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.
Truth vs. Rhetoric ThemeTracker
Truth vs. Rhetoric Quotes in Medea
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…
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.
You vile coward! Yes, I can call you that,
The worst name that I know for your unmanliness!
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?
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…
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.
I'll send her gifts, the finest in the world:
A finely woven dress and crown of beaten gold.
The boys will take them.