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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.
Exile Theme Icon

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 ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Exile appears in each section of Medea. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Exile Quotes in Medea

Below you will find the important quotes in Medea related to the theme of Exile.
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

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.

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…

Related Characters: Medea (speaker), Creon
Page Number: 355-362
Explanation and Analysis:

Medea has just been granted the right to stay in Corinth for one more day. Creon had previously banished her, but he's reconsidered and allowed Medea to stick around a little longer. As Medea acknowledges here, Creon has made a colossal mistake. Creon has provoked Medea, then given Medea access to the resources of his kingdom.

The scene is darkly funny: Medea has just succeeded in convincing Creon to give her some more time in Corinth, and in response she makes fun of Creon for giving her more time in Corinth. Medea proves herself to be a far better strategist and politician than Creon. She knows how to deceive other people, giving herself the greatest advantage possible.

Lines 401-500 Quotes

Consider yourself lucky that your punishment
Is merely exile…

Related Characters: Jason (speaker), Medea
Page Number: 433-434
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Jason, Medea's ex-husband. Jason, though a famous hero of mythology, is a callous, hypocritical man, who clearly feels no love or affection for Medea whatsoever. Jason even has the nerve to scold Medea for not being more grateful that she's been "rewarded" with exile instead of being executed. In other words, Jason wants Medea to accept her fate quietly and demurely.

Jason is the very embodiment of the sexism and hypocrisy that Medea intends to punish. He seems to be speaking un-ironically--i.e., he genuinely believes that Medea should consider herself lucky for being banished. Jason's insensitivity to women is so great that he treats them like animals or disobedient children. He is, in short, begging for a nasty comeuppance.

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.)