Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)


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Jason demands the return of his rightful throne. Pelias replies that Jason should first accomplish a difficult task to prove his worth. The task is for Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece, kept beyond the edge of the known world in a land called Colchis modern-day Georgia in Southwest Asia. The story of the fleece is an interesting tale in itself.

Zeus, the King of the Gods, had given a golden ram to Jason's ancestor Phrixus. Aietes sacrificed the ram and hung the fleece in a sacred grove guarded by a dragon, as an oracle had foretold that Aietes would lose his kingdom if he lost the fleece. Determined to reclaim his throne, Jason agrees to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Jason assembles a team of great heroes for his crew and they sail aboard the Argo. The first stop of the Argonauts is the Greek Isle of Lemnos, populated only by women.

Unknown to Jason and his crew, the women have murdered their husbands. The Argonauts fare much better though; in fact the women use the occasion as an opportunity to repopulate the island. After many more adventures, the Argo passes Constantinople, heading for the Straits of Bosphorus. To the ancient Greeks, this was the edge of the known world. The Straits are extremely dangerous due to the currents created by the flow of water from the Black Sea.

This came true through Battus , a descendant of Euphemus. The Argo then reached the island of Crete , guarded by the bronze man, Talos Talus. Talos had one vein which went from his neck to his ankle, bound shut by a single bronze nail. According to Apollodorus, Talos was slain either when Medea drove him mad with drugs, deceived him that she would make him immortal by removing the nail, or was killed by Poeas 's arrow Apollodorus 1.

In the Argonautica , Medea hypnotized him from the Argo , driving him mad so that he dislodged the nail, ichor flowed from the wound, and he bled to death Argonautica 4. After Talos died, the Argo landed. Jason, celebrating his return with the Golden Fleece, noted that his father Aeson was too aged and infirm to participate in the celebrations.

Medea withdrew the blood from Aeson's body, infused it with certain herbs, and returned it to his veins, invigorating him. When Jason and Medea returned to Iolcus, Pelias still refused to give up his throne, so Medea conspired to have Pelias' own daughters kill him. She told them she could turn an old ram into a young ram by cutting up the old ram and boiling it in magic herbs. During her demonstration, a live, young ram jumped out of the pot. Excited, the girls cut their father into pieces and threw him into a pot.

Baby, Baby, Baby: Why Did the Ancient Greeks Turn Dead Children into Heroes? | Ancient Origins

Having killed Pelias, Jason and Medea fled to Corinth. Various sources state that Jason and Medea had between one and fourteen children, including sons Alcimenes , Thessalus , Tisander , Mermeros and Pheres , Medus , and Argos, and a daughter, Eriopis. In Corinth, Jason abandoned Medea for the king's daughter, Glauce. Before the fifth century BC, there seem to have been two variants of the myth's conclusion. According to the poet Eumelus , to whom the fragmentary epic Korinthiaka is usually attributed, Medea killed her children by accident.

According to Euripides ' version , Medea took her revenge by sending Glauce a dress and golden coronet, covered in poison. This resulted in the deaths of both the princess and the king, Creon , when he went to save his daughter. Medea then continued her revenge, murdering two of her children herself.


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Afterward, she left Corinth and flew to Athens in a golden chariot driven by dragons sent by her grandfather, Helios, god of the sun. This deliberate murder of her children by Medea appears to be Euripides' invention, although some scholars believe Neophron created this alternate tradition.


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  • Fleeing from Jason, Medea made her way to Thebes , where she healed Heracles the former Argonaut from the curse of Hera that led to the murder of Iphitus , his best friend. In return, Heracles gave her a place to stay in Thebes until the Thebans drove her out in anger, despite Heracles' protests. She then fled to Athens , where she met and married Aegeus. They had one son, Medus , although Hesiod makes Medus the son of Jason. Determined to preserve her own son's inheritance, Medea convinced her husband that Theseus was a threat and that he should be disposed of.

    As Medea handed Theseus a cup of poison, Aegeus recognized the young man's sword as his own, which he had left behind many years previously for his newborn son, to be given to him when he came of age. Knocking the cup from Medea's hand, Aegeus embraced Theseus as his own. Herodotus reports another version, in which Medea and her son Medus fled from Athens, on her flying chariot, to the Iranian plateau and lived among the Aryans , who then changed their name to the Medes.

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    Recounting the many variations of Medea's story, the 1st century BC historian Diodorus Siculus wrote, "Speaking generally, it is because of the desire of the tragic poets for the marvelous that so varied and inconsistent an account of Medea has been given out. In Euripides' play Medea she is a woman scorned, rejected by her husband Jason and seeking revenge.

    Deborah Boedeker writes about different images and symbolism used in Euripides' play to invoke responses from his original Athenian audience.


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    There are also many nautical references throughout the play either used by other characters when describing Medea or by Medea herself. By including these references, Boedeker argues that these comparisons were used to create connections to the type of woman Medea was. Of the first five volumes in this series, I find this one most useful for attention to storytelling and transmission of mythological material.

    And to what the author calls "visual storytelling," which can be as important as verbal materials 22 — "the traditions of literary and plastic art have their own interests and motifs" 25 , as demonstrated so well in Timothy Gantz's Early Greek Myth: A Guide to Literary and Artistic Sources and the Lexicon Iconographicum Mythologiae Classicae 8 double vols. In comparison with several other Greek figures, Medea appears as a figure at and often outside the boundaries, as a liminal mytheme, with several links to initiation rituals Finally, "Medea is constantly associated with transformation and metamorphosis" 96 — doubtless a strong factor in a world comprised today of so many instances of those processes.

    The very etymology of her name, "planner," indicates a figure who can take the long view ahead.

    Medea Essay

    Edmunds Rutgers-The State University of New Jersey echoes Griffiths in emphasizing the selectivity of mythic transmission: "To retell the Oedipus myth is always to retell someone's version and, in so doing, ultimately to give one's own" 3. Freud's version omits what must have been particularly striking those centuries ago, namely the suicide of Jocasta, and especially the life of Oedipus after the self-blinding 8.

    BBC learning zone Medea

    What's more, Sophocles himself develops variations of his basic account in each of the dramas of his trilogy 4. And alongside the more formal artistic and literary renditions by the tragedians, we ought to consider the likely presence of "popular tradition parallel to the poetic one. It can be shown that oral traditions of this kind concerning Oedipus, attached to hero cults honoring him persisted down into the fifth century BCE" 5. Edmunds's publications on Oedipus are numerous listed and widely respected; I was surprised at the omission of the useful collection he compiled with folklorist Alan Dundes, Oedipus: A Folklore Casebook As with several ancient mythic stories the Gilgamesh epic is one strong example , the Oedipus mytheme was occluded for at least a millennium in the West, being rediscovered only during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries — though in recent mythopoesis "creative work that brings the old story into the present," 10 , "Oedipus surpasses even Achilles and Odysseus in the degree to which he has permeated Western art, literature, and thought [ Edmunds's elegant prose recalls the pre-Sophoclean trajectories: the Delphic oracle antedates the origins of the myth, possibly replaced as a motivation for Oedipus's exposure by a dream of Jocasta or Laius, or a prophecy by the seer Teiresias So too the cross-cultural riddle of the Sphinx in folklore studies coded as the Bride-Winning-Riddle, 20 must be considered in the intertextual chaining in which familial, genealogical, and other relationships flex through the literary and visual traces of what we know as Greek mythology Dowden's Zeus does this in his tracking of the dalliances and progeny of Zeus.

    Certainly the modern tendency in philosophy and art to make the Sphinx episode central would have astounded Sophocles And so he is "our oldest living symbol" 3, my emphasis-though I'd consider shamanic and other motifs found in European cave art more impressive. And yet the author is quick to note that what the symbol meant varied enormously: "The various processes and experiences associated with Dionysos may seem to us to have no connection with each other" 3.

    Certainly, "Dionysos provides a perspective on the narrowness of modern religious experience" 4 , perhaps largely because "when Christianity was establishing itself in the ancient Mediterranean world, the cult of Dionysos was its most geographically and deeply rooted rival" 4 , having already been practiced for a millennium. He finds at the center "the power of Dionysos to transform individual identity " in mystery-cult 11 : He "exists in our own world as an irreducible symbol for the antithesis of something basically wrong with our society" Such negative examples are especially clearly drawn, to my opinion, in Arthur Evans's transformation of the Bakkhai in his The God of Ecstasy: Sex-Roles and the Madness of Dionysis , , not cited in the bibliography, but named on p.

    Seaford considers the book "a sustained invocation of Dionysos as embodying the forces required to save our civilization from militarism, individualism, unfeeling intellect, greedy destruction of the natural environment, male-dominated hierarchy, and the conversion of people into objects.

    Baby, Baby, Baby: Why Did the Ancient Greeks Turn Dead Children into Heroes?

    But then that makes sense in the light of the fact that he regards crucial issues such as the commonality of the polis — still today, when "consumer capitalism disintegrates the emotional wholeness of communality" And he sees Dionysos as balancing the lack of attention to ritual, or the city-state in Homeric epic 27 , where of course Dionysos remains "weak and marginal, with no presence on Olympos" Seaford sees "the opening up of the mystic ritual to the whole polis at the City Dionysia [as] a factor in the genesis of tragedy" And Dionysos remains closer to humanity than any other deity 44 — although I recall epithets of Hermes that make a similar claim.

    He is specifically the "free-er," as purifier or healer: "His healing power consists in the social unity achieved by communal ritual and by his status as an outsider" And they remind us of the reason why Dionysos "was therefore a serious rival to Jesus, whom in some respects he resembled" —namely that Christianity was heavily influenced not only by classical Jewish, Greek, and Roman religious praxis , but as well by the elaborate ritualistic features of several non-Western Hellenistic mystical religions and associations.

    As late as the fourth century, Augustine CE could still criticize "public revelry in honor of Dionysos, in which notables participate" And of course imagery associated with the Dionysiac cult was highly influential in Christian imagery, including to be sure the grape and its vines and contribution to sacramental wine.

    Examine altars and communion tables closely, and you will see such imagery now well-baptized into Christian iconography. Volumes in this series scheduled for publication include: Larson, Jennifer.

    Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World) Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)
    Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World) Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)
    Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World) Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)
    Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World) Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)
    Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World) Medea (Gods and Heroes of the Ancient World)

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