What are some differences between Medea by Euripides and Medea by Seneca? 

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davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The main difference between the two Medeas is that Seneca's version is much more of an active character. There's no weeping or wailing at Jason's abandonment; just a determined, full-throated cry for vengeance. At the same time, this makes Seneca's Medea much more passionate, less coldly calculating than she appears in Euripides. In Euripides, Medea's misfortunes are related to us by her nurse, and we only hear her plaintive cries of injustice from off stage. This establishes a distance between Medea and the audience, allowing her to come across as less human and more like a monster. Perhaps this is a way for Euripides to make the horrific acts that are about to follow more readily understandable. After all, it's marginally less unpalatable to be presented with Medea's unspeakably barbarous acts if they're committed by some kind of scheming monster, rather than as being the knee-jerk response of a wronged wife and mother.

Seneca's Medea is more godlike, whereas Euripides's is almost a plaything of the gods. In the former, she's a force of nature, taking control of events. She even occasionally has the audacity to curse the gods for their inaction on her behalf. But they ultimately save her in both versions of the story, though with one subtle difference. In Euripides, Medea is already in Helios's chariot when it appears; in Seneca, the chariot only appears after Medea has summoned it. Again, she's the one who's in control of her fate.

readerofbooks eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This is a great question. There are many differences. So, I will only mention a few.

First, it is important to ground these two plays in history. Euripides in writing for the Athenians in the 400s BC and Seneca is writing in Latin for the Romans during the first century AD under Nero. Some 500 years separates the two works.

Second, if we start with Euripides' work, Medea comes off as a tragic figure. She is strong, but she is also a victim. We are able to sympathize with her plight and there is a sense of pathos. We might even be tempted to say that she is an unfortunate victim of the gods or fate. When we look at Seneca's play, we feel little of these things. Medea right from the beginning is a frightful figure. She immediately is filled with rage and plots her revenge. The start of the play says it all. In Euripides account, Medea speaks of her suffering; in Seneca's she prays for revenge.

Second, the relationship between Medea and the gods also differs. In Seneca's account, the gods are challenged and even cursed; in Euripides' account, Medea capitulates.

We can look at Seneca's version as a retelling, since Euripides'  Medea was well-known in the ancient world.