Euripides, Medea

Translated by E. P. Coleridge

Dramatis Personae





CREON, King of Corinth


AEGEUS, King of Athens


Before MEDEA’s house in Corinth, near the palace Of CREON. The NURSE

enters from the house.


NURSE Ah! Would to Heaven the good ship Argo ne’er had sped its

course to the Colchian land through the misty blue Symplegades, nor

ever in the glens of Pelion the pine been felled to furnish with oars

the chieftain’s hands, who went to fetch the golden fleece for Pelias;

for then would my own mistress Medea never have sailed to the turrets

of Iolcos, her soul with love for Jason smitten, nor would she have

beguiled the daughters of Pelias to slay their father and come to

live here in the land of Corinth with her husband and children, where

her exile found favour with the citizens to whose land she had come,

and in all things of her own accord was she at one with Jason, the

greatest safeguard this when wife and husband do agree; but now their

love is all turned to hate, and tenderest ties are weak. For Jason

hath betrayed his own children and my mistress dear for the love of

a royal bride, for he hath wedded the daughter of Creon, lord of this

land. While Medea, his hapless wife, thus scorned, appeals to the

oaths he swore, recalls the strong pledge his right hand gave, and

bids heaven be witness what requital she is finding from Jason. And

here she lies fasting, yielding her body to her grief, wasting away

in tears ever since she learnt that she was wronged by her husband,

never lifting her eye nor raising her face from off the ground; and

she lends as deaf an ear to her friend’s warning as if she were a

rock or ocean billow, save when she turns her snow-white neck aside

and softly to herself bemoans her father dear, her country and her

home, which she gave up to come hither with the man who now holds

her in dishonour. She, poor lady, hath by sad experience learnt how

good a thing it is never to quit one’s native land. And she hates

her children now and feels no joy at seeing them; I fear she may contrive

some untoward scheme; for her mood is dangerous nor will she brook

her cruel treatment; full well I know her, and I much do dread that

she will plunge the keen sword through their hearts, stealing without

a word into the chamber where their marriage couch is spread, or else

that she will slay the prince and bridegroom too, and so find some

calamity still more grievous than the present; for dreadful is her

wrath; verily the man that doth incur her hate will have no easy task

to raise o’er her a song of triumph. Lo! where her sons come hither

from their childish sports; little they reck of their mother’s woes,

for the soul of the young is no friend to sorrow.  (The ATTENDANT

leads in MEDEA’S children.)


ATTENDANT Why dost thou, so long my lady’s own handmaid, stand here

at the gate alone, loudly lamenting to thyself the piteous tale? how

comes it that Medea will have thee leave her to herself?


NURSE Old man, attendant on the sons of Jason, our masters’ fortunes

when they go awry make good slaves grieve and touch their hearts.

Oh! have come to such a pitch of grief that there stole a yearning

wish upon me to come forth hither and proclaim to heaven and earth

my mistress’s hard fate.


ATTENDANT What! has not the poor lady ceased yet from her lamentation?


NURSE Would I were as thou art! the mischief is but now beginning;

it has not reached its climax yet.


ATTENDANT O foolish one, if I may call my mistress such a name; how

little she recks of evils yet more recent!


NURSE What mean’st, old man? grudge not to tell me.

ATTENDANT ‘Tis naught; I do repent me even of the words I have spoken.

NURSE Nay, by thy beard I conjure thee, hide it not from thy fellow-slave;

will be silent, if need be, on that text.


ATTENDANT I heard one say, pretending not to listen as I approached

the place where our greybeards sit playing draughts near Pirene’s

sacred spring, that Creon, the ruler of this land, is bent on driving

these children and their mother from the boundaries of Corinth; but

I know not whether the news is to be relied upon, and would fain it

were not.


NURSE What! will Jason brook such treatment of his sons, even though

he be at variance with their mother?

ATTENDANT Old ties give way to new; he bears no longer any love to

this family.

NURSE Undone, it seems, are we, if to old woes fresh ones we add,

ere we have drained the former to the dregs.

ATTENDANT Hold thou thy peace, say not a word of this; ’tis no time

for our mistress to learn hereof.

NURSE O children, do ye hear how your father feels towards you? Perdition

catch him, but no he is my master still; yet is he proved a very traitor

to his nearest and dearest.

ATTENDANT And who ‘mongst men is not? Art learning only now, that

every single man cares for himself more than for his neighbour, some

from honest motives, others for mere gain’s sake? seeing that to indulge

his passion their father has ceased to love these children.

NURSE Go, children, within the house; all will be well. Do thou keep

them as far away as may be, and bring them not near their mother in

her evil hour. For ere this have I seen her eyeing them savagely,

as though she were minded to do them some hurt, and well I know she

will not cease from her fury till she have pounced on some victim.

At least may she turn her hand against her foes, and not against her


MEDEA  (chanting within) Ah, me! a wretched suffering woman I! O

would that I could die!


NURSE  (chanting) ‘Tis as I said, my dear children; wild fancies

stir your mother’s heart, wild fury goads her on. Into the house without

delay, come not near her eye, approach her not, beware her savage

mood, the fell tempest of her reckless heart. In, in with what speed

ye may. For ’tis plain she will soon redouble her fury; that cry is

but the herald of the gathering storm-cloud whose lightning soon will

flash; what will her proud restless soul, in the anguish of despair,

be guilty of?  (The ATTENDANT takes the children into the house. MEDEA

(chanting within)  Ah, me! the agony I have suffered, deep enough

to call for these laments! Curse you and your father too, ye children

damned, sons of a doomed mother! Ruin seize the whole family!


NURSE  (chanting) Ah me! ah me! the pity of it! Why, pray, do thy

children share their father’s crime? Why hatest thou them? Woe is

you, poor children, how do I grieve for you lest ye suffer some outrage!

Strange are the tempers of princes, and maybe because they seldom

have to obey, and mostly lord it over others, change they their moods

with difficulty. ‘Tis better then to have been trained to live on

equal terms. Be it mine to reach old age, not in proud pomp, but in

security! Moderation wins the day first as a better word for men to

use, and likewise it is far the best course for them to pursue; but

greatness that doth o’erreach itself, brings no blessing to mortal

men; but pays a penalty of greater ruin whenever fortune is wroth

with a family.  (The CHORUS enters. The following lines between the

NURSE, CHORUS, and MEDEA are sung.)


CHORUS I heard the voice, uplifted loud, of our poor Colchian lady,

nor yet is she quiet; speak, aged dame, for as I stood by the house

with double gates I heard a voice of weeping from within, and I do

grieve, lady, for the sorrows of this house, for it hath won my love.


NURSE ‘Tis a house no more; all that is passed away long since; a

royal bride keeps Jason at her side, while our mistress pines away

in her bower, finding no comfort for her soul in aught her friends

can say.


MEDEA  (within) Oh, oh! Would that Heaven’s levin bolt would cleave

this head in twain! What gain is life to me? Woe, woe is me! O, to

die and win release, quitting this loathed existence!


CHORUS Didst hear, O Zeus, thou earth, and thou, O light, the piteous

note of woe the hapless wife is uttering? How shall a yearning for

that insatiate resting-place ever hasten for thee, poor reckless one,

the end that death alone can bring? Never pray for that. And if thy

lord prefers a fresh love, be not angered with him for that; Zeus

will judge ‘twixt thee and him herein. Then mourn not for thy husband’s

loss too much, nor waste thyself away.


MEDEA  (within) Great Themis, and husband of Themis, behold what

I am suffering now, though I did bind that accursed one, my husband,

by strong oaths to me! O, to see him and his bride some day brought

to utter destruction, they and their house with them, for that they

presume to wrong me thus unprovoked. O my father, my country, that

I have left to my shame, after slaying my own brother.


NURSE Do ye hear her words, how loudly she adjures Themis, oft invoked,

and Zeus, whom men regard as keeper of their oaths? On no mere trifle

surely will our mistress spend her rage.


CHORUS Would that she would come forth for us to see, and listen

to the words of counsel we might give, if haply she might lay aside

the fierce fury of her wrath, and her temper stern. Never be my zeal

at any rate denied my friends! But go thou and bring her hither outside

the house, and tell her this our friendly thought; haste thee ere

she do some mischief to those inside the house, for this sorrow of

hers is mounting high.


NURSE This will I do; but I doubt whether I shall persuade my mistress;

still willingly will I undertake this trouble for you; albeit, she

glares upon her servants with the look of a lioness with cubs, whenso

anyone draws nigh to speak to her. Wert thou to call the men of old

time rude uncultured boors thou wouldst not err, seeing that they

devised their hymns for festive occasions, for banquets, and to grace

the board, a pleasure to catch the ear, shed o’er our life, but no

man hath found a way to allay hated grief by music and the minstrel’s

varied strain, whence arise slaughters and fell strokes of fate to

o’erthrow the homes of men. And yet this were surely a gain, to heal

men’s wounds by music’s spell, but why tune they their idle song where

rich banquets are spread? For of itself doth the rich banquet, set

before them, afford to men delight.


CHORUS I heard a bitter cry of lamentation! loudly, bitterly she

calls on the traitor of her marriage bed, her perfidious spouse; by

grievous wrongs oppressed she invokes Themis, bride of Zeus, witness

of oaths, who brought her unto Hellas, the land that fronts the strand

of Asia, o’er the sea by night through ocean’s boundless gate.  (As

the CHORUS finishes its song, MEDEA enters from the house.)


MEDEA From the house I have come forth, Corinthian ladies, for fear

lest you be blaming me; for well I know that amongst men many by showing

pride have gotten them an ill name and a reputation for indifference,

both those who shun men’s gaze and those who move amid the stranger

crowd, and likewise they who choose a quiet walk in life. For there

is no just discernment in the eyes of men, for they, or ever they

have surely learnt their neighbour’s heart, loathe him at first sight,

though never wronged by him; and so a stranger most of all should

adopt a city’s views; nor do I commend that citizen, who, in the stubbornness

of his heart, from churlishness resents the city’s will.


But on me hath fallen this unforeseen disaster, and sapped my life;

ruined I am, and long to resign the boon of existence, kind friends,

and die. For he who was all the world to me, as well thou knowest,

hath turned out the worst of men, my own husband. Of all things that

have life and sense we women are the most hapless creatures; first

must we buy a husband at a great price, and o’er ourselves a tyrant

set which is an evil worse than the first; and herein lies the most

important issue, whether our choice be good or bad. For divorce is

not honourable to women, nor can we disown our lords. Next must the

wife, coming as she does to ways and customs new, since she hath not

learnt the lesson in her home, have a diviner’s eye to see how best

to treat the partner of her life. If haply we perform these tasks

with thoroughness and tact, and the husband live with us, without

resenting the yoke, our life is a happy one; if not, ’twere best to

die. But when a man is vexed with what he finds indoors, he goeth

forth and rids his soul of its disgust, betaking him to some friend

or comrade of like age; whilst we must needs regard his single self.


And yet they say we live secure at home, while they are at the wars,

with their sorry reasoning, for I would gladly take my stand in battle

array three times o’er, than once give birth. But enough! this language

suits not thee as it does me; thou hast a city here, a father’s house,

some joy in life, and friends to share thy thoughts, but I am destitute,

without a city, and therefore scorned by my husband, a captive I from

a foreign shore, with no mother, brother, or kinsman in whom to find

a new haven of refuge from this calamity. Wherefore this one boon

and only this I wish to win from thee,-thy silence, if haply I can

some way or means devise to avenge me on my husband for this cruel

treatment, and on the man who gave to him his daughter, and on her

who is his wife. For though woman be timorous enough in all else,

and as regards courage, a coward at the mere sight of steel, yet in

the moment she finds her honour wronged, no heart is filled with deadlier

thoughts than hers.


LEADER OF THE CHORUS This will I do; for thou wilt be taking a just

vengeance on thy husband, Medea. That thou shouldst mourn thy lot

surprises me not. But lo! I see Creon, king of this land coming hither,

to announce some new resolve.  (CREON enters, with his retinue.)


CREON Hark thee, Medea, I bid thee take those sullen looks and angry

thoughts against thy husband forth from this land in exile, and with

thee take both thy children and that without delay, for I am judge

in this sentence, and I will not return unto my house till I banish

thee beyond the borders of the land.


MEDEA Ah, me! now is utter destruction come upon me, unhappy that

I am! For my enemies are bearing down on me full sail, nor have I

any landing-place to come at in my trouble. Yet for all my wretched

plight I will ask thee, Creon, wherefore dost thou drive me from the



CREON I fear thee,-no longer need I veil my dread ‘neath words,-lest

thou devise against my child some cureless ill. Many things contribute

to this fear of mine; thou art a witch by nature, expert in countless

sorceries, and thou art chafing for the loss of thy husband’s affection.

I hear, too, so they tell me, that thou dost threaten the father of

the bride, her husband, and herself with some mischief; wherefore

I will take precautions ere our troubles come. For ’tis better for

me to incur thy hatred now, lady, than to soften my heart and bitterly

repent it hereafter.


MEDEA Alas! this is not now the first time, but oft before, O Creon,

hath my reputation injured me and caused sore mischief. Wherefore

whoso is wise in his generation ought never to have his children taught

to be too clever; for besides the reputation they get for idleness,

they purchase bitter odium from the citizens. For if thou shouldst

import new learning amongst dullards, thou wilt be thought a useless

trifler, void of knowledge; while if thy fame in the city o’ertops

that of the pretenders to cunning knowledge, thou wilt win their dislike.

I too myself share in this ill-luck. Some think me clever and hate

me, others say I am too reserved, and some the very reverse; others

find me hard to please and not so very clever after all. Be that as

it may, thou dost fear me lest I bring on thee something to mar thy

harmony. Fear me not, Creon, my position scarce is such that should

seek to quarrel with princes. Why should I, for how hast thou injured

me? Thou hast betrothed thy daughter where thy fancy prompted thee.

No, ’tis my husband I hate, though I doubt not thou hast acted wisely

herein. And now I grudge not thy prosperity; betroth thy child, good

luck to thee, but let me abide in this land, for though I have been

wronged I will be still and yield to my superiors.


CREON Thy words are soft to hear, but much I dread lest thou art

devising some mischief in thy heart, and less than ever do I trust

thee now; for cunning woman, and man likewise, is easier to guard

against when quick-tempered than when taciturn. Nay, begone at once!

speak me no speeches, for this is decreed, nor hast thou any art whereby

thou shalt abide amongst us, since thou hatest me.


MEDEA O, say not so! by thy knees and by thy daughter newlywed, I

do implore!


CREON Thou wastest words; thou wilt never persuade me.


MEDEA What, wilt thou banish me, and to my prayers no pity yield?

CREON I will, for I love not thee above my own family.

MEDEA O my country! what fond memories I have of thee in this hour!

CREON Yea, for I myself love my city best of all things save my children.

MEDEA Ah me! ah me! to mortal man how dread a scourge is love!

CREON That, I deem, is according to the turn our fortunes take.

MEDEA O Zeus! let not the author of these my troubles escape thee.

CREON Begone, thou silly woman, and free me from my toil.

MEDEA The toil is mine, no lack of it.

CREON Soon wilt thou be thrust out forcibly by the hand of servants.

MEDEA Not that, not that, I do entreat thee, Creon

CREON Thou wilt cause disturbance yet, it seems.

MEDEA I will begone; I ask thee not this boon to grant.

CREON Why then this violence? why dost thou not depart?

MEDEA Suffer me to abide this single day and devise some plan for

the manner of my exile, and means of living for my children, since

their father cares not to provide his babes therewith. Then pity them;

thou too hast children of thine own; thou needs must have a kindly

heart. For my own lot I care naught, though I an exile am, but for

those babes I weep, that they should learn what sorrow means.


CREON Mine is a nature anything but harsh; full oft by showing pity

have suffered shipwreck; and now albeit I clearly see my error, yet

shalt thou gain this request, lady; but I do forewarn thee, if tomorrow’s

rising sun shall find thee and thy children within the borders of

this land, thou diest; my word is spoken and it will not lie. So now,

if abide thou must, stay this one day only, for in it thou canst not

do any of the fearful deeds I dread.  (CREON and his retinue go out.)


CHORUS  (chanting) Ah! poor lady, woe is thee! Alas, for thy sorrows!

Whither wilt thou turn? What protection, what home or country to save

thee from thy troubles wilt thou find? O Medea, in what a hopeless

sea of misery heaven hath plunged thee!


MEDEA On all sides sorrow pens me in. Who shall gainsay this? But

all is not yet lost! think not so. Still are there troubles in store

for the new bride, and for her bridegroom no light toil. Dost think

I would ever have fawned on yonder man, unless to gain some end or

form some scheme? Nay, would not so much as have spoken to him or

touched him with my hand. But he has in folly so far stepped in that,

though he might have checked my plot by banishing me from the land,

he hath allowed me to abide this day, in which I will lay low in death

three of my enemies-a father and his daughter and my husband too.

Now, though I have many ways to compass their death, I am not sure,

friends, which I am to try first. Shall I set fire to the bridal mansion,

or plunge the whetted sword through their hearts, softly stealing

into the chamber where their couch is spread? One thing stands in

my way. If I am caught making my way into the chamber, intent on my

design, I shall be put to death and cause my foes to mock, ‘Twere

best to take the shortest way-the way we women are most skilled in-by

poison to destroy them. Well, suppose them dead; what city will receive

me? What friendly host will give me a shelter in his land, a home

secure, and save my soul alive? None. So I will wait yet a little

while in case some tower of defence rise up for me; then will I proceed

to this bloody deed in crafty silence; but if some unexpected mischance

drive me forth, I will with mine own hand seize the sword, e’en though

I die for it, and slay them, and go forth on my bold path of daring.

By that dread queen whom I revere before all others and have chosen

to share my task, by Hecate who dwells within my inmost chamber, not

one of them shall wound my heart and rue it not. Bitter and sad will

I make their marriage for them; bitter shall be the wooing of it,

bitter my exile from the land. Up, then, Medea, spare not the secrets

of thy art in plotting and devising; on to the danger. Now comes a

struggle needing courage. Dost see what thou art suffering? ‘Tis not

for thee to be a laughing-stock to the race of Sisyphus by reason

of this wedding of Jason, sprung, as thou art, from noble sire, and

of the Sun-god’s race. Thou hast cunning; and, more than this, we

women, though by nature little apt for virtuous deeds, are most expert

to fashion any mischief.

CHORUS  (singing, strophe 1)

Back to their source the holy rivers turn their tide. Order and the

universe are being reversed. ‘Tis men whose counsels are treacherous,

whose oath by heaven is no longer sure. Rumour shall bring a change

o’er my life, bringing it into good repute. Honour’s dawn is breaking

for woman’s sex; no more shall the foul tongue of slander fix upon



(antistrophe 1)


The songs of the poets of old shall cease to make our faithlessness

their theme. Phoebus, lord of minstrelsy, hath not implanted in our

mind the gift of heavenly song, else had I sung an answering strain

to the race of males, for time’s long chapter affords many a theme

on their sex as well as ours.


(strophe 2)

With mind distraught didst thou thy father’s house desert on thy

voyage betwixt ocean’s twin rocks, and on a foreign strand thou dwellest

thy bed left husbandless, poor lady, and thou an exile from the land,

dishonoured, persecuted.


(antistrophe 2)

Gone is the grace that oaths once had. Through all the breadth of

Hellas honour is found no more; to heaven hath it sped away. For thee

no father’s house is open, woe is thee! to be a haven from the troublous

storm, while o’er thy home is set another queen, the bride that is

preferred to thee.  (As the CHORUS finishes its song, JASON enters,

alone. MEDEA comes out of the house.)


JASON It is not now I first remark, but oft ere this, how unruly

a pest is a harsh temper. For instance, thou, hadst thou but patiently

endured the will of thy superiors, mightest have remained here in

this land and house, but now for thy idle words wilt thou be banished.

Thy words are naught to me. Cease not to call Jason basest of men;

but for those words thou hast spoken against our rulers, count it

all gain that exile is thy only punishment. I ever tried to check

the outbursts of the angry monarch, and would have had thee stay,

but thou wouldst not forego thy silly rage, always reviling our rulers,

and so thou wilt be banished. Yet even after all this I weary not

of my goodwill, but am come with thus much forethought, lady, that

thou mayst not be destitute nor want for aught, when, with thy sons,

thou art cast out. Many an evil doth exile bring in its train with

it; for even though thou hatest me, never will I harbour hard thoughts

of thee.


MEDEA Thou craven villain (for that is the only name my tongue can

find for thee, a foul reproach on thy unmanliness), comest thou to

me, thou, most hated foe of gods, of me, and of all mankind? ‘Tis

no proof of courage or hardihood to confront thy friends after injuring

them, but that worst of all human diseases-loss of shame. Yet hast

thou done well to come; for I shall ease my soul by reviling thee,

and thou wilt be vexed at my recital. I will begin at the very beginning.

I saved thy life, as every Hellene knows who sailed with thee aboard

the good ship Argo, when thou wert sent to tame and yoke fire-breathing

bulls, and to sow the deadly tilth. Yea, and I slew the dragon which

guarded the golden fleece, keeping sleepless watch o’er it with many

a wreathed coil, and I raised for thee a beacon of deliverance. Father

and home of my free will I left and came with the to Iolcos, ‘neath

Pelion’s hills, for my love was stronger than my prudence. Next I

caused the death of Pelias by a doom most grievous, even by his own

children’s hand, beguiling them of all their fear. All this have I

done for thee, thou traitor! and thou hast cast me over, taking to

thyself another wife, though children have been born to us. Hadst

thou been childless still, I could have pardoned thy desire for this

new union. Gone is now the trust I put in oaths. I cannot even understand

whether thou thinkest that the gods of old no longer rule, or that

fresh decrees are now in vogue amongst mankind, for thy conscience

must tell thee thou hast not kept faith with me. Ah! poor right hand,

which thou didst often grasp. These knees thou didst embrace! All

in vain, I suffered a traitor to touch me! How short of my hopes I

am fallen! But come, I will deal with the as though thou wert my friend.

Yet what kindness can I expect from one so base as thee? But yet I

will do it, for my questioning will show thee yet more base. Whither

can I turn me now? to my father’s house, to my own country, which

I for thee deserted to come hither? to the hapless daughters of Pelias?

A glad welcome, I trow, would they give me in their home, whose father’s

death I compassed! My case stands even thus: I am become the bitter

foe to those of mine own home, and those whom I need ne’er have wronged

I have made mine enemies to pleasure thee. Wherefore to reward me

for this thou hast made me doubly blest in the eyes of many wife in

Hellas; and in thee I own a peerless, trusty lord. O woe is me, if

indeed I am to be cast forth an exile from the land, without one friend;

one lone woman with her babes forlorn! Yea, a fine reproach to thee

in thy bridal hour, that thy children and the wife who saved thy life

are beggars and vagabonds! O Zeus! why hast thou granted unto man

clear signs to know the sham in gold, while on man’s brow no brand

is stamped whereby to gauge the villain’s heart?


LEADER OF THE CHORUS There is a something terrible and past all cure,

when quarrels arise ‘twixt those who are near and dear.


JASON Needs must I now, it seems, turn orator, and, like a good helmsman

on a ship with close-reefed sails, weather that wearisome tongue of

thine. Now, I believe, since thou wilt exaggerate thy favours, that

to Cypri, alone of gods or men I owe the safety of my voyage. Thou

hast a subtle wit enough; yet were it a hateful thing for me to say

that the Love-god constrained thee by his resistless shaft to save

my life. However, I will not reckon this too nicely; ’twas kindly

done, however thou didst serve me. Yet for my safety hast thou received

more than ever thou gavest, as I will show. First, thou dwellest in

Hellas, instead of thy barbarian land, and hast learnt what justice

means and how to live by law, not by the dictates of brute force;

and all the Hellenes recognize thy cleverness, and thou hast gained

a name; whereas, if thou hadst dwelt upon the confines of the earth,

no tongue had mentioned thee. Give me no gold within my halls, nor

skill to sing a fairer strain than ever Orpheus sang, unless there-with

my fame be spread abroad! So much I say to thee about my own toils,

for ’twas thou didst challenge me to this retort. As for the taunts

thou urgest against my marriage with the princess, I will prove to

thee, first, that I am prudent herein, next chastened in my love,

and last powerful friend to thee and to thy sons; only hold thy peace.

Since I have here withdrawn from Iolcos with many a hopeless trouble

at my back, what happier device could I, an exile, frame than marriage

with the daughter of the king? ‘Tis not because I loathe thee for

my wife-the thought that rankles in thy heart; ’tis not because I

am smitten with desire for a new bride, nor yet that I am eager to

vie with others in begetting many children, for those we have are

quite enough, and I do not complain. Nay, ’tis that we-and this is

most important-may dwell in comfort, instead of suffering want  (for

well I know that every whilom friend avoids the poor)  , and that

I might rear my sons as doth befit my house; further, that I might

be the father of brothers for the children thou hast borne, and raise

these to the same high rank, uniting the family in one,-to my lasting

bliss. Thou, indeed, hast no need of more children, but me it profits

to help my present family by that which is to be. Have I miscarried

here? Not even thou wouldest say so unless a rival’s charms rankled

in thy bosom. No, but you women have such strange ideas, that you

think all is well so long as your married life runs smooth; but if

some mischance occur to ruffle your love, all that was good and lovely

erst you reckon as your foes. Yea, men should have begotten children

from some other source, no female race existing; thus would no evil

ever have fallen on mankind.


LEADER This speech, O Jason, hast thou with specious art arranged;

but yet I think-albeit in speaking I am indiscreet-that thou hast

sinned in thy betrayal of thy wife.


MEDEA No doubt I differ from the mass of men on many points; for,

to my mind, whoso hath skill to fence with words in an unjust cause,

incurs the heaviest penalty; for such an one, confident that he can

cast a decent veil of words o’er his injustice, dares to practise

it; and yet he is not so very clever after all. So do not thou put

forth thy specious pleas and clever words to me now, for one word

of mine will lay thee low. Hadst thou not had a villain’s heart, thou

shouldst have gained my consent, then made this match, instead of

hiding it from those who loved thee.


JASON Thou wouldest have lent me ready aid, no doubt, in this proposal,

if had told thee of my marriage, seeing that not even now canst thou

restrain thy soul’s hot fury.


MEDEA This was not what restrained thee; but thine eye was turned

towards old age, and a foreign wife began to appear a shame to thee.


JASON Be well assured of this: ’twas not for the woman’s sake I wedded

the king’s daughter, my present wife; but, as I have already told

thee, I wished to insure thy safety and to be the father of royal

sons bound by blood to my own children-a bulwark to our house.


MEDEA May that prosperity, whose end is woe, ne’er be mine, nor such

wealth as would ever sting my heart!


JASON Change that prayer as I will teach thee, and thou wilt show

more wisdom. Never let happiness appear in sorrow’s guise, nor, when

thy fortune smiles, pretend she frowns!


MEDEA Mock on; thou hast a place of refuge; I am alone, an exile

soon to be.


JASON Thy own free choice was this; blame no one else.

MEDEA What did I do? Marry, then betray thee?

JASON Against the king thou didst invoke an impious curse.

MEDEA On thy house too maybe I bring the curse.

JASON Know this, I will no further dispute this point with thee.

But, if thou wilt of my fortune somewhat take for the children or

thyself to help thy exile, say on; for I am ready to grant it with

ungrudging hand, yea and to bend tokens to my friends elsewhere who

shall treat thee well. If thou refuse this offer, thou wilt do a foolish

deed, but if thou cease from anger the greater will be thy gain.

MEDEA I will have naught to do with friends of thine, naught will

I receive of thee, offer it not to me; a villain’s gifts can bring

no blessing.


JASON At least I call the gods to witness, that I am ready in all

things to serve thee and thy children, but thou dost scorn my favours

and thrustest thy friends stubbornly away; wherefore thy lot will

be more bitter still.


MEDEA Away! By love for thy young bride entrapped, too long thou

lingerest outside her chamber; go wed, for, if God will, thou shalt

have such a marriage as thou wouldst fain refuse.  (JASON goes out.)


CHORUS  (singing, strophe 1)


When in excess and past all limits Love doth come, he brings not

glory or repute to man; but if the Cyprian queen in moderate might

approach, no goddess is so full of charm as she. Never, O never, lady

mine, discharge at me from thy golden bow a shaft invincible, in passion’s

venom dipped.


(antistrophe 1)


On me may chastity, heaven’s fairest gift, look with a favouring

eye; never may Cypris, goddess dread, fasten on me a temper to dispute,

or restless jealousy, smiting my soul with mad desire for unlawful

love, but may she hallow peaceful married life and shrewdly decide

whom each of us shall wed.


(strophe 2)

O my country, O my own dear home! God grant I may never be an outcast

from my city, leading that cruel helpless life, whose every day is

misery. Ere that may I this life complete and yield to death, ay,

death; for there is no misery that doth surpass the loss of fatherland.


(antistrophe 2)

I have seen with mine eyes, nor from the lips of others have I the

lesson learnt; no city, not one friend doth pity thee in this thine

awful woe. May he perish and find no favour, whoso hath not in him

honour for his friends, freely unlocking his heart to them. Never

shall he be friend of mine.  (MEDEA has been seated in despair on

her door-step during the choral song. AEGEUS and his attendants enter.)


AEGEUS All hail, Medea! no man knoweth fairer prelude to the greeting

of friends than this.

MEDEA All hail to thee likewise, Aegeus, son of wise Pandion. Whence

comest thou to this land?

AEGEUS From Phoebus’ ancient oracle.


MEDEA What took thee on thy travels to the prophetic centre of the



AEGEUS The wish to ask how I might raise up seed unto myself.

MEDEA Pray tell me, hast thou till now dragged on a childless life?

AEGEUS I have no child owing to the visitation of some god.

MEDEA Hast thou a wife, or hast thou never known the married state?

AEGEUS I have a wife joined to me in wedlock’s bond.

MEDEA What said Phoebus to thee as to children?

AEGEUS Words too subtle for man to comprehend.

MEDEA Surely I may learn the god’s answer?

AEGEUS Most assuredly, for it is just thy subtle wit it needs.

MEDEA What said the god? speak, if I may hear it.

AEGEUS He bade me “not loose the wineskin’s pendent neck.”

MEDEA Till when? what must thou do first, what country visit?


AEGEUS Till I to my native home return.

MEDEA What object hast thou in sailing to this land?

AEGEUS O’er Troezen’s realm is Pittheus king.

MEDEA Pelops’ son, a man devout they say.

AEGEUS To him I fain would impart the oracle of the god.

MEDEA The man is shrewd and versed in such-like lore.

AEGEUS Aye, and to me the dearest of all my warrior friends.

MEDEA Good luck to thee! success to all thy wishes!

AEGEUS But why that downcast eye, that wasted cheek?

MEDEA O Aegeus, my husband has proved most evil.

AEGEUS What meanest thou? explain to me clearly the cause of thy



MEDEA Jason is wronging me though I have given him no cause.

AEGEUS What hath he done? tell me more clearly.

MEDEA He is taking another wife to succeed me as mistress of his


AEGEUS Can he have brought himself to such a dastard deed?

MEDEA Be assured thereof; I, whom he loved of yore, am in dishonour


AEGEUS Hath he found a new love? or does he loathe thy bed?

MEDEA Much in love is he! A traitor to his friend is he become.

AEGEUS Enough! if he is a villain as thou sayest.

MEDEA The alliance he is so much enamoured of is with a princess.

AEGEUS Who gives his daughter to him? go on, I pray.

MEDEA Creon, who is lord of this land of Corinth.

AEGEUS Lady, I can well pardon thy grief.

MEDEA I am undone, and more than that, am banished from the land.

AEGEUS By whom? fresh woe this word of thine unfolds.

MEDEA Creon drives me forth in exile from Corinth.

AEGEUS Doth Jason allow it? This too I blame him for.


MEDEA Not in words, but he will not stand out against it. O, I implore

thee by this beard and by thy knees, in suppliant posture, pity, O

pity my sorrows; do not see me cast forth forlorn, but receive me

in thy country, to a seat within thy halls. So may thy wish by heaven’s

grace be crowned with a full harvest of offspring, and may thy life

close in happiness! Thou knowest not the rare good luck thou findest

here, for I will make thy childlessness to cease and cause thee to

beget fair issue; so potent are the spells I know.


AEGEUS Lady, on many grounds I am most fain to grant thee this thy

boon, first for the gods’ sake, next for the children whom thou dost

promise I shall beget; for in respect of this I am completely lost.

‘Tis thus with me; if e’er thou reach my land, I will attempt to champion

thee as I am bound to do. Only one warning I do give thee first, lady;

I will not from this land bear thee away, yet if of thyself thou reach

my halls, there shalt thou bide in safety and I will never yield thee

up to any man. But from this land escape without my aid, for I have

no wish to incur the blame of my allies as well.


MEDEA It shall be even so; but wouldst thou pledge thy word to this,

I should in all be well content with thee.


AEGEUS Surely thou dost trust me? or is there aught that troubles



MEDEA Thee I trust; but Pelias’ house and Creon are my foes. Wherefore,

if thou art bound by an oath, thou wilt not give me up to them when

they come to drag me from the land, but, having entered into a compact

and sworn by heaven as well, thou wilt become my friend and disregard

their overtures. Weak is any aid of mine, whilst they have wealth

and a princely house.


AEGEUS Lady, thy words show much foresight, so if this is thy will,

I do not, refuse. For I shall feel secure and safe if I have some

pretext to offer to thy foes, and thy case too the firmer stands.

Now name thy gods.


MEDEA Swear by the plain of Earth, by Helios my father’s sire, and,

in one comprehensive oath, by all the race of gods.


AEGEUS What shall I swear to do, from what refrain? tell me that.


MEDEA Swear that thou wilt never of thyself expel me from thy land,

nor, whilst life is thine, permit any other, one of my foes maybe,

to hale me thence if so he will.


AEGEUS By Earth I swear, by the Sun-god’s holy beam and by all the

host of heaven that I will stand fast to the terms I hear thee make.


MEDEA ‘Tis enough. If thou shouldst break this oath, what curse dost

thou invoke upon thyself?

AEGEUS Whate’er betides the impious.

MEDEA Go in peace; all is well, and I with what speed I may, will

to thy city come, when I have wrought my purpose and obtained my wish.

(AEGEUS and his retinue depart.)


CHORUS  (chanting) May Maia’s princely son go with thee on thy way

to bring thee to thy home, and mayest thou attain that on which thy

soul is set so firmly, for to my mind thou seemest a generous man,

O Aegeus.


MEDEA O Zeus, and Justice, child of Zeus, and Sun-god’s light, now

will triumph o’er my foes, kind friends; on victory’s road have I

set forth; good hope have I of wreaking vengeance on those I hate.

For where we were in most distress this stranger hath appeared, to

be a haven in my counsels; to him will we make fast the cables of

our ship when we come to the town and citadel of Pallas. But now will

I explain to thee my plans in full; do not expect to hear a pleasant

tale. A servant of mine will I to Jason send and crave an interview;

then when he comes I will address him with soft words, say, “this

pleases me,” and, “that is well,” even the marriage with the princess,

which my treacherous lord is celebrating, and add “it suits us both,

’twas well thought out”; then will I entreat that here my children

may abide, not that I mean to leave them in a hostile land for foes

to flout, but that I may slay the king’s daughter by guile. For I

will send them with gifts in their hands, carrying them unto the bride

to save them from banishment, a robe of finest woof and a chaplet

of gold. And if these ornaments she take and put them on, miserably

shall she die, and likewise everyone who touches her; with such fell

poisons will I smear my gifts. And here I quit this theme; but I shudder

at the deed I must do next; for I will slay the children I have borne;

there is none shall take them from my toils; and when I have utterly

confounded Jason’s house I will leave the land, escaping punishment

for my dear children’s murder, after my most unholy deed. For I cannot

endure the taunts of enemies, kind friends; enough! what gain is life

to me? I have no country, home, or refuge left. O, I did wrong, that

hour I left my father’s home, persuaded by that Hellene’s words, who

now shall pay the penalty, so help me God, Never shall he see again

alive the children I bore to him, nor from his new bride shall he

beget issue, for she must die a hideous death, slain by my drugs.

Let no one deem me a poor weak woman who sits with folded hands, but

of another mould, dangerous to foes and well-disposed to friends;

for they win the fairest fame who live then, life like me.


LEADER OF THE CHORUS Since thou hast imparted this design to me,

I bid thee hold thy hand, both from a wish to serve thee and because

I would uphold the laws men make.


MEDEA It cannot but be so; thy words I pardon since thou art not

in the same sorry plight that I am.


LEADER O lady, wilt thou steel thyself to slay thy children twain?

MEDEA I will, for that will stab my husband to the heart.

LEADER It may, but thou wilt be the saddest wife alive.

MEDEA No matter; wasted is every word that comes ‘twixt now and then.

Ho!  (The NURSE enters in answer to her call.)  Thou, go call me Jason

hither, for thee I do employ on every mission of trust. No word divulge

of all my purpose, as thou art to thy mistress loyal and likewise

of my sex.  (The NURSE goes out.)


CHORUS  (singing, strophe 1)


Sons of Erechtheus, heroes happy from of yore, children of the blessed

gods, fed on wisdom’s glorious food in a holy land ne’er pillaged

by its foes, ye who move with sprightly step through a climate ever

bright and clear, where, as legend tells, the Muses nine, Pieria’s

holy maids, were brought to birth by Harmonia with the golden hair.


(antistrophe 1)

And poets sing how Cypris drawing water from the streams of fair-flowing

Cephissus breathes o’er the land a gentle breeze of balmy winds, and

ever as she crowns her tresses with a garland of sweet rose-buds sends

forth the Loves to sit by wisdom’s side, to take part in every excellence.


(strophe 2)

How then shall the city of sacred streams, the land that welcomes

those it loves, receive thee, the murderess of thy children, thee

whose presence with others is a pollution? ‘Think on the murder of

thy children, consider the bloody deed thou takest on thee. Nay, by

thy knees we, one and all, implore thee, slay not thy babes.


(antistrophe 2)


Where shall hand or heart find hardihood enough in wreaking such

a fearsome deed upon thy sons? How wilt thou look upon thy babes,

and still without a tear retain thy bloody purpose? Thou canst not,

when they fall at thy feet for mercy, steel thy heart and dip in their

blood thy hand.  (JASON enters.)


JASON I am come at thy bidding, for e’en though thy hate for me is

bitter thou shalt not fail in this small boon, but I will hear what

new request thou hast to make of me, lady.


MEDEA Jason, I crave thy pardon for the words I spoke, and well thou

mayest brook my burst of passion, for ere now we twain have shared

much love. For I have reasoned with my soul and railed upon me thus,

“Ah! poor heart! why am I thus distraught, why so angered ‘gainst

all good advice, why have I come to hate the rulers of the land, my

husband too, who does the best for me he can, in wedding with a princess

and rearing for my children noble brothers? Shall I not cease to fret?

What possesses me, when heaven its best doth offer? Have I not my

children to consider? do I forget that we are fugitives, in need of

friends?” When I had thought all this I saw how foolish I had been,

how senselessly enraged. So now do commend thee and think thee most

wise in forming this connection for us; but I was mad, I who should

have shared in these designs, helped on thy plans, and lent my aid

to bring about the match, only too pleased to wait upon thy bride.

But what we are, we are, we women, evil I will not say; wherefore

thou shouldst not sink to our sorry level nor with our weapons meet

our childishness.


I yield and do confess that I was wrong then, but now have I come

to a better mind. Come hither, my children, come, leave the house,

step forth, and with me greet and bid farewell to your father, be

reconciled from all past bitterness unto your friends, as now your

mother is; for we have made a truce and anger is no more.  (The ATTENDANT

comes out of the house with the children.)  Take his right hand; ah

me! my sad fate! when I reflect, as now, upon the hidden future. O

my children, since there awaits you even thus a long, long life, stretch

forth the hand to take a fond farewell. Ah me! how new to tears am

I, how full of fear! For now that I have at last released me from

my quarrel with your father, I let the tear-drops stream adown my

tender cheek.


LEADER OF THE CHORUS From my eyes too bursts forth the copious tear;

O, may no greater ill than the present e’er befall!


JASON Lady, I praise this conduct, not that I blame what is past;

for it is but natural to the female sex to vent their spleen against

a husband when he trafficks in other marriages besides his own. But

thy heart is changed to wiser schemes and thou art determined on the

better course, late though it be; this is acting like a woman of sober

sense. And for you, my sons, hath your father provided with all good

heed a sure refuge, by God’s grace; for ye, I trow, shall with your

brothers share hereafter the foremost rank in this Corinthian realm.

Only grow up, for all the rest your sire and whoso of the gods is

kind to us is bringing to pass. May I see you reach man’s full estate,

high o’er the heads of those I hate! But thou, lady, why with fresh

tears dost thou thine eyelids wet, turning away thy wan cheek, with

no welcome for these my happy tidings?


MEDEA ‘Tis naught; upon these children my thoughts were turned.

JASON Then take heart; for I will see that it is well with them.

MEDEA I will do so; nor will I doubt thy word; woman is a weak creature,

ever given to tears.

JASON Why prithee, unhappy one, dost moan o’er these children?


MEDEA I gave them birth; and when thou didst pray long life for them,

pity entered into my soul to think that these things must be. But

the reason of thy coming hither to speak with me is partly told, the

rest will I now mention. Since it is the pleasure of the rulers of

the land to banish me, and well I know ’twere best for me to stand

not in the way of thee or of the rulers by dwelling here, enemy as

I am thought unto their house, forth from this land in exile am I

going, but these children,-that they may know thy fostering hand,

beg Creon to remit their banishment.


JASON I doubt whether I can persuade him, yet must I attempt it.


MEDEA At least do thou bid thy wife ask her sire this boon, to remit

the exile of the children from this land.


JASON Yea, that will I; and her methinks I shall persuade, since

she is woman like the rest.


MEDEA I too will aid thee in this task, for by the children’s hand

I will send to her gifts that far surpass in beauty, I well know,

aught that now is seen ‘mongst men, a robe of finest tissue and a

chaplet of chased gold. But one of my attendants must haste and bring

the ornaments hither.  (A servant goes into the house.)  Happy shall

she be not once alone but ten thousand-fold, for in thee she wins

the noblest soul to share her love, and gets these gifts as well which

on a day my father’s sire, the Sun-god, bestowed on his descendants.

(The servant returns and hands the gifts to the children.)  My children,

take in your hands these wedding gifts, and bear them as an offering

to the royal maid, the happy bride; for verily the gifts she shall

receive are not to be scorned.


JASON But why so rashly rob thyself of these gifts? Dost think a

royal palace wants for robes or gold? Keep them, nor give them to

another. For well I know that if my lady hold me in esteem, she will

set my price above all wealth.


MEDEA Say not so; ’tis said that gifts tempt even gods; and o’er

men’s minds gold holds more potent sway than countless words. Fortune

smiles upon thy bride, and heaven now doth swell her triumph; youth

is hers and princely power; yet to save my children from exile I would

barter life, not dross alone. Children, when we are come to the rich

palace, pray your father’s new bride, my mistress, with suppliant

voice to save you from exile, offering her these ornaments the while;

for it is most needful that she receive the gifts in her own hand.

Now go and linger not; may ye succeed and to your mother bring back

the glad tidings she fain would hear  (JASON, the ATTENDANT, and the

children go out together.)


CHORUS  (singing, strophe 1)

Gone, gone is every hope I had that the children yet might live;

forth to their doom they now proceed. The hapless bride will take,

ay, take the golden crown that is to be her ruin; with her own hand

will she lift and place upon her golden locks the garniture of death.


(antistrophe 1)

Its grace and sheen divine will tempt her to put on the robe and

crown of gold, and in that act will she deck herself to be a bride

amid the dead. Such is the snare whereinto she will fall, such is

the deadly doom that waits the hapless maid, nor shall she from the

curse escape.


(strophe 2)

And thou, poor wretch, who to thy sorrow art wedding a king’s daughter,

little thinkest of the doom thou art bringing on thy children’s life,

or of the cruel death that waits thy bride. Woe is thee! how art thou

fallen from thy high estate!


(antistrophe 2)

Next do I bewail thy sorrows, O mother hapless in thy children, thou

who wilt slay thy babes because thou hast a rival, the babes thy husband

hath deserted impiously to join him to another bride.  (The ATTENDANT

enters with the children.)


ATTENDANT Thy children, lady, are from exile freed, and gladly did

the royal bride accept thy gifts in her own hands, and so thy children

made their peace with her.




ATTENDANT Why art so disquieted in thy prosperous hour? Why turnest

thou thy cheek away, and hast no welcome for my glad news?


MEDEA Ah me!


ATTENDANT These groans but ill accord with the news I bring.

MEDEA Ah me! once more I say.

ATTENDANT Have I unwittingly announced some evil tidings? Have I

erred in thinking my news was good?

MEDEA Thy news is as it is; I blame thee not.

ATTENDANT Then why this downcast eye, these floods of tears?

MEDEA Old friend, needs must I weep; for the gods and I with fell

intent devised these schemes.

ATTENDANT Be of good cheer; thou too of a surety shalt by thy sons

yet be brought home again.


MEDEA Ere that shall I bring others to their home, ah! woe is me

ATTENDANT Thou art not the only mother from thy children reft. Bear

patiently thy troubles as a mortal must.


MEDEA I will obey; go thou within the house and make the day’s provision

for the children.  (The ATTENDANT enters the house. MEDEA turns to

the children.)  O my babes, my babes, ye have still a city and a home,

where far from me and my sad lot you will live your lives, reft of

your mother for ever; while I must to another land in banishment,

or ever I have had my joy of you, or lived to see you happy, or ever

I have graced your marriage couch, your bride, your bridal bower,

or lifted high the wedding torch. Ah me! a victim of my own self-will.

So it was all in vain I reared you, O my sons; in vain did suffer,

racked with anguish, enduring the cruel pangs of childbirth. ‘Fore

Heaven I once had hope, poor me! high hope of ye that you would nurse

me in my age and deck my corpse with loving hands, a boon we mortals

covet; but now is my sweet fancy dead and gone; for I must lose you

both and in bitterness and sorrow drag through life. And ye shall

never with fond eyes see your mother more for o’er your life there

comes a change. Ah me! ah me! why do ye look at me so, my children?

why smile that last sweet smile? Ah me! what am I to do? My heart

gives way when I behold my children’s laughing eyes. O, I cannot;

farewell to all my former schemes; I will take the children from the

land, the babes I bore. Why should I wound their sire by wounding

them, and get me a twofold measure of sorrow? No, no, I will not do

  1. Farewell my scheming! And yet what possesses me? Can I consent

to let those foes of mine escape from punishment, and incur their

mockery? I must face this deed. Out upon my craven heart! to think

that I should even have let the soft words escape my soul. Into the

house, children!  (The children go into the house.)  And whoso feels

he must not be present at my sacrifice, must see to it himself; I

will not spoil my handiwork. Ah! ah! do not, my heart, O do not do

this deed! Let the children go, unhappy one, spare the babes! For

if they live, they will cheer thee in our exile there. Nay, by the

fiends of hell’s abyss, never, never will I hand my children over

to their foes to mock and flout. Die they must in any case, and since

’tis so, why I, the mother who bore them, will give the fatal blow.

In any case their doom is fixed and there is no escape. Already the

crown is on her head, the robe is round her, and she is dying, the

royal bride; that do I know full well. But now since I have a piteous

path to tread, and yet more piteous still the path I send my children

on, fain would I say farewell to them.  (The children come out at

her call. She takes them in her arms.)  O my babes, my babes, let

your mother kiss your hands. Ah! hands I love so well, O lips most

dear to me! O noble form and features of my children, I wish ye joy,

but in that other land, for here your father robs you of your home.

O the sweet embrace, the soft young cheek, the fragrant breath! my

children! Go, leave me; I cannot bear to longer look upon ye; my sorrow

wins the day. At last I understand the awful deed I am to do; but

passion, that cause of direst woes to mortal man, hath triumphed o’er

my sober thoughts.  (She goes into the house with the children.)


CHORUS  (chanting) Oft ere now have I pursued subtler themes and

have faced graver issues than woman’s sex should seek to probe; but

then e’en we aspire to culture, which dwells with us to teach us wisdom;

I say not all; for small is the class amongst women-(one maybe shalt

thou find ‘mid many)-that is not incapable of wisdom. And amongst

mortals I do assert that they who are wholly without experience and

have never had children far surpass in happiness those who are parents.

The childless, because they have never proved whether children grow

up to be a blessing or curse to men are removed from all share in

many troubles; whilst those who have a sweet race of children growing

up in their houses do wear away, as I perceive, their whole life through;

first with the thought how they may train them up in virtue, next

how they shall leave their sons the means to live; and after all this

’tis far from clear whether on good or bad children they bestow their

toil. But one last crowning woe for every mortal man now will name;

suppose that they have found sufficient means to live, and seen their

children grow to man’s estate and walk in virtue’s path, still if

fortune so befall, comes Death and bears the children’s bodies off

to Hades. Can it be any profit to the gods to heap upon us mortal

men beside our other woes this further grief for children lost, a

grief surpassing all?  (MEDEA comes out of the house.)


MEDEA Kind friends, long have I waited expectantly to know how things

would at the palace chance. And lo! I see one of Jason’s servants

coming hither, whose hurried gasps for breath proclaim him the bearer

of some fresh tidings.  (A MESSENGER rushes in.)


MESSENGER Fly, fly, Medea! who hast wrought an awful deed, transgressing

every law: nor leave behind or sea-borne bark or car that scours the



MEDEA Why, what hath chanced that calls for such a flight of mine?


MESSENGER The princess is dead, a moment gone, and Creon too, her

sire, slain by those drugs of thine.


MEDEA Tidings most fair are thine! Henceforth shalt thou be ranked

amongst my friends and benefactors.


MESSENGER Ha! What? Art sane? Art not distraught, lady, who hearest

with joy the outrage to our royal house done, and art not at the horrid

tale afraid?


MEDEA Somewhat have I, too, to say in answer to thy words. Be not

so hasty, friend, but tell the manner of their death, for thou wouldst

give me double joy, if so they perished miserably.


MESSENGER When the children twain whom thou didst bear came with

their father and entered the palace of the bride, right glad were

we thralls who had shared thy griefs, for instantly from ear to ear

a rumour spread that thou and thy lord had made up your former quarrel.

One kissed thy children’s hands, another their golden hair, while

I for very joy went with them in person to the women’s chambers. Our

mistress, whom now we do revere in thy room, cast a longing glance

at Jason, ere she saw thy children twain; but then she veiled her

eyes and turned her blanching cheek away, disgusted at their coming;

but thy husband tried to check his young bride’s angry humour with

these words: “O, be not angered ‘gainst thy friends; cease from wrath

and turn once more thy face this way, counting as friends whomso thy

husband counts, and accept these gifts, and for my sake crave thy

sire to remit these children’s exile.” Soon as she saw the ornaments,

no longer she held out, but yielded to her lord in all; and ere the

father and his sons were far from the palace gone, she took the broidered

robe and put it on, and set the golden crown about her tresses, arranging

her hair at her bright mirror, with many a happy smile at her breathless

counterfeit. Then rising from her seat she passed across the chamber,

tripping lightly on her fair white foot, exulting in the gift, with

many a glance at her uplifted ankle. When lo! a scene of awful horror

did ensue. In a moment she turned pale, reeled backwards, trembling

in every limb, and sinks upon a seat scarce soon enough to save herself

from falling to the ground. An aged dame, one of her company, thinking

belike it was a fit from Pan or some god sent, raised a cry of prayer,

till from her mouth she saw the foam-flakes issue, her eyeballs rolling

in their sockets, and all the blood her face desert; then did she

raise a loud scream far different from her former cry. Forthwith one

handmaid rushed to her father’s house, another to her new bridegroom

to tell his bride’s sad fate, and the whole house echoed with their

running to and fro. By this time would a quick walker have made the

turn in a course of six plethra and reached the goal, when she with

one awful shriek awoke, poor sufferer, from her speechless trance

and oped her closed eyes, for against her a twofold anguish was warring.

The chaplet of gold about her head was sending forth a wondrous stream

of ravening flame, while the fine raiment, thy children’s gift, was

preying on the hapless maiden’s fair white flesh; and she starts from

her seat in a blaze and seeks to fly, shaking her hair and head this

way and that, to cast the crown therefrom; but the gold held firm

to its fastenings, and the flame, as she shook her locks, blazed forth

the more with double fury. Then to the earth she sinks, by the cruel

blow o’ercome; past all recognition now save to a father’s eye; for

her eyes had lost their tranquil gaze, her face no more its natural

look preserved, and from the crown of her head blood and fire in mingled

stream ran down; and from her bones the flesh kept peeling off beneath

the gnawing of those secret drugs, e’en as when the pine-tree weeps

its tears of pitch, a fearsome sight to see. And all were afraid to

touch the corpse, for we were warned by what had chanced. Anon came

her haples father unto the house, all unwitting of her doom, and stumbles

o’er the dead, and loud he cried, and folding his arms about her kissed

her, with words like these the while, “O my poor, poor child, which

of the gods hath destroyed thee thus foully? Who is robbing me of

thee, old as I am and ripe for death? O my child, alas! would I could

die with thee!” He ceased his sad lament, and would have raised his

aged frame, but found himself held fast by the fine-spun robe as ivy

that clings to the branches of the bay, and then ensued a fearful

struggle. He strove to rise, but she still held him back; and if ever

he pulled with all his might, from off his bones his aged flesh he

tore. At last he gave it up, and breathed forth his soul in awful

suffering; for he could no longer master the pain. So there they lie,

daughter and aged sire, dead side by side, a grievous sight that calls

for tears. And as for thee, I leave thee out of my consideration,

for thyself must discover a means to escape punishment. Not now for

the first time I think this human life a shadow; yea, and without

shrinking I will say that they amongst men who pretend to wisdom and

expend deep thought on words do incur a serious charge of folly; for

amongst mortals no man is happy; wealth may pour in and make one luckier

than another, but none can happy be.  (The MESSENGER departs.)


LEADER OF THE CHORUS This day the deity, it seems, will mass on Jason,

as he well deserves, heavy load of evils. Woe is thee, daughter of

Creon We pity thy sad fate, gone as thou art to Hades’ halls as the

price of thy marriage with Jason.


MEDEA My friends, I am resolved upon the deed; at once will I slay

my children and then leave this land, without delaying long enough

to hand them over to some more savage hand to butcher. Needs must

they die in any case; and since they must, I will slay them-I, the

mother that bare them. O heart of mine, steel thyself! Why do I hesitate

to do the awful deed that must be done? Come, take the sword, thou

wretched hand of mine! Take it, and advance to the post whence starts

thy life of sorrow! Away with cowardice! Give not one thought to thy

babes, how dear they are or how thou art their mother. This one brief

day forget thy children dear, and after that lament; for though thou

wilt slay them yet they were thy darlings still, and I am a lady of

sorrows.  (MEDEA enters the house.)


CHORUS  (chanting) O earth, O sun whose beam illumines all, look,

look upon this lost woman, ere she stretch forth her murderous hand

upon her sons for blood; for lo! these are scions of thy own golden

seed, and the blood of gods is in danger of being shed by man. O light,

from Zeus proceeding, stay her, hold her hand, forth from the house

chase this fell bloody fiend by demons led. Vainly wasted were the

throes thy children cost thee; vainly hast thou borne, it seems, sweet

babes, O thou who hast left behind thee that passage through the blue

Symplegades, that strangers justly hate. Ah! hapless one, why doth

fierce anger thy soul assail? Why in its place is fell murder growing

up? For grievous unto mortal men are pollutions that come of kindred

blood poured on the earth, woes to suit each crime hurled from heaven

on the murderer’s house.


FIRST SON  (within) Ah, me; what can I do? Whither fly to escape

my mother’s blows?


SECOND SON  (within) I know not, sweet brother mine; we are lost.


CHORUS  (chanting) Didst hear, didst hear the children’s cry? O lady,

born to sorrow, victim of an evil fate! Shall I enter the house? For

the children’s sake I am resolved to ward off the murder.


FIRST SON  (within) Yea, by heaven I adjure you; help, your aid is



SECOND SON  (within) Even now the toils of the sword are closing

round us.


CHORUS  (chanting) O hapless mother, surely thou hast a heart of

stone or steel to slay the offspring of thy womb by such a murderous

doom. Of all the wives of yore I know but one who laid her hand upon

her children dear, even Ino, whom the gods did madden in the day that

the wife of Zeus drove her wandering from her home. But she, poor

sufferer, flung herself into the sea because of the foul murder of

her children, leaping o’er the wave-beat cliff, and in her death was

she united to her children twain. Can there be any deed of horror

left to follow this? Woe for the wooing of women fraught with disaster!

What sorrows hast thou caused for men ere now!  (JASON and his attendants



JASON Ladies, stationed near this house, pray tell me is the author

of these hideous deeds, Medea, still within, or hath she fled from

hence? For she must hide beneath the earth or soar on wings towards

heaven’s vault, if she would avoid the vengeance of the royal house.

Is she so sure she will escape herself unpunished from this house,

when she hath slain the rulers of the land? But enough of this! I

am forgetting her children. As for her, those whom she hath wronged

will do the like by her; but I am come to save the children’s life,

lest the victim’s kin visit their wrath on me, in vengeance for the

murder foul, wrought by my children’s mother.


LEADER OF THE CHORUS Unhappy man, thou knowest not the full extent

of thy misery, else had thou never said those words.


JASON How now? Can she want to kill me too?


LEADER Thy sons are dead; slain by their own mother’s hand.


JASON O God! what sayest thou? Woman, thou hast sealed my doom.


LEADER Thy children are no more; be sure of this.


JASON Where slew she them; within the palace or outside?


LEADER Throw wide the doors and see thy children’s murdered corpses.


JASON Haste, ye slaves, loose the bolts, undo the fastenings, that

I may see the sight of twofold woe, my murdered sons and her, whose

blood in vengeance I will shed.  (MEDEA appears above the house, on

a chariot drawn by dragons; the children’s corpses are beside her.)


MEDEA Why shake those doors and attempt to loose their bolts, in

quest of the dead and me their murderess? From such toil desist. If

thou wouldst aught with me, say on, if so thou wilt; but never shalt

thou lay hand on me, so swift the steeds the sun, my father’s sire,

to me doth give to save me from the hand of my foes.


JASON Accursed woman! by gods, by me and all mankind abhorred as

never woman was, who hadst the heart to stab thy babes, thou their

mother, leaving me undone and childless; this hast thou done and still

dost gaze upon the sun and earth after this deed most impious. Curses

on thee! now perceive what then I missed in the day I brought thee,

fraught with doom, from thy home in a barbarian land to dwell in Hellas,

traitress to thy sire and to the land that nurtured thee. On me the

gods have hurled the curse that dogged thy steps, for thou didst slay

thy brother at his hearth ere thou cam’st aboard our fair ship, Argo.

Such was the outset of thy life of crime; then didst thou wed with

me, and having borne me sons to glut thy passion’s lust, thou now

hast slain them. Not one amongst the wives of Hellas e’er had dared

this deed; yet before them all I chose thee for my wife, wedding a

foe to be my doom, no woman, but a lioness fiercer than Tyrrhene Scylla

in nature. But with reproaches heaped thousandfold I cannot wound

thee, so brazen is thy nature. Perish, vile sorceress, murderess of

thy babes! Whilst I must mourn my luckless fate, for I shall ne’er

enjoy my new-found bride, nor shall I have the children, whom I bred

and reared, alive to say the last farewell to me; nay, I have lost



MEDEA To this thy speech I could have made a long reply, but Father

Zeus knows well all I have done for thee, and the treatment thou hast

given me. Yet thou wert not ordained to scorn my love and lead a life

of joy in mockery of me, nor was thy royal bride nor Creon, who gave

thee a second wife, to thrust me from this land and rue it not. Wherefore,

if thou wilt, call me e’en a lioness, and Scylla, whose home is in

the Tyrrhene land; for I in turn have wrung thy heart, as well I might.


JASON Thou, too, art grieved thyself, and sharest in my sorrow.


MEDEA Be well assured I am; but it relieves my pain to know thou

canst not mock at me.


JASON O my children, how vile a mother ye have found!


MEDEA My sons, your father’s feeble lust has been your ruin!

JASON ‘Twas not my hand, at any rate, that slew them.

MEDEA No, but thy foul treatment of me, and thy new marriage.

JASON Didst think that marriage cause enough to murder them?

MEDEA Dost think a woman counts this a trifling injury?

JASON So she be self-restrained; but in thy eyes all is evil.

MEDEA Thy sons are dead and gone. That will stab thy heart.

JASON They live, methinks, to bring a curse upon thy head.

MEDEA The gods know, whoso of them began this troublous coil.

JASON Indeed, they know that hateful heart of thine.

MEDEA Thou art as hateful. I am aweary of thy bitter tongue.

JASON And I likewise of thine. But parting is easy.

MEDEA Say how; what am I to do? for I am fain as thou to go.

JASON Give up to me those dead, to bury and lament.


MEDEA No, never! I will bury them myself, bearing them to Hera’s

sacred field, who watches o’er the Cape, that none of their foes may

insult them by pulling down their tombs; and in this land of Sisyphus

I will ordain hereafter a solemn feast and mystic rites to atone for

this impious murder. Myself will now to the land of Erechtheus, to

dwell with Aegeus, Pandion’s son. But thou, as well thou mayst, shalt

die a caitiff’s death, thy head crushed ‘neath a shattered relic of

Argo, when thou hast seen the bitter ending of my marriage.


JASON The curse of our sons’ avenging spirit and of justice, that

calls for blood, be on thee!


MEDEA What god or power divine hears thee, breaker of oaths and every

law of hospitality?


JASON Fie upon thee! cursed witch! child-murderess!

MEDEA To thy house! go, bury thy wife.

JASON I go, bereft of both my sons.

MEDEA Thy grief is yet to come; wait till old age is with thee too.

JASON O my dear, dear children!

MEDEA Dear to their mother, not to thee.

JASON And yet thou didst slay them?

MEDEA Yea, to vex thy heart.

JASON One last fond kiss, ah me! I fain would on their lips imprint.

MEDEA Embraces now, and fond farewells for them; but then a cold


JASON By heaven I do adjure thee, let me touch their tender skin.

MEDEA No, no! in vain this word has sped its flight.


JASON O Zeus, dost hear how I am driven hence; dost mark the treatment

I receive from this she-lion, fell murderess of her young? Yet so

far as I may and can, I raise for them a dirge, and do adjure the

gods to witness how thou hast slain my sons, and wilt not suffer me

to embrace or bury their dead bodies. Would I had never begotten them

to see thee slay them after all!  (The chariot carries MEDEA away.)


CHORUS  (chanting) Many a fate doth Zeus dispense, high on his Olympian

throne; oft do the gods bring things to pass beyond man’s expectation;

that, which we thought would be, is not fulfilled, while for the unlooked-for

god finds out a way; and such hath been the issue of this matter.