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Medea (mythology)

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Is love so small a pain, do you think, for a woman?
~ Medea: Medea

Medea is a sorceress in Greek mythology who was instrumental in helping the hero, Jason, acquire the Golden Fleece. A follow-up play, Medea shows that after completion of the task Jason and Medea did not in fact live happily ever after. Medea is the titular character, main protagonist and central villain of the play where she turns on Jason and makes him suffer in the most vicious way either of them could imagine.

Jason and the Golden Fleece

Jason went in search of the Golden Fleece as a quest to prove himself the rightful heir to the kingdom of Iolcus. He brought many brave men aboard his boat, the Argo, in his quest. Jason and his Argonauts sailed to the land of Colchis, where it was said the Fleece rested. After many great adventure on the high seas Jason finally reached Colchis.

Upon landing in Colchis Jason met King Aeetes who kept the Golden Fleece as his prize. Aeetus had two children, his daughter Medea, a sorceress and soothsayer and his son Apsyrtus who was head of his guard. Medea had foretold of Jason's coming and warned her father not to have him killed on sight for he had the affections of the goddess Hera. Hera indeed did favor Jason and had asked her husband Zeus to watch over him, Zeus did as his wife asked but knew she pined for the mortal and so to both keep his promise and ensure Jason never repaid Hera's affections Zeus had his grandson Eros, god of love, strike Medea's heart making her fall in love with Jason upon his arrival. Hera was displeased that Jason's heart belong to another but let it be as Medea was  powerful ally for Jason to have and would keep him alive.

Jason stated his quest to King Aeetus who gave Jason three tasks to win the Golden Fleece and prove he was truly blessed by Hera in his quest. The first task was for Jason to slay a group of fire breathing oxen, the second task was to sow the fields of the Oxen with dragon teeth which instantly bloomed with the warriors of Ares who he then had to fight, lastly Jason had to slay the dragon itself which was guarding the Fleece. With his final task Jason recived the aid of Medea who mixed a sleeping potion for Jason to use on the dragon. Jason retrieved the Fleece but King Aeetus was not willing to let go of his prize even with Jason's vicory. Aeetus called for Jason's death and he, Medea and Argonaughts fled the shores of Colchis.

Medea knew that the Argo would not be able to out-sail Aeetus' troops and in the time it took the Argo to prepare for launch Medea secretly met with her brother Apsyrtus, claiming she had been under a spell and had recently come to her senses and wished to betray Jason, but no sooner had Apsyrtus gotten close than Jason came out of hiding and killed Apsyrtus. Jason and Medea left Apsyrtus's body on the cliff side where Aeetus and his men would be sure to see it. As Medea knew he would, Aeetus called off his troops to prepare a kingdom wide funeral for his son.


The Argo was met with strong winds and cruel waves and Medea predicted it would never reach Iolcus, instead Medea instructed the ship toward the hidden isle of Aeaea, Isle of Circe. Circe was a Sorceress like Medea and eldest of her kind. Medea and Jason asked Circe to bless the voyage home. Circe read the signs and saw that the gods had cursed Medea for conspiring to kill her brother and Jason by proxy. Circe made sacrifice to the goddess of witchcraft, Hecate to lift the curse however she warned that since the ceremony had cleared the two as a union that they must marry for the spell to hold. Circe then preformed a base marriage ceremony on them and cautioned that they visit the temple of Hera upon their return and become legally married as well.

The journey back to Ioclus was a smooth one from Aeaea, but Medea had another vision, that the helmsman of the Argo would become king of Ioclus, not Jason. Jason knew too well how such prophecies played out, with the destined king killing all rivals, and so in an effort to not be a casualty of the prophecy sent word to the kingdom of Corinth to expect him, for the Golden Fleece was a prize that would make him king no matter where he took it. Sure enough Jason overheard his half-brother Pelias, king of Ioclus, planing to murder Jason upon his return to prevent him from gaining the throne. Jason told Medea who spoke with Pelias's daughters and showed them a spell to give their father renewed youth. Medea cut up a live elderly ram into pieces, put the pieces into a boiling cauldron and added some magic herbs into the cauldron and out of it sprang, the ram, as a young adult lamb. Pelias's daughters knew how much their father feared old age and preformed the ceremony on him as well, however the herbs Medea gave them for the rite were not magical and the girls inadvertently murdered their father. Jason and Medea were banished from Ioclus for the murder of King Pelias but Jason was welcomed to Corinth as a hero. Jason became a noble of Corinth, married Medea and had three children with her.

Medea the play

Jason lived well but always resented being denied kingship. He soon began to speak with the king of Corinth about becoming his heir. Unlike Pelias the king of Corinth admired Jason and was far more willing to allow him to become his heir however the only way for him to validate such a choice for succession was for Jason to marry his daughter, Creusa. Jason began wooing Creusa in an effort to win her hand. The second Jason began considering a new marriage however Hecate lifted her blessing, as Jason was now safely on dry land Hera instead levied the curse against him and Medea indirectly by filling Medea's heart with bitterness and so the more Jason conspired with Creusa the more Medea became shrewish and reclusive in the eyes of the public. Soon Medea was seen as a stereotypical witch, among the people of Corinth.

Jason eventually divorced Medea, an act which nearly broke Medea's heart and only served to make her more bitter still. Jason became engaged to Creusa shortly after his divorce from Medea. When the marriage approached Jason ordered Medea to give him custody of their children to live with him and Creusa in the palace. Medea became outraged, to be left for another woman was one thing but the notion of losing her children to her cheating husband was completely another. The custom of the time was for the wife to retain guardianship of the children in a divorce but with Jason linked to the royal family he could legally claim guardianship of his children if he wished. Jason sent messengers to Medea with his request who stated the request was just a formality and they had authority to seize Medea's children from her. Jason's messenger stated that it would be easier on the children if Medea just let them leave.

Medea asked if all she had done for Jason meant nothing and how Jason was so ungrateful. Jason's messenger said that Jason would of course take care of her once he was king and keep her living in comfort, just out of the public eyes. The messenger claimed Medea had seen to that herself by openly practicing witchcraft and that of course no king could be directly associated with such a person. The messenger further claimed that in truth growing up as royalty rather than being labeled the children of a witch would be a kinder fate for her children. Medea retired to think of her children but knew the way of things. Jason and Creusa would have their own children and as those born in wedlock such children would surely have the throne, but to assert succession the eldest son of such a union would need to attend to his older half siblings, whether through banishment, exile or more likely murder, knowing her luck Medea knew it would be the worst possible choice and her children would likely be murdered to resolve the issue.

By the next day Medea comes to a conclusion of what must be done, she tells the messenger if she is to give up her children without a fight Jason must come to claim them himself. But as a token of goodwill and to show her anger was not at the new bride Medea sent a dress she wove of the finest silks to Creusa as a wedding dress. The messenger arrived back at Corinth's palace with Medea's request and gave Creusa the parcel. Creusa opened the package and saw the lovely dress, which she put on. Upon putting on the dress Creusa's flesh began to sear from a potion Medea had covered the dress in, a potion which not only burned her skin but stuck to it and prevented her from removing it, by the time Jason had gotten a cleric in to remove the dress and poison Creusa was already dead.

Jason arrived at Medea's house to confront her and take back his children by force. Medea informed Jason that the children were awaiting him in their rooms. Jason hurried to them to find each one dead. Medea had killed each one in their sleep. Medea told Jason they would surely have died anyway once the issue of succession arose and even he must have known what awaited them. When Jason next looked up he saw Medea in a dragon-drawn chariot with her children in her hands. Medea told Jason he had none to blame but himself, his own lust and greed had blinded him to his family's fortune and her own actions were by extension his doing. Jason pleaded with Medea to at least let him give them their last rites. Medea said that if the only way she could keep their children was in death she would do so and she would never allow Jason to take them. Medea then flew off and as she did her children seemed to wake from death as undead, leaving Jason a broken man left with nothing.

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