Wrath upon wrath, meseems, this day shall fall
From God on Jason! He hath earned it all.
Is torn for thee, so sudden to depart
From thy king’s chambers and the light above
To darkness, all for sake of Jason’s love!
My children with all speed, and then, away
From hence; not wait yet longer till they stand
Beneath another and an angrier hand
To die. Yea, howsoe’er I shield them, die
They must. And, seeing that they must, ’tis I
Shall slay them, I their mother, touched of none
Beside. Oh, up and get thine armour on,
My heart! Why longer tarry we to win
Our crown of dire inevitable sin?
Take up thy sword, O poor right hand of mine,
Thy sword: then onward to the thin-drawn line
Where life turns agony. Let there be naught
Of softness now: and keep thee from that thought,
‘Born of thy flesh,’ ‘thine own belovèd.’ Now,
For one brief day, forget thy children: thou
Shalt weep hereafter. Though thou slay them, yet
Sweet were they. . . . I am sore unfortunate.
[She goes into the house.]
All-seër, arrowy crown
Of Sunlight, manward now
Look down, Oh, look down!
Look upon one accurst,
Ere yet in blood she twine
Red hands—blood that is thine!
O Sun, save her first!
She is thy daughter still,
Of thine own golden line;
Save her! Or shall man spill
The life divine?
Give peace, O Fire that diest not! Send thy spell
To stay her yet, to lift her afar, afar—
A torture-changèd spirit, a voice of Hell
Wrought of old wrongs and war!
Wasted! Alas the dear
Life that was born in vain!
Woman, what mak’st thou here,
Thou from beyond the Gate
Where dim Symplêgades
Clash in the dark blue seas,
The shores where death doth wait?
Why hast thou taken on thee,
To make us desolate,
This anger of misery
And guilt of hate?
For fierce are the smitings back of blood once shed
Where love hath been: God’s wrath upon them that kill,
And an anguished earth, and the wonder of the dead
Haunting as music still. . . .
[A cry is heard within.]
A Child within
The Other Child
I think she means to kill us.
Let me go!
I will—Help! Help!—and save them at the last.
The Other Child
[Many of the Women are now beating at the barred door to get in. Others are standing apart.]
Women at the door
Spill with thine hand that life, the vintage stored
Of thine own agony?
The Other Women
A Mother slew her babes in days of yore,
One, only one, from dawn to eventide,
Ino, god-maddened, whom the Queen of Heaven
Set frenzied, flying to the dark: and she
Cast her for sorrow to the wide salt sea,
Forth from those rooms of murder unforgiven,
Wild-footed from a white crag of the shore,
And clasping still her children twain, she died.
O Love of Woman, charged with sorrow sore,
What hast thou wrought upon us? What beside
Resteth to tremble for?
[Enter hurriedly Jason and Attendants.]
Speak, is the doer of the ghastly thing
Yet here, or fled? What hopeth she of flight?
Shall the deep yawn to shield her? Shall the height
Send wings, and hide her in the vaulted sky
To work red murder on her lords, and fly
Unrecompensed? But let her go! My care
Is but to save my children, not for her.
Let them she wronged requite her as they may.
I care not. ‘Tis my sons I must some way
Save, ere the kinsmen of the dead can win
From them the payment of their mother’s sin.
What dark place thou art come to! Else, God wot,
Jason, no word like these could fall from thee.
O God, thou hast broken me!
As things once fair, that ne’er shall bloom again.
Of speed! Wrench out the jointing of the door.
And show my two-edged curse, the children dead,
The woman. . . . Oh, this sword upon her head. . . .
[While the Attendants are still battering at the door Medea appears on the roof, standing on a chariot of winged Dragons, in which are the children’s bodies.]
With brazen bars, seeking the dead and me
Who slew them? Peace! . . . And thou, if aught of mine
Thou needest, speak, though never touch of thine
Shall scathe me more. Out of his firmament
My fathers’ father, the high Sun, hath sent
This, that shall save me from mine enemies’ rage.
Abhorrèd, blood-red mother, who didst kill
My sons, and make me as the dead: and still
Canst take the sunshine to thine eyes, and smell
The green earth, reeking from thy deed of hell;
I curse thee! Now, Oh, now mine eyes can see,
That then were blinded, when from savagery
Of eastern chambers, from a cruel land,
To Greece and home I gathered in mine hand
Thee, thou incarnate curse: one that betrayed
Her home, her father, her . . . Oh, God hath laid
Thy sins on me!—I knew, I knew, there lay
A brother murdered on thy hearth that day
When thy first footstep fell on Argo’s hull. . . .
Argo, my own, my swift and beautiful
That was her first beginning. Then a wife
I made her in my house. She bore to life
Children: and now for love, for chambering
And men’s arms, she hath murdered them! A thing
Not one of all the maids of Greece, not one,
Had dreamed of; whom I spurned, and for mine own
Chose thee, a bride of hate to me and death,
Tigress, not woman, beast of wilder breath
Than Skylla shrieking o’er the Tuscan sea.
Enough! No scorn of mine can reach to thee,
Such iron is o’er thine eyes. Out from my road,
Thou crime-begetter, blind with children’s blood!
And let me weep alone the bitter tide
That sweepeth Jason’s days, no gentle bride
To speak with more, no child to look upon
Whom once I reared . . . all, all for ever gone!
Of speech, but Zeus our father knoweth well,
All I for thee have wrought, and thou for me.
So let it rest. This thing was not to be,
That thou shouldst live a merry life, my bed
Forgotten and my heart uncomforted,
Thou nor thy princess: nor the king that planned
Thy marriage drive Medea from his land,
And suffer not. Call me what thing thou please,
Tigress or Skylla from the Tuscan seas:
My claws have gripped thine heart, and all things shine.
Green sepulchre, where Hera by the Hill
Hath precinct holy, that no angry men
May break their graves and cast them forth again
To evil. So I lay on all this shore
Of Corinth a high feast for evermore
And rite, to purge them yearly of the stain
Of this poor blood. And I, to Pallas’ plain
I go, to dwell beside Pandion’s son,
Aegeus.—For thee, behold, death draweth on,
Evil and lonely, like thine heart: the hands
Of thine old Argo, rotting where she stands,
Shall smite thine head in twain, and bitter be
To the last end thy memories of me.
[She rises on the chariot and is slowly borne away.]
Blast thee, and They that walk in blood!
Have shut for thee the ears of God.
Mine arms and touch. . . . Ah, woe is me!
They were as nothing.
O God, to touch that tender brow!
Thou, Zeus, wilt hear me. All is said
For naught. I am but spurned away
And trampled by this tigress, red
With children’s blood. Yet, come what may,
So far as thou hast granted, yea,
So far as yet my strength may stand,
I weep upon these dead, and say
Their last farewell, and raise my hand
To all the daemons of the air
In witness of these things; how she
Who slew them, will not suffer me
To gather up my babes, nor bear
To earth their bodies; whom, O stone
Of women, would I ne’er had known
Nor gotten, to be slain by thee!
[He casts himself upon the earth.]
From whence to man strange dooms be given,
Past hope or fear.
And the end men looked for cometh not,
And a path is there where no man thought:
So hath it fallen here.
NOTES TO MEDEA
P. 3, l. 2, To Colchis through the blue Symplêgades.]—The Symplêgades (“Clashing”) or Kuaneai (“Dark blue”) were two rocks in the sea which used to clash together and crush anything that was between them. They stood above the north end of the Bosphorus and formed the Gate (l. 1264, p. 70) to the Axeinos Pontos, or “Stranger-less Sea,” where all Greeks were murdered. At the farthest eastern end of that sea was the land of Colchis.
P. 3, l. 3, Pêlion.]—The great mountain in Thessaly. Iôlcos, a little kingdom between Pêlion and the sea, ruled originally by Aeson, Jason’s father, then by the usurping Pĕlias.
P. 3, l. 9, Daughters of Pĕlias.]—See Introduction, p. vii.
P. 4, l. 18, Wed.]—Medea was not legally married to Jason, and could not be, though in common parlance he is sometimes called her husband. Intermarriage between the subjects of two separate states was not possible in antiquity without a special treaty. And naturally there was no such treaty with Colchis.
This is, I think, the view of the play, and corresponds to the normal Athenian conceptions of society. In the original legend it is likely enough that Medea belongs to “matriarchal” times before the institution of marriage.
P. 4, l. 40, She hath a blade made keen, &c.]—These lines (40, 41) are repeated in a different context later on, p. 23, ll. 379, 380. The sword which to the Nurse suggested suicide was really meant for murder. There is a similar and equally dramatic repetition of the lines about the crown and wreath (786, 949, pp. 46, 54), and of those about the various characters popularly attributed to Medea (ll. 304, 808, pp. 18, 46).
P. 5, l. 48, Attendant.]—Greek Paidagôgos, or “pedagogue”; a confidential servant who escorted the boys to and from school, and in similar ways looked after them. Notice the rather light and cynical character of this man, compared with the tenderness of the Nurse.
P. 5, l. 57, To this still earth and sky.]—Not a mere stage explanation. It was the ancient practice, if you had bad dreams or terrors of the night, to “show” them to the Sun in the morning, that he might clear them away.
P. 8, l. 111, Have I not suffered?]—Medea is apparently answering some would-be comforter. Cf. p. 4. (“If friends will speak,” &c.)
P. 9, l. 131, Chorus.]—As Dr. Verrall has remarked, the presence of the Chorus is in this play unusually awkward from the dramatic point of view. Medea’s plot demands most absolute secrecy; and it is incredible that fifteen Corinthian women, simply because they were women, should allow a half-mad foreigner to murder several people, including their own Corinthian king and princess—who was a woman also—rather than reveal her plot. We must remember in palliation (1) that these women belong to the faction in Corinth which was friendly to Medea and hostile to Creon; (2) that the appeal to them as women had more force in antiquity than it would now, and the princess had really turned traitor to her sex. (See note on this subject at the end of the present writer’s translation of the Electra.) (3) The non-interference of the Chorus seems monstrous: yet in ancient times, when law was weak and punishment was chiefly the concern of the injured persons, and of no one else, the reluctance of bystanders to interfere was much greater than it is now in an ordered society. Some oriental countries, and perhaps even California or Texas, could afford us some startling instances of impassiveness among bystanders.
P. 12, l. 167, Oh, wild words!]—The Nurse breaks in, hoping to drown her mistress’s dangerous self-betrayal. Medea’s murder of her brother (see Introduction, p. vi) was by ordinary standards her worst act, and seems not to have been known in Corinth. It forms the climax of Jason’s denunciation, l. 1334, p. 74.
P. 13, l. 190, Alas, the brave blithe bards, &c.]—Who is the speaker? According to the MSS. the Nurse, and there is some difficulty in taking the lines from her. Yet (1) she has no reason to sing a song outside after saying that she is going in; and (2) it is quite necessary that she should take a little time indoors persuading Medea to come out. The words seem to suit the lips of an impersonal Chorus.
The general sense of the poem is interesting. It is an apology for tragedy. It gives the tragic poet’s conception of the place of his art in the service of humanity, as against the usual feeling of the public, whose serious work is devoted to something else, and who “go to a play to be amused.”
P. 14, l. 214, Women of Corinth, I am come, &c.]—These opening lines are a well-known crux interpretum. It is interesting to note, (1) that the Roman poet Ennius (ca. 200 B.C.) who translated the Medea, did not understand them in the least; while, on the other hand, the earliest Greek commentators seem not to have noticed that there was any difficulty in them worth commenting upon. That implies that while the acting tradition was alive and unbroken, the lines were easily understood; but when once the tradition failed, the meaning was lost. (The first commentator who deals with the passage is Irenaeus, a scholar of the Augustan time.)
P. 15, l. 231, A herb most bruised is woman.]—This fine statement of the wrongs of women in Athens doubtless contains a great deal of the poet’s own mind; but from the dramatic point of view it is justified in several ways. (1) Medea is seeking for a common ground on which to appeal to the Corinthian women. (2) She herself is now in the position of all others in which a woman is most hardly treated as compared with a man. (3) Besides this, one can see that, being a person of great powers and vehement will, she feels keenly her lack of outlet. If she had men’s work to do, she could be a hero: debarred from proper action (from τὸ πράσσειν, Hip. 1019) she is bound to make mischief. Cf. p. 24, ll. 408, 409. “Things most vain, &c.”
There is a slight anachronism in applying the Attic system of doweries to primitive times. Medea’s contemporaries either lived in a “matriarchal” system without any marriage, or else were bought by their husbands for so many cows.
P. 17, l. 271, Creon.]—Observe the somewhat archaic abruptness of this scene, a sign of the early date of the play.
P. 18, l. 295, Wise beyond men’s wont.]—Medea was a “wise woman” which in her time meant much the same as a witch or enchantress. She did really know more than other women; but most of this extra knowledge consisted—or was supposed to consist—either in lore of poisons and charms, or in useless learning and speculation.
P. 18, l. 304, A seed of strife, an Eastern dreamer, &c.]—The meaning of these various “ill names” is not certain. Cf. l. 808, p. 46. Most scholars take θατέρου τρόπου (“of the other sort”) to mean “the opposite of a dreamer.”
P. 20, ll. 333-4, What would I with thy pains?]—A conceit almost in the Elizabethan style, as if by taking “pains” away from Creon, she would have them herself.
P. 20, l. 335, Not that! Not that!]—Observe what a dislike Medea has of being touched: cf. l. 370 (“my flesh been never stained,” &c.) and l. 496 (“poor, poor right hand of mine!”), pp. 22, and 28.
P. 22, l. 364, Defeat on every side.]—Observe (1) that in this speech Medea’s vengeance is to take the form of a clear fight to the death against the three guilty persons. It is both courageous and, judged by the appropriate standard, just. (2) She wants to save her own life, not from cowardice, but simply to make her revenge more complete. To kill her enemies and escape is victory. To kill them and die with them is only a drawn battle. Other enemies will live and “laugh.” (3) Already in this first soliloquy there is a suggestion of that strain of madness which becomes unmistakable later on in the play. (“Oh, I have tried so many thoughts of murder,” &c., and especially the lashing of her own fury, “Awake thee now, Medea.”)
P. 24, l. 405, Thief’s daughter: lit. “a child of Sisyphus.”]—Sisyphus, an ancient king of Corinth, was one of the well-known sinners punished in Tartarus. Medea’s father, Aiêtês, was a brother of Circe, and born of the Sun.
P. 24, l. 409, Things most vain for help.]—See on ll. 230 ff.
P. 24. ll. 410-430, Chorus.]—The song celebrates the coming triumph of Woman in her rebellion against Man; not by any means Woman as typifying the domestic virtues, but rather as the downtrodden, uncivilised, unreasoning, and fiercely emotional half of humanity. A woman who in defence of her honour and her rights will die sword in hand, slaying the man who wronged her, seems to the Chorus like a deliverer of the whole sex.
P. 24. l. 421, Old bards.]—Early literature in most countries contains a good deal of heavy satire on women: e.g. Hesiod’s “Who trusts a woman trusts a thief;” or Phocylides’ “Two days of a woman are very sweet: when you marry her and when you carry her to her grave.”
P. 25, l. 439, Faith is no more sweet.]—Copied from a beautiful passage in Hesiod, Works and Days, 198 ff.: “There shall be no more sweetness found in the faithful man nor the righteous. . . . And at last up to Olympus from the wide-wayed earth, shrouding with white raiment their beautiful faces, go Ruth and Rebuking.” (Aidos and Nemesis: i.e. the Ruth or Shame that you feel with reference to your own actions, and the Indignation or Disapproval that others feel.)
P. 27, ll. 478 ff., Bulls of fiery breath.]—Among the tasks set him by Aiêtês, Jason had to yoke two fire-breathing bulls, and plough with them a certain Field of Ares, sow the field with dragon’s teeth, and reap a harvest of earth-born or giant warriors which sprang from the seed. When all this was done, there remained the ancient serpent coiled round the tree where the Golden Fleece was hanging.
P. 29, l. 507, The first friends who sheltered me.]—i.e. the kindred of Pelias.
P. 29, l. 509, Blest of many a maid in Hellas.]—Jason was, of course, the great romantic hero of his time. Cf. his own words, l. 1340, p. 74.
Pp. 29 ff., ll. 523-575.—Jason’s defence is made the weaker by his reluctance to be definitely insulting to Medea. He dares not say: “You think that, because you conceived a violent passion for me,—to which, I admit, I partly responded—I must live with you always; but the truth is, you are a savage with whom a civilised man cannot go on living.” This point comes out unveiled in his later speech, l. 1329, ff., p. 74.
P. 30, ll. 536 ff., Our ordered life and justice.]—Jason has brought the benefits of civilisation to Medea! He is doubtless sincere, but the peculiar ironic cruelty of the plea is obvious.
P. 30, ll. 541 ff., The story of Great Medea, &c. . . . Unless our deeds have glory.]—This, I think, is absolutely sincere. To Jason ambition is everything. And, as Medea has largely shared his great deeds with him, he thinks that she cannot but feel the same. It seems to him contemptible that her mere craving for personal love should outweigh all the possible glories of life.
P. 31, l. 565, What more need hast thou of children?]—He only means, “of more children than you now have.” But the words suggest to Medea a different meaning, and sow in her mind the first seed of the child-murder. See on the Aegeus scene below.
P. 34, l. 608, A living curse.]—Though she spoke no word, the existence of a being so deeply wronged would be a curse on her oppressors. So a murdered man’s blood, or an involuntary cry of pain (Aesch. Ag. 237) on the part of an injured person is in itself fraught with a curse.
P. 35. ll. 627-641, Chorus. Alas, the Love, &c.]—A highly characteristic Euripidean poem, keenly observant of fact, yet with a lyrical note penetrating all its realism. A love which really produces “good to man and glory,” is treated in the next chorus, l. 844 ff., p. 49.
Pp. 37 ff., ll. 663-759, Aegeus.]—This scene is generally considered to be a mere blot on the play, not, I think, justly. It is argued that the obvious purpose which the scene serves, the provision of an asylum for Medea, has no keen dramatic interest. The spectator would just as soon, or sooner, have her die. And, besides, her actual mode of escape is largely independent of Aegeus. Further, the arrival of Aegeus at this moment seems to be a mere coincidence (Ar. Poetics, 61 b, 23), and one cannot help suspecting that the Athenian poet was influenced by mere local interests in dragging in the Athenian king and the praises of Athens where they were not specially appropriate.
To these criticisms one may make some answer. (1) As to the coincidence, it is important to remember always that Greek tragedies are primarily historical plays, not works of fiction. They are based on definite Logoi or traditions (Frogs, l. 1052. p. 254) and therefore can, and should, represent accidental coincidences when it was a datum of the tradition that these coincidences actually happened. By Aristotle’s time the practice had changed. The tragedies of his age were essentially fiction; and he tends to criticise the ancient tragedies by fictional standards.
Now it was certainly a datum in the Medea legend that she took refuge with Aegeus, King of Athens, and was afterwards an enemy to his son Theseus; but I think we may go further. This play pretty certainly has for its foundation the rites performed by the Corinthians at the Grave of the Children of Medea in the precinct of Hera Acraia near Corinth. See on l. 1379. p. 77. The legend in such cases is usually invented to explain the ritual; and I suspect that in the ritual, and, consequently, in the legend, there were two other data: first, a pursuit of Medea and her flight on a dragon-chariot, and, secondly, a meeting between Medea and Aegeus. (Both subjects are frequent on vase paintings, and may well be derived from historical pictures in some temple at Corinth.)
Thus, the meeting with Aegeus is probably not the free invention of Euripides, but one of the data supplied to him by his subject. But he has made it serve, as von Arnim was the first to perceive, a remarkable dramatic purpose. Aegeus was under a curse of childlessness, and his desolate condition suggests to Medea the ultimate form of her vengeance. She will make Jason childless. Cf. l. 670, “Children! Ah God, art childless?” (A childless king in antiquity was a miserable object: likely to be deposed and dishonoured, and to miss his due worship after death. See the fragments of Euripides’ Oineus.)
There is also a further purpose in the scene, of a curious and characteristic kind. In several plays of Euripides, when a heroine hesitates on the verge of a crime, the thing that drives her over the brink is some sudden and violent lowering of her self-respect. Thus Phædra writes her false letter immediately after her public shame. Creûsa in the Ion turns murderous only after crying in the god’s ears the story of her seduction. Medea, a princess and, as we have seen, a woman of rather proud chastity, feels, after the offer which she makes to Aegeus in this scene (l. 716 ff., p. 42). that she need shrink from nothing.
P. 38, l. 681, The hearth-stone of my sires of yore.]—This sounds as if it meant Aegeus’ own house: in reality, by an oracular riddle, it meant the house of Pittheus, by whose daughter, Aethra, Aegeus became the father of Theseus.
P. 43, l. 731, An oath wherein to trust.]—Observe that Medea is deceiving Aegeus. She intends to commit a murder before going to him, and therefore wishes to bind him down so firmly that, however much he wish to repudiate her, he shall be unable. Hence this insistence on the oath and the exact form of the oath. (At this time, apparently, she scarcely thinks of the children, only of her revenge.)
P. 46, l. 808, No eastern dreamer, &c.]—See on l. 304.
P. 47. l. 820, The Nurse comes out.]—There is no indication in the original to show who comes out. But it is certainly a woman; as certainly it is not one of the Chorus; and Medea’s words suit the Nurse well. It is an almost devilish act to send the Nurse, who would have died rather than take such a message had she understood it.
P. 48, ll. 824—846, The sons of Erechtheus, &c.]—This poem is interesting as showing the ideal conception of Athens entertained by a fifth century Athenian. One might compare with it Pericles’ famous speech in Thucydides, ii., where the emphasis is laid on Athenian “plain living and high thinking” and the freedom of daily life. Or, again, the speeches of Aethra in Euripides’ Suppliant Women, where more stress is laid on mercy and championship of the oppressed.
The allegory of “Harmony,” as a sort of Korê, or Earth-maiden, planted by all the Muses in the soil of Attica, seems to be an invention of the poet. Not any given Art or Muse, but a spirit which unites and harmonises all, is the special spirit of Athens. The Attic connection with Erôs, on the other hand, is old and traditional. But Euripides has transformed the primitive nature-god into a mystic and passionate longing for “all manner of high deed,” a Love which, different from that described in the preceding chorus, really ennobles human life.
This first part of the Chorus is, of course, suggested by Aegeus; the second is more closely connected with the action of the play. “How can Medea dream of asking that stainless land to shelter her crimes? But the whole plan of her revenge is not only wicked but impossible. She simply could not do such a thing, if she tried.”
Pp. 50 ff., l. 869, The second scene with Jason.]—Dicæarchus, and perhaps his master Aristotle also, seems to have complained of Medea’s bursting into tears in this scene, instead of acting her part consistently—a very prejudiced criticism. What strikes one about Medea’s assumed rôle is that in it she remains so like herself and so unlike another woman. Had she really determined to yield to Jason, she would have done so in just this way, keen-sighted and yet passionate. One is reminded of the deceits of half-insane persons, which are due not so much to conscious art as to the emergence of another side of the personality.
P. 54, l. 949, Fine robings, &c.]—Repeated from l. 786, p. 46, where it came full in the midst of Medea’s avowal of her murderous purpose. It startles one here, almost as though she had spoken out the word “murder” in some way which Jason could not understand.
P. 56, l. 976, Chorus.]—The inaction of the Chorus women during the last scene will not bear thinking about, if we regard them as real human beings, like, for instance, the Bacchæ and the Trojan Women in the plays that bear their name. Still there is not only beauty, but, I think, great dramatic value in the conventional and almost mystical quality of this Chorus, and also in the low and quiet tone of that which follows, l. 1081 ff.
P. 59, ll. 1021 ff., Why does Medea kill her children?]—She acts not for one clearly stated reason, like a heroine in Sardou, but for many reasons, both conscious and subconscious, as people do in real life. Any analysis professing to be exact would be misleading, but one may note some elements in her feeling: (1) She had played dangerously long with the notion of making Jason childless. (2) When she repented of this (l. 1046, p. 60) the children had already been made the unconscious murderers of the princess. They were certain to be slain, perhaps with tortures, by the royal kindred. (3) Medea might take them with her to Athens and trust to the hope of Aegeus’ being able and willing to protect them. But it was a doubtful chance, and she would certainly be in a position of weakness and inferiority if she had the children to protect. (4) In the midst of her passionate half-animal love for the children, there was also an element of hatred, because they were Jason’s: cf. l. 112, p. 8. (5) She also seems to feel, in a sort of wild-beast way, that by killing them she makes them more her own: cf. l. 793, p. 46, “Mine, whom no hand shall steal from me away;” l. 1241, p, 68, “touched of none beside.” (6) Euripides had apparently observed how common it is, when a woman’s mind is deranged by suffering, that her madness takes the form of child-murder. The terrible lines in which Medea speaks to the “Wrath” within her, as if it were a separate being (l. 1056, p. 60), seem to bear out this view.
P. 59. l. 1038, Other shapes of life.]—A mystical conception of death. Cf. Ion, 1067, where almost exactly the same phrase is used.
P. 61, l. 1078, I know to what bad deeds, &c.]—This expression of double consciousness was immensely famous in antiquity. It is quoted by Lucian, Plutarch, Clement, Galen, Synesius, Hierocles, Arrian, Simpicius, besides being imitated, e.g. by Ovid: “video meliora proboque, Deteriora sequor.”
P. 63, l. 1123 ff., Messenger.]—A pendant to the Attendant’s entrance above, l. 1002. The Attendant, bringing apparently good news, is received with a moan of despair, the Messenger of calamity with serene satisfaction. Cf. the Messenger who announces the death of Pentheus in the Bacchæ.
P. 65, l. 1162, Dead self.]—The reflection in the glass, often regarded as ominous or uncanny in some way.
P. 66, l. 1176, The cry turned strangely to its opposite.]—The notion was that an evil spirit could be scared away by loud cheerful shouts—ololugæ. But while this old woman is making an ololugê, she sees that the trouble is graver than she thought, and the cheerful cry turns into a wail.
P. 68, l. 1236, Women, my mind is clear.]—With the silence in which Medea passes over the success of her vengeance compare Theseus’ words, Hip., l. 1260, “I laugh not, neither weep, at this fell doom.”
P. 69, l. 1249, Thou shalt weep hereafter.]—Cf. Othello, v. ii., “Be thus when thou art dead, and I will kiss thee, And love thee after.”
P. 69, ll. 1251 ff.—This curious prayer to the Sun to “save” Medea—both from the crime of killing her children and the misfortune of being caught by her enemies—is apparently meant to prepare us for the scene of the Dragon Chariot. Notice the emphasis laid on the divine origin of Medea’s race and her transformation to “a voice of Hell.”
P. 71, ll. 1278 ff., Death of the children.]—The door is evidently barred, since Jason has to use crowbars to open it in l. 1317. Cf. the end of Maeterlinck’s Mort de Tintagiles.
P. 71, l. 1281, A mother slew her babes in days of yore, &c.]—Ino, wife of Athamas, King of Thebes, nursed the infant Dionysus. For this Hera punished her with madness. She killed her two children, Learchus and Melicertes, and leaped into the sea. (There are various versions of the story.)—Observe the technique: just as the strain is becoming intolerable, we are turned away from tragedy to pure poetry. See on Hip. 731.
P. 74, l. 1320, This, that shall save me from mine enemies’ rage.]—There is nothing in the words of the play to show what “this” is, but the Scholiast explains it as a chariot drawn by winged serpents, and the stage tradition seems to be clear on the subject. See note to the Aegeus scene (p. 88).
This first appearance of Medea “above, on the tower” (Scholiast) seems to me highly effective. The result is to make Medea into something like a dea ex machinâ, who prophesies and pronounces judgment. See Introduction.
P. 76, l. 1370, They are dead, they are dead!]—This wrangle, though rather like some scenes in Norse sagas, is strangely discordant for a Greek play. It seems as if Euripides had deliberately departed from his usual soft and reflective style of ending in order to express the peculiar note of discord which is produced by the so-called “satisfaction” of revenge. Medea’s curious cry: “Oh, thy voice! It hurts me sore!” shows that the effect is intentional.
P. 77, l. 1379, A still green sepulchre.]—There was a yearly festival in the precinct of Hera Acraia, near Corinth, celebrating the deaths of Medea’s children. This festival, together with its ritual and “sacred legend,” evidently forms the germ of the whole tragedy. Cf. the Trozenian rites over the tomb of Hippolytus, Hip. 1424 ff.
P. 77, l. 1386, The hands of thine old Argo.]—Jason, left friendless and avoided by his kind, went back to live with his old ship, now rotting on the shore. While he was sleeping under it, a beam of wood fell upon him and broke his head. It is a most grave mistake to treat the line as spurious.