Medea did WHAT for love?

Depiction of Jason and Medea put asleep the dragon | Courtesy of The Illustration Art Gallery

“Once upon a time…” is how many of our favorite love stories start. The couple meets, and complications arise, but in the end they have a happy ending. There’s also the classic “love triangle” love stories, and the decision of who to choose. And then there are love stories where there is no happy ending, where one or both lovers end in tragic death. We love these stories. We relate to them, seek advice from them, cry over them, and find comfort in them when we ourselves are sad. Here’s the mythical love story of Jason and Medea.

Jason is from the Greek city Iolcus. He sails on his ship, the Argo, with his crew the Argonauts, in search of the Golden Fleece, a fleece that was cut from a rare golden ram. Jason believed that if he got the fleece, his cousin Pelias, who took the throne from Jason’s father, would give the throne to Jason. The Argonauts sail to Cochlis to meet king Aeetes who had a beautiful daughter named Medea. Medea was captivated by Jason, but too afraid of her father to seek him out. King Aeetes told Jason that he could have the Golden Fleece if he completed three tasks that were nearly impossible. Jason fell into a deep depression because he knew that if he were to attempt these tasks, he would surely die. Jason, however, had the favor of Hera, goddess of women and marriage. Before he set out on his quest, he carried Hera, disguised as an old woman, across a river so that she would not drown.1

Hera asked Aphrodite, goddess of love, to encourage Medea to act on the feelings she had for Jason, and help him with his tasks, for Medea was a witch. Medea came to Jason and promised to help him with the tasks her father gave him if he would marry her. That night they were married in front of a temple of Hecate, the goddess of magic, who favored Medea and gave her the gifts she possessed.2

Jason reaches for the Golden Fleece | Courtesy of the Met Museum

The first task required Jason to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen.3 Medea provided an ointment that allowed Jason to pass through the flames of the oxen unscathed. For the second task, Jason had to defeat the army of warriors that sprouted from the teeth of the dragon on the field. Medea gave him special instructions to follow to ensure he was victorious. His last task was to overcome the sleepless dragon that guarded the Golden Fleece. Medea knew that if the dragon found Jason creeping towards the Golden Fleece, he would kill him. She gave Jason a potion to keep the dragon asleep.4

King Aeetes was angered by Jason’s success and by Medea’s help. As Jason and Medea fled with the fleece, Aeetes sent Medea’s half-brother, Apsyrtus, after them to bring Medea back home. Desperate to stay together, the two killed her brother and scattered his body in the sea to distract her father and sail away.5

They returned to Iolcus so Jason could overthrow his cousin, Pelias, who had overthrown Jason’s father before. Medea convinced Pelias’ daughters that if they chopped him up into little pieces and threw him in a pot set out by Medea, he would reemerge young again. They believed her because she did an earlier reincarnation with a sheep that emerged as a lamb. However, Medea left out a key ingredient in the potion, and so Pelias never reemerged. His daughters, angered by their deceit, exiled Jason and Medea, and they fled to Corinth, a kingdom that was allied with Cochils.6

Once in Corinth, Jason and Medea lived peacefully for a little while and had two sons. But soon Jason’s desire to be king started to surface, and he got engaged to Glauce, daughter of King Creon of Corinth, thinking that by marrying the daughter of a king, he would become the next king. Medea confronted Jason, but he refused to break-off the engagement to Glauce. Heartbroken by Jason’s betrayal, Medea gave Glauce a poisoned wedding gown that caused her to burn alive while she wore it. Creon burned alive with his daughter as he held her while she was dying. Terrified that her children would be punished for her crimes, Medea killed her two children and fled to Aegeus, King of Athens.7

Medea later married Aegeus. She bore Aegeus a son, but she feared for his position due to Theseus, the lost son, who returned to Athens. Medea convinced Aegeus to send Theseus on a quest to kill a deadly beast, but Theseus defeated the beast and returned a victor. Panicked by the possibility that her son might not be king, she plotted to poison him during the feast. Aegeus realized her plan and saved his son. Medea fled back to Cochlis, her homeland, in exile once again. The rest of her history is not quite known.8

  1.  UXL Encyclopedia of World Mythology, vol. 3, UXL, 2009, “Jason.”
  2. Charles Rowan Beye, “Jason as Love-hero in Apollonios’ Argonautika,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies vol. 10 (1969), 40.
  3. Apollonius, Jason and the Golden Fleece (Oxford Press, 1988), 102.
  4. Jan N. Bremmer, “The Myth of the Golden Fleece,” Journal Of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 6, no. 1 (September 2006): 27-28.
  5. Pamela Loy, Medea (Classical Literature and Its Times, 2006), 220.
  6.  Funk & Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, 2016, s.v. Medea.”
  7.  The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman Mythology, 2002, s.v. “Medea,” by Don Nardo.
  8.  Ancient Greece and RomeAn Encyclopedia for Students, 1998, s.v. “Medea,” by Carroll Moulton.
Medea did WHAT for love?
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79 Comments

  • This theater play (Medea) are mentioned constantly, Make it a special article for pop culture references to Jason. Finally, those who read this article are interested to read about Jason, not about some theater play.

  • Learn mythology, my friend ! Based on Greek and Roman historians or on religious practice, not on theater plays.(like Euripides – Medea). The story of Jason and Medea is very complex and has many different elements. e.g: In the original story, Medea was the Queen of Corinth.

    • There are 4 versions of events in the Corinth. The body of evidence pointing to events in Corinth appears to show that this tale was a later development in early myth. (late sixth century B.C and earlier) From the evidence of Eumelos and the three later examples of the deaths of the children, we sec that there are two strands. One is the accidental death of the children at the hands of Medea, but there is no suggestion that she deliberately kills the children. There is no antipathy towards Jason and there is no suggestion in evidence that Jason leaves Medea for another woman before the Medea(by Euripides).This deliberate murder of her children by Medea to be Euripides’ invention.

      • Euripides’ inventions: 1.This deliberate murder of her children by Medea to be Euripides’ invention. 2.No suggestion in evidence that Jason leaves Medea for another woman before the Medea (by Euripides)
        Because of these inventions and disgraces of the legendary Jason and his wife Medea, it is believed, Euripides died by being ripped apart by a pack of wild Macedonian dogs or pack of red-eyed hellhounds.

  • An entertaining piece about a story I’d heard of before but never knew much about. My only criticism is that the ending feels a little flat. Perhaps you could end the piece the same way you started it, musing on the nature love stories and where Medea fits in. This way, even though there is no more story to tell, you leave your reader with something further to ponder.

  • Overall, the story seemed to be well narrated and because it is completely different from the other romantic stories. The actions of Medea seemed a little drastic in my option. This woman would definitely do anything for love. I would have liked to know what really happened to Medea after she returned to Colchis. The readers are also left with a cliffhanger because we might never know what happened to Medea.

  • This article was extremely interesting. I had never heard of the love story between Jason and Medea. I found it extremely interesting how the story transitioned from one that seemed like a perfect ending to the complete opposite. It’s crazy to think how much Jason wanted to be in control because even after completely his three most difficult tasks and having Medea by his side, he still wanted more. Even though there was no definite end to Medea, this was a super intriguing article.

  • Greek mythology and anything Greek intrigues me so much. I am also a fan of love story’s both happy and tragic. This story is no exception. This story, like many other Greek mythology, hints jealously and love as it’s two main elements. This also relates to Theseus and the minatour story, which I previously read on another article. It’s cray to think how the minatour story and this one all tie together somehow. I personally thought all Greek mythology was it’s own story, but I suppose not. This was an interesting article indeed, and i am looking forward to reading future stories about Greek mythology.

  • This was a very interesting article. Medea started off seeming like she was a sweet princess that helped her husband because she was in love, but as the story went on her true character was uncovered to the reader. The fact that she killed her own children is the worst thing she could have done in my opinion. Excellent article.

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