Title

Euripides' Medea Revisited: Athenian democracy and the Peloponnesian War

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Presentation

Abstract

For a number of years, Euripides' Medea has been explored predominantly by feminist approaches, highlighting woman’s struggle in ancient Greek society (Rabinowitz, 1993, Mitchell-Boyask 2008). In contrast, this proposed paper is concerned with the question of how Medea’s final act of infanticide squares with the Athenian male’s anxieties surrounding the preservation of the oikos (household) and, by extension, the dawning war with Sparta during the time of the tragedy's performance.

By looking at Medea from a historical-sociological angle, this proposed paper will argue that Euripides'tragedy mirrors the neurosis as well as blind hubris spawned by Athenian democracy. Medea then can be seen as a parable through which Euripides attempts to warn the Athenian public that their unjust dealings with their former ally, Sparta, could deal them a devastating blow akin to the blow dealt by Medea unto Jason. The major points of my argumentation will include, among others, a contextualization of the historical and political situation in Athens in 431 BC, i.e., in the year in which the tragedy was performed; a close analysis of how Medea’s societal status is defined and re-defined throughout the play; and a discussion as to how Jason's disregard for Medea’s former deeds and sacrifices provides an analogy as well as a haunting image for the injustice that ruled Athens' increasingly self-interested interactions with Sparta. Just as Athens' desire to build an empire led to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War and ultimately to the demise of the great city-state, so Jason’s betrayal of Medea resulted in the loss of his own.

While this socio-historical reading of Medea opens up a new field of investigation for the study of ancient Greek tragedy, it also offers an approach that gives new impulses for the study of the humanities in general.

Category

Humanities

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Apr 15th, 4:20 PM Apr 15th, 4:40 PM

Euripides' Medea Revisited: Athenian democracy and the Peloponnesian War

For a number of years, Euripides' Medea has been explored predominantly by feminist approaches, highlighting woman’s struggle in ancient Greek society (Rabinowitz, 1993, Mitchell-Boyask 2008). In contrast, this proposed paper is concerned with the question of how Medea’s final act of infanticide squares with the Athenian male’s anxieties surrounding the preservation of the oikos (household) and, by extension, the dawning war with Sparta during the time of the tragedy's performance.

By looking at Medea from a historical-sociological angle, this proposed paper will argue that Euripides'tragedy mirrors the neurosis as well as blind hubris spawned by Athenian democracy. Medea then can be seen as a parable through which Euripides attempts to warn the Athenian public that their unjust dealings with their former ally, Sparta, could deal them a devastating blow akin to the blow dealt by Medea unto Jason. The major points of my argumentation will include, among others, a contextualization of the historical and political situation in Athens in 431 BC, i.e., in the year in which the tragedy was performed; a close analysis of how Medea’s societal status is defined and re-defined throughout the play; and a discussion as to how Jason's disregard for Medea’s former deeds and sacrifices provides an analogy as well as a haunting image for the injustice that ruled Athens' increasingly self-interested interactions with Sparta. Just as Athens' desire to build an empire led to the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War and ultimately to the demise of the great city-state, so Jason’s betrayal of Medea resulted in the loss of his own.

While this socio-historical reading of Medea opens up a new field of investigation for the study of ancient Greek tragedy, it also offers an approach that gives new impulses for the study of the humanities in general.