Student Question

In Medea, why does Medea ask Jason to persuade Creon to let their children stay in Corinth?

Quick answer:

Medea finds it necessary to kill her children primarily because it will cause the maximum pain to Jason. Also, when their deaths are combined with the recent murder of his wife, it effectively means he cannot have any male descendants. By killing her children, Medea ensures an end to Jason's lineage.

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The answer to this interesting question is explained in Medea's speech following her interview with Aegeus in which he promises her sanctuary and swears "by the Sun-god's holy beam and by all the host of heaven" to accept her in his land and to never either send her away or "permit any other, one of my foes maybe, to hale me thence if so he will." Once Aegeus exits with the benediction of the Chorus, Medea reveals her thoughts and plans. First, however, let's clarify exactly who Medea asks Jason to persuade.

Certainly, first she ask Jason to "beg Creon to remit [the children's] banishment." He answers pessimistically by saying he doubts whether he can persuade Creon: "I doubt whether I can persuade him ...." Here, Medea changes tactics, which is her intention and plan all along since she is intent on the murder of the bride. Medea now asks Jason to at least "bid thy wife ask her [father] this boon, to remit the exile of the children." Jason here answers with enthusiasm by saying, "Yea, that will I; and her methinks I shall persuade ...." So to clarify your question a bit: Why does Medea ask Jason also to persuade Creusa to let the children stay in Corinth?

Now--after Aegeus grants her sanctuary, Medea explains while the Chorus Leader listens that she will employ her children in her scheme to poison "the king's daughter," Jason's "bride" Creusa: she will poison Creusa through the gifts she will send her that will be delivered by her children, who will act as Medea's emissaries. In other words, her children will carry the poisoned gifts to Creusa.

then will I entreat that here my children may abide, not that I mean to leave them in a hostile land for foes to flout, but that I may slay the king's daughter by guile. For I will send them with gifts in their hands, carrying them unto the bride

The reason the children must carry the gifts to be delivered into Creusa'a own hands is a simple one: Medea spreads a toxic poison on the chaplet and robes that the children deliver to Creusa.

For I will send them with gifts in their hands, carrying them unto the bride ..., a robe of finest woof and a chaplet of gold. And if these ornaments she take and put them on, miserably shall she die, and likewise everyone who touches her; with such fell poisons will I smear my gifts.

Now the logic can clearly be followed so as to understand why Medea asks Jason to persuade Creon and, more importantly, Creusa to let the children stay in Corinth even though she has already decided to kill them. Medea asks this because it is a ruse, a scam, a trick, whereby Medea can murder Creusa even though Medea can't get near her. She will murder Creusa through the poisons overspread on the gifts carefully carried to her by the children.

When the children return, Creusa's death will be eminent and Medea's revenge against Jason begun. Her plan for sanctuary and revenge will be completed when she slays her children for, as she says, "I will slay the children I have borne; there is none shall take them from my toils; ...." Interestingly, Medea's reason for wanting revenge against Jason is a deep one that, according to Medea's conscious, goes all the way back to her marriage to him:

O, I did wrong, that hour I left my father's home, persuaded by that Hellene's words, who now shall pay the penalty, so help me God, Never shall he see again alive the children I bore to him,

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Instead of taking everything away from Jason and preventing the Corinthians from killing her children, why does Medea find it necessary to kill her children?

The terrible acts of the title character of Euripides's Medea would seem to make her one of the most barbaric characters of Greek drama. In fact, she is the only character in the surviving canon that kills kin, her own children, in cold blood rather than in a moment of derangement.

The profound misery of Medea and the hatred she feels toward the husband who has left her for a royal princess who will bear him more children issues forth from her like a river of bile as the play opens. Worse, her harsh criticism of Jason's father, Creon, over this humiliation, has led to an order for her banishment from Corinth.

...this unexpected blow that's hit me
has destroyed my heart. My life is over,
dear friends. I've lost all joy. I want to die.
The person who was everything to me,
my own husband, has turned out to be the worst of men. (257-262).

Aware that in exile she and her children will become friendless vagabonds, Medea succeeds in persuading the King of Athens, Aegeus, to provide them with sanctuary. In the following monologue, though, she reveals her heinous plan: She wants to murder Jason's beloved princess Glauce with a poisoned garment. More horribly, she plans to kill her own children to punish her ex-husband for his betrayal.

By the end of the play Glauce has died horribly, literally consumed by the gift of a golden gown, and Medea has butchered her sons. She triumphantly confronts Jason with their bodies in a winged chariot. The traumatized father pours out a monologue of grief and hatred before Medea speaks:

MEDEA: Do you think an insult to a woman is something insignificant?
JASON: Yes, to a woman with good sense. But to you it is completely evil.
MEDEA: Well, your sons are gone, that should cause your pain. (1630-1634).

Jason's unbearable pain is Medea's reward.

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