Medea Summary

Euripides

Medea

  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Medea Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Medea by Euripides.

Medea is a tragic play by the ancient Greek playwright, Euripides. The play was written in 431 B.C. as part of a competition, where Euripides competed against other playwrights. Euripides lost, but created a play that has stood the test of time. Medea is different from other classical Greek tragedies. Most scenes in Medea only features Medea herself and another character. Structuring the play this way highlights how Medea must take action herself to get her revenge in a male-dominated world.

Medea starts out with the Nurse laying the scene. Ten years prior, Medea helped Jason and his Argonauts retrieve the golden fleece. They have been happily married in Corinth, until now. Jason wants to marry the young daughter of Creon, King of Corinth. The Nurse mentions that Medea is inconsolable, even cursing her own sons she had with Jason. She is afraid Medea will do something terrible. A tutor enters and informs the nurse the situation is worse—Creon is planning to banish Medea and her sons. The nurse becomes nervous for the sons and believes Medea is planning something where the children could be affected.

The chorus appears. Medea wishes to die. The chorus wants to talk some sense into her. Medea appears and states she believes her life is over now that Jason is leaving her. She rants about how awful women have it in this world. For example, women must pay men dowries to marry them, while the women hope for a decent man.  If not, the woman is stuck in the marriage, since divorce is much worse. Medea thinks she is the lowliest of them all, as she does not have a home in Corinth and is alone. She begs the chorus not to stand in her way of revenge, and they agree not to.

Creon arrives and orders Medea to leave with her children. He is nervous Medea will try and harm his daughter with her rumored magical powers. Medea begs him to stay and claims she is only upset with Jason. Ultimately, he relents and allows her to stay in Corinth one more day, but if she is not gone then, she will be executed. Creon leaves and the chorus asks Medea what she plans to do. She ultimately decides on killing Creon on the princess using poison, but decides to wait until she finds a place to flee.

Jason enters and blames Medea for getting herself and the children banished. Medea calls him ungrateful, without her he would have never gotten the golden fleece. She gave up her life for him. Jason says she’s exaggerating. He explains the only reason he’s marrying Creon’s daughter is for family stability—not lust. He says he will still support her monetarily despite everything, but Medea tells him she does not want his support and scorns him. Jason tells her that her misery is entirely on her and leaves.

Aegeus, the King of Athens enters. He tells Medea he has just met the oracle at Delphi, because he and his wife are having issues conceiving. Medea recognizes the opportunity and tells him everything. She tells him if he lets her stay in Athens, she will cure his impotency. Aegeus agrees, but says she must find her own way there. Medea makes him swear to protect her once she arrives in Athens. Aegeus agrees and leaves. Medea begins to put her plan into motion. She will beg Creon and Jason to let her stay. Then, she will send the princess a gossamer gown and a golden crown both laden with poison. And to hurt Jason in the most powerful way, she will murder their children. She knows this will be painful for her, but she sees no other option. The chorus begs her to reconsider. Medea relishes in the fact that no man will ever think she is weak.

Jason returns and Medea apologizes, calling to the children to hug their father. He forgives Medea, and does not blame her for her actions—she is a woman after all. Medea begs Jason to ask if they can stay and Jason says yes. Medea says wants to send his new wife a gift. She orders her children to fetch the gifts. She tells the boys to make sure the princess touches the gown personally.

Later, a messenger tells Medea she must flee—the princess and Creon are dead. Medea excitedly asks for details. The messenger says everything was well—the princess put the gifts on and admired them, but strange effects occurred. Her skin changed color, she started foaming at the mouth, and her eyes bulged. She screamed in pain as she caught on fire and her flesh started melting away. Creon arrived, screaming, and attempted to hold his daughter, while he too caught on fire. Medea knows it is now time to murder her children, she attempts to steel herself believing they would be killed by other hands at this point anyways. Their terrified cries are soon heard offstage.

Jason comes looking for Medea, as he knows she is responsible for the poisoned gown. He is nervous that she might have done something to their children. He attempts to beat down the door to their house. Medea appears in the sky in a chariot drawn by dragons, given to her by her grandfather, the Sun, with her sons’ lifeless bodies besides her. Jason curses what she has done. She blames Jason, since he took another wife. Jason says Medea will be haunted by what she has done. Medea says it was worth it to destroy him completely. Jason begs Medea for the bodies of his sons to give them a proper burial. Medea denies him this, as she plans to place their bodies at the temple to Hera. Medea is leaving for Athens where she will be safe and further denies him their bodies. Jason wishes that their children had never been born. The play ends with the chorus lamenting the will of the gods.