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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56 Comments

  • I have never been into Greek mythology, but this story is very interesting! When reading it, I followed along with pictures in my head – it was almost like watching a cartoon. The worst part, though, was Jason leaving Medea for another woman. Regardless of his reasoning, his actions sent Medea into a killing spree that made the people he loved suffer most. Needless to say, this story had a sad plot twist. However, this article was well written and told quite a tale.

  • I really enjoy reading about Greek Mythology, and the story of Medea was one of the first that I read. The article does her story justice buy going into detail of her involvement with Jason and then Aegeus. It captures the extent of what she did for love. From what started off as a simple attraction, ended up to spree of death and destruction. Her story also shows how many Greek heroes always betray women and prove themselves as a selfish lot.

  • I really enjoyed reading this article, and I love the story like feel the author created. Previously, I had heard of Jason and his quest for the golden fleece, but I never knew about Medea’s involvement. She is the reason he was successful in obtaining the fleece. However, it is crazy that they also brought so much ruin upon each other.

  • Medea seemed initially a great woman. She helped out this man that she instantly loved and married. However, her path got dark very quick. Killing her family memebrs and beginning to betray everyone she came into contact with. Medea is now seen by me as a terrible person. She murdered those who loved her – fueled by jealousy. While her history isn’t known, I would hope that she got what was coming to her.

    -AC

  • Good job Auroara, I think you did a wonderful job of capturing this tale. You did the ancient Greek tale justice by bringing many details to the fore front in your writing. I hadn’t actually known of this story before reading your article surprisingly, as I try to be at least somewhat well versed in these types of tales. Thank you!

  • I really enjoy reading about greek mythology and I especially enjoyed reading this article on it. This love story was written very well and I really liked the way you formatted it. It’s crazy to me how much one can change after loving someone and them not wanting them back. The story was also very clear and easy to understand, which is sometimes hard with greek mythology since there can sometimes be different stories.

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