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Medea Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Euripides's Medea. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Euripides

Euripides was one of the three great Greek tragedians. The others are Aeschylus and Sophocles. Because he lived more than 2300 years ago, it is difficult to say which details of his biography are factual and which have been colored with mythical elements. According to existing sources, Euripides had two failed marriages after which he lived out much of his life on the island of Salamis. He was the favorite playwright of the philosopher Plato; and, in his Poetics, Aristotle calls him the "most tragic" of all the poets. He may have retired to the court of King Archelaus north of Greece in Macedonia, where he died in 406 B.C.
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Historical Context of Medea

Medea was composed in the golden age of Athens. The dates of Athenian ascendancy correspond with the victory of Athens and its allies (the Delian league) over the advancing Persian empire in 478 B.C. and Athens defeat at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 B.C. Medea was staged in the first year of that war (431 B.C.), a conflict with the rival city-state, Sparta, which lasted more than twenty years and would prove to be Athens' undoing.

Other Books Related to Medea

Euripides was one of the three great dramatists of Athens golden age, along with Sophocles and Aeschylus. The three men wrote many plays with related themes or other similarities. Euripedes' The Bacchae is the story of Bacchus, the god of wine and revelry, causing a group of Theban women to rip a man, Pentheus, limb from limb for failing to acknowledge Bacchus as a god. Sophocles' Oedipus Rex and Antigone are tragedies that, like Medea, grapple with intense situations of familial strife. Oedipus Rex deals with the aftermath of Oedipus's terrible fate to kill his own father and to marry his mother. In Antigone (a kind of sequel to Oedipus Rex) the king, Creon, prohibits Antigone (Oedipus's daughter) from burying her brother as is necessitated by divine law. Aeschylus' trilogy, The Orestia, concerns the return of Agamemnon from the Trojan War, his murder by his wife Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthus, and the subsequent aftermath as Agamemnon's children seek revenge against their own mother. As such, it too examines agonizing grief after the pain of marital infidelities.
Key Facts about Medea
  • Full Title: Medea
  • When Written: Unknown, before 431 B.C.
  • Where Written: Unknown, likely the island of Salamis
  • Literary Period: Classical Greek Drama
  • Genre: Tragic Drama
  • Setting: The courtyard outside Medea's house in the Greek city-state of Corinth.
  • Climax: Medea murders her two sons offstage and ascends over the stage in a flying chariot sent by her grandfather, the sun god, Helios.
  • Antagonist: Medea's husband, Jason

Extra Credit for Medea

Prolific Euripides. According to some sources Euripides produced more than 90 plays. Unfortunately only 18 of them survive into the present day.

Euripides' innovation to the already existing Greek story of Medea and Jason. In previous versions of the story, the Corinthians killed Medea's children in retaliation for her murdering their ruler, Creon. In Euripides' version, Medea kills her children herself.