Murdered Immigrant Children and a Plague: A Different Medea Story

Child murder, worries about immigrants, and paranoia about drugs. Why are the ancients so weird?

Scholia B on Euripides, Medea 264

Parmeniskos writes as follows: “The story is that because the Korinthian women did not want to be ruled by a foreign woman and poison-user, they conspired against her and killed her children, seven male and seven female. Euripides says that Medea had only two. When the children were being pursued, they fled to the temple of Hera Akraia and sheltered in the shrine. But the Korinthians did not restrain themselves even there—they slaughtered the children over the altar.

Then a plague fell upon the city and many bodies were ruined by the disease. When they went to the oracle, it prophesied that they should appease the god for the slaughter of Medea’s children. For this reason, even in our day, the Korinthians send seven young men and seven young women from the most illustrious families each year to spend the year in the sanctuary to appease the rage of the children and the divine anger which arose because of them.”

But Didymos argues against this and provides Kreophylos’ writings: “For Medea is said to have killed the leader of Korinth at the time, Kreon, with drugs, when she was living there. Because she feared his friends and relatives, she fled to Athens, but left her sons who were too young and incapable of accompanying here, at the altar of Hera Akraia. She thought that their father would provide for their safety. But once Kreon’s relatives killed them they circulated the tale that Medea not only killed Kreon but murdered her own children too.”

1 Παρμενίσκος γράφει κατὰ λέξιν οὕτως·

« <…>1 ταῖς [δὲ] Κορινθίαις οὐ βουλομέναις ὑπὸ βαρβάρου καὶ φαρμακίδος γυναικὸς ἄρχεσθαι αὐτῆι τε ἐπιβουλεῦσαι καὶ τὰ τέκνα αὐτῆς ἀνελεῖν, ἑπτὰ μὲν ἄρσενα, ἑπτὰ δὲ θήλεα. [Εὐριπίδης δὲ δυσὶ μόνοις φησὶν αὐτὴν κεχρῆσθαι]. ταῦτα δὲ διωκόμενα καταφυγεῖν εἰς τὸ τῆς Ἀκραίας ῞Ηρας ἱερὸν καὶ ἐπὶ τὸ ἱερὸν καθίσαι· Κορινθίους δὲ αὐτῶν οὐδὲ οὕτως ἀπέχεσθαι, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπὶ τοῦ βωμοῦ πάντα ταῦτα ἀποσφάξαι. λοιμοῦ δὲ γενομένου εἰς τὴν πόλιν, πολλὰ σώματα ὑπὸ τῆς νόσου διαφθείρεσθαι· μαντευομένοις δὲ αὐτοῖς χρησμωιδῆσαι τὸν θεὸν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὸ τῶν Μηδείας τέκνων ἄγος. ὅθεν Κορινθίοις μέχρι τῶν καιρῶν τῶν καθ᾽ ἡμᾶς καθ᾽ ἕκαστον ἐνιαυτὸν ἑπτὰ κούρους καὶ ἑπτὰ κούρας τῶν ἐπισημοτάτων ἀνδρῶν ἐναπενιαυτίζειν ἐν τῶι τῆς θεᾶς τεμένει καὶ μετὰ θυσιῶν ἱλάσκεσθαι τὴν ἐκείνων μῆνιν καὶ τὴν δι᾽ ἐκείνους γενομένην τῆς θεᾶς ὀργήν. »

2 Δίδυμος δὲ ἐναντιοῦται τούτωι καὶ παρατίθεται τὰ Κρεωφύλου ἔχοντα οὕτως·

« τὴν γὰρ Μήδειαν λέγεται διατρίβουσαν ἐν Κορίνθωι τὸν ἄρχοντα τότε τῆς πόλεως Κρέοντα ἀποκτεῖναι φαρμάκοις. δείσασαν δὲ τοὺς φίλους καὶ τοὺς συγγενεῖς αὐτοῦ φυγεῖν εἰς ᾽Αθήνας, τοὺς δὲ υἱούς, ἐπεὶ νεώτεροι ὄντες οὐκ ἠδύναντο ἀκολουθεῖν, ἐπὶ τὸν βωμὸν τῆς ᾽Ακραίας ῞Ηρας καθίσαι, νομίσασαν τὸν πατέρα αὐτῶν φροντιεῖν τῆς σωτηρίας αὐτῶν. τοὺς δὲ Κρέοντος οἰκείους ἀποκτείναντας αὐτοὺς διαδοῦναι λόγον ὅτι ἡ Μήδεια οὐ μόνον τὸν Κρέοντα ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἑαυτῆς παῖδας ἀπέκτεινε. »

It has long been a favorite anecdote that Euripides was paid off by the Korinthians to make Medea look bad. For other accounts of Medea: Here’s one about her saving lives, another about her losing a beauty contest to Achilles’ mother Thetis, another account of it being Jason’s fault, an earlier scholion explaining how much the Korinthian women hated Medea, rationalizing accounts about Medea’s magic and her treatment of Pelias.

Medea by Corrado Giaquinto

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