“The Sweet Surprise of Children”: Reading Euripides’ “Medea” Online

Euripides, Medea 974-975

“Go as quickly as possible: may you do well and bring
Back to your mother the good news she yearns for.”

ἴθ᾿ ὡς τάχιστα· μητρὶ δ᾿ ὧν ἐρᾷ τυχεῖν
εὐάγγελοι γένοισθε πράξαντες καλῶς.

The Center for Hellenic Studies , the Kosmos Society and Out of Chaos Theatre has been presenting scenes from Greek tragedy on the ‘small screen’ since the beginning of the US lockdown in March. As our director Paul O’Mahony has put it, since we are “unable to explore the outside world, we have no option but to explore further the inner one.

Euripides, Medea 475-476

“I will begin to speak from where it all started:
I saved you. All the Greeks know that.”

ἐκ τῶν δὲ πρώτων πρῶτον ἄρξομαι λέγειν·
ἔσωσά σ᾿, ὡς ἴσασιν Ἑλλήνων ὅσοι

Euripides, Medea 790-792

“Now I am going to leave this speech behind.
I have mourned the kind of thing that I need to do
After this: For I will kill my children.
There is no one who will save them.”

νταῦθα μέντοι τόνδ᾿ ἀπαλλάσσω λόγον.
ᾤμωξα δ᾿ οἷον ἔργον ἔστ᾿ ἐργαστέον
τοὐντεῦθεν ἡμῖν· τέκνα γὰρ κατακτενῶ
τἄμ᾿· οὔτις ἔστιν ὅστις ἐξαιρήσεται·

I have not done a scientific survey on this, but I am pretty sure that Medea is one of the most famous women from Greek myth. And I also know that what most people think they know about her comes from (or around) this week’s play, Euripides’ Medea. In this play, w find a wronged wife, a foreign sorceress, a sorrowful mother–and they are all the same, powerful person. But the message people carry with them is that Medea killed her children.

This is certainly (part of) the story Euripides tells. But it is not the whole tale. Different accounts of the story lay the blame on the people of Corinth while a scholion to Euripides’ play insists that Jason should have cared for his children. Outside of the tale of the argonauts, Medea is ranked as desirable woman who competes in a beauty contest against Thetis. (Her magical powers certainly rank her with a semi-divine figure like her aunt Circe.) And in other tales she goes on to have another child with the king of Athens.

Euripides is never a simple poet. Medea is easy to remember as a villain, but less so to see or hare as one who is simply so. read again; listen to the performances; see Medea for the first time

Euripides, Medea 535-541

“You profited more than you sacrificed for saving me.
I’ll explain: first, you now live in Greece
Instead of a barbarian land and you know justice
And how to follow laws instead of serving strength.
Second, all the Greeks have learned that you are clever
And you’ve earned fame. If you lived beyond the borders
Of the civilized world, no one would know who you are.”

μείζω γε μέντοι τῆς ἐμῆς σωτηρίας
εἴληφας ἢ δέδωκας, ὡς ἐγὼ φράσω.
πρῶτον μὲν Ἑλλάδ᾿ ἀντὶ βαρβάρου χθονὸς
γαῖαν κατοικεῖς καὶ δίκην ἐπίστασαι
νόμοις τε χρῆσθαι μὴ πρὸς ἰσχύος χάριν·
πάντες δέ σ᾿ ᾔσθοντ᾿ οὖσαν Ἕλληνες σοφὴν
καὶ δόξαν ἔσχες· εἰ δὲ γῆς ἐπ᾿ ἐσχάτοις
ὅροισιν ᾤκεις, οὐκ ἂν ἦν λόγος σέθεν

Scenes (from Oliver Taplin’s Translation)

Just wait and see!


Medea – Evelyn Miller
Jason – David Rubin
Nurse – Eunice Roberts
Tutor/Messenger – Zack Dictakis 
Kreon – RJ Foster
Chorus – Lily Ling
Special Guest: Fiona Macintosh
Guest Director: Tabatha Gayle
Music: Sarah Valentine

Euripides, Medea 598-599

“May a fortunate life bring me no pain!
And may I never have the kind of happiness that tortures thoughts.”

μή μοι γένοιτο λυπρὸς εὐδαίμων βίος
μηδ᾿ ὄλβος ὅστις τὴν ἐμὴν κνίζοι φρένα.

Producers and Crew

Artistic Director: Paul O’Mahony (Out of Chaos Theatre)
Associate Director: Liz Fisher
Director of Outreach: Amy Pistone (Gonzaga University)
Dramaturg: Emma Pauly
Executive Producer: Lanah Koelle (Center for Hellenic Studies)
Producers: Keith DeStone (Center for Hellenic Studies), Hélène Emeriaud, Janet Ozsolak, and Sarah Scott (Kosmos Society)
Poster Artist: John Koelle
Poster Designer: Allie Marbry (Center for Hellenic Studies)

Euripides, Medea 235-240

“The greatest contest in our life is this: getting a good husband
Or a bad one. For divorces do not bring women
A good reputation and it is impossible to refuse a husband.
When she enters the new ways and laws of his house
She needs to be a prophet, since she has not learned at home
How best to live with this partner. ”

κἀν τῷδ᾿ ἀγὼν μέγιστος, ἢ κακὸν λαβεῖν
ἢ χρηστόν· οὐ γὰρ εὐκλεεῖς ἀπαλλαγαὶ
γυναιξὶν οὐδ᾿ οἷόν τ᾿ ἀνήνασθαι πόσιν.
ἐς καινὰ δ᾿ ἤθη καὶ νόμους ἀφιγμένην
δεῖ μάντιν εἶναι, μὴ μαθοῦσαν οἴκοθεν,
ὅπως ἄριστα χρήσεται ξυνευνέτῃ.

Upcoming Episodes (Go to CHS Project Page for more information)

November 18 Heracleidae, Euripides 
with Helene Foley (Columbia University)

November 25 Special Edition: Tragic Fragments
with Melissa Funke (University of Winnipeg) and Charlotte Parkyn (University of Notre Dame)

December 2 Oedipus at Colonus, Sophocles – 3:30pm EST
with Laura Slatkin (New York University)

Euripides, Medea 1090-1111

“I say that mortals who have no experience
Of and have never had children
Have a better chance for happiness
Than those who bear them.
The childless are ignorant from inexperience
Whether children bring pleasure or pain
Because they do not have them they
Avoid many toils
But those whose comes receive the sweet
Surprise of children, I watch all their time
Worn down by care—
First who they will raise them well
And then what kind of life they leave to them.
And then from these it remains unclear
Whether they labored over good
Or weak worries.
But one final suffering of all
I will speak remains for all mortals.
Once they have found enough of a living,
And they make it to adulthood whole
And good. If fate so chooses then,
Death just takes them to Hades
Carrying their children’s corpses.”

καί φημι βροτῶν οἵτινές εἰσιν
πάμπαν ἄπειροι μηδ᾿ ἐφύτευσαν
παῖδας προφέρειν εἰς εὐτυχίαν
τῶν γειναμένων.
οἱ μὲν ἄτεκνοι δι᾿ ἀπειροσύνην
εἴθ᾿ ἡδὺ βροτοῖς εἴτ᾿ ἀνιαρὸν
παῖδες τελέθουσ᾿ οὐχὶ τυχόντες
πολλῶν μόχθων ἀπέχονται·
οἷσι δὲ τέκνων ἔστιν ἐν οἴκοις
γλυκερὸν βλάστημ᾿, ἐσορῶ μελέτῃ
κατατρυχομένους τὸν ἅπαντα χρόνον,
πρῶτον μὲν ὅπως θρέψουσι καλῶς
βίοτόν θ᾿ ὁπόθεν λείψουσι τέκνοις·
ἔτι δ᾿ ἐκ τούτων εἴτ᾿ ἐπὶ φλαύροις
εἴτ᾿ ἐπὶ χρηστοῖς
μοχθοῦσι, τόδ᾿ ἐστὶν ἄδηλον.
ἓν δὲ τὸ πάντων λοίσθιον ἤδη
πᾶσιν κατερῶ θνητοῖσι κακόν·
καὶ δὴ γὰρ ἅλις βίοτόν θ᾿ ηὗρον
σῶμά τ᾿ ἐς ἥβην ἤλυθε τέκνων
χρηστοί τ᾿ ἐγένοντ᾿· εἰ δὲ κυρήσαι
δαίμων οὕτω, φροῦδος ἐς Ἅιδου
θάνατος προφέρων σώματα τέκνων

BerlinRoman sarcophagus showing the story of Medea and Creusa. Ca 150 AD. Altes Museum, Berlin

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