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Medea: Euripides' Tragic Hero Essay

1511 words - 6 pages

The rhetorical devices that Euripides uses throughout Medea allow Medea to become the poem's tragic hero. For Medea is not only a woman but also a foreigner, which makes her a member of two groups in Athenian society who had nearly no rights. Thus, the Athenian audience would have automatically aligned their sympathies with Jason instead Medea, and Medea would have been labeled the villain from the start. This would have negated Euripides' literary cause and given the play little dramatic merit. However, Euripides employs a rhetorical style, which greatly enhances the depth of Medea's character and allows the play to proceed with a thought provoking depth in which Medea becomes the tragic hero instead of the antagonist.

Euripides uses the extended monologues of various characters to make the audience compassionate toward Medea's internal turmoil. It is no coincidence that Euripides begins the play with a soliloquy spoken by Medea and Jason's househotd nurse. The nurse is one who has an unbiased point ofview because she has been the servant ofboth Medea and Jason. Yet, her compassion clearly lies with Medea. She says, "Poor Medea is slighted, and cries aloud on the / Vows they made to each other, the right hands clasped/ in eternal promise" (lines 20-21). From a 20th century perspective, one might question why in the beginning of the play the Greek audience would choose not to automatically align themselves with Medea. It is of utmost importance to note the "complacent pride in the superiority of the Greek masculinity" (p. 641) that was present in this culture (p. 641). In the eyes of the ancient Greek men could do no wrong. Thus, the nurse specifically describes Jason as "a man who is now determined to dishonor her [Medea]" (34). This soliloquy given by the nurse aligns the sympathies toward Medea as Euripides intended.

Furthermore, Medea speaks extensively about her own feelings throughout the play, which continues to give the audience compassion towards her even as she begins
her dreadful schemes. In the beginning of the play, Medea speaks passionately about her own plight at this time and furthermore about the plight of women in general. She says, "But on me this one thing has fallen so unexpectedly, / It has broken my heart. I am finished. I let go / All my life's joy. My friends I only want to die. It was everything for me to think well of one man, / And he, my own husband, has turned out wholly vile" (224-227). These heart-wrenching words alert the readers' sympathies toward Medea. For she is the victim of the situation, having to suffer for her husbands unfaithfulness.

Her sincere language in this passage and feelings of hopelessness cause the audience to realize her dreadful predicament and how she has done nothing to deserve the amount of suffering.

Later in the play, even after Medea has laid out her plan for revenge, she again speaks ofher inner turmoil. In verbalizing her feelings, she shows that...

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