What is the difference between Medea and the other women in the play?

The Nurse, after setting the scene and introducing Medea’s plight, becomes more sympathetic to her, but she also displays a growing horror at what her mistress is doing. The chorus is torn between sympathy for Medea and horror at her actions. Glauce seems not to be very bright or sensible and would have been easily manipulated by Medea, who was able to gain the upper hand in their relationship.

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Two women other than Medea also play significant roles in the play: Glauce, Jason’s second wife, and the Nurse. There is also a chorus, composed of women of Corinth.

In Medea, Euripides has taken a mythical sorceress and created one of the most powerful, human-seeming tragic heroines of all...

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Two women other than Medea also play significant roles in the play: Glauce, Jason’s second wife, and the Nurse. There is also a chorus, composed of women of Corinth.

In Medea, Euripides has taken a mythical sorceress and created one of the most powerful, human-seeming tragic heroines of all time. Out of sympathy for Jason’s plight, Medea had helped him gain a priceless treasure and escape from sure death; in the process, she set aside loyalty to her father and killer her brother, leaving behind her own home. She also furthered Jason’s fortunes by arranging for his father’s death. Jason, alas, has not only gone back on his word and scorned the importance of her commitment but also supported Creon’s plan to banish her. The combined emotions of jealousy and rage, fueled by the male characters’ cruel disregard, propel Medea into acts of revenge, murder, and ultimately self-destruction. In killing her children, she not only destroys Jason but herself as they were the people she most loved.

The Nurse generally conveys a sympathetic attitude toward her mistress, Medea. She delivers an opening prologue to the play, which sets the stage by summarizing earlier important action. This information includes why Medea was so distraught and angry. However, the Nurse also conveys Medea’s harmful bitterness, from which she is not recovering, and her apparent hatred of her children. The Nurse’s position is ambivalent, however, as she also works for Jason.

The role of the chorus in this play is to provide the dominant views of Greek society, along with the general role of giving the audience more information about action, especially that which is performed offstage. Their progressing attitudes move from sympathy with Medea, whom Jason has clearly wronged and with whom they discuss her plight, to horror after she murders her children. This chorus is all female as is the protagonist, which was customary in later Greek theatrical practice, which facilitates their dialogue with Medea.

Glauce, although she plays a critical role, is the least well developed female character. She seems primarily to function to advance the plot. Although she has taken Medea’s play in Jason’s heart, home, and bed, she shows few outstanding personal characteristics. In addition, she seems rather naïve in accepting any gift that would come from Medea. By having Medea kill her first, and by using the children as a vehicle of her destruction, Euripides foreshadows the later killings and Medea’s disregard for her children, given that she would use them to set in motion a vicious murder.

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In Euripides' Medea, several women other than Medea are represented. We have Medea's nurse, who delivers the prologue; the women of Corinth, who make up the Chorus; and Creon's daughter, who does not appear on stage, but whom the playwright describes.

On a basic level, some of these women are Greeks and some of these women are barbarians (i.e., non-Greeks). Medea is certainly a barbarian and her nurse probably was, whereas Creon's daughter and the women of the Chorus are Greeks who live in Corinth.

This contrast between Greek and barbarian is a significant for Euripides' Athenian audience in 431 BCE, who frequently had contact and conflict with barbarians, especially the Persians in the 490s and 480s. The major difference between Medea and the other women in the play are her dabbling in witchcraft and her willingness to betray or kill her loved ones. These are things that the Greeks might expect barbarians to do. We should also recall that in addition to killing her children, Medea also betrayed her father and killed her brother when she went with Jason. Thus, Jason concludes that

I must have lost my mind to bring you here,

from that savage country, to a Greek home.

(Ian Johnston translation)

Barbarian Medea's killing of her own children is certainly something that the female Greek chorus thinks is impossible. Thus, they ask her, "But, lady, can you stand to kill your children?" These Greek women conclude that such an action will "devastate" her "as a woman" (Ian Johnston translation)

So, the major difference between Medea and the other women in the play is that she has betrayed her country, her father, and killed her brother and her own children. These are the actions of a barbarian, not a Greek.

 

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