Shakespeare's Myths

Medea, also Medee


Related Entries
 Absyrtus, Jason



Medea, daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis, falls in love with Jason, a prince sent by his uncle Pelias to gain her kingdom’s greatest treasure, the Golden Fleece. She warns him that he will not attain it without her help, because of the supernatural obstacles which guard it. He swears love to her, and she gives him the potions, amulets and charms necessary to defeat the dragon, fire-breathing bulls and earth-born soldiers that guard the Fleece. The Fleece won, Jason and Medea steal away from Colchis. In the most popular version of the story, Medea takes her young brother Absyrtus with them, and when her father sets off in pursuit, she dismembers the child and scatters his limbs to distract the King. Back in Iolcos, Jason asks Medea to use her magic to rejuvenate his aging father, Aeson. She does so successfully, and then promises similar benefits to Jason’s tyrannical uncle Pelias. However, she deliberately neglects to prepare the potions correctly, and orders his daughters to stab him, so that the potion may enter his system: as a result of her deception, Pelias dies. Pursued by his son Acastus, Jason and Medea flee to Corinth, where they live for some years under the protection of King Creon. Eventually, Jason abandons Medea to marry Glauce, Creon’s daughter (also known as Creusa). Furious, Medea murders Glauce (usually by sending her a poisoned robe); and embracing his daughter, Creon is also killed. Jason sets off in pursuit of Medea, but she kills their two young sons and escapes—in the tragedies of Euripides and Seneca, by taking advantage of her divine origins (she is the granddaughter of Apollo) and summoning a dragon-drawn chariot. In the versions of the story that continue beyond this point, she often seeks sanctuary with King Ageus (or sometimes with Hercules). Having married Ageus, she is driven out of Crete after an unsuccessful plot to poison his son Theseus: this story is mentioned by Ovid (Metamorphoses VII) and Plutarch (Life of Theseus). Finally, she is sometimes described as reconciling with Jason and working to repair the rifts she has created, by restoring her father to the throne and helping him, and/or her father-in-law Aeson, to win more kingdoms. 


How to cite

Katherine Heavey. “Medea.”  2014.  In A Dictionary of Shakespeare's Classical Mythology

(2009-), ed. Yves Peyré.

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