In Greek mythology,
Medea (/mɪˈdiːə/; Greek: Μήδεια,
Mēdeia, Georgian: მედეა) was the daughter of King Aeëtes
of Colchis, niece of Circe, granddaughter of the sun god Helios.
Medea figures in the myth of
Jason and the Argonauts, known best from
a late literary version worked up by
Apollonius of Rhodes in the third
century BC and called the Argonautica, but included early on by Hesiod
in his Theogony, written around 700 BCE.
Medea is known in most
stories as a sorceress and is often depicted as a priestess of the
Jason and Medea
1.1 Various versions' endings
2 Medea’s genealogy and divinity
3 Personae of Medea
4 Cultural depictions of Medea
4.1.1 Primary sources
4.1.2 Secondary material
5 See also
Jason and Medea
Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys
Anthony Frederick Augustus Sandys (painted 1866-68); its
rejection for exhibition at the
Royal Academy in 1868 caused a storm
Olivia Sutherland triumphant in MacMillan Films
Medea Staging (2016)
Medea's role began after
Jason came from
Iolcus to Colchis, to claim
his inheritance and throne by retrieving the Golden Fleece. In the
most complete surviving account, the
Argonautica of Apollonius of
Medea fell in love with him and promised to help him, but only
on the condition that if he succeeded, he would take her with him and
Jason agreed. In a familiar mythic motif,
to give him the fleece, but only if he could perform certain tasks.
Jason had to plough a field with fire-breathing oxen that he
had to yoke himself;
Medea gave him an unguent with which to anoint
himself and his weapons, to protect them from the bulls' fiery breath.
Jason had to sow the teeth of a dragon in the ploughed field
(compare the myth of Cadmus), and the teeth sprouted into an army of
Jason was forewarned by Medea, however, and knew to throw a
rock into the crowd. Unable to determine where the rock had come from,
the soldiers attacked and killed each other. Finally,
Jason fight and kill the sleepless dragon that guarded the fleece;
Medea put the beast to sleep with her narcotic herbs.
Jason then took
the fleece and sailed away with Medea, as he had promised. Apollonius
Medea only helped
Jason in the first place because
Aphrodite or Eros to cause
Medea to fall in love with him.
Medea distracted her father as they fled by killing her brother
John William Waterhouse
John William Waterhouse (1907)
In some versions,
Medea was said to have dismembered her brother's
body and scattered his parts on an island, knowing her father would
stop to retrieve them for proper burial; in other versions, it was
Absyrtus himself who pursued them and was killed by Jason. During the
fight, Atalanta, a member of the group helping
Jason in his quest for
the fleece, was seriously wounded, but
Medea healed her. According to
Jason stopped on her aunt Circe's
island so that she could be cleansed after murdering her brother,
relieving her of blame for the deed.
On the way back to Thessaly,
Medea prophesied that Euphemus, the
helmsman of Jason's ship, the Argo, would one day rule over all Libya.
This came true through Battus, a descendant of Euphemus'.
Argo then reached the island of Crete, guarded by the bronze man,
Talos had one vein which went from his neck to his
ankle, bound shut by a single bronze nail. According to Apollodorus,
Talos was slain either when
Medea drove him mad with drugs, deceived
him that she would make him immortal by removing the nail, or was
killed by Poeas's arrow (Apollodorus 1.140). In the Argonautica, Medea
hypnotized him from the Argo, driving him mad so that he dislodged the
nail, ichor flowed from the wound, and he bled to death (Argonautica
Talos died, the
Jason, celebrating his return with the Golden Fleece, noted that his
Aeson was too aged and infirm to participate in the
Medea withdrew the blood from Aeson's body, infused it
with certain herbs, and returned it to his veins, invigorating him.
The daughters of king
Pelias saw this and wanted the same service for
Jason searched for the Golden Fleece, Hera, who was still angry
at Pelias, conspired to make
Jason fall in love with Medea, whom Hera
hoped would kill Pelias. When
Medea returned to Iolcus,
Pelias still refused to give up his throne, so
Medea conspired to have
Pelias' own daughters kill him. She told them she could turn an old
ram into a young ram by cutting up the old ram and boiling it in magic
herbs. During her demonstration, a live, young ram jumped out of the
pot. Excited, the girls cut their father into pieces and threw him
into a pot. Having killed Pelias,
Medea fled to Corinth.
Various sources state that
Medea had between one and
fourteen children, including sons Alcimenes, Thessalus, Tisander,
Mermeros and Pheres, Medus, and Argos, and a daughter, Eriopis.
They were married for 10 years in Corinth.
Various versions' endings
Medea murders one of her children (Louvre)
Medea for the king's daughter, Glauce.
Before the fifth century BC, there seem to have been two variants of
the myth's conclusion. According to the poet Eumelus, to whom the
fragmentary epic Korinthiaka is usually attributed,
Medea killed her
children by accident. The poet Creophylus, however, blamed their
murders on the citizens of Corinth.
According to Euripides' version,
Medea took her revenge by sending
Glauce a dress and golden coronet, covered in poison. This resulted in
the deaths of both the princess and the king, Creon, when he went to
save his daughter.
Medea then continued her revenge, murdering two of
her children herself. Afterward, she left Corinth and flew to Athens
in a golden chariot driven by dragons sent by her grandfather, Helios,
god of the sun.
This deliberate murder of her children by
Medea appears to be
Euripides' invention, although some scholars believe
this alternate tradition. Her filicide would go on to become the
standard for later writers. Pausanias, writing in the late 2nd
century AD, records five different versions of what happened to
Medea's children after reporting that he has seen a monument for them
while traveling in Corinth.
Fleeing from Jason,
Medea made her way to Thebes, where she healed
Heracles (the former Argonaut) from the curse of
Hera (that led to the
murder of Iphitus, his best friend). In return,
Heracles gave her a
place to stay in Thebes until the Thebans drove her out in anger,
despite Heracles' protests.
She then fled to Athens, where she met and married Aegeus. They had
one son, Medus, although
Medus the son of Jason. Her
domestic bliss was once again shattered by the arrival of Aegeus'
long-lost son, Theseus. Determined to preserve her own son's
Medea convinced her husband that
Theseus was a threat and
that he should be disposed of. As
Theseus a cup of
Aegeus recognized the young man's sword as his own, which he
had left behind many years previously for his newborn son, to be given
to him when he came of age. Knocking the cup from Medea's hand, Aegeus
Theseus as his own.
Medea then returned to
Colchis and, finding that
Aeëtes had been
deposed by his brother Perses, promptly killed her uncle and restored
the kingdom to her father.
Herodotus reports another version, in which
Medea and her son
Medus fled from Athens, on her flying chariot, to
the Iranian plateau and lived among the Aryans, who then changed their
name to the Medes.
Recounting the many variations of Medea's story, the 1st century BC
Diodorus Siculus wrote, "Speaking generally, it is because
of the desire of the tragic poets for the marvelous that so varied and
inconsistent an account of
Medea has been given out."
Medea’s genealogy and divinity
There have been many different accounts of Medea’s family tree. One
of the only uncontested facts is that she is a direct descendant of
the sun god
Helios through her father King
Aeëtes of Colchis. Helios
and his wife Perse (or Perses) had four children: Aeëtes, Circe,
Pasiphae, and Perses.
Aeëtes then married Idyia (or Iduia) and Medea
was one of their children. This is where scholars have begun to
question the rest of Medea’s genealogy. By some accounts, Aeëtes
and Idyia only had two daughters,
Chalciope (or Chalkiope)
and Apsyrtus (or Apsyrtos) was the son of
Aeëtes through Asterodea.
According to others, Idyia gave birth to
Medea and Apsyrtus and
Asterodea gave birth to Chalciope.
Medea then marries Jason, although
the number and names of their children are contested by different
Euripides mentions two unnamed sons (whom
others have suggested three sons (Thessalus, Alcimenes, and Tisander)
two sons (Mermerus and Pheres) or a son and a daughter (Medeius and
Jason in Corinth, she marries the king of
Athens (Aegeus) and bears him a son. Scholars have questioned whether
her son Medeius is the son of
Jason or of Aegeus, but Medeius goes on
to become the ancestor of the
Medes by conquering their lands.
The importance of Medea’s genealogy is to help define what level of
divinity she possessed. By some accounts, like the Argonautica, she is
depicted as a young, mortal woman. She is directly influenced by the
Greek gods (through
Hera and Aphrodite) and while she possesses
magical abilities, she is still a mortal with divine ancestry. Other
accounts, like Euripides’ play Medea, she focuses on her mortality,
although she transcends the mortal world at the end of the play with
the help of her grandfather
Helios and his sun chariot. Hesiod’s
Theogony places her marriage to
Jason on the list of marriages between
mortals and divine, suggesting that she is predominantly divine. She
also has connections with the Hecate, who was the goddess of
magic, which could be one of the main sources of which she draws her
Personae of Medea
Medea About to Murder Her Children by Eugène Ferdinand Victor
In Euripides’ play
Medea she is a woman scorned, rejected by her
Jason and seeking revenge. Deborah Boedeker writes about
different images and symbolism used in Euripides’ play to invoke
responses from his original Athenian audience. The Nurse gives
Medea in the prologue, highlighting comparisons to
great forces of nature and different animals. There are also many
nautical references throughout the play either used by other
characters when describing
Medea or by
Medea herself. By including
these references, Boedeker argues that these comparisons were used to
create connections to the type of woman
Medea was. She holds great
power (referred to by the comparisons to forces of nature), she relies
on her basic animal-like instincts and emotions (connections to
different animals like bulls and lions), and it draws the audience
back her original myth of Jason’s quest for the
Golden Fleece and
the sea voyage taken by Jason, Medea, and the Argonauts.
Emma Griffiths also adds to the analysis of Medea’s character in
Euripides’s play by discussing the male/female dichotomy created by
Medea does not fit into the mold of a “normal
woman” according to Athenian philosophy. She is depicted of having
great intelligence and skill, something typically viewed as a
masculine trait by Euripides’ original audience. On the other hand,
she uses that cunning in order to manipulate the men around her, and
manipulation of other people would have been a negative female trait
to the Athenian audience. There is also the paradox of how she chooses
to murder her victims in the play. She poisons the princess, which
would have been seen as a feminine way of murder, yet kills her
children in cold blood, which is seen as more masculine. She also has
dialogue about her children and shows a strong maternal love and
connection to them, something that was essential to “normal women”
in Athenian society. Yet at the end of the play she is able to kill
her children as part of her revenge. It is through these opposites
Euripides creates a complicated character for his protagonist.
Although not the first depiction of Medea, the
Apollonios Rhodios gives a fuller description of events that lead up
to Euripides’s play, mainly surrounding Jason’s quest for the
Golden Fleece. In this literary work,
Medea is presented not as a
powerful woman seeking justice rather she is a young woman who is
desperately in love with Jason. So much in love that she decides to
defy her father and kill her brother in order to help him. James J.
Clauss writes about this version of Medea, attempting to unearth
another version of this character for scholarship and discussion.
He looks into different passages in the original text to define the
meaning and draw connection to the different feelings
Medea was going
through. He argues the feelings of Medea’s initial love for Jason,
the shame she feels for loving him and for going against her family,
and final agreement to help
Jason in his quest.
Multiple scholars have discussed Medea’s use as a “helper
maiden” to Jason’s quest. A helper maid is typically personified
as a young woman who helps on a hero’s quest usually out of love.
Instead of being the center of the story like she is in Euripides’
Medea, this version of
Medea is reduced to a supporting role. Her main
purpose is to help the hero with his quest.
Jason would never have
been successful on his quest without Medea’s help, something that is
pointed out and referenced many times in ancient texts and
contemporary scholarly work.
Other, non-literary traditions guided the vase-painters, and a
localized, chthonic presence of
Medea was propitiated with unrecorded
emotional overtones at Corinth, at the sanctuary devoted to her slain
children, or locally venerated elsewhere as a foundress of
Cultural depictions of Medea
This article appears to contain trivial, minor, or unrelated
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Greek mythology in popular culture § Medea
The dramatic episodes in which
Medea plays a role have ensured that
she remains vividly represented in popular culture.
Cicero - in the court case Pro Caelio, the name
Medea is mentioned
several times, as a way to make fun of Clodia, sister of P. Clodius
Pulcher, the man who exiled Cicero.
Metamorphoses VII, 1-450
Medea (fragments from the play)
Hyginus, Fabulae 21-26
Pindar, Pythian Odes, IV
Bibliotheca I, 23-28
Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica
Gaius Valerius Flaccus
Herodotus, Histories VII.62i
Jason and Medeia
Robinson Jeffers, Medea
Hans Henny Jahnn, Medea
Percival Everett, For Her Dark Skin
Maxwell Anderson, The Wingless Victory
Geoffrey Chaucer The Legend of Good Women (1386)
Michael Wood, In Search of Myths & Heroes:
Jason and the Golden
Chrysanthos Mentis Bostantzoglou (Bost),
Medea (parody of
Jesmyn Wood, "Salvage the Bones"
Greek mythology in popular culture
Colchis was an ancient Georgian Kingdom
^ William Godwin (1876). "Lives of the Necromancers".
^ Smith, William (1870). "Medeia". A Dictionary of Greek and Roman
biography and mythology: Vol 2. p. 1004. Retrieved 6 December
2016. Her children are, according to some accounts, Mermerus, Pheres
Alcimenes and Tisander, and, according to others, she
had seven sons and seven daughters, while others mention only two
Medus (some call him Polyxemus) and Eriopis, or one son
^ Godwin 1876, p. 42.
^ As noted in a scholium to Pindar's Olympian Ode 13.74; cf. Pausanias
^ As noted in the scholium to
^ See McDermott 1985, 10-15.
Hyginus Fabulae 25;
Ovid Met. 7.391ff.; Seneca Medea; Bibliotheca
1.9.28 favors Euripides' version of events, but also records the
variant that the Corinthians killed Medea's children in retaliation
for her crimes.
^ Pausanias 2.3.6-11
Herodotus Histories VII.62i
Diodorus Siculus 4.56
^ a b Griffiths, Emma (2006). Medea. London: New York:
^ Boedeker, Deborah (1997). Medea: Essays on
Medea in Myth,
Literature, Philosophy, and Art. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University
Press. pp. 127–148.
^ Clauss, James J. (1997). Medea: Essays on
Medea in Myth, Literature,
Philosophy, and Art. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press.
^ As on the bell krater at the Cleveland Museum of Art (91.1)
discussed in detail by Christiane Sourvinou-Inwood, "
Medea at a
Shifting Distance: Images and Euripidean tragedy", in Clauss and
Johnston 1997, pp 253-96.
^ Edouard Will, Corinth 1955. "By identifying Medea, Ino and
Melikertes, Bellerophon, and Hellotis as pre-Olympianprecursors of
Hera, Poseidon, and Athena, he could give to Corinth a religious
antiquity it did not otherwise possess", wrote Nancy Bookidis, "The
Sanctuaries of Corinth", Corinth 20 (2003)
Pindar shows her prophesying the foundation of Cyrene; Herodotus
makes her the legendary eponymous founder of the Medes; Callimachus
and Apollonius describe colonies founded by Colchians originally sent
out in pursuit of her" observes Nita Krevans, "
Medea as foundation
heroine", in Clauss and Johnston 1997 pp 71-82 (p. 71).
Ovid also wrote a full play called
Medea from which only a few lines
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Medea.
Apollodorus, Apollodorus, The Library, with an English Translation by
Sir James George Frazer, F.B.A., F.R.S. in 2 Volumes. Cambridge, MA,
Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1921.
Clauss, J. J. and S. I. Johnston (eds), Medea: Essays on
Myth, Literature, Philosophy and Art. (Princeton, Princeton University
Press, 1997). ISBN 9780691043760.
Grant, Michael, and John Hazel. 1973.Who's Who in Classical Mythology.
London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
Griffiths, Emma. 2006. Medea. London ; New York: Routledge
McDermott, Emily, Euripides' Medea: The Incarnation of Disorder.
(University Park, PA, Penn State University Press, 1985).
Judith Mossman (classicist) (Mossman, Judith), Medea: Introduction,
Translation and Commentary. Aris & Phillips, Warminster 2011)
Smith, William; Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology.
London (1873). "Medeia or Medea"
Wygant, Amy, Medea, Magic, and Modernity in France: Stages and
Histories, 1553-1797. (Aldershot, Ashgate, 2007).
Witchcraft and magic
North American witchcraft
South American witchcraft
Cloak of invisibility
Folklore and mythology
Witch of Endor
Major historic treatises
Summis desiderantes affectibus
Summis desiderantes affectibus (1484)
Malleus Maleficarum (1487)
The Discoverie of
Compendium Maleficarum (1608)
A Guide to Grand-Jury Men
A Guide to Grand-Jury Men (1627)
The Discovery of Witches
The Discovery of Witches (1647)
Treatise on the Apparitions of Spirits and on Vampires or Revenants
Jason (1st husband)
Aegeus (2nd husband)
Mermeros and Pheres (sons)
A Dream of Passion
A Dream of Passion (1978)
Medea Miracle (2007)
Médée (1693, Charpentier)
Medea (1775, Benda)
Médée (1797, Cherubini)
Medea in Corinto
Medea in Corinto (1813, Mayr)
Medea (1843, Pacini)
Medea (2010, Reimann)
Medea (431 BC)
The Hungry Woman (1995)
La hija de Cólquide
La hija de Cólquide (1944)
Medea, the Musical (1994)
Marie Christine (1999)
Medea's Dance of Vengeance (1956)