The Sanctity of Oaths in Medea

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  • Topic: Vow, Oath, Medea
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  • Published : October 8, 1999
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Medea
The Sanctity of Oaths

Through the play Medea, Euripides shows us the importance of keeping a promise given. At the beginning of the story, we see the play’s two opposing views of promise keeping represented by the Nurse and the Tutor. As she stands outside of Medea’s house and laments the way Jason has slighted Medea by taking another wife, the Nurse speaks of the “eternal promise” Jason and Medea made to each other on their wedding day (17-21). The Nurse wishes Jason were dead for the way he has abandoned his wife and children, so strongly does she feel vows should not be broken (83). When the Tutor enters the scene, he expresses a much more cynical view regarding Jason’s decision to leave his wife. He asks the nurse, “Have you only just discovered / That everyone loves himself more than his neighbor? / Some have good reason, others get something out of it. / So Jason neglects his children for the new bride” (85-88). The Tutor feels that Jason’s leaving Medea is only a part of life, as “Old ties give place to new ones”. Jason "No longer has a feeling” for his family with Medea, so he leaves her to marry the princess who will bring him greater power (76-77). Medea is outraged that she sacrificed so much to help Jason, only to have him revoke his pledge to her for his own selfish gain. She asks him whether he thinks the gods whose names he swore by have ceased to rule, thereby allowing him to break his promise to her. Medea vows to avenge her suffering by destroying Jason’s new family and his children. When Jason curses his wife for her murdering at the end of the play, she says to him, “What heavenly power lends an ear / To a breaker of oaths, a deceiver?” (1366-1367) In this way, Medea lays the blame for all the evil she has done at the feet of Jason, for she never would have done these things if he had not betrayed his promise to her. Euripide’s...
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