Date of Award

5-2008

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Abstract

The Euripidean Medea has been canonized as the de facto standard of all characterizations found within the Medea tradition. The image of Euripides's infanticidal murderess has persisted for nearly two millennia due to interpretations that have furthered the impression that the infanticide is her most salient character trait. However, Pindar, Apollonios, and even Euripides did not make infanticide the central concern of their texts. Pindar privileges Medea's divinity and skills as a prophetess, while Apollonios focuses on the ways in which she was manipulated by gods and mortals. Euripides, who may have originated the infanticidal twist, uses the children's deaths to indict Jason and Creon's willful disregard of the hereditary blood curse on the House of Aeolus, to which both were connected. Roman texts such as Ovid's Heroides 12 and Metamorphoses 7, Gaius Valerius Flaccus's Argonautica, and Seneca's Medea reveal the complexity of the Medea tradition by explicitly and implicitly indicting the brutality and arrogance of patriarchal authority. Ovid creates an abandoned wife in Heroides 12 and a wife who would do anything for her husband, including transforming herself into an amoral supernatural being, in Metamorphoses 12. Valerius chooses to subvert Medea's purpose in the quest for the Golden Fleece by portraying the Argonauts as a band of pirates bent on destruction. Seneca's Medea displays the attributes of imperial rulers, which suggests that Seneca was crafting a veiled critique of the depravity and corruption found in the first century C. E. of Rome. Contemporary texts including Ludmila Ulitskaya's Medea and Her Children and Toni Morrison's Beloved privilege a post-modem self-consciousness, which further displaces reductive interpretations of Medea as a static figure of murder and mayhem. Ulitskaya chooses to create a Medea who more closely resembles the earliest strands of the Medea myth where she was privileged as an herbalist and a priestess; Medea Sinoply has never left her homeland and is portrayed as the nurturer and stability of her large extended family, which directly contradicts any interpretations of Medea that choose to see her as the bringer of chaos and destruction. Morrison's Sethe has the most explicit characteristics of Euripides's Medea, but Morrison uses these traits to challenge any simple notions of Sethe's killing of her daughter in a severe indictment of the institution of slavery. Morrison offers no easy answers since her Medea-like creation not only loses her daughter and her connection to her community, but also her sanity. Close examinations of these texts will reveal the complexity and sophisticated nature not only of the myth, but also of these authors’ creations.

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