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The _Medea_, in spite of its background of wonder and enchantment, is
not a romantic play but a tragedy of character and situation. It deals,
so to speak, not with the romance itself, but with the end of...
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The _Medea_, in spite of its background of wonder and enchantment, is
not a romantic play but a tragedy of character and situation. It deals,
so to speak, not with the romance itself, but with the end of the
romance, a thing which is so terribly often the reverse of romantic. For
all but the very highest of romances are apt to have just one flaw
somewhere, and in the story of Jason and Medea the flaw was of a fatal

The wildness and beauty of the Argo legend run through all Greek
literature, from the mass of Corinthian lays older than our present
Iliad, which later writers vaguely associate with the name of Eumêlus,
to the Fourth Pythian Ode of Pindar and the beautiful Argonautica of
Apollonius Rhodius. Our poet knows the wildness and the beauty; but it
is not these qualities that he specially seeks. He takes them almost for
granted, and pierces through them to the sheer tragedy that lies below.

Jason, son of Aeson, King of Iôlcos, in Thessaly, began his life in
exile. His uncle Pelias had seized his father's kingdom, and Jason was
borne away to the mountains by night and given, wrapped in a purple
robe, to Chiron, the Centaur. When he reached manhood he came down to
Iôlcos to demand, as Pindar tells us, his ancestral honour, and stood in
the market-place, a world-famous figure, one-sandalled, with his
pard-skin, his two spears and his long hair, gentle and wild and
fearless, as the Wise Beast had reared him. Pelias, cowed but loath to
yield, promised to give up the kingdom if Jason would make his way to
the unknown land of Colchis and perform a double quest. First, if I read
Pindar aright, he must fetch back the soul of his kinsman Phrixus, who
had died there far from home; and, secondly, find the fleece of the
Golden Ram which Phrixus had sacrificed. Jason undertook the quest:
gathered the most daring heroes from all parts of Hellas; built the
first ship, Argo, and set to sea. After all manner of desperate
adventures he reached the land of Aiêtês, king of the Colchians, and
there hope failed him. By policy, by tact, by sheer courage he did all
that man could do. But Aiêtês was both hostile and treacherous. The
Argonauts were surrounded, and their destruction seemed only a question
of days when, suddenly, unasked, and by the mercy of Heaven, Aiêtês'
daughter, Mêdêa, an enchantress as well as a princess, fell in love with
Jason. She helped him through all his trials; slew for him her own
sleepless serpent, who guarded the fleece; deceived her father, and
secured both the fleece and the soul of Phrixus. At the last moment it
appeared that her brother, Absyrtus, was about to lay an ambush for
Jason. She invited Absyrtus to her room, stabbed him dead, and fled with
Jason over the seas. She had given up all, and expected in return a
perfect love.

And what of Jason? He could not possibly avoid taking Medea with him. He
probably rather loved her. She formed at the least a brilliant addition
to the glory of his enterprise. Not many heroes could produce a
barbarian princess ready to leave all and follow them in blind trust.
For of course, as every one knew without the telling in fifth-century
Athens, no legal marriage was possible between a Greek and a barbarian
from Colchis.

All through the voyage home, a world-wide baffled voyage by the Ister
and the Eridanus and the African Syrtes, Medea was still in her element,
and proved a constant help and counsellor to the Argonauts. When they
reached Jason's home, where Pelias was still king, things began to be
different. An ordered and law-abiding Greek state was scarcely the place
for the untamed Colchian. We only know the catastrophe. She saw with
smothered rage how Pelias hated Jason and was bent on keeping the
kingdom from him, and she determined to do her lover another act of
splendid service. Making the most of her fame as an enchantress, she
persuaded Pelias that he could, by a certain process, regain his youth.
He eagerly caught at the hope. His daughters tried the process upon him,
and Pelias died in agony. Surely Jason would be grateful now!

The real result was what it was sure to be in a civilised country. Medea
and her lover had to fly for their lives, and Jason was debarred for
ever from succeeding to the throne of Iôlcos. Probably there was another
result also in Jason's mind: the conclusion that at all costs he must
somehow separate himself from this wild beast of a woman who was ruining
his life. He directed their flight to Corinth, governed at the time by a
ruler of some sort, whether "tyrant" or king, who was growing old and
had an only daughter.
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Product Details

  • BN ID: 2940012444844
  • Publisher: SAP
  • Publication date: 5/17/2011
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • File size: 63 KB

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