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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
Characters NURSE to Medea
Two SONS of Medea and Jason
TUTOR to the two sons
MEDEA, princess of Colchis, wife of Jason
CREON, king of Corinth
JASON, son of Aeson, king of Iolcus
AEGEUS, king of Athens
SERVANT of Jason as messenger
CHORUS of Corinthian women
Scene: Corinth, in front of Medea's house.
(Enter Nurse from the house.)
If only the swift Argo never had swooped in between
the cobalt Clashing Rocks to reach the Colchians' realm;
if only pines had never been chopped down among the woods
of Pelion to put oars in the hands of those heroic men,
5 who ventured forth to fetch the Golden Fleece for Pelias.
Medea, then, my mistress, never would have sailed
for Iolcus' towers, her heart infatuated with desire for Jason;
nor spurred the daughters of old Pelias to kill their father,
10 never would have settled here in Corinth
with her husband and her sons.
She managed though an exile to delight the people of the land
she'd joined, and gave support in every way to Jason—
life's most secure when there is no conflict
15 to alienate a woman from her man.
But now ... now hatred rules, and loyal love is sick,
since Jason has betrayed my mistress and their sons,
by mounting the royal bridal bed
beside the daughter of Creon, the monarch of this land.
20 And so my poor Medea is disdained.
She cries, "What of his oaths?," recalls
the solemn pledge of his right hand, and prays the gods
to witness what poor recompense she has received.
Lying without food, she gives her body up to pain,
25 and has been wearing down the nights and days with tears,
since she first found she had been wrongly treated by her man.
Never lifting up her eyes from staring at the ground,
she listens to her friends' advice no more
than if she were a rock or sea-surf—
30 except for when she turns her pale white neck,
lamenting to herself for her lost father, country, home,
which she betrayed to join the man who now dishonors her.
She's learned from her catastrophe how much
35 it matters not to lose your homeland.
She hates the children, takes no pleasure in the sight of them.
I fear that she may plan some new mischief;
her temperament is fierce, and she'll not tolerate
mistreatment—I know too well what she is like.
She fills me with alarm,
40 that she will stab their livers with a sharpened sword,
entering by stealth the palace where the bed is laid,
and kill both monarch and his daughter's new bridegroom,
and so incur some even graver consequence,
for she is fearsome—
and no one who picks a fight with her
45 will find it easy to descant the victory chant.
(Enter the two boys and their Tutor from the side.)
But here the children come, fresh from their exercise,
and unaware of all their mother's sufferings—
young minds are not inclined to cares.
Old servant of my mistress' house,
why are you standing solitary here outside the doors,
50 bewailing troubles to yourself?
How could Medea want to be left without you near?
Old man, you who take care of the young sons of Jason:
when affairs break badly for their masters,
55 this can affect good slaves as well.
And my distress reached such a pitch I felt compelled
to come out here and tell the problems that beset
my mistress to the earth and sky.
You mean she's still not stopped her grieving cries?
60 You've no idea! Her pain's not even halfway through.
Poor fool—if I may say that of my betters—
how little she knows yet about the latest downward turn.
What's that, old man? Don't hold it back from me.
Nothing—I wish I had not said a thing.
65 Do not, I beg you, hide this from your fellow slave.
I shall keep quiet about these matters, if I should.
I overheard a person say—pretending not to hear
as I drew near to where the old men sit
and play their checkers, by the sacred spring of Peirene—
70 I heard him say that Creon, lord of this land, intends
to drive these children out from Corinth, with their mother.
I do not know whether this rumor's true—I only hope it's not.
Will Jason tolerate such treatment of his sons
75 even if he has this feud against their mother?
Ancient ties become displaced by newer ones;
and he's no friend to this house here.
Then we are ruined if we have to add
this new disaster to the one we've not yet drained.
80 But you at least keep quiet and spread no word of this—
it's not the time to let our mistress find this out.
Do you hear how your father's turned against you, children?
I won't say "curse him," since he is my master still.
But he has been exposed as false toward his closest kin.
85 And who has not? Have you found out so late
that every person loves himself more than those close to him,
some justly, some for profit's sake?
And so the father of these boys does not feel love for them,
because of his new bride.
NURSE (To the children.)
All will be well; now, children, go inside.
(To the Tutor.)
90 And you should keep them well secluded
from their mother for so long as she remains
in such an agitated state; don't let them near.
I've seen her cast a savage look at them,
as though she's contemplating doing something to them.
I know for sure she won't relent her anger
until she's struck some victim to the ground—
95 but when she does, may it be enemies, not friends.
MEDEA [singing from inside]
Oh, in pain, in pain,
I'm so unhappy, I ...
oh for me, for me,
if only I could die.
NURSE [chanting throughout this scene while Medea continues to sing from inside]
As I said, dear children, your mother is stirring
her passion, bestirring her fury.
100 Now hurry indoors; don't stray in her sight,
don't even go near, keep well away
from her violent mood,
the wild hate of her passionate will.
105 Hurry along, quickly inside.
It is all too clear that she's going to ignite
this cloud of complaint now billowing
from its beginning to yet hotter resentment.
What will she do, now that her heart
has been so envenomed,
110 proud to its core, tough to restrain?
(Exit the two boys and the Tutor into the house.)
The suffering I have endured, endured,
calling for bitter lament aloud!
Accursed children of a hated mother,
I wish you were done for along with your father.
To hell with the family, all of the house.
115 Oh no, terrible! Why should your children
share in the guilt of the crimes of their father?
Why should you hate them?
I'm utterly stricken with fear for your safety,
poor children. Rulers have dangerous natures:
120 subjected to little, controlling much,
they are not inclined to relent from their passions.
Better to live in the ways of fair-sharing:
the height of ambition for me is to live out my life
without much, but entirely secure.
125 The word "moderation" sounds first
in our speaking, and is easily best in enactment.
Exaggeration can never provide
sound balance for humans.
And if ever a god gets angered against
130 some household, the payoff's yet greater disaster.
(Enter Chorus of Corinthian women.)
CHORUS [singing throughout this scene, while the Nurse continues to chant and Medea sings from inside]
I heard her call, I heard her cry,
Medea's pain, the Colchian.
So she has still not settled calm?
Old woman, tell. I heard her voice
135 from deep inside her mansion gates.
The sufferings of this household cause
me pain—my friendship's blended close.
No household exists any more—it's all gone.
140 He is possessed by his royal embraces;
she is eroding her life away
deep in her chamber, my lady,
her spirit encouraged not the slightest
by any suggestion from any well-wisher.
May lightning shatter my skull;
145 life no longer brings gain.
May I find shelter in death,
freed from this hated life.
O Zeus, Earth, and shining Sky,
do you hear the wailing cry
150 of the inauspicious bride?
Why crave for that unwanted bed,
poor woman? Death comes with all speed.
Don't pray for dying, no.
155 If your husband worships so
at his newfound marriage-couch,
don't be torn by him so much.
Zeus will be your advocate;
so don't pine away so much,
wasting for your old bedmate.
160 Artemis and mighty Themis,
see the pain that I'm enduring,
I who had my cursed husband
tied by strong bonds of his swearing.
May I see him and his consort
and their palace ripped in pieces,
payment for the ways they dared first
165 to mistreat me with injustice.
O my father, O my city,
after killing my own brother,
in disgrace I had to leave you,
lost my fatherland forever.
You hear her calling aloud on Themis
170 and on Zeus, the protector of oaths
binding on humans? My mistress will never
relent from her anger with some petty gesture.
I wish she would meet with us,
and engage us face to face;
I wish she would heed our voice
175 to see if she might relent
from her heavy-hearted rage
and the passion of her heart.
May I never stand apart
from supporting my own friends.
But, you, please return indoors,
180 fetch her, bring her here outside,
tell her we are on her side;
quick, before she does some harm
against those inside her home—
because her intense distress
comes upon her at a pace.
I'll do this—although I'm afraid
185 that I'll never prevail on my mistress—
I'll try as a favor.
Yet she glares like a lioness with new cubs
at anyone who comes close and offers her any suggestion.
190 You'd be right to conclude that the people
of olden times were stupid and lacking in wisdom
when they invented poems
to accompany feasts, celebrations, and dinners,
sweet ornamentations of life.
Still no one has found out the way
195 to abolish our harrowing griefs
with poetic powers
or with songs and elaborate strings—
griefs that result in the deaths and terrible mishaps
that overturn households.
Yet that would have offered us profit:
to medicine these troubles with music.
200 Why bother with loudly voiced singing for nothing,
when feasting is garnished with pleasure?
All by itself the rich banquet provides
full satisfaction for people.
205 I have heard her tearful moans
and the piercing words she cries
out against that guilty husband
who betrayed their marriage ties.
She has borne unjust abuse
and she calls out aloud on Themis,
guardian of the oaths of Zeus,
210 oaths that ferried her to Hellas
over ocean's inky dark,
opening a salt-sea exit
through the daunting Black Sea's lock.
(Enter Medea from the house.)
Women of Corinth, I have come outside to show
215 you have no cause to tarnish me with blame.
Understand: I'm all too well aware
that many people are perceived as arrogant—
some privately, others in public life—and there are those
who gather a bad name for idleness by lying low.
Do not suppose there's any justice rests
in people's eyes: they hate on sight,
220 before they get to know a man's real inner core,
although he's done no wrong to them.
And therefore foreigners should take especial care
to be in tune with the society they join—
nor would I give approval even to a native man
who foolishly offends his fellow citizens through selfishness.
225 But in my case, this new and unforeseeable event
has befallen me and crushed my spirit,
so that I've lost delight in life—I long to die, my friends.
I realize the man who was my all in all
has now turned out to be the lowest of the low—my husband.
230 We women are the most beset by trials
of any species that has breath and power of thought.
Firstly, we are obliged to buy a husband
at excessive cost, and then accept him as
the master of our body—that is even worse.
235 And here's the throw that carries highest stakes:
is he a good catch or a bad?
For changing husbands is a blot upon
a woman's good repute; and it's not possible
to say no to the things a husband wants.
A bride, when she arrives to join new ways
and customs, needs to be a prophet to predict
240 the ways to deal best with her new bedmate—
she won't have learned that back at home.
And then ... then if, when we have spent a deal of trouble
on these things, if then our husband lives with us
bearing the yoke without its being forced,
we have an enviable life.
But if he does not: better death.
But for a man—oh no—if ever he is irked
245 with those he has at home, he goes elsewhere
to get relief and ease his state of mind.
He turns either to some close friend or to someone his age.
Meanwhile we women are obliged
to keep our eyes on just one person.
They, men, allege that we enjoy a life
secure from danger safe at home,
while they confront the thrusting spears of war.
250 That's nonsense: I would rather join
the battle rank of shields three times
than undergo birth-labor once.
In any case, your story's not at all the same as mine:
you have your city here, your father's house,
delight in life, and company of friends,
255 while I am citiless, deserted,
subjected to humiliation by my husband.
Manhandled from a foreign land like so much pirate loot,
here I have no mother, brother, relative,
no one to offer me a port, a refuge from catastrophe.
So I would like to ask this one small thing of you:
260 if I can find some means or some device
to make my husband pay the penalty to quit me
for the wrongs he's done, stay silent, please
—also the man who's given him his daughter, and the bride herself.
Although a woman is so fearful in all other ways—
no good for battle or the sight of weaponry—
265 when she's been wrongly treated in the field of sex,
there is no other cast of mind more deadly, none.
I will do this: you're justified inflicting punishment,
Medea, on your husband. I am not surprised you feel such pain.
(Creon approaches from the side.)
270 I see King Creon coming to announce some new decision.
Grim scowling scourge against your husband—
yes, that's you, Medea:
I proclaim that you must leave this land in banishment,
and take your pair of sons along with you.
And no delay allowed.
I am myself the arbiter of this decree,
275 and I shall not go home before I have made sure
I've thrown you out beyond the borders of this land.
Utter, complete catastrophe for me!
My enemies are in full sail,
and I have no accessible haven
to land me from this storm of hell
. 280 But I'll still ask, although I am so poorly treated: say,
what reason have you, Creon, for expelling me like this?
I am afraid of you—no point in mincing words—
I am afraid you'll work incurable mischief
upon my daughter.
And many things combine toward this fear of mine:
285 you are by nature clever and well versed
in evil practices; and you are feeling bruised
because you've been deprived of the embraces of your man.
And I have heard—so people say—you're threatening
some act against the giver in this marriage
and the taker and the given bride.
Therefore I'm going to move before that happens.
290 Better to be hated by you, woman, now
than to be soft, and later groan for it.
O misery ... not for the first time reputation's
done me harm and damaged my whole life.
A man who knows what he's about should never have
295 his children taught to be more clever than the norm.
They get a name for idleness, and only earn
resentful spite from citizens.
The stupid ones, if you bring new ideas to them,
will view you as not clever but impractical.
300 And if you are perceived to be superior
to those who are supposed to be the subtle ones,
society will brand you as a troublemaker.
I myself have shared this fate:
because I'm clever, I am resented by some people,
and in some eyes I'm idle and in others opposite to that,
305 and for others I'm a nuisance.
Yet, in any case, I'm not so very clever ...
But still, you say you are afraid of me ... for what?
Becoming victim of some outrage?
No, don't be scared of me, Creon.
There is no call for me to do offence against the king.
What injury have you done me?
You gave your daughter to the man your heart proposed.
310 It is my husband; he's the one I hate:
your actions were, I think, quite sensible.
So now I don't begrudge your happy state—
go on, enjoy your wedding, and good luck to you all!
And let me live on in this country here—
since, even though I have been done injustice,
315 I'll hold my peace, subdued by those who have more power.
Your words are soothing to the ear;
but I still have a horror that inside your head
you're hatching plans for something bad.
I trust you all the less than I did previously.
A woman acting in hot blood
320 is easier to guard against—it is the same with men—
than one who's clever and stays secretive.
No—on your way immediately; don't give me speeches.
It's fixed, decided, and you have no art that can contrive
to let you stay among us here as enemy to me.
Excerpted from Medea by Euripides, Oliver Taplin. Copyright © 2013 The University of Chicago. Excerpted by permission of The University of Chicago Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Posted September 26, 2008
Medea is one of the best novels of its time. The uncontrolled emotions of anger and jealousy of Medea overcome her reasoning skills and brig disaster to all. Medea betrayed her father and her native land for Jason. She even killed her own brother to be with him. Jason repays her back by leaving her and having an affair with another woman. Euripedes Medea begins by throwing the author head first into the conflict. Jason has forsaken his wife, Medea, as well as their two sons. Jason plans to marry King Creon¿s daughter. The nurse sympathizes for Medea but foreshadows the unfortunate events of this tragic novel. Overcome with anger and vengeance, Medea vows to repay Jason for what he has did to her. However, King Creon afraid of what Medea might do for revenge, so he banishes Medea and her two children from the city. Medea pleads to stay for one day. The King grants Medea her wish but he knows by doing so he has made a terrible decision. With only one day left Medea devises a plan to get back at Jason. Medea is an awesome book. The book symbolizes women power. Although Medea is considered a tragic hero she defies the Greek societies rules on how a woman should act. Medea fought a battle of passion vs. reason passion won. She acted on her impulses instead of thoroughly examining the situation to find a better solution. Furthermore, Medea gets to the point where she slays her own children to avenge Jason. Medea¿s anger and cleverness is the backbone of this devious plot. The plot and outcome makes Medea a tragic hero. Euripedes style of writing is not only brilliant, but it is original. The literary devices he uses help to convey the theme of this book. People sometimes let our anger consume us and we act on impulses instead of logically finding a solution to whatever the problem might be. To some people Medea is the antagonist, but to most she is the protagonist. It just depends on if you view Medea¿s actions as just or unjust. The real question her is does whether or not what Jason does to Medea justify her means of retaliation? The unfolding suspense, from the beginning to the end keeps the author glued to the book. This book will be sure to keep your attention. This is one Euripedes greatest novels.
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Posted March 28, 2010
I Also Recommend:
It could be improved by having a little background on the times of classical Greek tragedy and the best-known playwrights of the era.
I would recommend using the Spark Notes Greek Classics with this.
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Posted July 6, 2014
Posted April 19, 2012
I get how she is mad. I would be PO'd but killing your kids? I still like greek mythology, but can't they have happy stories sometimes?
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Posted February 21, 2012
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Posted May 20, 2009
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Posted November 14, 2009
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