The Chorus begins its first choral ode by singing that sacred rivers now flow uphill. Men are traitors, it sings. There's no faith in oaths. Women will have the honor now, and shall escape the prejudices that have held them down. Until now, it sings, Apollo, the god of poetry and music, has not inspired women with lyric song. Time will tell more of women. Then the Chorus addresses Medea and recounts her journey from Clochis to Corinth, bemoaning her plight. To think that the Princess and not Medea now rules Jason's bed!
Jason's unexpected actions and Medea's insane resolve have turned the world upside down for the Chorus of Corinthian women. The Chorus supports an ancient understanding of women's rights, but keep in mind that for the Chorus (and, likely, the contemporaneous audience) it is a sign of extreme, unnatural disorder that a woman has taken it into her head to act in such a way. Nonetheless, women will have their day.
Jason enters. Medea and he converse in the area outside Medea's house. Jason scolds Medea for her temper, saying she could have stayed in Corinth if she had held her tongue. Almost mockingly, he tells her she is lucky that her punishment is exile and not death, and claims that, unlike the royal family, he wanted her to stay. He hypocritically boasts that, unlike Medea, he doesn't forget his friends and has come to see if he can provide her with anything for her impending exile.
Jason makes his first appearance and we get our first glimpse of his more or less entirely unsympathetic character, arguments, and moral position. Jason's hypocrisy is so thick that he doesn't recognize that any financial aid he provides to the wife and children he has abandoned would be fatuous and hollow.
Medea calls Jason a coward for his unmanliness. She says his coming to her is neither bravery nor courage given his newfound comfort in the arms of the Princess. She fumes at him for his shamelessness. She is grateful, however, for the opportunity to abuse him. She recounts how she saved his life in Clochis by helping him to yolk fire-breathing bulls and by slaying the dragon that protected the Golden Fleece. It was she, she says, who killed king Pelias by tricking his own daughters, and, in exchange, Jason has betrayed her.
Here we see that the source of the play's main drama (the quadruple murder of the Princess, Creon, and the children) is not the rightful actions of women or a woman, but, rather, the failures of men, once again complicating a straightforward, pro-women reading of the play. Medea has acted rightly toward her man, as she recounts to Jason, but Jason has repaid her tremendous, almost supernatural help by abandoning her.
Medea condemns Jason for taking another woman when he already has two sons. He has shirked his fatherly duties and neglected his oaths to her. She asks him if he thinks the gods he swore by no longer rule the earth. But, she says, she will deal with Jason as if he were a friend even though she questions what good it will do her. Where, she asks, can she go since she has betrayed her home and country for his sake – back to Pelias' daughters who she tricked into killing their own father for Jason?
Medea points out the manifold ways in which Jason has behaved in a manner unbecoming to a father and a man or, for that matter, anyone at all. His decision to break his oaths, more than a slight or insult to her, is a breach of divine law and a sign of disrespect to the gods by which he swore. She demonstrates how she is more than the ordinary exile because Jason has already robbed her of her homeland.
Medea says that all her friends are now her enemies because of the things she has done for Jason. She is sarcastic with Jason, calling him a marvelous husband. What a fine job he's done seeing to it that the wife and children who saved his life are being cast away as exiles and beggars. She bewails that there is no sure sign to tell whether a man is true or false. She invokes Zeus and says he should have given them some stamp or mark on their bodies to indicate which was which.
Medea continues to emphasize her solitude and the unusual intensity, for her, of the already intensely burdensome condition of exile. She points out Jason's many injustices and failures to uphold his duties and holds him as an example of what is wrong not just with himself but with all men. If the gods had made it clear whether a man was true or false by some outward sign, perhaps there would be no false rhetoric in the world, only truth.