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  • Study Guide
Summary

Lines 130-213

Summary Lines 130-213

Summary

The chorus, composed of Corinthian women, turns towards the house and addresses Medea. They try to reason with Medea and convince her that suicide would be an overreaction. The fickleness of a husband's love is an ordinary occurrence; rather than merit self-torment, it should be dealt with and forgotten. Still within the palace walls, Medea remains unyielding and calls on the gods Themis and Artemis to sanction the death of Jason and his new wife. Because Medea accuses Jason of breaking an oath (his marriage vows), the nurse recognizes the gravity of Medea's threat; no one less than Zeus, king of the Olympian gods, watches over oaths and ensures their compliance. Entering the house in order to encourage Medea to talk with the chorus in person, the nurse performs another soliloquy, this one accusing the "men of old times" (line 190), who invented music, of foolishness. Created as an accompaniment to banquets and celebrations, their songs can never dispel the sorrow caused by broken homes--they have no real power, positive or negative. After the nurse enters the house, the chorus remarks that Themis, a goddess Medea invoked in her tirades against Jason, has already watched over her in the past--that is, during the various stages of the journey bringing her from the far-ends of Asia to Hellas, or Greece.

Commentary

The function of the chorus varies slightly in every ancient Greek tragedy. At times, the chorus is an active participant in the drama; at others, it can be merely a commentator or spectator. The chorus in Medea displays qualities of both, but its central task is to pass value judgments on the behavior of individual characters--its voice stands as the arbiter of objectivity in the play, supplying us with the most normative perspective on the events as they transpire. After having expressed a general sympathy with Medea earlier, the chorus now warns her against indulging in her emotions too severely, as her turmoil, while real, is a "common thing." Medea lacks this common sense perspective. The score of advisors that counsel her to refrain from indulging in her emotions only underscores Euripides' conceit that underneath common human problems (such as marriage breakup) rest potential forces that, although normally controlled, are capable of exploding into such extraordinary catastrophes as those recounted in his play. The chorus's viewpoint, then, though the most sensible, does not fully account for Medea's situation. As she puts it, she has left life behind (line 146) and become the conveyor of a higher, more cruel order of justice. Her appeals to the gods, especially as the protectors of oaths, reinforce her sense of purpose. The chorus' common sense perspective provides a useful counterpoint to Medea's far-reaching vision, and the interplay of each stands as a key source of unresolved tension in the play.

The brief essay on music that Euripides inserts into the nurse's speech (lines 190-200) may superficially appear out of place, and the playwright was not above interjecting irrelevant commentary into his dramas. It's interesting, however, that the nurse's basic point is that music (and, by extension, all the arts the Greeks thought to be inspired by the Muses, including tragedy) does not hold the power to transform us emotionally; if we are sad, we will stay sad, if happy, we will stay happy. One of the hallmarks of tragedy is its supposedly cathartic effect--that is, by experiencing immense sorrow, we are purged of it. Euripides questionable status as a tragedian (see context and analysis) can be linked to the lack of catharsis evoked by his plays, and the nurse may be serving as his mouthpiece in this soliloquy, pointing to his plays as self-conscious explorations of the limits of his art. Euripides found a lack of authenticity behind the traditional form of tragedy, and his plays extended the art to explore new and different expressive possibilities.