Mythology Mondays: Medea

Let us all pause and jump for joy as we relish this beautiful, glorious day. That’s right, my friends. School is back in session and all is right with the world again.

Please enjoy your regularly scheduled mythology post now.

Welcome to Mythology Mondays, where I highlight a different Greek myth or an aspect of mythology that has influenced the Turning Creek series. The first two books, Lightning in the Dark and Storm in the Mountains are out now.

Poor Medea. Like most Greek myths, her story does not end well.

Medea mixes a poison to save her love, Jason. Painting by John William Waterhouse.
Medea mixes a poison to save her love, Jason, who turns out to be a jerk. Painting by John William Waterhouse.

Medea’s story starts with the tale of not one but two young boys who were denied their rightful thrones and sent into exile. One boy’s story, Phrixus, yields the golden fleece. The other boy, Jason, comes out of exile to claim his throne. Pelias, who held Jason’s throne, says he will give up the throne he usurped if Jason brings him the Golden Fleece.

Jason is so excited about the idea of an adventure, he gets many young men of Greece to follow him in this dangerous pursuit. Thus begins the story of Jason and the Argonauts. They run into quite a bit of trouble. Harpies. Amazons. One gets the feeling that Greeks found all forms of women frightening.

Eventually, the adventurers find themselves on the borders of Colchis where the Golden Fleece was held by the King. This king has, of course, a daughter, named Medea, who was said to be a skillful witch.

The gods had watched Jason’s journey up to this point and, now that he was on the cusp of the real trial, Hera becomes worried for him. Hera goes to Aphrodite, who could best be described as a frenemy, and begs for help. She agrees to help. Aphrodite pays Cupid a shiny ball of gold to make Medea fall hopelessly in love with Jason.

Jason appears before the King of Colchis and, after a night of feasting, asks the king for the Golden Fleece. The king is incensed and agrees to give the Fleece up if Jason yokes two bulls who breathe fire, plow a field with them, plant dragon teeth in the furrows, and then kill the warriors who spring from the seeds.

Sounds easy.

Medea sees Jason at the feast and falls utterly in love. Knowing her father has condemned Jason to certain death, she meets him the night before his trial and gives him a special poison for his weapons. She weeps and admits her love for him and asks him to remember her fondly.

Jason defeats the dragon-teeth men, but the king plans to kill him anyway. Medea again goes to Jason in the middle of the night to warn him. She promises to guide them to the Fleece and bespell the serpent that guards the treasure, if Jason will but take her away to Greece. Jason agrees and says if she does this thing, he will take her back to Greece as his wife.

Medea puts the serpent to sleep and Jason gets the Fleece.

Medea’s brother, under the king’s orders, follows Jason and Medea to retrieve the Fleece for his father. Medea, once again, saves Jason’s quest. She kills her brother and his army scatters. She also rescues the Argonauts from the bronze men of Crete by calling upon the hounds of Hades before they finally reach Greece.

Sadly, Greece will be Medea’s undoing. Jason uses Medea’s power to murder the uncle who had taken his throne. One has to wonder why he went to get the Fleece in the first place when a little avunculicide would do.

Medea and Jason have two sons and all was well, for a time.

Jason was an ambitious and selfish man. To further his quest for power, he agrees to marry the daughter of Corinth, though he already has a wife. The King of Corinth threatens to have Medea removed from the country if she does not allow the wedding.

Medea is desperate. She threatens Jason’s new bride which earns her a stern talking to from her husband, who tells her she is unbalanced and he never loved her. Medea remembers all the betrayals she committed for this man who now wants to put her aside and she burns in anger.

But on me hath fallen this unforeseen disaster, and sapped my life; ruined I am, and long to resign the boon of existence, kind friends, and die. For he who was all the world to me, as well thou knowest, hath turned out the worst of men, my own husband. Of all things that have life and sense we women are the most hapless creatures; first must we buy a husband at a great price, and o’er ourselves a tyrant set which is an evil worse than the first; and herein lies the most important issue, whether our choice be good or bad. For divorce is not honourable to women, nor can we disown our lords. -from Medea By Euripides

Medea kills Jason’s intended bride with a poisoned robe. She knows that she and her sons will be exiled with no home, family, or man to guard them. They might as well be dead, she thinks. She kills her two sons and escapes in a chariot pulled by dragons.

If she could escape in a chariot, why not her sons? And if she could command dragons, could the woman not find a loaf of bread for them to eat?

Just pointing out the obvious.

The point is we mostly still remember Jason as a hero and Medea as a crazy witch. The more Greek mythology I read, the more I remember misogyny is as old as time.

In Turning Creek, Medea shows up eventually in Storm in the Mountains. Don’t worry. She does not kill anyone or send them poisoned robes.

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