- 23 Set 2014
“There is a maiden, nurtured in the halls of Aeetes, whom the goddess Hecate taught to handle magic herbs with exceeding skill …” (Argus to the Argonauts. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.528).
“… nothing shall come between our love till the doom of death fold us round.” (Jason to Medea. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.1128).
Jason: O children, what a wicked mother Fate gave you.
Medea: O sons, your father’s treachery cost you your lives.
Jason: It was not my hand that killed my sons.
Medea: No, not your hand; but your insult to me, and your new-wedded wife.
Jason: You thought that reason enough to murder them, that I no longer slept with you?
Medea: And is that injury a slight one, do you imagine, to a woman? (Euripides, Medea 1363).
Medea, the curse of Pelias, is the princess, priestess, and witch, whom Jason brought to Hellas on his return from Colchis. Medea has been called daughter of Hecate since she served this goddess as her priestess, but otherwise her mother is said to have been Idyia, one of the OCEANIDS. Her father Aeetes, who had been king of Ephyraea (Corinth) before he emigrated to Colchis, was brother of Pasiphae, the wife of King Minos of Crete, and of the witch Circe. And whereas the latter lived in the island of Aeaea in the Mediterranean, Aeetes ruled in the city of Aea in Colchis.
Medea meets Jason
The young princess met her destiny when the Argonauts, searching for the Golden Fleece, came to Aea; for then she fell in love with their captain, Jason. Now Jason had his own plan, which was to obtain the Golden Fleece; but, as a matter of fact, the gods had their own, and this was to let him bring Medea to Hellas so that she would become the curse of King Pelias of Iolcus, the same man who sent Jason in his quest. For this king had outraged Hera by killing a woman who had sought refuge at the goddess’ altar. This is why Medea, on seeing Jason, was pierced by Love; and he in turn was tempted by the invaluable help that the princess, putting her magic powers and her courage at his service, was willing to provide. And in exchange for them, he promised Medea to take her to Hellas and there marry her and never dishonour her for want of kinsmen. From then on there was nothing that she would not do for the sake of the handsome stranger, so that he, escaping all dangers and performing great deeds, would become mighty and famous. Therefore, she betrayed her country and her father, helping Jason to cope with the brazen-footed bulls and the sown men, and leading him to the Golden Fleece, which was guarded by a sleepless dragon, whom she lulled to sleep by art and drugs.
And when they left Colchis pursued by the fleet of Aeetes, she murdered her own brother Apsyrtus, and having cut him limb from limb, cast the pieces into the sea, so that Aeetes, gathering Apsyrtus’ limbs, would fall behind in the pursuit. And if she did not perform this terrible deed, as others say, she nevertheless helped her lover to get rid of Apsyrtus, sending him to the next world in one way or another. For there are those who say that it was Jason who cut him into pieces, or even that Apsyrtus was, with Medea’s help, treacherously killed by Jason on an island in the mouth of the river Ister (the Danube).
And when they came to Crete, she destroyed the warder of the island, Talos, an invulnerable man of bronze, by drawing out a nail, so that all the ichor (divine blood). gushed out and he died. Others say that she first drove him mad with the aid of drugs, or else that she promised him to make him immortal. Yet others assert that Philoctetes’ father Poeas shot him dead in the ankle.
The Colchians came after the Argonauts and, among them, also King Styrus of Albania, who at the time had come to Colchis to marry Medea. He drowned during the pursuit, but the rest caught them up when they came to Phaeacia (Corcyra), where King Alcinous received the fugitives and protected them. When the Colchians demanded of Alcinous to give her up, he answered that if she already knew Jason, he would give her to him, but that if she were still a maid he would send her away to her father. It was then that his wife, Queen Arete, anticipating matters, married Medea to Jason in the cave of Macris, causing the Colchians to give up their pursuit.
Death of Pelias
On their retur to Hellas, Medea went to the palace of Pelias and persuaded his daughters to make mincemeat of their father and boil him, promising to make him young again by her drugs. The naive daughters of Pelias did as the witch instructed, but since then no one heard anything about Pelias, whose daughters, some say, emigrated to Arcadia. One of them, Alcestis, was later married to Admetus, king of Pherae in Thessaly. On Pelias’s death, his son Acastus, who succeeded his father as king of Iolcus, expelled both Jason and Medea from the city. Some say that Medea was indeed able to restore youth, and that she gave Aeson, Jason’s father, his youth back. But what he did with his regained youth is unknown.
Jason changes his mind
Having been expelled from Iolcus, Jason and Medea settled in Corinth, where they are said to have lived happily for ten years. But then Jason, having grown weary of being married to a foreign sorceress, felt ready for a younger and more representative wife. He found her in Glauce, daughter of King Creon of Corinth. But this sort of humilitation and betrayal was more than Medea could bear, and consequently she prevented the new marriage by causing the death of both princess and king in one of the following ways: Pretending that she had accepted her husband’s decision, Medea sent to Glauce, as a wedding present, a bridal robe steeped in poison, and when the girl put it on, she caught fire. Creon then, tried to rescued his daughter, but died in the attempt. Others say that the king fell upon her daughter’s corpse and could not separate from her, as his flesh was torn from his bones when he tried to rise. And still others say that Glauce died when she threw herself into a well in the belief that its water would be a remedy against Medea’s poison. It has also been told that when Medea saw that she, who had been Jason’s benefactress, was treated with scorn, with the help of poisonous drugs, made a golden crown, and bade her sons give it as a gift to their stepmother, who, having taken the gift, was burned to death along with Jason and Creon. Apparently, the whole palace was on fire, when these events took place.
Death of Jason and his children
But concerning the death of Jason it is also told that Medea foretold that the wreckage of the Argo would fall upon Jason and kill him. And others say that Jason killed himself, being unable to endure the loss of both wife and children. For on leaving Corinth after the murder of Creon and Glauce, Medea also killed her sons with Jason, Mermerus and Pheres, being very well remembered for this horrible murder too. But others have said that her children were stoned to death by the Corinthians, having been removed from the sancturay of Hera, where Medea, on her flight, had left them for their protection. Still others have said that Jason and Medea had a son and a daughter and that these were Medeus and Eriopis.
Almost nothing of what has been told before is true
The relation of Medea to Corinth is sometimes described in a completely different way: Aeetes is said to have been king in the region of Corinth, and to have left the kingdom to Bunus when he departed to Colchis. When Bunus died, Epopeus extended his own kingdom to include Corinth, and one of his successors, Corinthus (after whom the land is named), became king. Upon the death of Corinthus, they say, the Corinthians sent for Medea. It is through her, they assert, that Jason was king in Corinth (for they do not mention Creon). The reason of their dispute, they say, was that Medea carried her children to the sanctuary of Hera, where she concealed them, believing this was the proper method to make them immortal. She realized that this procedure did not work by the time Jason detected her, and he, unable to forgive these manipulations, sailed away to Iolcus. For these reasons Medea too departed, and handed over the kingdom to Sisyphus.
Aegeus weds Medea
In any case, Medea left Corinth and came to Athens, as some say, borne by a chariot with winged dragons, the offspring of the Titan’s blood, yoked to it. In this city, she was received by King Aegeus, who protected her well, since in vain Hippotes, son of the Corinthian king, claimed from the Athenians the person of Medea on account of her murdering his father. Aegeus married Medea and had a child by her, himself ignoring that he already was the father of another child.
Medea lived peacefully in Athens until the arrival of Theseus, against whom she plotted, fearing, with good reasons, that the newcomer, instead of her own son by Aegeus, would inherit the throne. As the king ignored that Theseus was his son, conceived years ago when he visited Troezen, Medea could, at first, persuade her husband that this was a dangerous young man. Aegeus tried then to get rid of the stranger by sending him against the Marathonian bull, which Theseus, however, either mastered or killed. In face of this failure, Medea induced Aegeus to poison his son, but just before drinking, Theseus happened to show his sword to Aegeus, and the latter, recognizing the weapon he had once left in Troezen, prevented him from drinking by dashing the cup from his hand. This is how father and son knew who they were, and this was also the end of Medea’s sojourn in Hellas.
In her way back to Colchis
Some say that she returned to Colchis, and on her way she came to Absoros where her brother Apsyrtus was buried, and that the people of Absoros could not cope with the large amount of serpents that were all around the place. So Medea gathered them up and put them in her brother’s tomb, where they still remain. On her return to Colchis, Medea found that King Aeetes had been deposed by his brother Perses. To solve this inconvenience, she killed her uncle and restored the kingdom to her father.
Intrigue in Caucasus
But some say that when her son Medus came to Colchis, he was put under arrest by Perses, who had been warned by an oracle no to trust the descendants of Aeetes. Realizing he was in his enemy’s hands, and in order to save his life, Medus said he was Hippotes, the son of the Corinthian king Medea had murdered. So when Medea came back, pretending she was a priestess of Artemis, she bade Perses to deliver this Hippotes, whom she thought had come to avenge his father, into her hands so that she could kill her, but when he was delivered and she discovered who this young man really was, she gave him a sword and Medus killed Perses.
Famous names derived from these persons
It is said that the country Media was called after Medea’s son Medus, who is also called Medeus and considered to be the founder of Meda in Ecbatana. They say that he died during a military campaign against the Indians; but the death of Medea has never been reported. Some affirm, however, that when she left Athens she came to the land called Aria, and that she persuaded its inhabitants to be named after her Medes.