In Medea, examine the significance of the Nurse saying that she prefers not to be great.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In many respects, the significance of the Nurse suggesting that she does not prefer to be great speaks to the humility that Euripides suggests is needed in being a human being.  In the opening of the drama, the Nurse clearly establishes that Medea's intense nature, one that demands a sense of satisfaction out of hubris and individual ego, is a destructive force.  When the Nurse describes how Medea is looking at her children as "a bull," it is a reflection that Medea's own ego and sense of self has taken over her identity. Invariable, the Nurse believes that this will lead to a saddening end.

The Nurse praises the value of moderation and not of achieving individual greatness.  Medea is one who sought the prize of individual greatness in her willingness to help and love Jason.  The result of that pursuit is the sadness that sets the tragedy in motion.  In rejecting greatness, the Nurse's statement about moderation in the opening of the drama speaks to the path that a human being must pursue in order to find a pittance of happiness in this life: any rate, I hope
to grow old securely in modest circumstances.
First of all, the very idea of moderation  
wins first prize in speaking, and in action,
is by far the best way for mortals, but excessive power
can produce no proper return for human beings,
instead giving back greater madness
whenever God is angry at the house.

In this explanation, it becomes clear why the Nurse prefers to defer greatness for moderation.  The Nurse clearly indicts Medea for coveting "excessive power" and a sense of individual greatness and thus invoking the anger of the Gods upon the house.  At the same time, the Nurse's desire for moderation and deferral of greatness is what she believes represents "the best way for mortals." 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial