Medea As An Agent Of Divine Will

Euripides’ portrayal of Medea is a mix of often contradictory characteristics. Although she is female, she is also largely responsible and has earned Kleos. This honor is normally reserved for women. She is equally powerless as she has a relationship with Jason, but powerful for her achievements and wit. She is both a Greek and a foreigner. She is also immortal, thanks to her grandfather Helios the sun-god. Medea’s relationship with the Gods is very strong. Medea appears in many scenes of the play both as a divine agent and by others.

Euripides connects Medea’s revenge and rage with Zeus’s will by using storm imagery. Zeus is Medea’s rage as he is the God Thunder (170), “Keeper Oaths”, and both. The Nurse is concerned about adding “new sorrows” to Medeas’s situation before it has been cleared (78, 79). This metaphor simultaneously predicts the trouble that will result from Jason and Medea’s actions. It also foreshadows Zeus’ anger. Zeus is enraged by Jason’s refusal to honor his marriage contract. The Nurse continues foretelling Medea revenge. She describes how Medea is “soon going to put lightning in that rising cloud of her cry” (106,107). Medea’s vengeance, like Zeus lightning, is immediate and direct. Medea has only a day to use her dark magic, potions and supernatural knowledge. She destroys everything Jason cherishes. Medea acknowledges that her role is to execute Zeus’s will. Medea, as a symbol of the pain she is experiencing and to show her gratitude to Zeus, who, according to her, has her back, wishes for lightning to “split her own head” (144) just like Zeus did when he asexually conceived Athena on his forehead. Medea’s comment shows how the current situation cannot be sustained and foreshadows future violence resulting from Jason’s actions. Medea continues to tell Zeus about her actions as the drama progresses. Medea starts plotting revenge for Jason, “in full force of hate” (278). Jason’s actions are what have caused this storm. Medea’s use of the word storm to describe her rage of hatred creates a direct causal connection between Jason and the tragic result that will follow. It helps Medea escape the guilt of her revenge.

Medea, while often portrayed as Zeus-like, is not clear what Zeus did to bring about Medea’s revenge. Euripides’ purposeful ambiguity in Zeus’s role may be to keep the patriarchal God from approving of Medea’s shocking actions (the murdering of royalty, the destruction her husband, the killing of her children). Medea appears to have confidence in Zeus because of the barrage Zeus imagery around her. Medea’s prayer to Zeus is not as obvious as it might seem after Jason breaks the marriage contract. Medea turns to Themis, “the Goddess of Promises”, (169), for assistance, and Hecate, a goddess of dark magical power. As the story progresses, there is more doubt about Zeus’ role in Medea s revenge. Euripides’s play makes us doubt whether Zeus is the one who enforces Jason’s vow or Medea. Medea acknowledges the god, but she does not dismiss him completely. Medea replies to Jason’s curse of Medea, “I would not have answered these words if Zeus had not known / what I did and how you treated me” (1351-1353). Medea is confident in her role as Zeus’ agent. She receives divine help from other deities, but this is not the only way she gets it.

Tricks in speech influence our understanding of Medea’s relationship to the gods. Euripides makes us question Medea’s role in fulfilling the will of the gods by using these tricks. The Nurse explains to Medea that God, in his anger, causes greater destruction of great men’s homes (128 130). Medea, in a conversation with her, notes that “God, when angry, brings / greater ruin to great men’s houses” (128 130). Medea is known to use such rhetorical tricks in order to make herself appear as a god’s instrument. Medea warns Jason ambiguously that he may regret his marriage, whether it is to Jason or Creon’s Daughter. Medea’s elaborate punishment ensures that Jason will regret both his marriage to Jason and his marriage to Creon’s daughter. Medea’s statements are meant to both foreshadow and to justify the actions she will take in the future as being in line with God’s will. Helios finally fulfills the prophecy by giving Medea an chariot with dragons. Medea, in her conversations with King Aegeus, demonstrates that she is capable of fulfilling the gods will. Aegeus is distraught over his inability to bear children with his wife, and travels from Corinth. He had discussed the problem with an oracle. Medea, who is upset about Jason, runs into Jason and asks that “with God help” (714) he be able conceive children. Medea once more promises to be a god’s agent by promising to “end your childlessness and make you able/to have children” (717-8) using drugs. She asks him for asylum. Aegeus wants to solve his problem by becoming a parent. So he promises Medea that she can stay in his home “for god’s sake / and for the childbirth” (720-721). Aegeus realizes that helping Medea is a virtue to the gods. He refuses to take her directly out of the country, for fear of “being blamed by [his] friends”, (730), indicating that he understands that the will of people may not always coincide with the will of gods. This split between human will and divine will is also apparent in the Chorus. Medea kills Creon, his daughter and her own children as well as Jason’s in order to atone for the dishonor that she suffered because Jason married Creon’s girl. The Chorus tries unsuccessfully to convince her not to murder her children. When it is clear that Medea will not change her mind, the Chorus insistently states that men may shed “divine/blood” if she’s punished. (1256 1257). Medea’s role as granddaughter of Helios goes beyond being a conduit for divine blood. It would be an injustice for mortal men to spill her blood.

Euripides asks us to question how far Medea’s divinization has gone. She is, in a way, immortal through her grandfather Helios. But it seems that she has ambitions to become more than just a god’s executor. In the course of her play, she strives to be on an even plane with other deities. She calls Hecate, goddess of dark magic (397), her “partner”. Hecate’s spell allows Medea, through her daughter’s dress that she gives Creon, to exact revenge on Creon. This method involves both Hecate’s poison and Helios’s fire. Medea blurs lines between the gods and mortals at the end. In the past, religious ceremonies were only performed by gods. Medea honours her children, after killing her children in a last blow to Jason. Medea has supernatural powers. She has not only earned Kleos from the Greeks for her dark magic, but also accurately predicted Jason’s demise. Medea, who is likely to have appeared on stage at a place traditionally reserved for the gods in order to claim that Jason would die by anticlimactically being “struck by a piece Argo’s wood” (1387). To what extent Medea has divine blood is yet to be determined. The gods’ continued support for Medea validates their initial support. Jason tells Medea that she can only escape “royal revenge” (1298) if she hides beneath the earth or flies into the air. Helios provides a dragon-drawn carriage to aid Medea in her escape.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.