Natural Law—the idea of a moral code integral to and inseparable from whatever it is that makes us human—is tested in the events of Medea when characters make decisions contrary to their nature, when Jason, a husband, abandons his wife or when Medea, a mother, murders her children. Medea's decision to kill her children, even as a form of retribution, was as shocking to the ancient Athenians as it is to us today. It was then, as it is now, considered a violation of Natural Law. What is less intuitive for the modern reader is that Medea's being a "wild" woman from an uncivilized (i.e. non-Greek) country, rather than a Greek citizen of a city-state, suggests, at least for the other characters in the play, that she is volatile and poised to do something "unnatural." It is Natural Law as well that governs The Roles of Men and Women.
The purpose of justice in the play is to restore the natural balance disrupted by Jason's violation of Natural Law, his "unmanliness," in betraying his marriage vows to Medea. Creon, too, is guilty of injustice. His decision to exile Medea is doubly, perhaps even trebly, unjust. First, it is unjust for him to disrupt Natural Law by ignoring, when giving his daughter to Jason in marriage, the simple fact that Jason is already married. Second, he punishes Medea for his own violation of the natural order. Then based on hearsay and fear, he rhetorically justifies his unjust action by suggesting that Medea might harm his daughter: the crime he fears has not been committed. His ultimately being right (correct) does not make the original decision just (fair). There is an overarching sense in the play that Medea isn't seeking justice in response to Jason and Creon's crimes alone, but, rather, is seeking to correct one of Nature's fundamental injustices—the unequal suffering allotted to women and men. And yet, in seeking this justice, Medea commits the most violent act against Natural Law: she kills her own children. And in that action the entire idea of Natural Law becomes more complicated, as Medea's effort to seek justice leads to the deepest injustice, the inconsistencies of Natural Law and the justice required to maintain is revealed as problematic and irresolvable.
Justice and Natural Law ThemeTracker
Justice and Natural Law Quotes in Medea
I hear the first danger sign,
Her wailing. It is a cloud she will ignite
To flame as her fury grows.
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…
The direct way is best, the one at which
I am most skilled: I'll poison them.
…But we are women too:
We may not have the means to achieve nobility;
Our cleverness lies in crafting evil.
Sacred rivers flow uphill:
Justice and all things are reversed.
I'll send her gifts, the finest in the world:
A finely woven dress and crown of beaten gold.
The boys will take them.
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.
Hateful creature! O most detestable of women
To the gods and me and all the human race!
You could bring yourself to put to the sword
The children of your womb. You have taken my sons
and destroyed me.
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…