In Euripides' Medea, exile is a past reality, an impending threat, and an internal state. Medea and Jason are exiles before the action of Euripides' play begins. In the play's backstory, Medea was forced to flee from her homeland of Clochis for helping Jason to secure the Golden Fleece. Then Jason and she together were exiled as murderers from Jason's homeland of Iolcus because of Medea's attempt to wrest ruling power for her and Jason from the corrupt king, Pelias.
Euripides' Medea begins with Medea's Nurse lamenting that Jason ever came to Clochis. The threat of the sentence of a third exile for Medea is quickly presented by the children's Tutor, who has just come from the castle where he has overheard "That Creon, the ruler of the land, intends to drive/ These children and their mother in exile from Corinth." Exile, or Medea's impending exile, is one of the main driver's of the play's plot. Medea begs Creon to give her one day in which to consider where she should go with her children, and, though Creon grants Medea her request, he recognizes, "Even now I know I am making some mistake." Later, Medea's pretended attempt to relieve the sentence of exile from her children allows her to poison the Princess and results in the Princess and Creon's deaths.
But exile, beyond being a physical condition for Medea, Jason, and their household, is also an emotional and spiritual state. We see this in various lamentations, like the Nurse's, "There is no home. It's over and done with," and Medea's "Oh, my father! Oh, my country! In what dishonor/ I left you…" and "I have no land, no home, no refuge from my pain." Both Medea and Jason invoke their exiled status in their arguments, and Jason even tries to convince Medea that she should "consider/ [Herself] most lucky that exile is [her] punishment" rather than death. For both Jason and Medea the pain of present exile coupled with the fear of future ones serve as motivations and justifications for their actions in the play.
Exile 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.
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…
Do you think I would have fawned on Creon
Except to win some profit by my schemes?
I would not have spoken to him – nor touched him.
But he is such a fool that,
When he could have arrested all my plans
By banishing me, he has allowed me
To stay this one day, in which three of my enemies
I'll send to their death…
Consider yourself lucky that your punishment
Is merely exile…
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…