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Is Medea a tragic hero?

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Medea is a tragic hero in her noble rank and possession of a tragic flaw, but otherwise, she does not exactly fit Aristotle's model of a tragic hero due to her final lack of self-awareness.

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Medea is a tragic hero. She is generally considered to fit in this category because she embodies the primary characteristics of such a hero. Medea has valid motives for her actions but is brought down by events beyond her control. In addition, she has a tragic flaw that she cannot overcome. The combination of fate and this character flaw make it so that the situation she sought to remedy ends badly.

In this story, the situation she cannot control is caused by her husband’s sexual desire, which leads to his infidelity. Medea had helped Jason when he desperately needed help, but he has not repaid her loyalty. Because of his betrayal with another woman and his abandonment of their children, Medea feels jealous, desperate, and forsaken. Furthermore, his new wife’s father, a powerful king, banishes her and the children. These combined circumstances not only spur her desire for revenge but make her unbearably distraught. Losing her ability to rationally resolve the problem, she resorts to poisoning and murder. While the death of her replacement in Jason's affection might be understandable, her killing of her children is a truly tragic outcome.

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Following Aristotle's definition of a hero in Poetics, to what extent is Medea a tragic hero?

In Aristotle's Poetics, a tragic hero is defined as a person of high rank who is brought low by a tragic flaw. The tragic hero's own actions are the catalyst for their ultimate fate, and this fate is usually more extreme than the character deserves. In the text, Aristotle describes this type of hero as such:

...a man who is not eminently good and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous—a personage like Oedipus, Thyestes, or other illustrious men of such families.

Medea fits this description to a certain degree, though not perfectly. She is of high rank, being born a princess. She values justice, at least for herself. Her tragic flaw is her passion, which causes her to murder her own children and Jason's new bride-to-be in order to revenge herself upon Jason when he abandons her.

Unlike most tragic heroes Aristotle describes, Medea does not die at the end of her story. Instead, she buries her children and spends the rest of her life in Athens as a bitter woman. Her own passion has destroyed any chance of happiness in her future, which is tragic indeed.

Despite all of this, in most ways, Medea does not fit Aristotle's description: tragic heroes are supposed to gain self-awareness at the end of their stories. For example, Oedipus learns the truth about his past at the end of Oedipus Rex. His life is changed forever by this new awareness. Medea never gains such self-awareness. She feels entirely justified in murdering her two children, while a more traditional tragic hero would learn to recoil from this act in horror and live to regret it.

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