Family: A Fatal Flaw
Greek literature offers us an unusual lens to examine the family paradigm because it contrasts the conventions of familial relationships. Contrary to the idea of camaraderie, the families in Greek literature are oftentimes fragmented and hostile. Euripides’s Medea gives us just that. The play marks the disintegration of two families. Medea betrayed her parents and brother in order to win Jason fame and fortune. The destruction of Medea’s immediate family precedes the demise of her nuclear family. In fear of being perceived as weak, Medea decides to cut off all ties she has to Jason due to his infidelity. But Medea’s independence comes at a cost. Retribution compels Medea to kill her children. Euripides’s use of the family as a representation of burden, strife, and vulnerability communicates the urgency of breaking from the family and becoming sovereign even if it means insanity. Medea contains two competing models of family. In one model, the familial bond reigns supreme. The blood that is shared between families is sacred. Creon uses this model of family to defend his decision to banish Medea from Corinth. In fear that she will hurt his daughter in her rage, he orders Medea to leave stating “I don’t hold you closer than my own family.” (line 328) This statement signifies the importance of blood relations. This model of family contrasts a much lesser model of family acquired through marriage. It consists of promises made between a man and woman. Medea cries out “What of his oaths?” (line 21). She believes that Jason has done her the gravest wrong; however Jason’s self-righteousness leads him to believe that in remarrying a woman with a higher social standing he is ensuring a better life for his children. In saying that, Jason creates a hierarchal standard of family in which Medea as his wife is under his offspring. To Creon and Jason, oaths are nothing but words than can be broken but blood relations are forever. But both models of family prove to be fruitless for Medea. She traded whatever blood relations she had for a family with Jason but in the end she loses everything. Medea loses her marriage, children, and self in rage. The play presents two juxtaposing ideas: the state of being alone versus familial intimacy. Medea’s utter dejection after Jason breaks their oath of marriage proves that having a family is a fatal flaw because it makes her commit heinous crimes. Her greatest mistake was deserting her ancestral home for Jason. Her attachment to him makes her vulnerable and weak, all characteristics that Medea finds undesirable. She cries out in despair “to hell with family, all of the house.”(line 114) Jason’s betrayal causes Medea to become angry. Her anger becomes vengeful when she decides that the only way to make Jason feel the hurt she felt was to kill Jason’s new wife, her father, and the children she shares with him. She rationalizes that she must repay those that “dared first to treat her with injustice” (line 165), but her resolve wavers. Medea’s passion melts away after she sees her “children’s shining looks”(line 1042), but after some thought she is reminded that her greatest fear is not that she will be alone but that she will become the laughing-stock of her enemies. Medea’s status as a mother and wife weakens her judgment because it causes her to consider others before herself. The fact that she considers abandoning her pain in order to keep her family together indicates that family makes Medea feeble. As an individual, she is clever but family relations undermine her finesse. In a final act of retribution, Medea kills her children. Some may argue that this was the peak of Medea’s insanity or that killing her blood was completely savage. However, Medea’s actions were out of mercy. She concedes, “they were bound to die in any case.” (line 1063) Again family presents itself as an obstacle because the fate of Medea’s children burdens her. She reasons that she should kill her...
Cited: Lattimore, Richmond. "Medea." Euripides. Chicago: U of Chicago, 1955. Print.
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