Medea is a well-known tragic character in Greek mythology; she appeared in the masterpieces by Euripides and Rhodius. Despite killing her sons due to Jason’s abandonment, her position as a hero or a villain remains debatable. Medea’s story fits the hero’s journey, and her decisions, albeit cruel, are caused by her divine nature and injustice that put her in a highly vulnerable position in a male-dominated society.
To begin with, Medea fits the notion of a hero with some minor changes; she goes through a typical hero’s journey. When meeting Jason, Medea experiences the call to adventure; after living with him and losing his love, she goes through several other stages that eventually lead to her crossing the threshold when she decides to avenge herself. It can be argued that because she is protected by gods, they are her helpers. Eventually, when she kills her sons, she goes through the stage of metaphoric resurrection and returns home. Dignam writes that the story of Medea illustrates her heroic-villain transformation (83). It is an essential stage for most heroes because they never return to their homes the same. Her sacrifices are terrible but resemble a typical hero’s road filled with difficult choices.
Forced to love Jason by the gods, Medea does not have a say in her fate and is later abandoned, which illustrates that Jason is an antagonist of the narrative, not her. In Argonautica, Eros makes Medea fall in love with Jason so that she can help him retrieve the Golden Fleece: “and the bolt burnt deep down in the maiden’s heart like a flame… all remembrance left her, and her soul melted with the sweet pain” (Rhodius book III). She is used as a tool for Jason, assisting him in solving his heroic path. All this time, Medea is a simple victim, and even though she feels love for him, Jason comes into her life with pain.
The anger Medea feels emerges after Jason abandons her and his children for the sake of a new, much more secure life that can allow him to improve his life. As soon as Jason makes a decision that benefits him only, he treats Medea as a woman for whom he has no responsibility. This belief strongly contrasts with the position Medea was put into: women in ancient Greece had almost zero political power, and their existence was predominantly linked to their homes and visiting neighbors only (“Women’s Life” par. 1). Therefore, Medea is bound by her role; Jason expects her to passively accept her place as a typical woman of her time. Unfortunately for him, she is a tragic hero on her devastating but particular path.
Medea is a heddd and can be judged as the villain only because the only strong option for women in ancient Greece was to choose illegal means of conduct. Jason sees Medea as the villain even when she helps him: he blames her for murdering her brother even though it was done for his sake and his interests (Euripides 32). Because women had no legal options for protection, they were regarded as evil regardless of what they did. Many view Jason as a hero because he easily fits this position from a typical narrative. However, he uses Medea as an object, leaving her with no choice but destruction. After using political power and obtaining everything while not protecting her from exile, Jason transforms into a villain, leaving Medea with nothing but her children. Children were the primary responsibility of women in ancient Greece, and Medea kills them as an exercise of the power that society has left for her.
Although some may claim that Medea is not a hero but a villain who became insane due to her obsession with Jason, this idea overlooks the wrongdoings against her and the sacred position Medea has as not entirely human. For some people, the murder of her children makes Medea a dangerous and remorseless aggressor. Such an opinion views her behavior as destructive. Nonetheless, this position overlooks that Medea is not a typical mortal woman. When Jason uses her advantages as a person with power, he believes in his right to ignore her divine roots. Gods in Greek mythology never forget the wrongs against themselves, and Medea is often compared to the force of nature. Her wildness and “craziness” are the results of Jason’s egoism and disregard; she considers her children a continuation of herself, and she is left without any mortal man’s protection. Her behavior is cruel, but it suits her era.
Concluding, Medea’s path is destructive and gives her as much pain as joy from the sense of revenge, but she is a tragic hero in a world that is wrong to disrespect her. Although most stories told from Jason’s perspective can make her seem like an antagonist, she does not have a choice. Left without the man she loves, with children who remind her of him, and with other people seeing her as a crazy creature, Medea uses everything in her power to transform into someone else.
Dingham, Colin. “ Cutting Narrative Ties: Sacrifice and Transformation in Medea.” Re-Visiting Female Evil, edited by Melissa Dearey et al., Brill, 2017, pp. 83–94.
Euripides. Medea. https://www.pelister.org/courses/topics/greece/medea.pdf
Rhodius, Apollonius. The Argonautica. The Project Gutenberg, 2020.
“Women’s Life.” Penn Museum, www.penn.museum/sites/Greek_World/women.html. Accessed 24 Aug. 2023.