Euripides is considered one of the great tragedians of Ancient Greece, and his play Medea is no exception. The story of a woman who takes revenge on her unfaithful husband by murdering their children, Medea has been interpreted in many ways over the years. Some have seen her as a feminist heroine, while others have condemned her as a murderous monster. So which is it? Is Euripides’ Medea a feminist or misogynist play?
To answer this question, we need to take a closer look at the character of Medea herself. She is undoubtedly a strong and independent woman, but she is also driven by her emotions to the point of violence. On the one hand, she can be seen as a victim of her husband’s infidelity and betrayal. On the other hand, she is also a perpetrator of horrific acts of murder and revenge.
“It is only males that are produced directly by the gods and endowed with souls… It is only men who are whole human beings and capable of receiving ultimate fulfillment, while the greatest a woman can hope for is to become a man” (Plato 90e). Euripides’ Medea was written at a time when feminism didn’t exist, yet he gave Medea a role of substance and strength.
Was Euripides ahead of his time in writing a feminist play, or did he actually believe that women were complete human beings and deserving of the same fulfillment as men?
On one hand, it could be argued that Euripides was a feminist because he wrote a play in which the protagonist is a woman who is strong, independent, and capable. Medea is not defined by her relationship to a man; she is her own person with her own goals and desires. She does not need a man to complete her or make her happy; she is perfectly content on her own. In addition, Medea is an excellent example of an early feminist because she challenges traditional gender roles. She is not content to stay at home and take care of the children while her husband goes out and has all the fun; she wants to be out there with him, experiencing everything life has to offer.
On the other hand, some could argue that Euripides was not a feminist because he wrote a play in which the protagonist is a woman who is ultimately driven by her emotions and ends up committing horrific acts of violence. Medea is not in control of her emotions; she is controlled by them.
She makes rash decisions and acts impulsively, without thinking about the consequences. In addition, Medea challenges traditional gender roles in a way that is ultimately harmful to herself and others. She abandons her children and kills her husband, which are both traditionally seen as “masculine” acts. As a result, she is exiled and alone, which are both traditionally seen as “feminine” states.
So, was Euripides a feminist or a misogynist? The answer is probably somewhere in between. While he did write a play with a strong female protagonist, he also wrote a play in which that protagonist is ultimately driven by her emotions and ends up committing horrific acts of violence. Therefore, it is difficult to say definitively whether Euripides was a feminist or a misogynist. However, what we can say for sure is that he was ahead of his time in writing a play with such a strong female lead.
It’s hard to believe that Euripides had any idea how much power he was putting in the hands of this woman and many others in the creation of her character. Perhaps not at the time, and maybe not on purpose, but because of it, Medea the play and Medea the person have developed a life of their own. Even now, she is still being used as an example of a feminist character, so her tale is still taught in schools all over the world.
On the one hand, Medea can be seen as a feminist play because it features a strong female protagonist who takes control of her own destiny. She is not a victim of circumstance or of the men in her life; rather, she is an active participant in shaping her own story. In this way, she represents a new type of woman for her time – one who was not content to simply accept the role that society had assigned to her.
On the other hand, some have argued that Medea is actually a misogynist play because it shows a woman who is ultimately undone by her own passions and emotions. She is driven by revenge and anger, which leads her to commit some horrific acts, including murdering her own children. In this way, she represents the dark side of femininity – a side that was not often spoken about in public at that time.
So which is it? Is Medea a feminist or a misogynist play? The answer may depend on your own personal interpretation. But one thing is for sure: Medea is still a relevant and powerful story today, almost 2,500 years after it was first written.
In fact, the Medea portrayed as emotional and submissive is initially represented. By Euripides’ authorial intent, he lulls the audience into a state of compassion rather than dread. “The choral passage in which we first hear the anguished voice of Medea from offstage is cleverly arranged.”” (Rosenmeyer, p. 229)
This is not a woman in control of her emotions or her situation. She is overcome by them. And yet, at the same time, she is dangerous.
Medea’s first appearance onstage confirms the audience’s impression of her as an emotional wreck. In her long speech, she laments her fate, bemoans her husband’s betrayal, and curses the day she was born. Medea is the classic wronged woman, and Euripides invites the audience to sympathize with her.
But even as we pity Medea, we also fear her. There are hints even in her first speech that she is capable of great violence. She talks about the day she killed her brother and helped Jason escape with the Golden Fleece, and she boasts of her knowledge of poisons. Medea is clearly a woman to be reckoned with, even if she is not in control of her emotions.
It is only when Medea starts to take action that we see her true strength and power. In planning her revenge against Jason, Medea is cold, calculating, and completely in control. She manipulates everyone around her, from her husband to her children, in order to get what she wants. And she is completely unafraid to use violence to achieve her goals.
Some critics have read Medea as a feminist play, because it shows a woman who is strong and independent. Others have read it as a misogynist play, because it shows a woman who is capable of terrible violence. But perhaps the truth lies somewhere in between. Medea is a complex and contradictory character, and Euripides invites us to sympathize with her even as we fear her.