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The Voices Of History And Tradition English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1352 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Euripides is one greatest ancient poet. In one of his best known works, Medea, he stands out many historical symbols and traditions, some used for controversial themes, but all with different purposes. He also is very realistic in the emotions he used in each character; these emotions are, in fact, the major themes of the play. I would say that there are cultural and social problems present in the play as well, which affect the voices of history, one of them could be the male chauvinist thought against the feminist.

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I would like to start by explaining the emotions of the characters and how they develop throughout the play. It all starts with the passion of the princess Medea. Medea is the protagonist of the play and even in the story before it. In order to understand better the play, you should have previous knowledge about the story behind the play because it is briefly explained at the beginning. In the story behind, she felt such passion for his beloved Jason. They both ran away from their homeland, escaping with the Golden Fleece, demolishing anything that went in their way and getting to the point of killing her own family to be able to escape with Jason. Jason is Medea’s husband in the play. The many opinions vary that he could or could not be the antagonist. The story develops through the negative feeling and emotions of Medea inspired by Jason, so it would be accurate to say that he is the antagonist of the play. After they run away and Medea killed her brother, they are exiled from their homeland and settle in Corinth where they start a family.

The opening scene starts with the divorce of Medea and Jason. The nurse is talking about the difficult moment that her mistress is going through; from there, all the drama grows and the emotions and feelings change, changing the atmosphere and theme as well. From the opening scene can be sense a vengeful and hatred atmosphere when, for instance, in line 15 the Nurse says “It has all gone sour now, affection turned to hatred”. Euripides exposes the controversy of mother and child relation since the scene starts with a nurse lamenting the recent events with Medea that covers her exile and the abandon of his husband. Because of these events Medea grows a feeling of hatred and resentment toward Jason, feelings which affect her relation with her children. Medea is predisposed with everything that has to do with Jason; reason why she starts having negative feeling towards her children as well. The controversy presented here, is how Medea grows this feeling toward her children because of her problem with Jason. In history, what was common for women was that they took care of their children, love them and they could not grow or show negative feelings towards men. This topic caused matter of question about how she could involve her children in her problems and they ended up suffering because of her. “She hates her children, takes no pleasure in seeing them”. [1] 

In the beginning of the play, Medea is introduced as powerful when the nurse says

“I’m afraid of her, in case she has some new plan in mind.

She is a deep thinker, you know, and she will not put up with

this kind of abuse. I know her and I’m terrified

that in silence entering the house where the bed is laid

she might thrust a sharp sword through the heart

or kill the princess and the one who married her

and then suffer some greater tragedy.

She is frightening. It won’t be easy for an enemy

to come out victorious in a battle with her.”

(Line 36-45, Medea by Euripides)

These lines give you an idea of Medea’s personality and her nastiness. The nurse gives broad thoughts about Medea but this was only foreshadow of the climax. As the play develops, the character of Medea is felt stronger and she plays the role of women very tough and another voice of history is present in the work.

This play was written in 431 B.C., and in those times women did not have an important role in society. Euripides presents Medea as a powerful and straightforward woman who is very decided when it comes to take action. The actions taken by Medea go against the chauvinist male philosophy. In history, male has always prevails over women, but in this story, her passionate revenge becomes so powerful that seizes her mind. She is so blinded by her feeling that throughout the play we can see how all of her plans are aimed to destroy Jason and her love with Creon’s daughter.

In ancient times, women could have never been able to do such thing; any action that was taken from them was punished by law and society and seen as wrong. In this play, the protagonist is a woman, who blinded by her sorrow took immediate action against her husband; she did not care about her children, she did not care about her family anymore, she did not care about anything, all she wanted was to avenge her husband’s infidelity. Justice for woman in those times is also an important theme. In those times a woman would have been condemned of death penalty for killing her children or attempting against her husband; in the play, the author decides that the society would be feminist since no radical actions are taken against her.

Another voice of history is present with the Gods in the play. Euripides uses Greek mythology to present for symbolic purposes. Gods are said to be symbols of forces that were not comprehended by humans. Helios is one the gods he uses and probably the most relevant in the story. Helios is the Sun god and Medea’s grandfather. Helios is the one that gives Medea the Golden Diadem and Gossamer Gown which help Medea when she gave them to Creon’s daughter. When the gown and crown burst on fire it symbolizes the Sun god. Dues ex machine is when a character of the play is saved by the gods and in this play Medea is Saved by his grandfather Helios who sent her chariot so she could fly away to Athens. The god Helios helps his granddaughter even when she had committed several crimes.

Another god present in the play is Apollo, which is the god of many things including the Sun. This gives the play a sense of conflict between the gods as well. Euripides states through the sing of the chorus that Apollo might be in favor of men.

“The ballads of ages gone by

that harped on the falseness

Of women, will cease to be sung 

If only Apollo,

Prince of the lyric, had put

in our hearts the inventions

Of music and songs for the lyre

Wouldn’t I then have raised

up a feminine paean

to answer the epic of men? “

This passages helps support the idea that Apollo in Medea is on the side of men and is accused of chauvinism.

A goddess present in the play is Hecate, to whom Medea prays to have female influence and gain strength in her. Medea describes her as “The goddess who abides in the shrine of my inner hearth – the one I revere most of all the gods” meaning that Hecate is the most important goddess for her. Hecate along with Artemis, both represent nature and are symbols of female power.

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In other words, the play contains various voices of history and tradition and plenty of symbolism that can give you better understanding of the story. The play is a vivid example of a feminist society which in history has never been seen or at least never surpassing male chauvinism, nor has been seen in those times such powerful and radical woman, challenging gods and fighting for her causes. It was no tradition to let women do what they wanted or let them express, it was rather and oppression against women.

In my opinion, maybe Euripides wanted to highlight aspects of his society that he did not agree with, and at the same time creates controversy and conscious about those aspects.


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