What was the role of women in Medea?  

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thanatassa | College Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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Euripides "Medea" was produced in Athens in 431 BC. Athenian society was what is often termed homosocial; men and women had very different roles and educations and socialized mainly with their own gender. Women were normally married at the start of their reproductive years (12-14) to men who had inherited responsiboilities for running estates (30+ years old). Women were responsible for weaving, food, and child-rearing, rarely were literate, were not allowed to attend symposia (intellectual dinner parties), theatre or athletic contests, and had their own quarters and many all-female religious activities and festivals. Medea would have been performed by an all-male cast of actors (including the role of Medea) to an all male audience at the festival of Dionysius.

In the play, the nurse and Jason's second wife are women in conventional Greek roles. Medea is a barbarian sorcerer, and acts as a sort of cautionary tale of what happens in foreign societies where women are allowed too much freedom. For the male audience, the evil deeds of Medea confirm their belief that women should be kept uneducated and firmly subjugated to prevent their uncontrolled emotions from destroying family and civic life. (Women might not agree with this judgement, but the play as written by a man for other men).

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