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.
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98 Comments

  • This article sheds light on a story that I am very unfamiliar with but was interesting to be informed on. This was a different kind of love story because it didn’t have a happy ending but it also wasn’t a tragic love story either. Jason drove Medea’s madness as he went to the gods for help to fall in love with her but ended up just wanting to be king. Medea just wanted to be loved but her obsession gave her a bad reputation.

  • This was a well written article, and worth a read. Jason and Medea’s love was weird. They killed for each other and in my opinion, the only thing on Jason’s mind was becoming king. Since he couldn’t do it in his hometown he decided that a different place would make him become king. And honestly that’s where all the problems were held because of Jason’s desire to become king and where Medea’s lust of killing came into the spotlight.

  • Before I even read the article I knew I was going to enjoy it, just after reading only the title. The story took several turns I didn’t expect. For her to turn against her own family, convince Pelias’ daughters to chop him up, kill Jason’s fiancé, and then kill her own children? Quite a story for such a young girl.

  • I’ve only heard of the myth of Medea, but I’m amazed at her story now. It would be interesting to know who taught Medea the ways of magic. It amazes me how she traveled such a convoluted path- from Cochlis to Iolcus, to Corinth, to Athens, and back to Cochlis. What a terrible person- this Jason. The love story of Medea sounds so tragic and it seems to show that love can lead people to do some crazy things.

  • It’s a really engaging story, I really liked it!
    It has an unexpected ending, it’s not either, a triangle love story, or a tragic love story, nor a happy ending story either. I think that the paranoia of Medea drove her to do all those crazy things. I found it really interesting how Jason asked of the help of the gods to be with her and in the end he preferred to be king rather that to be with Medea which kind of unraveled all of the crazy things she did.
    Great article!

  • I had never heard this story before and I am slightly disappointed it has taken me this long to find out about it. This story is very intriguing and had me feeling mixed emotions, I was unsure of which character to like at different points in this article. In the end, I ultimately feel bad for Medea despite her going a little bit crazy with power and revenge at the end. She only wanted true love and she was ultimately just used by Jason and who was motivated by his need to be king. Great article!

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