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  • Study Guide
Summary

Lines 1117-1231

Summary Lines 1117-1231

Summary

A messenger appears, frantically warning Medea to escape the city as soon as possible. When Medea asks him why, he responds by revealing that she has been identified as the murderer of Creon and Glauce, whose deaths have just taken place inside the palace. To the incomprehension of the messenger, Medea accepts the news with composed satisfaction and asks for the details of their deaths.

Dwelling on the gruesome specifics, the messenger recreates the scene of the murder. Inside her bed-chamber, Jason's bride overcomes her reluctance to face Medea's children and accepts their gifts at his request. Entertained by the display of her own beauty in a mirror, she frolics around the room while showing off the coronet and dress. The picturesque scene begins to reverse itself as soon as the poison takes effect; her crown erupts in an unnatural fire and the corrosive dress begins to eat away her skin. She is left a monster unrecognizable to all but her father, who pathetically embraces her in order to die along her side. Though Creon flinches for a moment, "a ghastly wrestling match" (line 1214) ensues in which both bodies become entangled in a rotting heap. The messenger concludes his story by recognizing that intelligence brings men no advantages; happiness is the product of circumstance and fate.

Commentary

Aristotle and other commentators often criticized Euripides for having abandoned authentic tragedy in favor of grotesque melodrama. Whether or not we agree with their judgments, this elaborate murder scene bears many features that would not appear out of place in a contemporary B-movie horror film. After struggling emotionally through her moral dilemmas, Medea now appears in the mold of a hardened villain, interested solely in confirming the facts of her crime. Through the messenger's speech, we acquire our first glimpse (albeit limited) into Glauce's character, previously distinguished only by her reputed youth and beauty. Her display of vanity before the mirror--so sincere as to seem almost quaint--opens us onto a scene of luxury and self-satisfaction unique within Medea, temporarily relieving some of its building tension. Allowed to dwell on a physical setting, we are distracted from the weighty questions of conscience that have been recently demanding our attention. Glauce's complete defilement by the poison furnishes an elementary lesson on the volatility of beauty, and her father's dying embrace supplies a vivid ending to the scene. While essentially indulging an appetite for horror, Euripides does provide moments in the murder sequence that complicate the melodrama and make it slightly more human. Creon's brief attempt to disentangle himself from Glauce reveals a glitch in his fatherly devotion; even where they seek to be heroic, Euripides' characters are never excused human weaknesses and limits. Ultimately the scene's excesses do not have to be domesticated to remain convincing; the bizarre deaths simply provide a physical expression of the unnatural dimensions taken by Medea's will for revenge.