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The old songs will have to change.
No more hymns to our faithlessness and deceit.
Apollo, god of song, lord of the lyre,
never passed on the flame of poetry to us.
But if we had that voice, what songs
we'd sing of men's failings, and their blame. History is made by women, just as much as men.
Medea has been betrayed. Her husband, Jason, has left her for a younger woman. He has forgotten all the promises he made and is even prepared to abandon their two sons. But Medea is not a woman to accept such disrespect passively. Strong-willed and fiercely intelligent, she turns her formidable energies to working out the greatest, and most horrifying, revenge possible.
Euripides' devastating tragedy is shockingly modern in the sharp psychological exploration of the characters and the gripping interactions between them. Award-winning poet Robin Robertson has captured both the vitality of Euripides' drama and the beauty of his phrasing, reinvigorating this masterpiece for the twenty-first century.
"This version of Medea is vivid, strong, readable, and brings triumphantly into modern focus the tragic sensibility of the ancient Greeks."
— John Banville, winner of the 2005 Man Booker Prize
"Robertson is master of the dark and wounded, the torn complexities of human relations, and Medea offers a perfect match for his sensibilities. This is an urgent, contemporary,and eloquent translation."
— A.L.Kennedy, winner of the 2007 Costa Book of the Year
"Robin Robertson has given us a Medea fit for our times; his elegant and lucid free translation of Euripides' masterpiece manages the trick of sounding wholly contemporary but never merely 'modern' — and will be an especially lucky discovery for those encountering the play for the first time."
— Don Paterson, winner of the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Poetry Award
"[O]ne of the main virtues of this fine translation is Robertson's ear for the verbal brutality committed by the estranged Medea and Jason on one another during their confrontations....closer examination reveals how much thought has gone into its making...These subtleties support Robertson's claim, in the introduction, that his main concern was 'to provide an English version that is as true to the Greek as it is to the way that English is spoken now'.... [Robin Robertson's translation] certainly deserves to be staged. It would provide a more attractive basis for a performance text of the original play than anything else currently on offer."
— Edith Hall, Times Literary Supplement
Outside the house of Jason and Medea in Corinth.
Enter Nurse from the house.
NURSE If only it had never happened like this.
If the Argo hadn't opened its sails and flown to Colchis through the Clashing Rocks.
If the pines were still standing in the glens of Mount Pelion,
not cut and turned to oars for the Argonauts.
If Pelias the king hadn't sent those heroes off to do his bidding, to cross the sea and steal the Golden Fleece.
It would all be different. Not as it is.
My dear mistress, Medea,
would never have met their leader, Jason;
never fallen for him, head over heels,
never left a life behind to sail away with him.
Not tricked Pelias's daughters into killing their own father. And not fled here, at last,
to Corinth, far from family and home.
In the beginning everything was fine.
Though a foreigner like me, Medea was welcomed with her husband and her children —
and was happy in her new life, obedient to Jason in everything he said and did.
In marriage that's the safest way, I think,
to follow your husband, and accept his rules.
But now this house is full of hate;
its timbers are rotten with it. Jason has gone from her and the children, leaving them for a royal bed. He's marrying this young thing,
the princess, daughter of Creon, the Corinthian king.
My poor Medea — dishonored — reminds him of his oaths, invokes the gods of justice and truth to witness what he's done, after all she's done for him. To no avail.
Since she heard of his deceit she's refused all food, and comfort;
she stays in her room and cries the days away,
won't lift her head for anyone,
won't raise her eyes from the ground.
Unmoved by words, by anything around her,
she's deaf as a stone or a wave in the sea.
Sometimes she turns to look away,
to call out for her father, her country and her home: all abandoned and betrayed for a man who now abandons her,
betrays her honor and her love.
She has learned the hard way what it is to be an exile,
to have given up everything.
She loathes to have her children near,
and cannot bear to look at them. I am afraid some plan is already forming in her mind.
She has a temper on her that is vile, and violent,
and she will never rest.
I know her well enough to be sure.
I fear she will creep into the palace,
stand at that double bed,
and drive a deep blade into each of them.
She is deadly, let me tell you,
and none who spark her rage will walk away.
Enter Tutor, escorting the two sons of Jason and Medea.
But look, here they are now, her boys,
hot from their games. They don't understand their mother's grief; why should they?
Their minds are still too young for pain.
TUTOR Old nurse, what are you doing,
standing out here talking to yourself?
Why aren't you with your mistress?
NURSE Old teacher, tired slave to Jason's children,
don't you know that if the dice fall badly for our masters they fall the same for us?
I feel Medea's troubles as my own,
and have come out here to share them with the earth and air.
TUTOR So she is still crying?
NURSE Still crying? I envy your innocence.
This is only the start.
Her grief has just begun.
TUTOR The poor ignorant woman — if a servant may speak so of a lady. She doesn't know the news.
NURSE What news, old man? Don't keep it to yourself.
TUTOR Nothing. I shouldn't have said...
NURSE Please, I beg you as a fellow servant.
I can keep a secret if I must.
TUTOR Well, I was down by the sacred spring at Peirene where the old men play at draughts and I happened to hear something
- though I was pretending not to listen —
something about King Creon banishing these children,
and their mother, from Corinth.
I don't know if it's true. I hope not.
NURSE Jason would never let that happen.
His quarrel is with Medea, not with them.
TUTOR Old loves are dropped when new ones come along.
Jason's love no longer lives here.
NURSE We are done for, then.
We were weathering a squall and now it turns to storm.
TUTOR You must say nothing to your mistress,
this is not the time.
NURSE Sweet children, do you hear what kind of man your father is? He is my master,
so I cannot curse him, but such disloyalty to those he ought to love...He is guilty...
TUTOR What mortal man is not guilty?
A new woman in the bed leaves no room for anyone else.
He has forgotten everything,
including his boys.
Has it just dawned on you that we're each of us human:
we put ourselves above all others.
NURSE Go into the house, children, everything will be fine.
And you — keep them as far away from their mother as you can; she's distraught. I've seen the way she looks at them, like a wild animal. I'm afraid she might do something.
She will not let this anger cool until she's brought it down on the head of an enemy.
And I pray it is an enemy she turns on,
not those she loves...
Oh gods, I am so wretched, so miserable.
Please, let me die!
NURSE Just as I said, children, your mother's heart's upset;
she's stirring the pot of her darkest temper.
Quickly, into the house, and don't go near her -
don't let her see you. She is fierce, my dears,
fierce with hate. Quick, inside!
Exit Tutor and children into the house.
The storm is upon us.
There is greater passion to come: lightning flashes to burst these black clouds of grief and bring down hellish weather.
What will she do, this proud unbiddable woman,
under the sting of this lash?
Do I not suffer? Have I not been wronged?
Can I not weep? Damned children of a damned mother,
I hope you die with your father,
and his whole house falls around you all!
NURSE Oh gods! What part have they in their father's guilt?
Why do you hate them? Poor children,
I'm so frightened you might come to harm.
She explains to the children.
Royal minds are different to ours, and dangerous.
Being used to giving orders rather than taking them,
they can become outraged — and that rage is slow to cool.
Ordinary life is much better — where everyone's equal.
I hope to grow old just as I am:
lowly, unremarkable and safe.
Moderation is a lovely word and we should live by it;
it's good for our souls.
Excessiveness brings mortals no advantage. All it does is draw more ruin on us when the gods are wild.
Enter a group of Corinthian women as Chorus.
CHORUS We have heard the cry of the unhappy woman of Colchis.
Tell us, nurse. Is she still no calmer?
Even through the double doors of the inner room we could hear her keening. It hurts our heart to hear such sounds of sorrow from within a house of friends.
NURSE This house is dead. It is no longer a home.
The husband rolls in a royal bed, while the wife,
my mistress, stays in her room,
beyond the soothing words of any friend,
wasting her life away.
Oh, let a flash of lightning pierce this skull!
What use is there in living?
Give me the freedom of death,
so I can leave behind this life I hate.
CHORUS Did you hear that, Zeus? Sun and Earth,
did you hear that creature's dreadful cry?
You are rash, woman: it is just as wrong for you to desire the bed of death as it is for Jason to thresh in his bed of desire.
Why hurry death?
The marriage is over. Let it rest.
Let Zeus advance your cause, and save your heart.
Oh mighty Themis, vengeful Artemis,
look down on my suffering and these broken marriage bonds, the oaths that bound me to my husband now all forgotten.
I will see him and his bright young bride ground down to nothing,
and their whole house with them.
Was it for this I fled my native country, Father,
leaving you in my wake fishing up pieces of my broken brother?
NURSE You hear? She calls on the gods, on Themis,
daughter of Zeus, goddess of Justice and guardian of all promises made by men.
Such anger is not easily appeased.
CHORUS We wish she would come out and listen to us,
meet us face to face.
She might feel her fury lessen amongst friends.
Fetch her from the house, nurse,
and tell her we support her —
but be quick, before she hurts those inside.
Her passion grows so strong the air around her burns.
NURSE I'll try, of course, but I doubt I'll persuade her.
When any of us approach you can see her hackles rise — like a lioness when you get between her and her cubs.
If only we could charm her with music;
but those old composers were such fools:
they wrote melodies only for the happy times —
festivals, grand banquets, celebrations.
None of them thought to make a music for real life,
music that would salve our wounds and soothe our bitter griefs. Didn't they see these wounds and griefs destroy us,
and a music that healed such sorrow would be precious?
What is the point of music and song at a feast?
People are happy when they're full.
We need a tune when there's no food there to eat.
Exit Nurse into the house.
CHORUS We hear her weeping, her litany of accusations against her husband, the betrayer of her bed.
She calls again to Themis, goddess of oaths,
who brought her here to Greece over the dark saltwater of the Black Sea,
to the locks and keys of the Hellespont,
a threshold few may cross.
Enter Medea and the Nurse from the house.
MEDEA Women of Corinth, I have come out here to show you who I am.
I will not be judged — by anyone — as proud.
I know many who are vain, it's true, indoors or out;
but there are others that hide themselves away,
and then people say they emulate the gods.
Whether you go out in public, or retire in private,
you get a reputation either way.
There is no justice in the eyes of men,
they judge by what they see, not what they know.
It is hardest for foreigners like me to be accepted
— always working, always trying to fit in —
so I have no time for those who think themselves above the rules, or better than the others.
This blow, when it came, came from nowhere,
knocking me down,
crushing my faith in all that's good and kind.
I am lost, and foundering. The joy has gone from my life,
and I see no reason, now, to carry on.
My husband, my companion, the man I thought I knew so well — in whom I'd invested everything — has revealed himself to be the most contemptible of men.
Of all living, sentient creatures,
women are the most unfortunate.
We must save and save to raise a dowry;
then the man that agrees to marry us becomes master of our bodies:
a second burden greater than the first.
Loss and insult: that is all we have.
Everything hangs on his character:
is the master good or bad?
We can refuse him nothing, but if we divorce we are seen as somehow soiled, as damaged goods.
Innocents and strangers, we enter our husbands' houses,
with all these new laws and customs to deal with;
we need to use our intuition to teach us how best to please our man.
If we do well in all our duties, and don't let him ever think he's trapped in the marriage,
everything's fine. If not, it's death in life.
When a man's bored with what he has at home he goes elsewhere: finds someone else to amuse him.
The woman must wait, for she is allowed to look at one face only: his.
Men tell us that we are lucky to live safe at home while they take up their spears and go to war.
Well, that's a lie. I'd sooner stand behind a shield three times in battle than give birth once.
But yours is a different story. This is your city.
Your fathers are here;
you have the pleasures of life,
the company of friends.
I am alone in Corinth, an outsider in a strange city far from my family —
my only company a husband who took me as plunder from some foreign campaign and now dishonors me. I have no mother, no brother,
no kin to turn to, to shelter me from shame.
So I shall ask this one favor from you.
If I can think of any way, any plan,
to make my husband pay for all this hurt,
will you keep my secret?
A woman is too timid, too weak, they say, for war
— would faint at the sight of battle-steel —
but when she is injured in love,
when her bed has been defiled, she'll have your blood.
CHORUS We promise. You have every right to punish your husband, Medea,
and every reason to grieve.
But here is Creon, the king.
Here, perhaps, with some proclamation.
CREON So, Medea, sour-faced, glowering with rage against your husband: hear this.
I order you now to leave this land and go into exile,
with immediate effect. Take your children with you.
I make the law and execute it, and will stay until I've seen you off Corinthian soil.
MEDEA No! This is the end of everything.
Fleets of enemies sail against me;
I see only rocks and no safe haven.
After so much abuse, one question, Creon:
why are you sending me away?
CREON I'm afraid of you, to put it bluntly;
afraid that you will do some harm to my daughter.
I have many reasons, and they all add up.
You are a clever woman. It's known that you are skilled in evil arts. You are wounded,
smarting at the loss of your husband from your bed.
And now I hear that you've been making threats against the bride, her father, and the man she is to marry.
I will let nothing happen, and so will guard against it.
It's better to harden my heart against you now than have you break it later.
MEDEA My reputation, yet again! It goes before me like a curse.
My father should never have allowed me an education,
never raised me to be intelligent.
Those who are out of the ordinary attract jealousy and bitterness.
If you try to bring new wisdom to fools,
the fools are furious;
if your mind matches the minds of the city's intellectuals then they're threatened.
But you, Creon, you are afraid.
Why is that?
What damage can I do?
I am no insurrectionist,
no insurgent against the state.
You've done nothing to me;
only given your daughter's hand away in marriage.
It's my husband I hate.
You've acted with propriety and good sense,
within the law, and I don't resent your happiness.
Make the marriage; I wish all of you good luck.
But let me stay. Although I have been wronged,
I will keep my peace. I yield to you as king.
You have won and I have lost.
CREON Conciliatory words, indeed.
But still I dread to think what evil cooks within your heart.
The softness of these words makes me trust them less.
A hot-tempered woman — or man, for that matter —
is easier to stand against than a clever one that keeps her own counsel.
No, I am decided.
You are hereby banished, and must leave now.
No more delay, and no more speeches.
I know you are our enemy and I will have no enemy in our midst.
Medea kneels before him.Copyright © 2008 by RobinRobertson
On the Translation
Notes on the Text
Posted January 28, 2013
Hi Harry, i tried talking tou you at school but you didnt answer, oh yeah and what the hell happened last night? You tpld me to go to golden cube but you werent there. Whens your birthday mine is June 20th.
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