The fundamental conflict between Medea and Jason is that she believes she has been faithfully devoted to him while he has not fulfilled his duties as a husband or as a man. "Why is there no mark on men's bodies," Medea says, "By which we could know the true ones from the false ones?" But Jason isn't the only one with duties— the servants have a duty to their masters, Creon is obliged to faithfully steward his city despite personal interests, Aegeus has an obligation to Medea as a friend, an obligation which Medea makes him solidify into duty via oath. We can even feel the Nurse struggle between her obligations to her mistress and to her mistress's children. Medea's grandfather is the god Helios, so she bears both the obligation (common to all people) to serve the gods as well as the obligation to sanctify and assert her own divinity. Nearly all the characters have a duty—to master, spouse, country, law, Nature, or the gods—and their various failures to uphold their duties spiral into tragedy. These obligations are sometimes conflicting. Medea, after all, shirks the responsibilities of motherhood and the requirements of Natural Law in order to exact divine vengeance and fulfill her duty to the gods.
Duty Quotes in Medea
The people here are well disposed to [Medea],
An exile and Jasons's all obedient wife:
That's the best way for a woman to keep safe –
Not to cross her husband.
But now her deepest love is sick, all turns to hate.
Good servants share their masters' sufferings –
They touch our hearts. I find it so distressing,
I had to come out her to tell my mistress' woes
To the earth and sky.
The middle course is best in name
And practice, the best policy by far.
Excess brings no benefit to us,
Only greater disasters on a house,
When God is angry.
Tell us, Nurse. At the gate I heard [Medea]
Crying inside the house.
I don't like to see the family suffering.
I sympathize with them.
My husband has turned out to be the most despicable of men.
Of all the creatures that have life and reason
We women have the worst lot.
A woman, coming to new ways and laws,
Needs to be a clairvoyant – she can't find out at home,
What sort of man will share her bed.
If we work at it, and our husband is content
Beneath the marriage yoke,
Life can be enviable. If not, better to be dead.
The fools! I would rather fight three times
In war, than go through childbirth once!
Medea, scowling there with fury at your husband!
I have given orders that you should leave the country:
Take your two sons and go, into exile. No delay!
You sound harmless, but in your heart
I'm terrified you're plotting some evil.
I trust you know even less than before.
A passionate woman—or a man, for that matter—
Is easier to guard against, than one who's clever,
And holds her tongue.
It's not my nature to be a tyrant.
My concern for others has often cost me dearly.
Now too, madam, I see I'm making a mistake,
But, still, I grant your request…
You vile coward! Yes, I can call you that,
The worst name that I know for your unmanliness!
As for your spiteful words about my marriage with the princess,
I'll show that what I've done is wise and prudent;
And I've acted out of love for you
And for my sons…
Jason, you have put a fine gloss on your words.
But – I may not be wise to say this – I think
You've acted wrongly: you have betrayed your wife.
All for nothing tortured myself with toil and care,
And bore the cruel pains when you were born.
Once I placed great hopes in you, that you
Would care for my old age and yourselves
Shroud my corpse. That would make me envied.
Now that sweet thought is no more. Parted from you
I shall lead a grim and painful life.
No Greek woman
Could ever have brought herself to do that.
Yet I rejected them to marry you, a wife
Who brought me enmity and death,
A lioness, not human…