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1.6: Medea

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    MEDEAScreen Shot 2020-04-05 at 11.10.07 PM.png

    Euripides (ca. 484-ca.407 B.C.E.)

    First performed in 431 B.C.E.


    Of the three great ancient Greek tragedians (including Aeschylus and Sophocles), Euripides was perhaps the most controversial, and intentionally so. He did not win many of the Dionysian festival competitions among Greek dramatists with his shocking depictions of wellknown stories, but nineteen of his over ninety plays have survived. As with most of his plays, Euripides’ version of the story of Medea focuses on the psychological aspects of the character. Medea, the niece of the sorceress Circe, had earlier helped Jason take the Golden Fleece from the land of Colchis, betraying both her family and her country in the process (including killing her own brother). Medea also had used her magic to restore youth to Jason’s father, Aeson. Before meeting Medea, Jason had already abandoned his previous “wife,” Hypsipyle, and his twin children with her; the play begins with Medea learning that she and her children with Jason are about to be abandoned for a new wife.

    Written by Laura J. Getty


    Euripedes, explanatory notes by Gilbert Murray, M.A., LL.D. and Rhonda Kelley


    Medea, daughter of Aiêtês, King of Colchis.

    Jason, chief of the Argonauts; nephew of Pelias, King of Iôlcos in Thessaly.

    Creon, ruler of Corinth.

    Aegeus, King of Athens.

    Nurse of Medea.

    Two Children of Jason and Medea.

    Attendant on the children.

    A Messenger.

    Chorus of Corinthian Women, with their Leader.

    Soldiers and Attendants.

    The scene is laid in Corinth.\(^{23}\)

    The Scene represents the front of Medea’s House in Corinth. A road to the right leads towards the royal castle, one on the left to the harbour. The Nurse is discovered alone.


    Would God no Argo\(^{24}\) e’er had winged the seas

    To Colchis\(^{25}\) through the blue Symplêgades:\(^{26}\)

    No shaft of riven\(^{27}\)pine in Pêlion’s\(^{28}\) glen

    Shaped that first oar-blade in the hands of men

    Valiant, who won, to save King Pelias’ vow,

    The fleece All-golden! Never then, I trow,\(^{29}\)

    Mine own princess,\(^{30}\)her spirit wounded sore

    With love of Jason, to the encastled\(^{31}\) shore

    Had sailed of old Iôlcos:\(^{32}\) never wrought

    The daughters of King Pelias, knowing not,

    To spill their father’s life:\(^{33}\)nor fled in fear,

    Hunted for that fierce sin, to Corinth here

    With Jason and her babes. This folk at need

    Stood friend to her, and she in word and deed

    Served alway Jason. Surely this doth bind,

    Through all ill days, the hurts of humankind,

    When man and woman in one music move.

    But now, the world is angry, and true love

    Sick as with poison. Jason doth forsake

    My mistress and his own two sons, to make

    His couch in a king’s chamber. He must wed:\(^{34}\)

    Wed with this Creon’s child, who now is head

    And chief of Corinth. Wherefore sore betrayed

    Medea calleth up the oath they made,

    They two, and wakes the claspèd hands again,

    The troth surpassing speech, and cries amain\(^{35}\)

    On God in heaven to mark the end, and how

    Jason hath paid his debt.

    All fasting now

    And cold, her body yielded up to pain,

    Her days a waste of weeping, she hath lain,

    Since first she knew that he was false. Her eyes

    Are lifted not; and all her visage lies

    In the dust. If friends will speak, she hears no more

    Than some dead rock or wave that beats the shore:

    Only the white throat in a sudden shame

    May writhe, and all alone she moans the name

    Of father, and land, and home, forsook that day

    For this man’s sake, who casteth her away.

    Not to be quite shut out from home . . . alas,

    She knoweth now how rare a thing that was!

    Methinks she hath a dread, not joy, to see

    Her children near. ‘Tis this that maketh me

    Most tremble, lest she do I know not what.

    Her heart is no light thing, and useth not

    To brook much wrong. I know that woman, aye,

    And dread her! Will she creep alone to die

    Bleeding in that old room, where still is laid

    Lord Jason’s bed? She hath for that a blade

    Made keen.\(^{36}\) Or slay the bridegroom and the king,

    And win herself God knows what direr thing?

    ‘Tis a fell spirit. Few, I ween,\(^{37}\)shall stir

    Her hate unscathed, or lightly humble her.

    Ha! ‘Tis the children from their games again,

    Rested and gay; and all their mother’s pain

    Forgotten! Young lives ever turn from gloom!

    [The Children and their Attendant\(^{38}\) come in.]


    Thou ancient treasure of my lady’s room,

    What mak’st thou here before the gates alone,

    And alway turning on thy lips some moan

    Of old mischances? Will our mistress be

    Content, this long time to be left by thee?


    Grey\(^{39}\) guard of Jason’s children, a good thrall

    Hath his own grief, if any hurt befall

    His masters. Aye, it holds one’s heart! . . .


    I have strayed out so deep in evil dreams,

    I longed to rest me here alone, and cry

    Medea’s wrongs to this still Earth and Sky.\(^{41}\)


    How? Are the tears yet running in her eyes?


    ‘Twere good to be like thee! . . . Her sorrow lies

    Scarce wakened yet, not half its perils wrought.


    Mad spirit! . . . if a man may speak his thought

    Of masters mad.—And nothing in her ears

    Hath sounded yet of her last cause for tears!

    [He moves towards the house, but the Nurse checks him.]


    What cause, old man? . . . Nay, grudge me not one word.


    ‘Tis nothing. Best forget what thou hast heard.


    Nay, housemate, by thy beard! Hold it not hid

    From me. . . . I will keep silence if thou bid.


    I heard an old man talking, where he sate

    At draughts in the sun, beside the fountain gate,

    And never thought of me, there standing still

    Beside him. And he said, ‘Twas Creon’s will,

    Being lord of all this land, that she be sent,

    And with her her two sons, to banishment.

    Maybe ‘tis all false. For myself, I know

    No further, and I would it were not so.


    Jason will never bear it —his own sons

    Banished,—however hot his anger runs

    Against their mother!


    Old love burneth low

    When new love wakes, men say. He is not now

    Husband nor father here, nor any kin.


    But this is ruin! New waves breaking in

    To wreck us, ere we are righted from the old!


    Well, hold thy peace. Our mistress will be told

    All in good time. Speak thou no word hereof.


    My babes! What think ye of your father’s love?

    God curse him not, he is my master still:

    But, oh, to them that loved him, ‘tis an ill

    Friend. . . .


    And what man on earth is different? How?

    Hast thou lived all these years, and learned but now

    That every man more loveth his own head

    Than other men’s? He dreameth of the bed

    Of this new bride, and thinks not of his sons.


    Go: run into the house, my little ones:

    All will end happily! . . . Keep them apart:

    Let not their mother meet them while her heart

    Is darkened. Yester night I saw a flame

    Stand in her eye, as though she hated them,

    And would I know not what. For sure her wrath

    Will never turn nor slumber, till she hath . . .

    Go: and if some must suffer, may it be

    Not we who love her, but some enemy!

    Voice (within).

    Oh shame and pain: O woe is me!

    Would I could die in my misery!

    [The Children and the Attendant go in.]


    Ah, children, hark! She moves again

    Her frozen heart, her sleeping wrath.

    In, quick! And never cross her path,

    Nor rouse that dark eye in its pain;

    That fell sea-spirit, and the dire

    Spring of a will untaught, unbowed.

    Quick, now!—Methinks this weeping cloud

    Hath in its heart some thunder-fire,

    Slow gathering, that must flash ere long.

    I know not how, for ill or well,

    It turns, this uncontrollable

    Tempestuous spirit, blind with wrong.

    Voice (within).

    Have I not suffered? Doth it call

    No tears? . . . Ha, ye beside the wall

    Unfathered children, God hate you

    As I am hated, and him, too,

    That gat you, and this house and all!


    For pity! What have they to do,

    Babes, with their father’s sin? Why call

    Thy curse on these? . . . Ah, children, all

    These days my bosom bleeds for you.

    Rude are the wills of princes: yea,

    Prevailing alway, seldom crossed,

    On fitful winds their moods are tossed:

    ‘Tis best men tread the equal way

    Aye, not with glory but with peace

    May the long summers find me crowned:

    For gentleness—her very sound

    Is magic, and her usages.

    All wholesome: but the fiercely great

    Hath little music on his road,

    And falleth, when the hand of God

    Shall move, most deep and desolate.

    [During the last words the Leader of the Chorus\(^{42}\) has entered. Other women follow her.]


    I heard a voice and a moan,

    A voice of the eastern seas:

    Hath she found not yet her ease?

    Speak, O agèd one.

    For I stood afar at the gate,

    And there came from within a cry,

    And wailing desolate.

    Ah, no more joy have I,

    For the griefs this house doth see,

    And the love it hath wrought in me.


    There is no house! ‘Tis gone. The lord

    Seeketh a prouder\(^{43}\) bed: and she

    Wastes in her chamber, not one word

    Will hear of care or charity.

    Voice (within).

    O Zeus, O Earth, O Light,

    Will the fire not stab my brain?

    What profiteth living? Oh,

    Shall I not lift the slow

    Yoke, and let Life go,

    As a beast out in the night,

    To lie, and be rid of pain?


    Some Women

    A. “O Zeus, O Earth, O Light:”

    The cry of a bride forlorn

    Heard ye, and wailing born

    Of lost delight?

    B. Why weariest thou this day,

    Wild heart, for the bed abhorrèd,

    The cold bed in the clay?

    Death cometh though no man pray,

    Ungarlanded, un-adorèd.

    Call him not thou.

    C. If another’s arms be now

    Where thine have been,

    On his head be the sin:

    Rend not thy brow!

    D. All that thou sufferest,

    God seeth: Oh, not so sore

    Waste nor weep for the breast

    That was thine of yore.

    Voice (within).

    Virgin of Righteousness,

    Virgin of hallowed Troth,\(^{44})\

    Ye marked me when with an oath

    I bound him; mark no less

    That oath’s end. Give me to see

    Him and his bride, who sought

    My grief when I wronged her not,

    Broken in misery

    And all her house. . . . O God,

    My mother’s home, and the dim

    Shore that I left for him,

    And the voice of my brother’s blood. . . .\(^{45}\)


    Oh, wild words! Did ye hear her cry

    To them that guard man’s faith forsworn,

    Themis and Zeus? . . . This wrath new-born

    Shall make mad workings ere it die.


    Other Women

    A. Would she but come to seek

    Our faces, that love her well,

    And take to her heart the spell

    Of words that speak?

    B. Alas for the heavy hate

    And anger that burneth ever!

    Would it but now abate,

    Ah God, I love her yet.

    And surely my love’s endeavour

    Shall fail not here.

    C. Go: from that chamber drear

    Forth to the day

    Lead her, and say, Oh, say

    That we love her dear.

    D. Go, lest her hand be hard

    On the innocent: Ah, let be!

    For her grief moves hitherward,

    Like an angry sea.


    That will I: though what words of mine

    Or love shall move her? Let them lie

    With the old lost labours! . . . Yet her eye—

    Know ye the eyes of the wild kine,

    The lion flash that guards their brood?

    So looks she now if any thrall

    Speak comfort, or draw near at all

    My mistress in her evil mood.

    [The Nurse goes into the house.]


    A Woman

    Alas, the bold blithe bards of old\(^{46}\)

    That all for joy their music made,

    For feasts and dancing manifold,

    That Life might listen and be glad.

    But all the darkness and the wrong,

    Quick deaths and dim heart-aching things,

    Would no man ease them with a song

    Or music of a thousand strings?

    Then song had served us in our need.

    What profit, o’er the banquet’s swell

    That lingering cry that none may heed?

    The feast hath filled them: all is well!


    I heard a song, but it comes no more.

    Where the tears ran over:

    A keen cry but tired, tired:

    A woman’s cry for her heart’s desired,

    For a traitor’s kiss and a lost lover.

    But a prayer, methinks, yet riseth sore

    To God, to Faith, God’s ancient daughter—

    The Faith that over sundering seas

    Drew her to Hellas, and the breeze

    Of midnight shivered, and the door

    Closed of the salt unsounded water.

    [During the last words Medea has come out from the house.]


    Women of Corinth, I am come to show

    My face, lest ye despise me. For I know

    Some heads stand high and fail not, even at night

    Alone—far less like this, in all men’s sight:

    And we, who study not our wayfarings

    But feel and cry—Oh we are drifting things,

    And evil! For what truth is in men’s eyes,

    Which search no heart, but in a flash despise

    A strange face, shuddering back from one that ne’er

    Hath wronged them? . . . Sure, far-comers anywhere,

    I know, must bow them and be gentle. Nay,

    A Greek himself men praise not, who alway

    Should seek his own will recking not. . . . But I—

    This thing undreamed of, sudden from on high,

    Hath sapped my soul: I dazzle where I stand,

    The cup of all life shattered in my hand,

    Longing to die—O friends! He, even he,

    Whom to know well was all the world to me,

    The man I loved, hath proved most evil.—Oh,

    Of all things upon earth that bleed and grow,

    A herb most bruised is woman.(\^{47}\) We must pay

    Our store of gold, hoarded for that one day,

    To buy us some man’s love; and lo, they bring

    A master of our flesh! There comes the sting

    Of the whole shame. And then the jeopardy,

    For good or ill, what shall that master be;

    Reject she cannot: and if he but stays

    His suit, ‘tis shame on all that woman’s days.

    So thrown amid new laws, new places, why,

    ‘Tis magic she must have, or prophecy—

    Home never taught her that—how best to guide

    Toward peace this thing that sleepeth at her side.

    And she who, labouring long, shall find some way

    Whereby her lord may bear with her, nor fray

    His yoke too fiercely, blessed is the breath

    That woman draws! Else, let her pray for death.

    Her lord, if he be wearied of the face

    Withindoors, gets him forth; some merrier place

    Will ease his heart: but she waits on, her whole

    Vision enchainèd on a single soul.

    And then, forsooth, ‘tis they that face the call

    Of war, while we sit sheltered, hid from all

    Peril!—False mocking! Sooner would I stand

    Three times to face their battles, shield in hand,

    Than bear one child.

    But peace! There cannot be

    Ever the same tale told of thee and me.

    Thou hast this city, and thy father’s home,

    And joy of friends, and hope in days to come:

    But I, being citiless, am cast aside

    By him that wedded me, a savage bride

    Won in far seas and left—no mother near,

    No brother, not one kinsman anywhere

    For harbour in this storm. Therefore of thee

    I ask one thing. If chance yet ope to me

    Some path, if even now my hand can win

    Strength to requite this Jason for his sin,

    Betray me not! Oh, in all things but this,

    I know how full of fears a woman is,

    And faint at need, and shrinking from the light

    Of battle: but once spoil her of her right

    In man’s love, and there moves, I warn thee well,

    No bloodier spirit between heaven and hell.


    I will betray thee not. It is but just,

    Thou smite him.—And that weeping in the dust

    And stormy tears, how should I blame them? . . .


    ‘Tis Creon, lord of Corinth, makes his way

    Hither, and bears, methinks, some word of weight.

    Enter from the right Creon, the King, with armed Attendants.


    Thou woman sullen-eyed and hot with hate

    Against thy lord, Medea, I here command

    That thou and thy two children from this land

    Go forth to banishment. Make no delay:

    Seeing ourselves, the King, are come this day

    To see our charge fulfilled; nor shall again

    Look homeward ere we have led thy children twain

    And thee beyond our realm’s last boundary.


    Lost! Lost!

    Mine haters at the helm with sail flung free

    Pursuing; and for us no beach nor shore

    In the endless waters! . . . Yet, though stricken sore,

    I still will ask thee, for what crime, what thing

    Unlawful, wilt thou cast me out, O King?


    What crime? I fear thee, woman—little need

    To cloak my reasons—lest thou work some deed

    Of darkness on my child. And in that fear

    Reasons enough have part. Thou comest here

    A wise-woman confessed, and full of lore

    In unknown ways of evil.(\^{48}\) Thou art sore

    In heart, being parted from thy lover’s arms.

    And more, thou hast made menace . . . so the alarms

    But now have reached mine ear . . . on bride and groom,

    And him who gave the bride, to work thy doom

    Of vengeance. Which, ere yet it be too late,

    I sweep aside. I choose to earn thine hate

    Of set will now, not palter with the mood

    Of mercy, and hereafter weep in blood.


    ‘Tis not the first nor second time, O King,

    That fame hath hurt me, and come nigh to bring

    My ruin. . . . How can any man, whose eyes

    Are wholesome, seek to rear his children wise

    Beyond men’s wont? Much helplessness in arts

    Of common life, and in their townsmen’s hearts

    Envy deep-set . . . so much their learning brings!

    Come unto fools with knowledge of new things,

    They deem it vanity, not knowledge. Aye,

    And men that erst for wisdom were held high,

    Feel thee a thorn to fret them, privily

    Held higher than they. So hath it been with me.

    A wise-woman I am; and for that sin

    To divers ill names men would pen me in;

    A seed of strife; an eastern dreamer; one

    Of brand not theirs; one hard to play upon . . .

    Ah, I am not so wondrous wise!—And now,

    To thee, I am terrible! What fearest thou?

    What dire deed? Do I tread so proud a path—

    Fear me not thou!—that I should brave the wrath

    Of princes? Thou: what has thou ever done

    To wrong me? Granted thine own child to one

    Whom thy soul chose.—Ah, him out of my heart

    I hate; but thou, meseems, hast done thy part

    Not ill. And for thine houses’ happiness

    I hold no grudge. Go: marry, and God bless

    Your issues. Only suffer me to rest

    Somewhere within this land. Though sore oppressed,

    I will be still, knowing mine own defeat.


    Thy words be gentle: but I fear me yet

    Lest even now there creep some wickedness

    Deep hid within thee. And for that the less

    I trust thee now than ere these words began.

    A woman quick of wrath, aye, or a man,

    Is easier watching than the cold and still.

    Up, straight, and find thy road! Mock not my will

    With words. This doom is passed beyond recall;

    Nor all thy crafts shall help thee, being withal

    My manifest foe, to linger at my side.

    Medea (suddenly throwing herself down and clinging to Creon).

    Oh, by thy knees! By that new-wedded bride . . .


    ‘Tis waste of words. Thou shalt not weaken me.


    Wilt hunt me? Spurn me when I kneel to thee?


    ‘Tis mine own house that kneels to me, not thou.


    Home, my lost home, how I desire thee now!


    And I mine, and my child, beyond all things.


    O Loves of man, what curse is on your wings!


    Blessing or curse, ‘tis as their chances flow.


    Remember, Zeus, the cause of all this woe!


    Oh, rid me of my pains! Up, get thee gone!


    What would I with thy pains? I have mine own.49


    Up: or, ‘fore God, my soldiers here shall fling . . .


    Not that! Not that!50 . . . I do but pray, O King . . .


    Thou wilt not? I must face the harsher task?


    I accept mine exile. ‘Tis not that I ask.


    Why then so wild? Why clinging to mine hand?

    Medea (rising).

    For one day only leave me in thy land

    At peace, to find some counsel, ere the strain

    Of exile fall, some comfort for these twain,

    Mine innocents; since others take no thought,

    It seems, to save the babes that they begot.

    Ah! Thou wilt pity them! Thou also art

    A father: thou hast somewhere still a heart

    That feels. . . . I reck not of myself: ‘tis they

    That break me, fallen upon so dire a day


    Mine is no tyrant’s mood. Aye, many a time

    Ere this my tenderness hath marred the chime

    Of wisest counsels. And I know that now

    I do mere folly. But so be it! Thou

    Shalt have this grace . . . But this I warn thee clear,

    If once the morrow’s sunlight find thee here

    Within my borders, thee or child of thine,

    Thou diest! . . . Of this judgment not a line

    Shall waver nor abate. So linger on,

    If thou needs must, till the next risen sun;

    No further. . . . In one day there scarce can be

    Those perils wrought whose dread yet haunteth me.

    [Exit Creon with his suite.]


    O woman, woman of sorrow,

    Where wilt thou turn and flee?

    What town shall be thine to-morrow,

    What land of all lands that be,

    What door of a strange man’s home?

    Yea, God hath hunted thee,

    Medea, forth to the foam

    Of a trackless sea.


    Defeat on every side; what else? (\^{51}\)—But Oh,

    Not here the end is: think it not! I know

    For bride and groom one battle yet untried,

    And goodly pains for him that gave the bride.

    Dost dream I would have grovelled to this man,

    Save that I won mine end, and shaped my plan

    For merry deeds? My lips had never deigned

    Speak word with him: my flesh been never stained

    With touching. . . . Fool, Oh, triple fool! It lay

    So plain for him to kill my whole essay(\^{52}\)

    By exile swift: and, lo, he sets me free

    This one long day: wherein mine haters three

    Shall lie here dead, the father and the bride

    And husband—mine, not hers! Oh, I have tried

    So many thoughts of murder to my turn,

    I know not which best likes me. Shall I burn

    Their house with fire? Or stealing past unseen

    To Jason’s bed—I have a blade made keen

    For that—stab, breast to breast, that wedded pair?

    Good, but for one thing. When I am taken there,

    And killed, they will laugh loud who hate me. . . .


    I love the old way best, the simple way

    Of poison, where we too are strong as men.(\^{53}\)

    Ah me!

    And they being dead—what place shall hold me then?

    What friend shall rise, with land inviolate

    And trusty doors, to shelter from their hate

    This flesh? . . . None anywhere! . . . A little more

    I needs must wait: and, if there ope some door

    Of refuge, some strong tower to shield me, good:

    In craft and darkness I will hunt this blood.

    Else, if mine hour be come and no hope nigh,

    Then sword in hand, full-willed and sure to die,

    I yet will live to slay them. I will wend

    Man-like, their road of daring to the end.

    So help me She who of all Gods hath been

    The best to me, of all my chosen queen

    And helpmate, Hecatê, who dwells apart,

    The flame of flame, in my fire’s inmost heart:

    For all their strength, they shall not stab my soul

    And laugh thereafter! Dark and full of dole

    Their bridal feast shall be, most dark the day

    They joined their hands, and hunted me away.

    Awake thee now, Medea! Whatso plot

    Thou hast, or cunning, strive and falter not.

    On to the peril-point! Now comes the strain

    Of daring. Shall they trample thee again?

    How? And with Hellas laughing o’er thy fall

    While this thief ’s daughter weds, and weds withal

    Jason? . . . A true king was thy father, yea,

    And born of the ancient Sun!54 . . . Thou know’st the way;

    And God hath made thee woman,55 things most vain

    For help, but wondrous in the paths of pain.

    [Medea goes into the House.]


    Back streams the wave on the ever running river:(\^{57}\)

    Life, life is changed and the laws of it o’ertrod.

    Man shall be the slave, the affrighted, the low-liver!

    Man hath forgotten God.

    And woman, yea, woman, shall be terrible in story:

    The tales too, meseemeth, shall be other than of yore.

    For a fear there is that cometh out of Woman and a glory,

    And the hard hating voices shall encompass her no more!

    The old bards(\^{58}\) shall cease, and their memory that lingers

    Of frail brides and faithless, shall be shrivelled as with fire.

    For they loved us not, nor knew us: and our lips were dumb, our fingers

    Could wake not the secret of the lyre.

    Else, else, O God the Singer, I had sung amid their rages

    A long tale of Man and his deeds for good and ill.

    But the old World knoweth—’tis the speech of all his ages—

    Man’s wrong and ours: he knoweth and is still.

    Some Women.

    Forth from thy father’s home

    Thou camest, O heart of fire,

    To the Dark Blue Rocks, to the clashing foam,

    To the seas of thy desire:

    Till the Dark Blue Bar was crossed;

    And, lo, by an alien river

    Standing, thy lover lost,

    Void-armed for ever,

    Forth yet again, O lowest

    Of landless women, a ranger

    Of desolate ways, thou goest,

    From the walls of the stranger.


    And the great Oath waxeth weak;

    And Ruth, as a thing outstriven,

    Is fled, fled, from the shores of the Greek,

    Away on the winds of heaven.

    Dark is the house afar,

    Where an old king called thee daughter;

    All that was once thy star

    In stormy water,

    Dark: and, lo, in the nearer

    House that was sworn to love thee,

    Another, queenlier, dearer,

    Is thronèd above thee.

    Enter from the right Jason.


    Oft have I seen, in other days than these,

    How a dark temper maketh maladies

    No friend can heal. ‘Twas easy to have kept

    Both land and home. It needed but to accept

    Unstrivingly the pleasure of our lords.

    But thou, for mere delight in stormy words,

    Wilt lose all! . . . Now thy speech provokes not me.

    Rail on. Of all mankind let Jason be

    Most evil; none shall check thee. But for these

    Dark threats cast out against the majesties

    Of Corinth, count as veriest gain thy path

    Of exile. I myself, when princely wrath

    Was hot against thee, strove with all good will

    To appease the wrath, and wished to keep thee still

    Beside me. But thy mouth would never stay

    From vanity, blaspheming night and day

    Our masters. Therefore thou shalt fly the land.

    Yet, even so, I will not hold my hand

    From succouring mine own people. Here am I

    To help thee, woman, pondering heedfully

    Thy new state. For I would not have thee flung

    Provisionless away—aye, and the young

    Children as well; nor lacking aught that will

    Of mine can bring thee. Many a lesser ill

    Hangs on the heels of exile. . . . Aye, and though

    Thou hate me, dream not that my heart can know

    Or fashion aught of angry will to thee.


    Evil, most evil! . . . since thou grantest me

    That comfort, the worst weapon left me now

    To smite a coward. . . . Thou comest to me, thou,

    Mine enemy! (Turning to the Chorus.) Oh, say, how call ye this,

    To face, and smile, the comrade whom his kiss

    Betrayed? Scorn? Insult? Courage? None of these:

    ‘Tis but of all man’s inward sicknesses

    The vilest, that he knoweth not of shame

    Nor pity! Yet I praise him that he came . . .

    To me it shall bring comfort, once to clear

    My heart on thee, and thou shalt wince to hear.

    I will begin with that, ‘twixt me and thee,

    That first befell. I saved thee. I saved thee—

    Let thine own Greeks be witness, every one

    That sailed on Argo—saved thee, sent alone

    To yoke with yokes the bulls of fiery breath,

    And sow that Acre of the Lords of Death;

    And mine own ancient Serpent, who did keep

    The Golden Fleece, the eyes that knew not sleep,

    And shining coils, him also did I smite

    Dead for thy sake, and lifted up the light

    That bade thee live. Myself, uncounsellèd,

    Stole forth from father and from home, and fled Where dark Iôlcos under Pelion lies,

    With thee—Oh, single-hearted more than wise!

    I murdered Pelias, yea, in agony,

    By his own daughters’ hands, for sake of thee;

    I swept their house like War.—And hast thou then

    Accepted all—O evil yet again!—

    And cast me off and taken thee for bride

    Another? And with children at thy side!

    One could forgive a childless man. But no:

    I have borne thee children . . .

    Is sworn faith so low

    And weak a thing? I understand it not.

    Are the old gods dead? Are the old laws forgot,

    And new laws made? Since not my passioning,

    But thine own heart, doth cry thee for a thing


    [She catches sight of her own hand which she has

    thrown out to denounce him.]

    Poor, poor right hand of mine, whom he

    Did cling to, and these knees, so cravingly,

    We are unclean, thou and I; we have caught the stain

    Of bad men’s flesh . . . and dreamed our dreams in vain.

    Thou comest to befriend me? Give me, then,

    Thy counsel. ‘Tis not that I dream again

    For good from thee: but, questioned, thou wilt show

    The viler. Say: now whither shall I go?

    Back to my father? Him I did betray,

    And all his land, when we two fled away.

    To those poor Peliad maids? For them ‘twere good

    To take me in, who spilled their father’s blood. . . .

    Aye, so my whole life stands! There were at home

    Who loved me well: to them I am become

    A curse. And the first friends who sheltered me,(\^{59}\)

    Whom most I should have spared, to pleasure thee

    I have turned to foes. Oh, therefore hast thou laid

    My crown upon me, blest of many a maid

    In Hellas, now I have won what all did crave,

    Thee, the world-wondered lover and the brave;(\^{60}\)

    Who this day looks and sees me banished, thrown

    Away with these two babes, all, all, alone . . .

    Oh, merry mocking when the lamps are red:

    “Where go the bridegroom’s babes to beg their bread

    In exile, and the woman who gave all

    To save him?”

    O great God, shall gold withal

    Bear thy clear mark, to sift the base and fine,

    And o’er man’s living visage runs no sign

    To show the lie within, ere all too late?


    Dire and beyond all healing is the hate

    When hearts that loved are turned to enmity.


    In speech at least, meseemeth, I must be

    Not evil;61 but, as some old pilot goes

    Furled to his sail’s last edge, when danger blows

    Too fiery, run before the wind and swell,

    Woman, of thy loud storms.—And thus I tell

    My tale. Since thou wilt build so wondrous high

    Thy deeds of service in my jeopardy,

    To all my crew and quest I know but one

    Saviour, of Gods or mortals one alone,

    The Cyprian. Oh, thou hast both brain and wit,

    Yet underneath . . . nay, all the tale of it

    Were graceless telling; how sheer love, a fire

    Of poison-shafts, compelled thee with desire

    To save me. But enough. I will not score

    That count too close. ‘Twas good help: and therefor

    I give thee thanks, howe’er the help was wrought.

    Howbeit, in my deliverance, thou hast got

    Far more than given.

    A good Greek land hath been

    Thy lasting home, not barbary.(\^{62}\)

    Thou hast seen Our ordered life, and justice,(\^{63}\) and the long

    Still grasp of law not changing with the strong

    Man’s pleasure. Then, all Hellas far and near

    Hath learned thy wisdom, and in every ear

    Thy fame is. Had thy days run by unseen

    On that last edge of the world, where then had been The story of great Medea? Thou and I . . .

    What worth to us were treasures heapèd high

    In rich kings’ rooms;

    what worth a voice of gold

    More sweet than ever rang from Orpheus old,

    Unless our deeds have glory?(\^{64}\)

    Speak I so,
    Touching the Quest I wrought, thyself did throw

    The challenge down. Next for thy cavilling

    Of wrath at mine alliance with a king,

    Here thou shalt see I both was wise, and free

    From touch of passion, and a friend to thee

    Most potent, and my children . . . Nay, be still!

    When first I stood in Corinth, clogged with ill

    From many a desperate mischance, what bliss

    Could I that day have dreamed of, like to this,

    To wed with a king’s daughter, I exiled

    And beggared? Not—what makes thy passion wild—

    From loathing of thy bed; not over-fraught

    With love for this new bride; not that I sought

    To upbuild mine house with offspring: ‘tis enough,

    What thou hast borne: I make no word thereof:

    But, first and greatest, that we all might dwell

    In a fair house and want not, knowing well

    That poor men have no friends, but far and near

    Shunning and silence. Next, I sought to rear

    Our sons in nurture worthy of my race,

    And, raising brethren to them, in one place

    Join both my houses, and be all from now

    Prince-like and happy. What more need hast thou

    Of children?(\^{65}\) And for me, it serves my star
    To link in strength the children that now are

    With those that shall be.

    Have I counselled ill?

    Not thine own self would say it, couldst thou still

    One hour thy jealous flesh.—’Tis ever so!

    Who looks for more in women? When the flow

    Of love runs plain, why, all the world is fair:

    But, once there fall some ill chance anywhere

    To baulk that thirst, down in swift hate are trod

    Men’s dearest aims and noblest. Would to God

    We mortals by some other seed could raise

    Our fruits, and no blind women block our ways!

    Then had there been no curse to wreck mankind.


    Lord Jason, very subtly hast thou twined

    Thy speech: but yet, though all athwart thy will

    I speak, this is not well thou dost, but ill,

    Betraying her who loved thee and was true.


    Surely I have my thoughts, and not a few

    Have held me strange. To me it seemeth, when

    A crafty tongue is given to evil men

    ‘Tis like to wreck, not help them. Their own brain

    Tempts them with lies to dare and dare again,

    Till . . . no man hath enough of subtlety.

    As thou—be not so seeming-fair to me

    Nor deft of speech. One word will make thee fall.

    Wert thou not false, ‘twas thine to tell me all,

    And charge me help thy marriage path, as I

    Did love thee; not befool me with a lie.


    An easy task had that been! Aye, and thou

    A loving aid, who canst not, even now,

    Still that loud heart that surges like the tide!


    That moved thee not. Thine old barbarian bride,

    The dog out of the east who loved thee sore,

    She grew grey-haired, she served thy pride no more.


    Now understand for once! The girl to me

    Is nothing, in this web of sovranty

    I hold. I do but seek to save, even yet,

    Thee: and for brethren to our sons beget

    Young kings, to prosper all our lives again.


    God shelter me from prosperous days of pain,

    And wealth that maketh wounds about my heart.


    Wilt change that prayer, and choose a wiser part?

    Pray not to hold true sense for pain, nor rate

    Thyself unhappy, being too fortunate.


    Aye, mock me; thou hast where to lay thine head,

    But I go naked to mine exile.


    Thine own path! Thou hast made it all to be.


    How? By seducing and forsaking thee?


    By those vile curses on the royal halls

    Let loose. . . .


    On thy house also, as chance falls,

    I am a living curse.(\^{66}\)


    Oh, peace! Enough
    Of these vain wars: I will no more thereof.

    If thou wilt take from all that I possess
    Aid for these babes and thine own helplessness

    Of exile, speak thy bidding. Here I stand

    Full-willed to succour thee with stintless hand,

    And send my signet to old friends that dwell

    On foreign shores, who will entreat thee well.

    Refuse, and thou shalt do a deed most vain.

    But cast thy rage away, and thou shalt gain

    Much, and lose little for thine anger’s sake.


    I will not seek thy friends. I will not take

    Thy givings. Give them not. Fruits of a stem

    Unholy bring no blessing after them.


    Now God in heaven be witness, all my heart

    Is willing, in all ways, to do its part

    For thee and for thy babes. But nothing good

    Can please thee. In sheer savageness of mood

    Thou drivest from thee every friend. Wherefore

    I warrant thee, thy pains shall be the more.
    [He goes slowly away.]


    Go: thou art weary for the new delight

    Thou wooest, so long tarrying out of sight

    Of her sweet chamber. Go, fulfil thy pride,

    O bridegroom! For it may be, such a bride

    Shall wait thee,—yea, God heareth me in this—

    As thine own heart shall sicken ere it kiss.


    Alas, the Love(\^{67}\) that falleth like a flood,

    Strong-winged and transitory:

    Why praise ye him? What beareth he of good

    To man, or glory?

    Yet Love there is that moves in gentleness,

    Heart-filling, sweetest of all powers that bless.

    Loose not on me, O Holder of man’s heart,

    Thy golden quiver,

    Nor steep in poison of desire the dart

    That heals not ever.

    The pent hate of the word that cavilleth,

    The strife that hath no fill,

    Where once was fondness; and the mad heart’s breath

    For strange love panting still:

    O Cyprian, cast me not on these; but sift,

    Keen-eyed, of love the good and evil gift.

    Make Innocence my friend, God’s fairest star,

    Yea, and abate not

    The rare sweet beat of bosoms without war,

    That love, and hate not.


    Home of my heart, land of my own,

    Cast me not, nay, for pity,

    Out on my ways, helpless, alone,

    Where the feet fail in the mire and stone,

    A woman without a city.

    Ah, not that! Better the end:

    The green grave cover me rather,

    If a break must come in the days I know,

    And the skies be changed and the earth below;

    For the weariest road that man may wend

    Is forth from the home of his father.

    Lo, we have seen: ‘tis not a song

    Sung, nor learned of another.

    For whom hast thou in thy direst wrong

    For comfort? Never a city strong

    To hide thee, never a brother.

    Ah, but the man—cursèd be he,

    Cursèd beyond recover,

    Who openeth, shattering, seal by seal,

    A friend’s clean heart, then turns his heel,

    Deaf unto love: never in me

    Friend shall he know nor lover.

    [While Medea is waiting downcast, seated upon her door-step, there passes from the left a traveller with followers. As

    he catches sight of Medea he stops.(\^{68}\) ]


    Have joy, Medea! ‘Tis the homeliest

    Word that old friends can greet with, and the best.

    Medea (looking up, surprised).

    Oh, joy on thee, too, Aegeus, gentle king

    Of Athens!—But whence com’st thou journeying?


    From Delphi now and the old encaverned stair. . . .


    Where Earth's heart speaks in song? What mad'st thou there?


    Prayed heaven for children—the same search alway.


    Children? Ah God! Art childless to this day?


    So God hath willed. Childless and desolate.


    What word did Phœbus(\^{69}\) speak, to change thy fate?


    Riddles, too hard for mortal man to read.


    Which I may hear?


    Assuredly: they need

    A rarer wit.


    How said he?


    Not to spill

    Life’s wine, nor seek for more. . . .





    I tread the hearth-stone of my sires of yore.(\^{70}\)


    And what should bring thee here, by Creon’s shore?


    One Pittheus know’st thou, high lord of Trozên?


    Aye, Pelops’ son, a man most pure of sin.


    Him I would ask, touching Apollo’s will.


    Much use in God’s ways hath he, and much skill.


    And, long years back he was my battle-friend,

    The truest e’er man had.


    Well, may God send

    Good hap to thee, and grant all thy desire.


    But thou . . . ? Thy frame is wasted, and the fire Dead in thine eyes.


    Aegeus, my husband is

    The falsest man in the world.


    What word is this?

    Say clearly what thus makes thy visage dim?


    He is false to me, who never injured him.


    What hath he done? Show all, that I may see.


    Ta’en him a wife; a wife, set over me

    To rule his house.


    He hath not dared to do,

    Jason, a thing so shameful?


    Aye, ‘tis true:
    And those he loved of yore have no place now.


    Some passion sweepeth him? Or is it thou

    He turns from?


    Passion, passion to betray

    His dearest!


    Shame be his, so fallen away

    From honour!


    Passion to be near a throne,

    A king’s heir!


    How, who gives the bride? Say on.


    Creon, who o’er all Corinth standeth chief.


    Woman, thou hast indeed much cause for grief.


    ‘Tis ruin.—And they have cast me out as well.


    Who? ‘Tis a new wrong this, and terrible.


    Creon the king, from every land and shore. . . .


    And Jason suffers him? Oh, ‘tis too sore!


    He loveth to bear bravely ills like these!

    But, Aegeus, by thy beard, oh, by thy knees,

    I pray thee, and I give me for thine own,

    Thy suppliant, pity me! Oh, pity one

    So miserable. Thou never wilt stand there

    And see me cast out friendless to despair.

    Give me a home in Athens . . . by the fire

    Of thine own hearth! Oh, so may thy desire

    Of children be fulfilled of God, and thou

    Die happy! . . . Thou canst know not; even now

    Thy prize is won! I, I will make of thee

    A childless man no more. The seed shall be,

    I swear it, sown. Such magic herbs I know.


    Woman, indeed my heart goes forth to show

    This help to thee, first for religion’s sake,

    Then for thy promised hope, to heal my ache

    Of childlessness. ‘Tis this hath made mine whole

    Life as a shadow, and starved out my soul.

    But thus it stands with me. Once make thy way

    To Attic earth, I, as in law I may,

    Will keep thee and befriend. But in this land,

    Where Creon rules, I may not raise my hand

    To shelter thee. Move of thine own essay

    To seek my house, there thou shalt alway stay,

    Inviolate, never to be seized again.

    But come thyself from Corinth.

    I would fain Even in foreign eyes be alway just.


    ‘Tis well. Give me an oath wherein to trust(\^{71}\)

    And all that man could ask thou hast granted me.


    Dost trust me not? Or what thing troubleth thee?


    I trust thee. But so many, far and near,

    Do hate me—all King Pelias’ house, and here

    Creon. Once bound by oaths and sanctities

    Thou canst not yield me up for such as these

    To drag from Athens. But a spoken word,

    No more, to bind thee, which no God hath heard. . .

    The embassies, methinks, would come and go:

    They all are friends to thee. . . . Ah me, I know

    Thou wilt not list to me! So weak am I,

    And they full-filled with gold and majesty.


    Methinks ‘tis a far foresight, this thine oath.

    Still, if thou so wilt have it, nothing loath

    Am I to serve thee. Mine own hand is so

    The stronger, if I have this plea to show

    Thy persecutors: and for thee withal

    The bond more sure.—On what God shall I call?


    Swear by the Earth thou treadest, by the Sun,

    Sire of my sires, and all the gods as one. . . .


    To do what thing or not do? Make all plain.


    Never thyself to cast me out again.

    Nor let another, whatsoe’er his plea,

    Take me, while thou yet livest and art free.


    Never: so hear me, Earth, and the great star

    Of daylight, and all other gods that are!


    ‘Tis well: and if thou falter from thy vow . . . ?


    God’s judgment on the godless break my brow!


    Go! Go thy ways rejoicing.—All is bright

    And clear before me. Go: and ere the night

    Myself will follow, when the deed is done
    I purpose, and the end I thirst for won.

    [Aegeus and his train depart.]


    Farewell: and Maia’s guiding Son

    Back lead thee to thy hearth and fire,

    Aegeus; and all the long desire

    That wasteth thee, at last be won:

    Our eyes have seen thee as thou art,

    A gentle and a righteous heart.


    God, and God’s Justice, and ye blinding Skies!

    At last the victory dawneth! Yea, mine eyes

    See, and my foot is on the mountain’s brow.

    Mine enemies! Mine enemies, oh, now

    Atonement cometh! Here at my worst hour

    A friend is found, a very port of power

    To save my shipwreck. Here will I make fast Mine anchor, and escape them at the last

    In Athens’ wallèd hill.—But ere the end

    ‘Tis meet I show thee all my counsel, friend:

    Take it, no tale to make men laugh withal!

    Straightway to Jason I will send some thrall

    To entreat him to my presence. Comes he here,

    Then with soft reasons will I feed his ear,

    How his will now is my will, how all things

    Are well, touching this marriage-bed of kings

    For which I am betrayed—all wise and rare

    And profitable! Yet will I make one prayer,

    That my two children be no more exiled

    But stay. . . . Oh, not that I would leave a child

    Here upon angry shores till those have laughed

    Who hate me: ‘tis that I will slay by craft

    The king’s daughter. With gifts they shall be sent,

    Gifts to the bride to spare their banishment,

    Fine robings and a carcanet of gold.

    Which raiment let her once but take, and fold About her, a foul death that girl shall die

    And all who touch her in her agony.

    Such poison shall they drink, my robe and wreath!

    Howbeit, of that no more. I gnash my teeth

    Thinking on what a path my feet must tread

    Thereafter. I shall lay those children dead—

    Mine, whom no hand shall steal from me away!

    Then, leaving Jason childless, and the day

    As night above him, I will go my road

    To exile, flying, flying from the blood

    Of these my best-beloved, and having wrought

    All horror, so but one thing reach me not,

    The laugh of them that hate us.

    Let it come!

    What profits life to me? I have no home,

    No country now, nor shield from any wrong.

    That was my evil hour, when down the long

    Halls of my father out I stole, my will

    Chained by a Greek man’s voice, who still, oh, still,

    If God yet live, shall all requited be.

    For never child of mine shall Jason see

    Hereafter living, never child beget

    From his new bride, who this day, desolate

    Even as she made me desolate, shall die

    Shrieking amid my poisons. . . . Names have I

    Among your folk? One light? One weak of hand?

    An eastern dreamer?—Nay, but with

    the brand Of strange suns burnt, my hate, by God above,

    A perilous thing, and passing sweet my love!

    For these it is that make life glorious.


    Since thou has bared thy fell intent to us

    I, loving thee, and helping in their need

    Man’s laws, adjure thee, dream not of this deed!


    There is no other way.—I pardon thee
    Thy littleness, who art not wronged like me.


    Thou canst not kill the fruit thy body bore!


    Yes: if the man I hate be pained the more.


    And thou made miserable, most miserable?


    Oh, let it come! All words of good or ill
    Are wasted now.
    [She claps her hands: the Nurse comes out(\^{72}\) from the house.]

    Ho, woman; get thee gone

    And lead lord Jason hither. . . . There is none

    Like thee, to work me these high services.

    But speak no word of what my purpose is,

    As thou art faithful, thou, and bold to try

    All succours, and a woman even as I!(\^{73}\)

    [The Nurse departs.]


    The sons of Erechtheus, the olden,(\^{74}\)

    Whom high gods planted of yore

    In an old land of heaven upholden,

    A proud land untrodden of war:

    They are hungered, and, lo, their desire

    With wisdom is fed as with meat:

    In their skies is a shining of fire,

    A joy in the fall of their feet:

    And thither, with manifold dowers,

    From the North, from the hills, from the morn,

    The Muses did gather their powers,

    That a child of the Nine should be born;

    And Harmony, sown as the flowers,

    Grew gold in the acres of corn.

    And Cephîsus, the fair-flowing river—

    The Cyprian dipping her hand

    Hath drawn of his dew, and the shiver

    Of her touch is as joy in the land.

    For her breathing in fragrance is written,

    And in music her path as she goes,

    And the cloud of her hair, it is litten

    With stars of the wind-woven rose.

    So fareth she ever and ever,

    And forth of her bosom is blown,

    As dews on the winds of the river,

    An hunger of passions unknown.

    Strong Loves of all godlike endeavour,

    Whom Wisdom shall throne on her throne.

    Some Women.

    But Cephîsus the fair-flowing,

    Will he bear thee on his shore?

    Shall the land that succours all, succour thee,

    Who art foul among thy kind,

    With the tears of children blind?

    Dost thou see the red gash growing,

    Thine own burden dost thou see?

    Every side, Every way,

    Lo, we kneel to thee and pray:

    By thy knees, by thy soul, O woman wild!

    One at least thou canst not slay,

    Not thy child!


    Hast thou ice that thou shalt bind it

    To thy breast, and make thee dead

    To thy children, to thine own spirit’s pain?

    When the hand knows what it dares,

    When thine eyes look into theirs,

    Shalt thou keep by tears unblinded

    Thy dividing of the slain?

    These be deeds Not for thee:

    These be things that cannot be!

    Thy babes—though thine hardihood be fell,

    When they cling about thy knee,

    ‘Twill be well!

    Enter Jason.(\^{75}\)


    I answer to thy call. Though full of hate

    Thou be, I yet will not so far abate

    My kindness for thee, nor refuse mine ear.

    Say in what new desire thou hast called me here.


    Jason, I pray thee, for my words but now

    Spoken, forgive me. My bad moods. . . . Oh, thou

    At least wilt strive to bear with them! There be

    Many old deeds of love ‘twixt me and thee.

    Lo, I have reasoned with myself apart

    And chidden: “Why must I be mad, O heart

    Of mine: and raging against one whose word

    Is wisdom: making me a thing abhorred

    To them that rule the land, and to mine own

    Husband, who doth but that which, being done,

    Will help us all—to wed a queen, and get

    Young kings for brethren to my sons? And yet

    I rage alone, and cannot quit my rage—

    What aileth me?—when God sends harbourage

    So simple? Have I not my children? Know

    I not we are but exiles, and must go

    Beggared and friendless else?” Thought upon thought

    So pressed me, till I knew myself full-fraught

    With bitterness of heart and blinded eyes.

    So now—I give thee thanks: and hold thee wise

    To have caught this anchor for our aid. The fool

    Was I; who should have been thy friend, thy tool;

    Gone wooing with thee, stood at thy bed-side

    Serving, and welcomed duteously thy bride.

    But, as we are, we are—I will not say

    Mere evil—women! Why must thou to-day

    Turn strange, and make thee like some evil thing,

    Childish, to meet my childish passioning?

    See, I surrender: and confess that then

    I had bad thoughts, but now have turned again

    And found my wiser mind. [She claps her hands.]

    Ho, children! Run

    Quickly! Come hither, out into the sun,

    [The Children come from the house, followed by their Attendant.]

    And greet your father. Welcome him with us,

    And throw quite, quite away, as mother does,

    Your anger against one so dear. Our peace

    Is made, and all the old bad war shall cease

    For ever.—Go, and take his hand. . . .

    [As the Children go to Jason, she suddenly bursts into tears. The Children quickly return to her: she recovers herself, smiling amid her tears.]

    Ah me,

    I am full of hidden horrors! . . . Shall it be

    A long time more, my children, that ye live

    To reach to me those dear, dear arms? . . . Forgive!

    I am so ready with my tears to-day,

    And full of dread. . . . I sought to smooth away

    The long strife with your father, and, lo, now

    I have all drowned with tears this little brow!

    [She wipes the child’s face.]


    O’er mine eyes too there stealeth a pale tear:

    Let the evil rest, O God, let it rest here!


    Woman, indeed I praise thee now, nor say

    Ill of thine other hour. ‘Tis nature’s way,

    A woman needs must stir herself to wrath,

    When work of marriage by so strange a path

    Crosseth her lord. But thou, thine heart doth wend

    The happier road. Thou hast seen, ere quite the end,

    What choice must needs be stronger: which to do

    Shows a wise-minded woman. . . . And for you,

    Children; your father never has forgot

    Your needs. If God but help him, he hath wrought

    A strong deliverance for your weakness. Yea,

    I think you, with your brethren, yet one day

    Shall be the mightiest voices in this land.

    Do you grow tall and strong. Your father’s hand

    Guideth all else, and whatso power divine

    Hath alway helped him. . . . Ah, may it be mine

    To see you yet in manhood, stern of brow,

    Strong-armed, set high o’er those that hate me. . . .


    Woman, thy face is turned. Thy cheek is swept

    With pallor of strange tears. Dost not accept

    Gladly and of good will my benisons?


    ‘Tis nothing. Thinking of these little ones. . . .


    Take heart, then. I will guard them from all ill.


    I do take heart. Thy word I never will

    Mistrust. Alas, a woman’s bosom bears

    But woman’s courage, a thing born for tears.


    What ails thee?—All too sore thou weepest there.

    I was their mother! When I heard thy prayer

    Of long life for them, there swept over me

    A horror, wondering how these things shall be.

    But for the matter of my need that thou

    Should speak with me, part I have said, and now Will finish.—Seeing it is the king’s behest

    To cast me out from Corinth . . . aye, and best,

    Far best, for me—I know it—not to stay

    Longer to trouble thee and those who sway

    The realm, being held to all their house a foe. . . .

    Behold, I spread my sails, and meekly go

    To exile. But our children. . . . Could this land

    Be still their home awhile: could thine own hand

    But guide their boyhood. . . .

    Seek the king, and pray His pity, that he bid thy children stay!


    He is hard to move. Yet surely ‘twere well done.


    Bid her—for thy sake, for a daughters boon. . . .


    Well thought! Her I can fashion to my mind.


    Surely. She is a woman like her kind. . . .

    Yet I will aid thee in thy labour; I

    Will send her gifts, the fairest gifts that lie

    In the hands of men, things of the days of old,

    Fine robings and a carcanet of gold,(\^{76}\)

    By the boys’ hands.—Go, quick, some handmaiden,

    And fetch the raiment.
    [A handmaid goes into the house.]

    Ah, her cup shall then

    Be filled indeed! What more should woman crave,

    Being wed with thee, the bravest of the brave,

    And girt with raiment which of old the sire

    Of all my house, the Sun, gave, steeped in fire,

    To his own fiery race?

    [The handmaid has returned bearing the Gifts.]

    Come, children, lift

    With heed these caskets. Bear them as your gift

    To her, being bride and princess and of right

    Blessed!—I think she will not hold them light.


    Fond woman, why wilt empty thus thine hand

    Of treasure? Doth King Creon’s castle stand

    In stint of raiment, or in stint of gold?

    Keep these, and make no gift. For if she hold

    Jason of any worth at all, I swear

    Chattels like these will not weigh more with her.


    Ah, chide me not! ‘Tis written, gifts persuade

    The gods in heaven; and gold is stronger made

    Than words innumerable to bend men’s ways.

    Fortune is hers. God maketh great her days:

    Young and a crownèd queen! And banishment

    For those two babes. . . . I would not gold were spent,

    But life’s blood, ere that come.

    My children, go

    Forth into those rich halls, and, bowing low,

    Beseech your father’s bride, whom I obey,

    Ye be not, of her mercy, cast away

    Exiled: and give the caskets—above all

    Mark this!—to none but her, to hold withal

    And keep. . . . Go quick! And let your mother know

    Soon the good tiding that she longs for. . . . Go!

    [She goes quickly into the house.Jason and the Children with their Attendant depart.]


    Now I have no hope more of the children’s living;

    No hope more. They are gone forth unto death.

    The bride, she taketh the poison of their giving:

    She taketh the bounden gold and openeth;

    And the crown, the crown, she lifteth about her brow,

    Where the light brown curls are clustering. No hope now!

    O sweet and cloudy gleam of the garments golden!

    The robe, it hath clasped her breast and the crown her head.

    Then, then, she decketh the bride, as a bride of olden

    Story, that goeth pale to the kiss of the dead.

    For the ring hath closed, and the portion of death is there;

    And she flieth not, but perisheth unaware.

    Some Women.

    O bridegroom, bridegroom of the kiss so cold,

    Art thou wed with princes, art thou girt with gold,

    Who know’st not, suing

    For thy child’s undoing,

    And, on her thou lovest, for a doom untold?

    How art thou fallen from thy place of old!


    O Mother, Mother, what hast thou to reap,

    When the harvest cometh, between wake and sleep?

    For a heart unslaken,

    For a troth forsaken,

    Lo, babes that call thee from a bloody deep:
    And thy love returns not. Get thee forth and weep!
    Enter the Attendant with the twoChildren: Medea comes out from the house.


    Mistress, these children from their banishment

    Are spared. The royal bride hath mildly bent

    Her hand to accept thy gifts, and all is now

    Peace for the children.—Ha, why standest thou

    Confounded, when good fortune draweth near?

    Ah God!


    This chimes not with the news I bear.

    O God, have mercy!


    Is some word of wrath

    Here hidden that I knew not of? And hath

    My hope to give thee joy so cheated me?

    Thou givest what thou givest: I blame not thee.


    Thy brows are all o’ercast: thine eyes are filled. . . .

    For bitter need, Old Man! The gods have willed,

    And my own evil mind, that this should come.

    Home? . . . I have others to send home. Woe’s me!

    Be patient. Many a mother before thee

    Hath parted from her children. We poor things

    Of men must needs endure what fortune brings.

    I will endure.—Go thou within, and lay

    All ready that my sons may need to-day.

    [The Attendant goes into the house.]

    O children, children mine: and you have found

    A land and home, where, leaving me discrowned

    And desolate, forever you will stay,

    Motherless children! And I go my way

    To other lands, an exile, ere you bring

    Your fruits home, ere I see you prospering

    Or know your brides, or deck the bridal bed,

    All flowers, and lift your torches overhead.

    Oh cursèd be mine own hard heart! ‘Twas all

    In vain, then, that I reared you up, so tall

    And fair; in vain I bore you, and was torn

    With those long pitiless pains, when you were born.

    Ah, wondrous hopes my poor heart had in you,

    How you would tend me in mine age, and do

    The shroud about me with your own dear hands,

    When I lay cold, blessèd in all the lands

    That knew us. And that gentle thought is dead!

    You go, and I live on, to eat the bread

    Of long years, to myself most full of pain.

    And never your dear eyes, never again,

    Shall see your mother, far away being thrown

    To other shapes of life. . . . My babes, my own,

    Why gaze ye so?—What is it that ye see?—

    And laugh with that last laughter? . . . Woe is me,

    What shall I do?

    Women, my strength is gone,

    Gone like a dream, since once I looked upon

    Those shining faces. . . . I can do it not.

    Good-bye to all the thoughts that burned so hot

    Aforetime! I will take and hide them far,

    Far, from men’s eyes. Why should I seek a war

    So blind: by these babes’ wounds to sting again

    Their father’s heart, and win myself a pain

    Twice deeper? Never, never! I forget

    Henceforward all I laboured for.

    And yet, What is it with me? Would I be a thing

    Mocked at, and leave mine enemies to sting

    Unsmitten? It must be. O coward heart,

    Ever to harbour such soft words!—Depart

    Out of my sight, ye twain. [The Children go in.]

    And they whose eyes

    Shall hold it sin to share my sacrifice,

    On their heads be it! My hand shall swerve not now.

    Ah, Ah, thou Wrath within me! Do not thou,

    Do not. . . . Down, down, thou tortured thing, and spare

    My children! They will dwell with us, aye, there

    Far off, and give thee peace.

    Too late, too late!

    By all Hell’s living agonies of hate,

    They shall not take my little ones alive

    To make their mock with! Howsoe’er I strive

    The thing is doomed; it shall not escape now

    From being. Aye, the crown is on the brow,

    And the robe girt, and in the robe that high

    Queen dying.

    I know all. Yet . . . seeing that I

    Must go so long a journey, and these twain

    A longer yet and darker, I would fain

    Speak with them, ere I go.

    [A handmaid brings the Children out again.]

    Come, children; stand

    A little from me. There. Reach out your hand,

    Your right hand—so—to mother: and good-bye!

    [She has kept them hitherto at arm’s length: but at the touch of their hands, her resolution breaks down, and she gath- ers them passionately into her arms.]

    Oh, darling hand! Oh, darling mouth, and eye,

    And royal mien, and bright brave faces clear,

    May you be blessèd, but not here! What here

    Was yours, your father stole. . . . Ah God, the glow

    Of cheek on cheek, the tender touch; and Oh,

    Sweet scent of childhood. . . . Go! Go! . . . Am I blind? . . .

    Mine eyes can see not, when I look to find

    Their places. I am broken by the wings

    Of evil. . . . Yea, I know to what bad things

    I go, but louder than all thought doth cry

    Anger, which maketh man’s worst misery.

    [She follows the Children into the house.]


    My thoughts have roamed a cloudy land,

    And heard a fierier music fall

    Than woman’s heart should stir withal:

    And yet some Muse majestical,

    Unknown, hath hold of woman’s hand,

    Seeking for Wisdom—not in all:

    A feeble seed, a scattered band,

    Thou yet shalt find in lonely places,

    Not dead amongst us, nor our faces

    Turned alway from the Muses’ call.

    And thus my thought would speak: that she

    Who ne’er hath borne a child nor known

    Is nearer to felicity:

    Unlit she goeth and alone,

    With little understanding what

    A child’s touch means of joy or woe,

    And many toils she beareth not.

    But they within whose garden fair

    That gentle plant hath blown, they go

    Deep-written all their days with care—

    To rear the children, to make fast

    Their hold, to win them wealth; and then

    Much darkness, if the seed at last

    Bear fruit in good or evil men!

    And one thing at the end of all

    Abideth, that which all men dread:

    The wealth is won, the limbs are bred

    To manhood, and the heart withal

    Honest: and, lo, where Fortune smiled,

    Some change, and what hath fallen? Hark!

    ‘Tis death slow winging to the dark,

    And in his arms what was thy child.

    What therefore doth it bring of gain

    To man, whose cup stood full before,

    That God should send this one thing more

    Of hunger and of dread, a door

    Set wide to every wind of pain?

    [Medea comes out alone from the house.]


    Friends, this long hour I wait on Fortune’s eyes,

    And strain my senses in a hot surmise

    What passeth on that hill.—Ha! even now

    There comes . . . ‘tis one of Jason’s men, I trow.

    His wild-perturbèd breath doth warrant me

    The tidings of some strange calamity.

    [Enter Messenger.]


    O dire and ghastly deed! Get thee away,

    Medea! Fly! Nor let behind thee stay

    One chariot’s wing, one keel that sweeps the seas. . . .


    And what hath chanced, to cause such flights as these?


    The maiden princess lieth—and her sire,

    The king—both murdered by thy poison-fire.


    Most happy tiding! Which thy name prefers

    Henceforth among my friends and well-wishers.


    What say’st thou? Woman, is thy mind within

    Clear, and not raving? Thou art found in sin

    Most bloody wrought against the king’s high head,

    And laughest at the tale, and hast no dread?


    I have words also that could answer well

    Thy word. But take thine ease, good friend, and tell,

    How died they? Hath it been a very foul

    Death, prithee? That were comfort to my soul.


    When thy two children, hand in hand entwined,

    Came with their father, and passed on to find

    The new-made bridal rooms, Oh, we were glad,

    We thralls, who ever loved thee well, and had

    Grief in thy grief. And straight there passed a word

    From ear to ear, that thou and thy false lord

    Had poured peace offering upon wrath foregone.

    A right glad welcome gave we them, and one

    Kissed the small hand, and one the shining hair:

    Myself, for very joy, I followed where

    The women’s rooms are. There our mistress . . . she

    Whom now we name so . . . thinking not to see

    Thy little pair, with glad and eager brow

    Sate waiting Jason. Then she saw, and slow

    Shrouded her eyes, and backward turned again,

    Sick that thy children should come near her. Then

    Thy husband quick went forward, to entreat

    The young maid’s fitful wrath. “Thou will not meet

    Love’s coming with unkindness? Nay, refrain

    Thy suddenness, and turn thy face again,

    Holding as friends all that to me are dear,

    Thine husband. And accept these robes they bear

    As gifts: and beg thy father to unmake

    His doom of exile on them—for my sake.”

    When once she saw the raiment, she could still

    Her joy no more, but gave him all his will.

    And almost ere the father and the two

    Children were gone from out the room, she drew

    The flowerèd garments forth, and sate her down

    To her arraying: bound the golden crown

    Through her long curls, and in a mirror fair

    Arranged their separate clusters, smiling there

    At the dead self that faced her. Then aside

    She pushed her seat, and paced those chambers wide

    Alone, her white foot poising delicately—

    So passing joyful in those gifts was she!—

    And many a time would pause, straight-limbed, and wheel

    Her head to watch the long fold to her heel

    Sweeping. And then came something strange.

    Her cheek Seemed pale, and back with crooked steps and weak

    Groping of arms she walked, and scarcely found

    Her old seat, that she fell not to the ground.

    Among the handmaids was a woman old

    And grey, who deemed, I think, that Pan had hold

    Upon her, or some spirit, and raised a keen

    Awakening shout; till through her lips was seen

    A white foam crawling, and her eyeballs back

    Twisted, and all her face dead pale for lack

    Of life: and while that old dame called, the cry

    Turned strangely to its opposite, to die

    Sobbing. Oh, swiftly then one woman flew

    To seek her father’s rooms, one for the new

    Bridegroom, to tell the tale. And all the place

    Was loud with hurrying feet.

    So long a space

    As a swift walker on a measured way

    Would pace a furlong’s course in, there she lay

    Speechless, with veilèd lids. Then wide her eyes

    She oped, and wildly, as she strove to rise,

    Shrieked: for two diverse waves upon her rolled

    Of stabbing death. The carcanet of gold

    That gripped her brow was molten in a dire

    And wondrous river of devouring fire.

    And those fine robes, the gift thy children gave—

    God’s mercy!—everywhere did lap and lave

    The delicate flesh; till up she sprang, and fled,

    A fiery pillar, shaking locks and head

    This way and that, seeking to cast the crown

    Somewhere away. But like a thing nailed down

    The burning gold held fast the anadem,

    And through her locks, the more she scattered them,

    Came fire the fiercer, till to earth she fell

    A thing—save to her sire—scarce nameable,

    And strove no more. That cheek of royal mien,

    Where was it—or the place where eyes had been?

    Only from crown and temples came faint blood

    Shot through with fire. The very flesh, it stood

    Out from the bones, as from a wounded pine

    The gum starts, where those gnawing poisons fine

    Bit in the dark—a ghastly sight! And touch

    The dead we durst not. We had seen too much.

    But that poor father, knowing not, had sped,

    Swift to his daughter’s room, and there the dead

    Lay at his feet. He knelt, and groaning low,

    Folded her in his arms, and kissed her: “Oh,

    Unhappy child, what thing unnatural hath

    So hideously undone thee? Or what wrath

    Of gods, to make this old grey sepulchre

    Childless of thee? Would God but lay me there

    To die with thee, my daughter!” So he cried.

    But after, when he stayed from tears, and tried

    To uplift his old bent frame, lo, in the folds

    Of those fine robes it held, as ivy holds

    Strangling among your laurel boughs. Oh, then

    A ghastly struggle came! Again, again,

    Up on his knee he writhed; but that dead breast

    Clung still to his: till, wild, like one possessed,

    He dragged himself half free; and, lo, the live

    Flesh parted; and he laid him down to strive

    No more with death, but perish; for the deep

    Had risen above his soul. And there they sleep,

    At last, the old proud father and the bride,

    Even as his tears had craved it, side by side.

    For thee—Oh, no word more! Thyself will know

    How best to baffle vengeance. . . . Long ago

    I looked upon man’s days, and found a grey

    Shadow. And this thing more I surely say,

    That those of all men who are counted wise,

    Strong wits, devisers of great policies,

    Do pay the bitterest toll. Since life began,

    Hath there in God’s eye stood one happy man?

    Fair days roll on, and bear more gifts or less

    Of fortune, but to no man happiness.

    [Exit Messenger.]


    Some Women.

    Wrath upon wrath, meseems, this day shall fall

    From God on Jason! He hath earned it all.

    Other Women.

    O miserable maiden, all my heart

    Is torn for thee, so sudden to depart

    From thy king’s chambers and the light above To darkness, all for sake of Jason’s love!


    Women, my mind is clear. I go to slay

    My children with all speed, and then, away

    From hence; not wait yet longer till they stand

    Beneath another and an angrier hand

    To die. Yea, howsoe’er I shield them, die

    They must. And, seeing that they must, ‘tis I

    Shall slay them, I their mother, touched of none

    Beside. Oh, up and get thine armour on,

    My heart! Why longer tarry we to win

    Our crown of dire inevitable sin?

    Take up thy sword, O poor right hand of mine,

    Thy sword: then onward to the thin-drawn line

    Where life turns agony. Let there be naught

    Of softness now: and keep thee from that thought,

    ‘Born of thy flesh,’ ‘thine own belovèd.’ Now,

    For one brief day, forget thy children: thou

    Shalt weep hereafter. Though thou slay them, yet

    Sweet were they. . . . I am sore unfortunate.

    [She goes into the house.]


    Some Women.

    O Earth, our mother; and thou

    All-seër, arrowy crown

    Of Sunlight, manward now

    Look down, Oh, look down!

    Look upon one accurst,

    Ere yet in blood she twine

    Red hands—blood that is thine!

    O Sun, save her first!

    She is thy daughter still,

    Of thine own golden line;

    Save her! Or shall man spill

    The life divine?

    Give peace, O Fire that diest not! Send thy spell

    To stay her yet, to lift her afar, afar—

    A torture-changèd spirit, a voice of Hell

    Wrought of old wrongs and war!


    Alas for the mother’s pain

    Wasted! Alas the dear

    Life that was born in vain!

    Woman, what mak’st thou here,

    Thou from beyond the Gate

    Where dim Symplêgades

    Clash in the dark blue seas,

    The shores where death doth wait?

    Why hast thou taken on thee,

    To make us desolate,

    This anger of misery

    And guilt of hate?

    For fierce are the smitings back of blood once shed

    Where love hath been: God’s wrath upon them that kill,

    And an anguished earth, and the wonder of the dead

    Haunting as music still. . . .

    [A cry is heard within.]


    Hark! Did ye hear? Heard ye the children’s cry?


    O miserable woman! O abhorred!


    What shall I do? What is it? Keep me fast

    From mother!


    I know nothing. Brother! Oh,

    I think she means to kill us.


    Let me go!

    I will—Help! Help!—and save them at the last.


    Yes, in God’s name! Help quickly ere we die!


    She has almost caught me now. She has a sword.

    [Many of the Women are now beating at the barred door to get in. Others are standing apart. Women at the door.]

    Thou stone, thou thing of iron! Wilt verily

    Spill with thine hand that life, the vintage stored Of thine own agony?

    The Other Women.

    A Mother slew her babes in days of yore,

    One, only one, from dawn to eventide,

    Ino, god-maddened, whom the Queen of Heaven

    Set frenzied, flying to the dark: and she

    Cast her for sorrow to the wide salt sea,

    Forth from those rooms of murder unforgiven,

    Wild-footed from a white crag of the shore,

    And clasping still her children twain, she died.

    O Love of Woman, charged with sorrow sore,

    What hast thou wrought upon us? What beside

    Resteth to tremble for?

    [Enter hurriedly Jason and Attendants.


    Ye women by this doorway clustering

    Speak, is the doer of the ghastly thing

    Yet here, or fled? What hopeth she of flight?

    Shall the deep yawn to shield her? Shall the height

    Send wings, and hide her in the vaulted sky

    To work red murder on her lords, and fly

    Unrecompensed? But let her go! My care

    Is but to save my children, not for her.

    Let them she wronged requite her as they may.

    I care not. ‘Tis my sons I must some way

    Save, ere the kinsmen of the dead can win

    From them the payment of their mother’s sin


    Unhappy man, indeed thou knowest not

    What dark place thou art come to! Else, God wot,

    Jason, no word like these could fall from thee.


    What is it?—Ha! The woman would kill me?


    Thy sons are dead, slain by their mother’s hand.


    How? Not the children. . . . I scarce understand. . . .

    O God, thou hast broken me!


    Think of those twain

    As things once fair, that ne’er shall bloom again.


    Where did she murder them? In that old room?


    Open, and thou shalt see thy children’s doom.


    Ho, thralls! Unloose me yonder bars! Make more

    Of speed! Wrench out the jointing of the door.

    And show my two-edged curse, the children dead,

    The woman. . . . Oh, this sword upon her head. . . .

    [While the Attendants are still battering at the door Medeaappears on the roof, standing on a chariot of winged Dragons, in which are the children’s bodies.]


    What make ye at my gates? Why batter ye

    With brazen bars, seeking the dead and me

    Who slew them? Peace! . . . And thou, if aught of mine

    Thou needest, speak, though never touch of thine

    Shall scathe me more. Out of his firmament

    My fathers’ father, the high Sun, hath sent

    This, that shall save me from mine enemies’ rage.


    Thou living hate! Thou wife in every age

    Abhorrèd, blood-red mother, who didst kill

    My sons, and make me as the dead: and still

    Canst take the sunshine to thine eyes, and smell

    The green earth, reeking from thy deed of hell;

    I curse thee! Now, Oh, now mine eyes can see,

    That then were blinded, when from savagery

    Of eastern chambers, from a cruel land,

    To Greece and home I gathered in mine hand

    Thee, thou incarnate curse: one that betrayed

    Her home, her father, her . . . Oh, God hath laid

    Thy sins on me!—I knew, I knew, there lay

    A brother murdered on thy hearth that day

    When thy first footstep fell on Argo’s hull. . . .

    Argo, my own, my swift and beautiful

    That was her first beginning. Then a wife

    I made her in my house. She bore to life

    Children: and now for love, for chambering

    And men’s arms, she hath murdered them! A thing

    Not one of all the maids of Greece, not one,

    Had dreamed of; whom I spurned, and for mine own

    Chose thee, a bride of hate to me and death,

    Tigress, not woman, beast of wilder breath

    Than Skylla shrieking o’er the Tuscan sea.

    Enough! No scorn of mine can reach to thee,

    Such iron is o’er thine eyes. Out from my road,

    Thou crime-begetter, blind with children’s blood!

    And let me weep alone the bitter tide

    That sweepeth Jason’s days, no gentle bride

    To speak with more, no child to look upon

    Whom once I reared . . . all, all for ever gone!


    An easy answer had I to this swell

    Of speech, but Zeus our father knoweth well,

    All I for thee have wrought, and thou for me.

    So let it rest. This thing was not to be,

    That thou shouldst live a merry life, my bed

    Forgotten and my heart uncomforted,

    Thou nor thy princess: nor the king that planned

    Thy marriage drive Medea from his land,

    And suffer not. Call me what thing thou please,

    Tigress or Skylla from the Tuscan seas:

    My claws have gripped thine heart, and all things shine.


    Thou too hast grief. Thy pain is fierce as mine.


    I love the pain, so thou shalt laugh no more.


    Oh, what a womb of sin my children bore!


    Sons, did ye perish for your father’s shame?


    How? It was not my hand that murdered them.


    ‘Twas thy false wooings, ‘twas thy trampling pride.


    Thou hast said it! For thy lust of love they died.


    And love to women a slight thing should be?


    To women pure!—All thy vile life to thee!


    Think of thy torment. They are dead, they are dead!


    No: quick, great God; quick curses round thy head!


    The Gods know who began this work of woe.


    Thy heart and all its loathliness they know.


    Loathe on. . . . But, Oh, thy voice. It hurts me sore.


    Aye, and thine me. Wouldst hear me then no more?


    How? Show me but the way. ‘Tis this I crave.


    Give me the dead to weep, and make their grave.


    Never! Myself will lay them in a still

    Green sepulchre, where Hera by the Hill

    Hath precinct holy, that no angry men

    May break their graves and cast them forth again

    To evil. So I lay on all this shore

    Of Corinth a high feast for evermore

    And rite, to purge them yearly of the stain

    Of this poor blood. And I, to Pallas’ plain

    I go, to dwell beside Pandion’s son,

    Aegeus.—For thee, behold, death draweth on,

    Evil and lonely, like thine heart: the hands

    Of thine old Argo, rotting where she stands,

    Shall smite thine head in twain, and bitter be

    To the last end thy memories of me.

    [She rises on the chariot and is slowly borne away.]


    May They that hear the weeping child

    Blast thee, and They that walk in blood!


    Thy broken vows, thy friends beguiled

    Have shut for thee the ears of God.


    Go, thou art wet with children’s tears!


    Go thou, and lay thy bride to sleep.


    Childless, I go, to weep and weep.


    Not yet! Age cometh and long years.


    My sons, mine own!


    Not thine, but mine . . .


    . . . Who slew them!


    Yes: to torture thee.


    Once let me kiss their lips, once twine

    Mine arms and touch. . . . Ah, woe is me!


    Wouldst love them and entreat? But now

    They were as nothing.


    At the last,

    O God, to touch that tender brow!


    Thy words upon the wind are cast.


    Thou, Zeus, wilt hear me. All is said

    For naught. I am but spurned away

    And trampled by this tigress, red

    With children’s blood. Yet, come what may,

    So far as thou hast granted, yea,

    So far as yet my strength may stand,

    I weep upon these dead, and say

    Their last farewell, and raise my hand

    To all the daemons of the air

    In witness of these things; how she

    Who slew them, will not suffer me

    To gather up my babes, nor bear

    To earth their bodies; whom, O stone

    Of women, would I ne’er had known

    Nor gotten, to be slain by thee!

    [He casts himself upon the earth.]


    Great treasure halls hath Zeus in heaven,

    From whence to man strange dooms be given,

    Past hope or fear.

    And the end men looked for cometh not,

    And a path is there where no man thought:

    So hath it fallen here.


    23. The play was first acted when Pythodôrus was Archon, Olympiad 87, year 1 (B.C. 431). Euphorion was first, Sophocles second, Euripides third, with Medea, Philoctêtes, Dictys, and the Harvesters, a Satyr-play.

    24 Jason’s famed ship.

    25 Medea’s homeland.

    26 “The Symplêgades (“Clashing”) or Kuaneai (“Dark blue”) were two rocks in the sea which used to clash together and crush anything that was between them. They stood above the north end of the Bosphorus and formed the Gate to the Axeinos Pontos, or “Stranger-less Sea,” where all Greeks were murdered. At the farthest eastern end of that sea was the land of Colchis.” (Euripides, The Medea of Euripides, 8th ed., trans. Gilbert Murray [London: G. Allen, 1910], 81.)

    27 Split.

    28 “The great mountain in Thessaly. Iôlcos, a little kingdom between Pêlion and the sea, ruled originally by Aeson, Jason’s father, then by the usurping Pĕlias.” (Murray, 81.)

    29 Believe.

    30 Medea.

    31 Fortified.

    32 Of old Iolcos: from Iolcos, Jason’s homeland.

    33 Pelias is Jason’s uncle who usurped his throne; Pelias’ daughters were tricked by Medea into killing their father; it is for this reason that Jason cannot return to Iolcos.

    34 “Medea was not legally married to Jason, and could not be, though in common parlance he is sometimes called her husband. Intermarriage between the subjects of two separate states was not possible in antiquity without a special treaty. And naturally there was no such treaty with Colchis. “This is, I think, the view of the play, and corresponds to the normal Athenian conceptions of society. In the original legend it is likely enough that Medea belongs to “matriarchal” times before the institution of marriage.” (Murray, 81.)

    35 Vehemently.

    36 “These lines are repeated in a different context later on. The sword which to the Nurse suggested suicide was really meant for murder.” (Murray, 82.)

    37 Think.

    38 “Greek Paidagôgos, or “pedagogue”; a confidential servant who escorted the boys to and from school, and in similar ways looked after them. Notice the rather light and cynical character of this man, compared with the tenderness of the Nurse.” (Murray, 82.)

    39 As in gray-haired, elderly.

    40 It seems to me.

    41 “It was the ancient practice, if you had bad dreams or terrors of the night, to “show” them to the Sun in the morning, that he might clear them away.” (Murray, 82.)

    42 “As Dr. Verrall has remarked, the presence of the Chorus is in this play unusually awkward from the dramatic point of view. Medea’s plot demands most absolute secrecy; and it is incredible that fifteen Corinthian women, simply because they were women, should allow a half-mad foreigner to murder several people, including their own Corinthian king and princess—who was a woman also—rather than reveal her plot. We must remember in palliation (1) that these women belong to the faction in Corinth which was friendly to Medea and hostile to Creon; (2) that the appeal to them as women had more force in antiquity than it would now, and the princess had really turned traitor to her sex. … (3) The non-interference of the Chorus seems monstrous: yet in ancient times, when law was weak and punishment was chiefly the concern of the injured persons, and of no one else, the reluctance of bystanders to interfere was much greater than it is now in an ordered society. Some oriental countries, and perhaps even California or Texas, could afford us some startling instances of impassiveness among bystanders.” (Murray, 82-83.)

    43 That of a princess, younger, richer, and Greek

    44 Themis, goddess of customs and mores.

    45 “The Nurse breaks in, hoping to drown her mistress’s dangerous self-betrayal. Medea’s murder of her brother was by ordinary
    standards her worst act, and seems not to have been known in Corinth. It forms the climax of Jason’s denunciation.” (Murray, 83.)

    46 “Who is the speaker? According to the MSS. the Nurse, and there is some difficulty in taking the lines from her. Yet (1) she has no
    reason to sing a song outside after saying that she is going in; and (2) it is quite necessary that she should take a little time indoors persuading Medea to come out. The words seem to suit the lips of an impersonal Chorus.
    “The general sense of the poem is interesting. It is an apology for tragedy. It gives the tragic poet’s conception of the place of his art in the service of humanity, as against the usual feeling of the public, whose serious work is devoted to something else, and who ‘go to a play to be amused.’” (Murray, 83-84.)

    47 “This fine statement of the wrongs of women in Athens doubtless contains a great deal of the poet’s own mind; but from the dramatic point of view it is justified in several ways. (1) Medea is seeking for a common ground on which to appeal to the Corinthian women. (2) She herself is now in the position of all others in which a woman is most hardly treated as compared with a man. (3) Besides this, one can see that, being a person of great powers and vehement will, she feels keenly her lack of outlet. If she had men’s work to do, she could be a hero: debarred from proper action (from τὸ πράσσειν, Hip. 1019) she is bound to make mischief. …
    “There is a slight anachronism in applying the Attic system of doweries to primitive times. Medea’s contemporaries either lived in a “matriarchal” system without any marriage, or else were bought by their husbands for so many cows.” (Murray, 84-85).

    48 “Medea was a ‘wise woman’ which in her time meant much the same as a witch or enchantress. She did really know more than other women; but most of this extra knowledge consisted—or was supposed to consist—either in lore of poisons and charms, or in useless learning and speculation.” (Murray, 85)

    49 “A conceit almost in the Elizabethan style, as if by taking “pains” away from Creon, she would have them herself.” (Murray, 85.)

    50 “Observe what a dislike Medea has of being touched: cf. l. 370 (“my flesh been never stained,” &c.) and l. 496 (“poor, poor right hand of mine!”)” (Murray, 85.)

    51 “Observe (1) that in this speech Medea’s vengeance is to take the form of a clear fight to the death against the three guilty persons. It is both courageous and, judged by the appropriate standard, just. (2) She wants to save her own life, not from cowardice, but simply to make her revenge more complete. To kill her enemies and escape is victory. To kill them and die with them is only a drawn battle. Other enemies will live and “laugh.” (3) Already in this first soliloquy there is a suggestion of that strain of madness which becomes unmistakable later on in the play. (‘Oh, I have tried so many thoughts of murder,’ &c., and especially the lashing of her own fury, ‘Awake thee now, Medea.’)” (Murray, 85-86.)

    52 Attack.

    53 Medea, touting the advantages of the “woman’s weapon,” makes it sound both honorable and reasonable.

    54 Medea is the granddaughter of Helios, the sun god.

    55 Note well Medea's gendering of her situation: Though poison is a woman's weapon, she will be "man-like" in her assault on her three enemies, because as a woman she understands pain and helplessness.

    56 “It is curious how the four main Choruses of the Medea are divided each into two parts, distinct in subject and in metre.” (Murray, 86-87.)

    57 “The song celebrates the coming triumph of Woman in her rebellion against Man; not by any means Woman as typifying the domestic virtues, but rather as the downtrodden, uncivilised, unreasoning, and fiercely emotional half of humanity. A woman who in defence of her honour and her rights will die sword in hand, slaying the man who wronged her, seems to the Chorus like a deliverer of the whole sex.” (Murray, 86.)

    58 “Early literature in most countries contains a good deal of heavy satire on women:e.g. Hesiod’s ‘Who trusts a woman trusts a thief;’ or Phocylides’ ‘Two days of a woman are very sweet: when you marry her and when you carry her to her grave.’” (Murray, 86.)

    59 “i.e. the kindred of Pelias.” (Murray, 87.)

    60 “Jason was, of course, the great romantic hero of his time. Cf. his own words.” (Murray, 87.)

    61 “Jason’s defence is made the weaker by his reluctance to be definitely insulting to Medea. He dares not say: “You think that, because

    you conceived a violent passion for me,—to which, I admit, I partly responded—I must live with you always; but the truth is, you are a savage with whom a civilised man cannot go on living.” This point comes out unveiled in his later speech.” (Murray, 87-88.)
    62 Barbarian lands, i.e. her homeland, Colchis.
    63 “Jason has brought the benefits of civilisation to Medea! He is doubtless sincere, but the peculiar ironic cruelty of the plea is obvi- ous.” (Murray, 88.)
    64 “This, I think, is absolutely sincere. To Jason ambition is everything. And, as Medea has largely shared his great deeds with him, he thinks that she cannot but feel the same. It seems to him contemptible that her mere craving for personal love should outweigh all the possi- ble glories of life.” (Murray, 88.)

    65 “He only means, ‘of more children than you now have.’ But the words suggest to Medea a different meaning, and sow in her mind the first seed of the child-murder. See on the Aegeus scene below.” (Murray, 88.)

    66 “Though she spoke no word, the existence of a being so deeply wronged would be a curse on her oppressors. So a murdered man’s blood, or an involuntary cry of pain (Aesch. Ag. 237) on the part of an injured person is in itself fraught with a curse.” (Murray, 88.)67

    67 “A highly characteristic Euripidean poem, keenly observant of fact, yet with a lyrical note penetrating all its realism. A love which really produces ‘good to man and glory,’ is treated in the next chorus.” (Murray, 88.)

    68 “This scene is generally considered to be a mere blot on the play, not, I think, justly. It is argued that the obvious purpose which the scene serves, the provision of an asylum for Medea, has no keen dramatic interest. The spectator would just as soon, or sooner, have her die. And, besides, her actual mode of escape is largely independent of Aegeus. Further, the arrival of Aegeus at this moment seems to be a mere coincidence (Ar. Poetics, 61 b, 23), and one cannot help suspecting that the Athenian poet was influenced by mere local interests in dragging in the Athenian king and the praises of Athens where they were not specially appropriate.

    “To these criticisms one may make some answer. (1) As to the coincidence, it is important to remember always that Greek tragedies are primarily historical plays, not works of fiction. They are based on definite Logoi or traditions (Frogs, l. 1052. p. 254) and therefore can, and should, represent accidental coincidences when it was a datum of the tradition that these coincidences actually happened. By Aristotle’s time the practice had changed. The tragedies of his age were essentially fiction; and he tends to criticise the ancient tragedies by fictional standards. “Now it was certainly a datum in the Medea legend that she took refuge with Aegeus, King of Athens, and was afterwards an enemy to his son Theseus; but I think we may go further. This play pretty certainly has for its foundation the rites performed by the Corinthians at the Grave

    of the Children of Medea in the precinct of Hera Acraia near Corinth. See here. The legend in such cases is usually invented to explain the ritual; and I suspect that in the ritual, and, consequently, in the legend, there were two other data: first, a pursuit of Medea and her flight on a dragon-chariot, and, secondly, a meeting between Medea and Aegeus. (Both subjects are frequent on vase paintings, and may well be derived from historical pictures in some temple at Corinth.)

    “Thus, the meeting with Aegeus is probably not the free invention of Euripides, but one of the data supplied to him by his subject. But he has made it serve, as von Arnim was the first to perceive, a remarkable dramatic purpose. Aegeus was under a curse of childlessness, and his desolate condition suggests to Medea the ultimate form of her vengeance. She will make Jason childless. Cf. l. 670, ‘Children! Ah God, art childless?’ (A childless king in antiquity was a miserable object: likely to be deposed and dishonoured, and to miss his due worship after death. See the fragments of Euripides’ Oineus.)

    “There is also a further purpose in the scene, of a curious and characteristic kind. In several plays of Euripides, when a heroine hesitates on the verge of a crime, the thing that drives her over the brink is some sudden and violent lowering of her self-respect. Thus Phædra writes her false letter immediately after her public shame. Creûsa in the Ion turns murderous only after crying in the god’s ears the story of her seduc- tion. Medea, a princess and, as we have seen, a woman of rather proud chastity, feels, after the offer which she makes to Aegeus in this scene ... that she need shrink from nothing.” (Murray, 88-90).

    69 Apollo, the god of the Delphic oracle.

    70 “This sounds as if it meant Aegeus’ own house: in reality, by an oracular riddle, it meant the house of Pittheus, by whose daughter, Aethra, Aegeus became the father of Theseus.” (Murray, 91.)

    71 “Observe that Medea is deceiving Aegeus. She intends to commit a murder before going to him, and therefore wishes to bind him down so firmly that, however much he wish to repudiate her, he shall be unable. Hence this insistence on the oath and the exact form of the oath. (At this time, apparently, she scarcely thinks of the children, only of her revenge.)” (Murray, 91.)

    72 “There is no indication in the original to show who comes out. But it is certainly a woman; as certainly it is not one of the Chorus; and Medea’s words suit the Nurse well. It is an almost devilish act to send the Nurse, who would have died rather than take such a message had she understood it.” (Murray, 91.)
    73 Note well Medea’s appeal to the Nurse “as a woman.” Medea and the Chorus repeatedly define women as an oppressed class that must stand together. They are thus able to dismiss the king’s daughter as a traitor to their class because she has wronged a member of it.
    74 “This poem is interesting as showing the ideal conception of Athens entertained by a fifth century Athenian. One might compare with it Pericles’ famous speech in Thucydides, ii., where the emphasis is laid on Athenian “plain living and high thinking” and the freedom
    of daily life. Or, again, the speeches of Aethra in Euripides’ Suppliant Women, where more stress is laid on mercy and championship of the oppressed.
    “The allegory of ‘Harmony,’ as a sort of Korê, or Earth-maiden, planted by all the Muses in the soil of Attica, seems to be an invention of the poet. Not any given Art or Muse, but a spirit which unites and harmonises all, is the special spirit of Athens. The Attic connection with Erôs, on the other hand, is old and traditional. But Euripides has transformed the primitive nature-god into a mystic and passionate longing for ‘all manner of high deed,’ a Love which, different from that described in the preceding chorus, really ennobles human life.
    “This first part of the Chorus is, of course, suggested by Aegeus; the second is more closely connected with the action of the play. ‘How can Medea dream of asking that stainless land to shelter her crimes? But the whole plan of her revenge is not only wicked but impossible. She simply could not do such a thing, if she tried.’” (Murray, 91-92.)

    75 “Dicæarchus, and perhaps his master Aristotle also, seems to have complained of Medea’s bursting into tears in this scene, instead of acting her part consistently—a very prejudiced criticism. What strikes one about Medea’s assumed rôle is that in it she remains so like her- self and so unlike another woman. Had she really determined to yield to Jason, she would have done so in just this way, keen-sighted and yet passionate. One is reminded of the deceits of half-insane persons, which are due not so much to conscious art as to the emergence of another side of the personality.” (Murray, 92.)

    76 “Repeated from l. 786, where it came full in the midst of Medea’s avowal of her murderous purpose. It startles one here, almost as though she had spoken out the word “murder” in some way which Jason could not understand.” (Murray, 92.)

    This page titled 1.6: Medea is shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Laura Getty & Kyounghye Kwon (University of North Georgia Press) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.