The Role of Women in Medea by Euripides
Ancient greek valued democracy, freedom of speech and equality, although society was heavily biased against women. Euripides play “Medea” describes the journey of an outspoken woman who defies the stereotypes placed in society as she seeks justice for her maltreatment caused by the men in society. There are a multitude of reasons why an individual can resort to selfish actions as demonstrated throughout the play by the various characters, some motivated by their duties, some by greed and others due to their oppression.
Individuals commit conceited actions required to satisfy society’s standards, which they often use to justify their actions. In ancient Greek, civilization had expectations in place for people, specifically those of a higher status. Euripides explores this through King Aegeus as he had an obligation to “father offspring” especially male offspring, in order to maintain his legacy to the throne. He felt that to be able to meet the expectation of society he had to resort to breaking his vows of marriage as Medea could provide him with male heirs regardless of him being a “married man.” These actions could be validated as they had a desire to meet society’s expectations as well as an untainted reputation. This point is furthered through King Creon as he “[ordered Medea] to leave this land and become an exile,” rooting from “fear” and a need to protect his daughter and his people. King Creon saw that Medea was “a sorceress… who is no stranger to dark knowledge” and that she posed as a threat to the kingdom and Creon’s family. Regardless of King Creon’s selfish actions, he had a responsibility to protect those under his care for that reason and committed selfish deeds. Ultimately, the root of many characters' actions is a result of a selfish society which burdens the individuals into constricting roles. Therefore Euripides highlights how certain expectations and responsibilities force rulers to act in an unethical manner.
Entrapped in a male-dominated society, men are more selfish than women as civilization allows them to be. This is established “when a man becomes dissatisfied with married life, he… finds relief in his frustrations'' without his reputation being ruined, however, this selfish act of a man “brings disgrace on a woman.” In this sense, Jason's name or position was not tainted if anything he was able to rise in status once he decided to abandon Medea in “a foreign land.” Consequently, his betrayal is not only a product of his ambition but a dismissal of his wife’s many sacrifices such as aiding in gaining the golden fleece, killing her family, leaving her home and providing Jasons with male sons. Men are able to avoid consequences and punishment because of societal standards set at this time. This is again furthered through Jason’s ability to seek higher status by means of “contraband love” with Princess Glauce. He broke his oaths of loyalty, trust and marriage to Medea almost immediately after arriving in Corinth while the “doors of Jason’s house” and every house in Corinth became firmly closed to Medea leading to her exile. Euripides criticises the male dominant society in that period that allows men to rationalize their decisions and escape consequences, perpetuating a series of hardships for women.
As a result of the oppression women face in society, they often take matters into their own hands provoking them to react in selfish ways. Throughout the play, women face a multitude of hardships as they were disadvantaged. This is demonstrated through Medea as she had “no mother to turn to, no brother or kinsman to rescue [her].” Entering a foreign land as an outsider and treated as an alien explained her motives for being selfish. Medea was “well aware of the terrible crime [she was] about to commit” as she resorted to filicide, in order to gain back the pride that was stripped from her. This point is furthered through the fact that Medea did not want to be known as “a weak and feeble woman” and that “To suffer the mockery of [her] enemies is something [she] will not tolerate.” Another instance where women act selfishly due to the position society has placed them in is when the nurse foreshadowed that Medea’s “anger won’t die down until someone felt the force of her thunderbolt.” However, due to her positions as a woman and slave, she was unable to interfere. Euripides demonstrates due to the continuous hurdles women face, their selfish actions are for survival as well as to seek justice for themselves resulting in unadmirable actions.
Overall Medea is not more selfish than society but must in selfish ways in order to receive retribution and justice for her mistreatment.