Medea And Jason Essay, Research Paper
Much of what has been written on slavery in Euripides has to do with the captive women taken in the Trojan War. But even ordinary household slaves like Medea’s Nurse may ‘betray characteristics of the free which the free themselves do not possess’ (N. T. Croally, Euripidean Polemic, Cambridge, 1994:102-3) and in this way cast some light on the status of their masters and what the slave/free definition means in the play and in a wider context.
In the Nurse’s opening speech the slave’s voice is heard, perhaps not crying for freedom, but asserting a moment of freedom that is not hers. The old paidagogos comments on her temporary abandonment of her duty to serve her mistress (50-2), diminishing his colleague’s brief moment of freedom, so that the audience cannot miss the fact that she is doing something unusual, something unservile. She is not heard from again after the parodos, but the points of view she expresses are maintained from time to time.
Why does Euripides open a play that is concerned with heroic deeds and royal affairs with one and then two anonymous slaves? How does their status illuminate the central figures?
Medea is mistress, despoina and despotis. She has (one would suppose) no mortal masters, but invokes Hecate as despoina and as co-worker (395-7). But Medea does speak of masters as if her status were more ambiguous. When she is reflecting on the status of women, speaking generally of marriage, she calls the husband a ‘master for the body’ (233) and more specifically claims that she had been carried off as booty (256). That is, she sees that a woman’s role in marriage is like that of a slave.
The loss of home and the dismissal of her logos by Creon prompt her to reject her inferior status and reassert herself as granddaughter of Helios, daughter of a noble father, a free woman (406). Like her slave the still helpless Medea begins to assert a power she cannot have and which she even admits not having.
Both Jason and Creon try to impose a weaker status on her. Creon repeats his command five times (272-3, 274, 321, 333, 351-4). Jason uses a long list of derogatory words and demeaning expressions to describe and intimidate her. His whole attitude is of a master toward an unruly dependent, as if he could dispose of her with his superior intelligence, money, and words.
Medea’s speech to Jason in the fourth episode is masterful. She represents herself in the metaphor of the domination of reason over passion that reveals how deep-seated the justification of slavery is in the Greek psyche as using logos to master her passion (872). She is a new woman now (893) and more like a man. She makes herself both: the reasonable woman (i.e. an imitation of a man) to whom men can talk and at the same time the emotional woman whom men can dominate. Jason then does both. Having conceded to him the right to words, Medea then entraps him in her own (932): eis emous h keis logous.
Medea’s logos in this scene has been a new, invented Medea who uses words to dominate herself (872), while the real Medea dominates Jason with his own (also specious) logoi. Logos is associated with words of mastery, but finally gold is more powerful than words or reason (965) and more persuasive to a bride than even her new husband. Having mastered the words and the man, in a final manipulation she refers to Jason’s new wife as ‘my mistress’ (970), a final irony, a final justification of her deeds, a final rejection of the subordinate role.