Spirituality and Mythology

Medea, the woman who killed her own children

Medea helped Jason win the Golden Fleece and defeat his uncle, but he rejected her for someone else. Her revenge was horrific, but should she be condemned?
Medea killed her children

This is the story of a woman whom posterity has painted as a witch. Her contribution to her husband is overlooked for all the crimes that she committed for her man.

For love of Jason

She was Medea, often called Medea the barbarian or Medea the witch. I prefer to call her Medea the wronged one. Medea is the daughter of the King of Colchis, the land of the magical Golden Fleece, guarded by a dragon. Jason, a young prince (of Argonauts fame) is sent to Colchis to get the fleece as a part of an unachievable task. The King sets certain conditions for parting with the fleece. While these are equally unachievable and daunting, Jason completes the tasks, much to the King’s surprise. What the King doesn’t know is that his daughter Medea helps Jason, having fallen in love with him as a result of a divine conspiracy. Goddess Hera had instructed the god of love to make Medea fall in love with Jason, as she was rumoured to have magical powers that Jason needed to achieve the tasks he was given.

When the King learns about his daughter’s betrayal, he’s angry and chases her and Jason out. They reach Jason’s country but his uncle has usurped the throne. With Medea’s help, Jason manages to eliminate his uncle, but unfortunately this is unpopular and once again Jason and Medea have to flee, with their two children, and reach Corinth seeking asylum.

The betrayal

At Corinth, the King is aware of Jason’s fame and heroism, but apprehensive of Medea’s powers. He agrees to allow Jason stay there, on condition that Medea leaves. Much to Medea’s surprise, she learns that Jason has agreed to marry the King’s daughter, who’s very beautiful. The King banishes Medea and her children from Corinth. Medea begs a day to make arrangements. The King is uncomfortable but agrees reluctantly to give her no more than the dawn of the next day.

When Jason learns about the banishment, he offers her money for her exile, which Medea declines. Clearly Jason has found new family and couldn’t care less for Medea.

The revenge

Medea knows that Jason has a soft corner for his children. She makes a deal with him to leave them with him, while she promises to go away.

To reflect her change of heart, she sends her children to the princess. The children take with them a robe and a small crown as gifts. The princess puts on the robe and the crown.

Unknown to her, the robe and the crown have poison in them. As soon as she wears them, her body is covered with poison which eats into her, and she dies even before she realises what is happening. When the King sees her dead body, he embraces her in grief. The poison soon spreads over to him and he too meets a slow but torturous death.

When the news of the deaths in the palace reach Medea, she makes her final move. She enters her children’s bedroom and kills them. By now Jason has heard about the deaths of the King and the princess. He rushes in to Medea’s room, as he is sure that the soldiers of Corinth will kill his children. When he reaches the room, he learns that his children too have been murdered. He breaks open the bedroom door, only to find them missing. He sees Medea fleeing in a flying chariot with their bodies, depriving him of even a final glimpse and the last rites.

Medea escapes to Athens and left Jason with neither a family nor a loved one, and deprived him of all that he craved in life.


Should we judge Medea?

The story of Medea is not simply a tale of love and vengeance. It’s a beautiful drama of love and passion, at its extremities, though. It brings out the strength of passion along with the suffering of spurned love leading to the terrible consequences of vengeance. The great sorceress ends up being portrayed as a weak woman, succumbing to the emotions of love. For Medea, the crime or the hurt of being spurned by the man for whom she left her home, country and reputation was much stronger than the subsequent murders that led her to a life of uncertainty.

It’s not a dearth of love for the children; rather it was love that made her kill her children, rather than they be killed by the King’s men or grow up to be vengeful creatures. Was it a mother killing her children to save them from a barbarous and torturous killing by the king’s soldiers or was it a mother killing her children just to deprive their father of their love? The pain that Jason goes through is a victory for Medea, even though she herself didn’t escape the emotional turmoil of killing her own children.

A victim of her own emotions

Medea’s actions are downright despicable, but then matters of heart are never judged by the rules of mind. The inner recesses of a woman’s mind are unfathomable and the ire of a spurned woman is even more so. Is a woman just a lover or wife and finally a mother? Isn’t she an individual who has a right to express her hatred and indignation? Must her expression of indignation always be within the boundaries of expected behaviour or cultural norms? Medea defies these and expresses her anger and resentment in her own way, which goes against the set norms of a dutiful wife or motherly love. Her passion is intense, albeit with aberrations which are wild, but by these aberrations she either reigns or ruins wayward men!

Was Medea not a victim of selfishness and infidelity? Is she judged differently because Jason had already been designated a hero?

What do you think?

Published in Spirituality and Mythology
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