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Themes and Colors
Exile Theme Icon
Truth vs. Rhetoric Theme Icon
The Roles of Men and Women Theme Icon
Justice and Natural Law Theme Icon
Duty Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Medea, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Duty Theme Icon

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.

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Duty Quotes in Medea

Below you will find the important quotes in Medea related to the theme of Duty.
Lines 1-100 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Nurse (speaker), Medea, Jason
Page Number: 11-15
Explanation and Analysis:

The Nurse provides the important expository information about Medea that we need to understand and enjoy the play. Medea was a princess in her native land, but when the hero Jason came to her kingdom, she betrayed her own family due to her mad love for Jason. Medea used her magic to help Jason succeed in his quest--then, she traveled back to Jason's homeland to be his wife.

But now, the Nurse confirms, there's trouble in paradise. Medea has no friends or well-wishers in her new home--on the contrary, everybody hates her for being a foreigner (the Greeks considered anyone non-Greek to basically be a barbarian). Medea has essentially thrown all her eggs in one basket--Jason. And now, Jason (supposedly a great hero) has betrayed Medea. The Nurse's lines set in motion the events of the plot--furious with Jason, Medea will enact a savage revenge.


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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.

Related Characters: The Nurse (speaker), Medea
Page Number: 47-50
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Nurse explains why she's explaining Medea's history with Jason so thoroughly. On the surface, her explanation could be interpreted as purely expository--she's telling us (the audience) about Medea so that we're up to speed for Euripides' play.

But there's another, more profound reason why the Nurse needs to talk about Medea. As the Nurse says, she feels a powerful connection with Medea--Medea is her mistress, and therefore she feels a strong sense of loyalty to her. The Nurse's feelings for Medea are notable since they clearly clash with the attitude of the rest of the kingdom. Medea doesn't have many friends in her new homeland--it's possible that the Nurse is her only friend. The fact that Euripides portrays the Nurse as a kindly, sympathetic, and overall trustworthy person reinforces the fact that Medea is worthy of our sympathy, while Jason, despite his status as a hero, is more worthy of contempt.

Lines 101-200 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Nurse (speaker)
Page Number: 116-120
Explanation and Analysis:

Medea angrily tells the Nurse that she wishes she could murder her children to enact revenge on her husband, Jason. The Nurse, frightened by Medea's irrational fury, tells Medea that she shouldn't be so extreme in her thinking--the "middle course," as she insists here, is always the best way.

The Nurse is, in essence, telling Medea to be calm, collected, and self-controlled in her behavior and thinking. There is a long tradition in classical Greek philosophy of celebrating balance and moderation in one's behavior--one thinks of Aristotle's famous "doctrine of the mean," which argues that the "average" behavior is nearly always the best. In such a way, Medea's inability to be moderate--to control her behavior and thought--is the surest mark of her status as a foreigner in a Greek kingdom.

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.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Medea, The Nurse
Page Number: 123-126
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moment, the Nurse interacts with one of the key "characters" in the play, the Chorus. The Chorus, a traditional Greek theatrical device, is usually a group of singers and actors who interact with the characters in the play and provide commentary and emotional feedback for the action. Here, for example, the Chorus (which is described as a group of women from Corinth) shares the Nurse's sympathy for Medea, as well as the Nurse's fear for Medea's state of mind.

It's interesting that the characters we meet onstage are, for the most part, sympathetic to Medea, considering that they say that the entire kingdom hates Medea. The key word in this passage is "sympathize." In spite of Medea's foreignness and exotic status in the kingdom, it's possible to feel for her suffering--to understand her sadness. In no small part, it's suggested, the characters feel for Medea because they're women--they know what it's like to be abandoned by an arrogant man, and to be generally subdued by a patriarchal, oppressive society.

Lines 201-300 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Medea (speaker), Jason
Page Number: 218-220
Explanation and Analysis:

Medea has often been interpreted as an early feminist hero, and this passage goes a long way toward explaining why. Medea knows full-well that she has a bad lot in life: she was born a woman, meaning that she can't vote, own property, or control her own marriages. She's seen as property by most of the world. Jason, for instance, has no qualms about dumping her overnight, because he doesn't respect her as a human being--despite the fact that she's a powerful, semi-divine figure, and has given up everything for his sake. In short, Medea recognizes that through no fault of her own, she's been mistreated all her life. (Notice also that Medea is addressing the Chorus of women--she's commiserating with other females.)

But does the passage necessarily mean that Euripides shares Medea's point of view? While it's common for modern critics to interpret Medea through a feminist lens, it's likely that Euripides wasn't really critiquing his culture's idea that women are inferior to men. The play certainly seems to believe that Jason behaves unfairly toward his wife, thus justifying her disrespect--but it doesn't follow that women are equal to men.

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.

Related Characters: Medea (speaker)
Page Number: 228-233
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Medea paints a dark picture of marriage. A woman, she explains, must necessarily get married to a man when she's of the right age (i.e., really young by modern standards). A woman doesn't have much say in what kind of man she's marrying; usually, the decision is made by the woman's family. In other words, the woman needs to be "clairvoyant" about what kind of man she's going to spend her life with.

Whether the marriage is good or bad, a woman has the wearying task of pleasing her husband at all times. Her only hope is to make her husband happy--otherwise, he'll make her life hell (since he essentially "owns" her). And even if the husband is a good, just man, he still exercises total power over his wife, according to Greek law. In short, marriage is a frightening, unjust institution that punishes women simply for being women. Medea, as a foreigner in Greece, is uniquely capable of seeing marriage for what it really is.

The fools! I would rather fight three times
In war, than go through childbirth once!

Related Characters: Medea (speaker)
Page Number: 240-241
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Medea makes a rather persuasive argument for why women are braver and stronger than men. Men like to believe that they're tougher than women because they know how to fight and go to battle. But battle, Medea claims, is actually easier and safer than giving birth to a child--something that almost all women (of the time) go through.

Medea has a point, especially when one considers the time when Euripides was writing. Women faced the very real possibility of dying in childbirth, and didn't have access to strong painkillers--giving birth to a child was tremendously dangerous and painful, and the odds of surviving may have even been worse than the odds of surviving a battle.

Medea's monologue reinforces the injustice of Jason's society--a society that belittles women and treats them disrespectfully. All woman, Medea insists, are worthy of respect on account of their biological power (i.e., the power to give birth to life). Ironically, though, Medea also confirms her status as an anomaly among women--perhaps because she's a foreigner, she's uniquely capable of seeing the plain truth about women in Greek society. Furthermore, she's a woman who wields powerful magic, and also has experience with fighting herself--she killed her own brother for Jason's sake. Thus she can speak as both a mother and a warrior, and can offer a unique perspective on which role requires more bravery.

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!

Related Characters: Creon (speaker), Medea, Jason
Page Number: 259-261
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Creon, who tells Medea that she's henceforth banished from the kingdom. It's interesting that Creon allows Medea to leave the kingdom with her children (the children she had with Jason). Jason seems to feel no love or affection for his own offspring--since he's divorcing Medea, he apparently believes that he has to say goodbye to his kids, as well.

Creon is an important character in the novel, because he embodies the corrupt authority of Corinthian (Greek) society. Creon shows no sympathy for Medea, despite the fact that he's destroying her life by banishing her, and through no fault of her own. In short, Creon's actions in this passage reinforce the harsh, selfish nature of patriarchal Corinthian society when it comes to foreigners and women--Creon is utterly unsympathetic to Medea or her children's feelings.

Lines 301-400 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Creon (speaker), Medea
Page Number: 303-309
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Creon shows himself to be a good judge of character, but not good enough. Creon knows full-well that Medea is dangerous: he's heard rumors that she's capable of magic and murder. Creon even recognizes that Medea is particularly dangerous because she's so adept at concealing her true feelings. As he says here, a subtle villain is much more dangerous than a passionate, angry one, because he or she is harder to spot.

Creon is smart enough to know that Medea is dangerous, and yet he doesn't understand the greater truth: Medea has been provoked into anger, thanks to Creon and Jason's actions. In other words, Creon is banishing Medea because he thinks she's a threat--but Medea wouldn't be a threat if Creon didn't banish her.

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…

Related Characters: Creon (speaker), Medea
Page Number: 335-338
Explanation and Analysis:

Creon knows full-well that Medea is dangerous to him: he's heard rumors of what she's capable of, and recognizes that she could kill him without the slightest guilt. But even though Creon knows Medea is dangerous, he lets his sympathy (or perhaps fate itself) get in the way of politics: because he feels sorry for her, and she uses skillful, convincing language to sway him, her lets her stay in the kingdom for a little longer.

Setting aside the poetry and drama for a moment, Creon makes a huge tactical error: he provokes Medea, and then lets her stay close enough to hurt him. He effectively creates a dangerous enemy in Medea, then gives her help. Creon knows he's making a mistake, but he doesn't have the strength or willpower to do what must be done with Medea. In the end, as we'll see, his willpower is far weaker than that of Medea herself. Ironically, Euripides shows us that Medea, a woman, is far stronger and more forceful than a male king.

Lines 401-500 Quotes

You vile coward! Yes, I can call you that,
The worst name that I know for your unmanliness!

Related Characters: Medea (speaker), Jason
Page Number: 444-445
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Medea says everything she's been wanting to say to Jason. She accuses him of being a coward and "unmanly"--quite the accusation to level against a legendary Greek hero.

It's hard to deny that Medea has a point. Jason only succeeded in obtaining the legendary Golden Fleece because Medea did almost all the hard work for him. She used magic to help him fight off his enemies and lead him to victory. Now, Jason--always ungrateful--is banishing Medea, almost as if he's forgotten the help she gave him.

Jason's "unmanliness," then, doesn't consist of his weakness or his dependence on Medea. Medea doesn't have a problem with helping Jason become a hero--as long as he shows his gratitude to her. Jason becomes "unmanly" in the instant that he betrays and turns his back on Medea--effectively denying that she helped him become great.

Lines 501-600 Quotes

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…

Related Characters: Jason (speaker), Medea, The Princess
Page Number: 524-527
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Jason shows himself to be a smooth operator and a generally slimy, hypocritical person. He argues to Medea that he's divorced her and married a new woman because he loves Medea and wants her to be happy. Jason goes on to argue that he's remarried because his new bride is a princess. By marrying the princess, Jason suggests, he'll be able to provide for Medea and their two children, improving everyone's life.

Jason's argument is laughable and contradictory (he's obviously left Medea because he's looking out for his own happiness and prosperity, not his family's). It's even possible that Jason himself believes his own lies--he's so self-centered and confident in himself that he doesn't have any real respect for Medea or their children.

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.

Related Characters: The Chorus (speaker), Medea, Jason
Page Number: 553-555
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, the Chorus accuses Jason of being a good public speaker but a bad husband. Jason has just finished a long speech in which he argues that he's abandoned Medea for her own good. The speech is well-delivered, but hypocritical and full of contradictions. The Chorus's interpretation of Jason's monologue, then, is spot-on: Jason speaks well but behaves poorly. The Chorus arrives at a blunt point: Jason has betrayed his wife, end of story.

It's interesting that the Chorus makes a distinction between words and actions, between appearance and reality. Jason, it's suggested, is better at "seeming" to do the right thing than he is at actually doing the right thing. More subtly, the Chorus implies that Jason isn't really much of a warrior or a hero--he's succeeded thanks to his ability to woo and seduce other people. In this sense, the Chorus's speech belittles Jason and mocks him for his delusions of machismo and heroism.

Lines 1001-1100 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Medea (speaker), The Children
Page Number: 1000-1006
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Medea has some second thoughts about killing her children. Medea sincerely loves her children: she's hoped that when she's an old woman, they'll care for her and continue to show love for her. But now, Medea's fury with Jason has led her to plot her children's deaths--she knows that killing her offspring is the best way to infuriate Jason.

Ironically, although the play begins with Jason "breaking up the family," it ends with Medea further destroying her family, murdering two innocent children. Medea's evident love and affection for her children reinforces her hatred for Jason--any mother who's willing to kill her own kids must really hate her ex-husband. At the same time, the passage conveys both Medea's monstrousness and her humanity. Even though she's planning to kill her kids (who are totally innocent of Jason's crimes), she actually loves them more than Jason does, and thus is arguably hurting herself more than she's hurting Jason.

Lines 1301-1400 Quotes

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…

Related Characters: Jason (speaker), Medea
Page Number: 1318-1322
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Jason--who's gotten the news that his wife has been burned alive and his children have been murdered, too--condemns Medea. Interestingly, Jason accuses Medea of being wicked because she's not a Greek woman. Jason assumes that Greeks are calm, controlled, and peaceful; only foreigners like Medea would be capable of such savage acts of revenge.

It's hard to tell if Euripides agrees with Jason or not. Throughout the play, Medea has been portrayed as an exotic, mysterious woman, full of magic, confidence, and rage. Furthermore, her decision to kill her own children seems to reflect her outsider status in Greece: she uses her foreign magic to achieve her ends.

And yet Jason misses the point. Medea didn't kill her children because she's from another country--she killed the children because she was provoked and humiliated into revenge. Jason, hypocritical as always, condemns Medea but refuses to acknowledge his own cruelty and insensitivity. The play certainly doesn't excuse Medea for her acts of murder, but it does encourage us to question Jason's shallow monologue. Medea was a stranger in a strange land, but if Jason had been kinder to her, she would never have lashed out against Jason and his country. (Furthermore, it's important to remember other, even more monstrous acts committed by "true" Greeks--like Atreus killing his brother's children and serving them to him as food, for example.)