Does Medea seek to promote the rights of women?

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Euripides Medea has one of the strongest female heroines of Greek tragedy. Because of this, it is tempting to read it anachronistically as a sort of proto-feminist drama. This would be a mistake. The play was written by a man, and performed for an exclusively male audience, with a male actor playing Medea, in a city in which women had no civil rights. There is no evidence that Eurpides has any sort of feminist agenda.

Medea is a barbarian (the Greek term for foreigner) princess who appeals to Creon on the basis of her feminine weakness. She uses his mercy to kill Jason`s fiance and her own children. Her arguments justifying her acts are grounded in the dishonor of Jason abandoning a weak woman, unprotected, in a foreign country.

Like Clytemnestra, Medea suggests that the Greeks believe that if women have the power to do significant actions, they will misuse that power. The way in which powerful women are normally portrayed as foreign, belonging to a different era, or part goddesses, suggests that the Greeks were aware of societies in which women`s scope of action was greater than in their own, and disapproved of that freedom.

 

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