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HopmanRevengeandMythopoiesis

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Transactions of the American Philological
Association
138 (2008)
155–183 Medea
Revenge and
Mythopoiesis
in Euripides’

155

Revenge and Mythopoiesis in Euripides’
Medea*

marianne hopman
Northwestern University
summary: In the first stasimon of Medea, the chorus of Corinthian women exalts Medea’s revenge as a palinode that will put an end to the misogynist tradition and bring them honor. This article analyzes Euripides’ tragedy as a metapoetic reflection on Medea’s voice, its relation to the earlier poetic tradition, its power and limitations, and its generic definition. While Medea’s revenge metaphorically and symbolically unfolds as a revision of the Argo saga and thus undermines one of the most famous androcentric epics of the Greek song culture, I argue that mythical constraints ultimately prevent Medea from generating a new, gynocentric epic. Rather, the intertextuality of the final scenes increasingly departs from the Iliadic model and firmly anchors Medea’s revenge in the tragic genre. Metapoetically, Medea’s palinode thus defines tragedy, by contrast to epic, as a genre that is congenial to female voices but does not bring them kleos.

¶rxetai timå gunaike´ivi g°nei Honor is coming to the female race!

the chorus of corinthian women enthusiastically sings these words (E. Med. 417–18) as they hear Medea describe how she will avenge her honor by killing Jason, his new bride, and the bride’s father Creon (374–85). For one fleeting moment, Jason’s unsettling breech of his oaths is envisaged as having one positive consequence. It will allow for a twist in the spoken tradition (str°cousi fçmai, 414–16) that will bestow praise on women and put an end to the old misogynist discourse castigating the “female race” (gunaike´ivi g°nei, 417–18).

* I wish to thank Daniel Garrison, Jonas Grethlein, and the two anonymous TAPA readers for their helpful suggestions on earlier drafts. This article is dedicated to the memory of my grandmothers, Johanna...