard. Jason enters and Medea appears above the house, in a chariot supplied by her grandfather Helios, god of the sun, with the bodies of her children. She has destroyed the house of Jason, and her revenge is complete.
Jason, the king of Iolcus, the incarnation of a moderation and wisdom that are negative, not rooted in emotion. He is presented first as the faithless husband and is unreservedly condemned by the Chorus and servants. He loves neither Medea nor Creon’s daughter. His only passion is his love for his children, which arouses some sympathy for him.
The two children of Medea and Jason
The two children of Medea and Jason, silent except for their offstage screams as they are murdered. They are central to the plot as Medea’s only successful means of revenge against Jason.
Creon (KREE-on), the king of Corinth. His sentence of exile expresses the fear of Medea’s power as a sorceress.
Aegeus (EE-jews), the king of Athens, who offers Medea a place of refuge. His appearance is a coincidence, but it provides a glimpse of Medea as she was before the disaster, a princess renowned for wisdom. The scene also emphasizes the child-motive: Aegeus had gone to Delphi because he is childless, and thus he already is in the position in which Jason is left at the end of the play.
A nurse, Medea’s devoted servant. Desperately anxious, she identifies herself completely with the cause of her mistress. She speaks the prologue.
A Chorus of Corinthian women
A Chorus of Corinthian women, sympathetic to the suffering of Medea. They swear secrecy to her revenge, though they realize the horror of the means.
The tutor to Medea’s children
The tutor to Medea’s children, a good and faithful slave. He clearly condemns Jason’s conduct.
A messenger, who brings the news of the death of Creon and his daughter.