A Formal Comparison of Euripides' Medea and Seneca's Medea

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Euripides’ Medea and Seneca’s Medea are the two surviving ancient tragedies of Medea. Both versions are drastically different and contrast in several aspects. Euripides portrays Medea as more human. She is the epitome of the oppressed housewife and only after her suffering is she capable of the crimes she committed. Seneca’s Medea is even more vengeful than Euripides’ and she is angry from the very beginning. Seneca’s version also portrays Medea as a vengeful sorceress whereas in Euripides’ version, though she is known to be a witch and have remarkable skill in poisons and potions, that aspect is not as crucial and significant as in Seneca’s Medea. The two poets offer contrasting depictions and characterizations of Medea, the most prominent of which are the depiction of Medea herself and the Chorus’ actions towards her.

Euripides created a Greek tragedy in which a devoted wife is wronged by her husband and so, in an act of revenge, murders his new bride, his father-in-law, and, unthinkably, her own two children. The story begins with the Nurse detailing the events up to the present time. Medea herself is not present at the beginning, which allows her time to consider what she will do and contemplate her actions. Medea’s transition from the background to the central character is executed very smoothly. She is first heard moaning in the background that she is “wretched” (53) and “a hateful mother” (54). She even asks “to die, and so find rest, leaving behind this loathsome life” (54). However, she comes forward, very composed, to address the Chorus, which shows that, though she is driven by her emotions and does not always have complete control over them, she does have the cunning to mask them when she needs. In Euripides’ play, Medea’s cunning is even more prominent because of the improvisation of her plan. In the beginning, she is sure that she wants to exact revenge but the plan itself comes together as the story progresses. The nurse takes notice...
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