Seneca the Younger, Medea

LCL 62: 306-307

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MEDEA

SUMMARY Act One

Alone, Medea invokes many gods, including those of marriage and of the underworld. She expresses fantasies of revenge against Creusa, Creon, and Jason.

Ode 1. In a hymn celebrating Jason’s marriage to Creusa, the chorus invokes the gods of marriage and praises the beauty of bride and groom.

Act Two

Stunned by the reality of the marriage, Medea exculpates Jason in her mind and puts all the blame on Creon. Creon enters to enforce her immediate banishment from Corinth. Medea pleads her case as one who saved the Argonauts’ lives. Creon finally grants her a stay of exile for the remainder of the day.

Ode 2. The theme is the disruption of the primal age of innocence and stability by the first sailors, particularly the Argonauts. The Argonauts unleashed against themselves the dangers of the sea, and the dangerous Medea. A coda speaks of the seas as now fully open to travel and destined to reveal lands as yet unknown.

Act Three

Approached by Jason, Medea bitterly recounts all she has done for him. Jason argues that the new marriage provides protection, particularly for their sons, against Acastus. Finally accepting that he is lost to her, Medea pretends acquiescence,

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but as soon as he leaves she begins preparations for revenge against Creusa.

Ode 3. The violence of a wronged wife exceeds that of nature’s destructive forces. The deaths of individual Argonauts represent the sea’s revenge for their violation of its domain. The chorus prays for the safety of Jason, who is endangered on both counts.

Act Four

Medea gathers poisons from far and wide by her magic and invokes Hecate to ensure their efficacy. Precious clothes are imbued with the seeds of fire and sent to Creusa as a pretended wedding present.

Ode 4. The chorus expresses fear over the threat posed by Medea’s continued presence.

Act Five

A messenger tersely reports the destruction of Creusa, Creon, and the royal palace by fire emanating from Medea’s gifts. Medea, after an intense self-debate, kills one of her sons. As Jason approaches with followers, she climbs to the roof of the house. There she achieves her fullest revenge by killing the other son in Jason’s sight. She departs through the air in a chariot drawn by dragons.

COMMENT

Seneca’s play embodies a gradual development in Medea’s plans for vengeance. Her visions of revenge in Act One have more to do with fantasy than reality. But then three

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DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.seneca_younger-medea.2018