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Truth vs. Rhetoric Theme Analysis

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.
Truth vs. Rhetoric Theme Icon

The tragedy of Medea is woven out of a series of deceitful, true-seeming monologues. After acknowledging to the chorus (and the audience) her desire to kill Creon and destroy his house, Medea convinces him that she should be allowed to remain for just one day to make provisions for her children. Medea actually plans to kill her children, so the statement is ironic. Even if the audience didn't know this at the outset of the play, Euripides has already done much to foreshadow it. "For myself I do not mind if I go into exile," Medea lies. "It is the children being in trouble that I mind." We soon see that Medea's rhetorical stretches are her way of besting Jason at his own game. When he first appears shortly after Medea submits her plea to Creon, he attempts to argue that his decision to abandon his wife and two young children was, first, "a clever move,/ Secondly, a wise one, and, finally, that [he] made it in [Medea's] best interests and the children's." The chorus is quick to point out the gap between the truth of the situation and Jason's rhetoric: "Jason, though you have made this speech of yours look well,/ Still I think, even though others do not agree,/ You have betrayed your wife and are acting badly."

Medea, though arguably working in the service of truth—a truth she invokes from her chariot at the plays conclusion when she tells Jason, "The gods know who was the author of this sorrow"—is often all too ready to use deceitful rhetoric herself. Her deceit serves, first and foremost, to reveal Jason's deceit and, secondarily, to give her an opportunity to exact her revenge. "Certainly," Medea says, "I hold different views/ From others, for I think that the probable speaker/ Who is a villain deserves the greatest punishment." She decides, as we see, to take that punishment into her own hands, exposing, meanwhile, the hypocrisy of Jason and Creon, two men who speak well despite the villainy of their actions. "There is no need to put on the airs/ Of a clever speaker," she informs Jason, "for one word will lay you flat." After her first conversation with Jason, she manages to call him back to their former house and convinces him to let their children beg the Princess to be allowed to stay in Corinth, a privilege Medea never intends to give them. The audience's knowledge of Medea's deeper, true intentions allows it to better grasp the full scope and intensity of her character, both righteous and vengeful. Conversely, Jason's refusal, throughout, to acknowledge the true motivations for his actions, diminishes his.

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Truth vs. Rhetoric Quotes in Medea

Below you will find the important quotes in Medea related to the theme of Truth vs. Rhetoric.
Lines 301-400 Quotes

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.


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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.

The direct way is best, the one at which
I am most skilled: I'll poison them.

Related Characters: Medea (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Poisoned Crown
Page Number: 372-373
Explanation and Analysis:

Medea here gets the idea to kill Jason's new wife using poison. Interestingly, Medea claims that poison is the appropriate weapon to use to enact her revenge--it's the weapon that she's most adept at using.

Poison isn't just Medea's favorite weapon--it's the weapon that mirrors her personality most closely (and is often portrayed as a "female" way of killing someone). Poison must be used skillfully and subtly, and if she's smart, a murderer can use poison to avoid detection altogether. Furthermore, poisoning is often a slow, painful way to die--a reminder of Medea's wrath and cruelty. Finally, poison is a pretty accurate symbol for Medea's own fury. Like a poison victim, Medea suffers from a constant, burning rage: a rage that causes pain both to the people around her and to Medea herself.

…But we are women too:
We may not have the means to achieve nobility;
Our cleverness lies in crafting evil.

Related Characters: Medea (speaker)
Page Number: 396-398
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Medea makes a proto-feminist point. She argues that women (she's speaking to the all-female Chorus) are capable of achieving greatness through evil and evil alone. Women, we've already been told, are stronger and tougher than men. Here, Medea adds that women should use their strength and toughness to enact revenge and hurt the men who have wronged them.

Medea's point isn't exactly PC by modern standards--she's essentially saying that women are just as dangerous and evil as certain sexists like to claim that they are. Medea, we could say, just echoes sexist tropes instead of challenging them: she lives up to the stereotype that all women are clever and powerful only when it comes to undermining and destroying men.

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.

Zeus, you granted men sure signs to tell
When gold is counterfeit. But when we need to tell
Which men are false, why do our bodies bear no stamp
To show our worth?

Related Characters: Medea (speaker)
Page Number: 495-498
Explanation and Analysis:

Medea prays to Zeus, wondering why Zeus doesn't create human beings with a visible sign of whether or not they're good, trustworthy people. Medea has just been fully rejected by Jason, her former husband. At one point, Medea thought of Jason as a hero, a good man, and a loving husband--but now she sees him for the lying hypocrite he really is.

In other words, the passage sums up Medea's frustration with the challenges of love and courtship. Medea fell in love with Jason during the course of his quest to find the Golden Fleece, and it wasn't until much later that Medea saw Jason's "true colors." By the same token, Medea's speech reflects the challenges of the marriage process in ancient Greece. Women married men after knowing them for a very short amount of time; sometimes, their marriages turned nasty long after it was too late to find someone else. 

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 901-1000 Quotes

I'll send her gifts, the finest in the world:
A finely woven dress and crown of beaten gold.
The boys will take them.

Related Characters: Medea (speaker), The Children, The Princess
Related Symbols: The Poisoned Crown
Page Number: 916-918
Explanation and Analysis:

Even while she's still speaking to Jason, Medea begins to plan her revenge. She decides to send the Princess (Jason's new wife) a beautiful set of gifts, including a dress and a crown, delivered by her own children--presumably so that the gifts will seem innocent, and the Princess will accept them. But the crown, little does the Princess (or Jason) know, will be enchanted to burst into flames as soon as the Princess puts it on her head, and the dress will likewise be poisoned.

In all, the passage is interesting because it shows that Medea is aware that her revenge on Jason will hurt other people who aren't necessarily guilty at all. Indeed, Medea has already planned to kill pretty much everyone except Jason--the best revenge, she seems to feel, is for him to survive amidst devastation, rather than to enjoy the "peace" of death. In her excessive fury and longing to get revenge on Jason, Medea is going to kill innocent people. Medea's fury is like a fire--once it breaks out, it's impossible to control or focus.