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Table of Contents

Medea the Tragic Hero

Heroes typically represent the ideals of society. Webster’s Dictionary defines a hero as a “person who receives admiration for his achievements and noble qualities”. Although there is no single interpretation for this term, this definition does not suit the character of the protagonist in Euripides’s play, “Medea”. The protagonist of the story, Medea, a victim of husbandly betrayal, shows many attributes to that of a tragic hero. According to Aristotle’s Poetics, a tragic hero must possess four absolute characteristics: a tragic flaw, a male body, a high status position and a noble character. Instead of following the traditional characterizations of a tragic hero, Euripides invents his own tragic hero in the form of women, which represents one of the lower classes in Ancient Greek society. Not only did he choose to use a female as the tragic hero, but he also opposes the Aristotelian characteristic of a tragic hero having a high status position by using a foreigner in which the Ancient Greeks viewed as savages. Medea reinforces his idea of the tragic hero by being doomed from the start with a tragic flaw, by realizing she has made an irreversible mistake and by accomplishing a feat worthy of admiration despite the circumstances.

One of the most absolute characteristics of a tragic hero is the possession of a tragic flaw. This tragic flaw leads to the climax of the play, usually covering the character in vast sorrow. The journey of a tragic hero starts off with a character that possesses heroic characteristics. Shortly after, the character’s life takes a turn for the worse as he is defeated by his own flaw. Medea, the daughter of King Aeetes, possesses many characteristics that would deem herself as a hero. She is intelligent and extremely powerful with her witch-like abilities. However, the divine force of fate shatters her potential for greatness. As the Nurse indicates, Medea has a star-crossed fate. (“If that pine on Pelion’s slopes had never felt the axe, and fallen, to put oars into those heroes hands, who went a Pelias’ bidding to fetch the golden fleece”) It is not a mere coincidence for Jason to travel in search for the Golden Fleece; instead it was fate because of the intervention by the gods. As a result of the fact that Jason’s evil uncle, King Pelias routinely honors every god except Hera, Hera unsurprisingly helps Jason in his quest to obtain the Golden Fleece by convincing the Goddess of love, Aphrodite to cast a love spell over Medea. This spellbinding love towards Jason is essentially the tragic flaw of Medea. This spell of love devours Medea in incredible passion which fuels her atrocious crimes, ultimately leading to causing the death of her own brother and to abandoning her own home to be with Jason. The love blinds Medea as she tries to help Jason in every possible way to win his love. At first it appears that Medea is successful in her goal by sealing their love in marriage. However, her foreignness to Greek society results in her failure to realize the acceptable practice of husbands having more than one wife. (“If a man grows tired of the company at home, he can go out, and find a cure for tediousness.”) Because of her failure to recognize this aspect of Greek society, Medea looses everything, including Jason, the reason for her atrocious crimes. (“I willingly deceived my father; left my home; murdered my own brother…put King Pelias to the most horrible of deaths and in return for this you have the wickedness to turn me out, to get yourself another wife.”) These losses envelop Medea in immense sorrow, which results in her losing meaning her in life. (“What shall I do? If only I were dead!”) It is because of Jason’s betrayal in which she realizes the tragic errors of her crimes.

In addition to possessing a tragic flaw, another characteristic of a tragic hero is the realization of making an irreversible mistake. It is only after Jason’s decision to marry the daughter of King Creon in which Medea realizes the irreversible damage of her actions. Medea comes to realizing that Jason views her as a powerful tool that can help him achieve his goals, instead of a wife. (“Do you see how I am used – in spite of those great oaths I bound him with – by my accursed husband?”) The love spell of Aphrodite weakens as Medea starts to regret her crimes. (“O my father, my city, you I deserted; my brother I shamefully murdered!”) The weakening of the love spell serves as a device that leads Medea into an emotional transformation which changes from passion into rage. Essentially, Medea’s realizations of her crimes lead her to channel her emotions to take action against Jason which indirectly changes the way society treats women.

Furthermore, another characteristic of a tragic hero is the ability to accomplish a deed worthy of admiration despite the circumstances against the character. Medea, even with her sentence to exile, still manages to complete the task of taking revenge on Jason. Although this task may appear to be for her own personal satisfaction, it is actually a protest for society’s conventional laws against women. Medea, in her monologue, addresses the sufferings of women. In this monologue, she questions the injustices that women face and how they are subordinates to men. (“Surely, of all creatures that have life and will, we women are the most wretched…and they tell us, we at home live free from danger, they go out to battle: fools! I’d rather stand three times in the front line than bear one child.”) She lashes at the fact that men could divorce women at their free will resulting in the destruction of a sense of security for women. By publicly displaying her attitudes towards men, Medea awakens the hidden desire in women to pursue equal status in society by accounting men to give reimbursement for their sufferings. Her ideas of feminism spread to the Chorus who offers full support of her actions. (“I’ll do as you ask”) The awakening of the feminism in women triggers intolerance to the unjust way of men’s treatment towards women. Medea can be seen as a leader of this women’s movement because of her involvement in the deaths of King Creon and her daughter as well as the murders of her own children. These acts of murders send an important proclamation to male population in which women will even kill their own children to achieve justice for their sufferings.

In conclusion, Medea, the central character in Eurphides’s Medea, shows many characteristics that would classify her as an Euripidean tragic hero. She possesses the tragic flaw of being blind by love which leads her to commit horrendous crimes to win Jason’s love. After Jason’s marriage to the daughter of King Creon, Medea shows another characteristic of a tragic hero; the realization of an irreversible mistake. She realizes that Jason merely used her for his dirty work. It is then in which Medea starts to regret leaving her home and murdering her brother. Lastly, Medea, despite the sentence to exile, manages to accomplish an admirable feat from the women’s point of view by taking revenge against Jason. The ability to accomplish such a feat is another characteristic of a tragic hero. She manages to spread ideas of feminism which triggers intolerance to the unjust actions of men. All in all, Medea shows many qualities of a hero, but because of her star-crossed fate, she is seen as a tragic hero.

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