Medea and her children. 0111 detail: A. Feuerbach, 1829-1880: Medea. Neue Pinakotek, München.
"There is a maiden, nurtured in the halls of Aeetes, whom the goddess Hecate taught to handle magic herbs with exceeding skill …" (Argus 4 to the ARGONAUTS. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.528).
"… nothing shall come between our love till the doom of death fold us round." (Jason to Medea. Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.1128).
Jason: O children, what a wicked mother Fate gave you.
Medea: O sons, your father's treachery cost you your lives.
Jason: It was not my hand that killed my sons.
Medea: No, not your hand; but your insult to me, and your new-wedded wife.
Jason: You thought that reason enough to murder them, that I no longer slept with you?
Medea: And is that injury a slight one, do you imagine, to a woman? (Euripides, Medea 1363).
Medea, the curse of Pelias 1, is the
princess, priestess, and witch, whom Jason brought to Hellas on his return from Colchis. Medea has been called daughter of Hecate since she served this goddess as her priestess, but otherwise her mother is said to have been Idyia, one of the OCEANIDS. Her father Aeetes, who
had been king of Ephyraea
(Corinth) before he
emigrated to Colchis, was brother of Pasiphae, the
wife of King Minos 2 of Crete, and of the witch Circe. And whereas the latter lived in the island of Aeaea in the Mediterranean, Aeetes ruled in the city of Aea in Colchis.
Medea meets Jason
The young princess met her destiny when the ARGONAUTS, searching
for the Golden Fleece, came to Aea; for then she
fell in love with their captain, Jason. Now Jason had his own
plan, which was to obtain the Golden Fleece; but,
as a matter of fact, the gods had their own, and
this was to let him bring Medea to Hellas so that
she would become the curse of King Pelias 1 of Iolcus, the
same man who sent Jason in
his quest. For this king had outraged Hera by killing a woman who had sought refuge at the goddess' altar. This is why Medea, on seeing Jason, was pierced by Love; and he in turn was
tempted by the invaluable help that the princess,
putting her magic powers and her courage at his
service, was willing to provide. And in exchange
for them, he promised Medea to take her to
Hellas and there marry her and never dishonour her
for want of kinsmen. From then on there was nothing that she would
not do for the sake of the handsome stranger, so
that he, escaping all dangers and performing great
deeds, would become mighty and famous. Therefore,
she betrayed her country and her father, helping Jason to cope with the
brazen-footed bulls and the sown men, and leading
him to the Golden Fleece, which was guarded by a
sleepless dragon, whom she lulled to sleep by art
And when they left Colchis pursued by the fleet
of Aeetes, she murdered
her own brother Apsyrtus, and having cut him limb
from limb, cast the pieces into the sea, so that Aeetes, gathering
Apsyrtus' limbs, would fall behind in the pursuit.
And if she did not perform this terrible deed, as
others say, she nevertheless helped her lover to
get rid of Apsyrtus, sending him to the next world
in one way or another. For there are those who say
that it was Jason who cut
him into pieces, or even that Apsyrtus was, with
Medea's help, treacherously killed by Jason on an island in the
mouth of the river Ister (the Danube).
And when they came to Crete, she destroyed the
warder of the island, Talos 1, an invulnerable man of bronze, by drawing out a nail, so that all the ichor (divine blood). gushed out and he died. Others say that she first drove him mad with the aid of drugs, or else that she promised him to make him immortal. Yet others assert that Philoctetes' father
Poeas shot him dead in the ankle.
The Colchians came after the ARGONAUTS and, among
them, also King Styrus of Albania, who at the time
had come to Colchis to marry Medea. He drowned
during the pursuit, but the rest caught them up
when they came to Phaeacia (Corcyra),
where King Alcinous received the fugitives and
protected them. When the Colchians demanded of
Alcinous to give her up, he answered that if she
already knew Jason, he
would give her to him, but that if she were still a
maid he would send her away to her father. It was
then that his wife, Queen Arete, anticipating
matters, married Medea to Jason in the cave of
Macris, causing the Colchians to give up their
Death of Pelias 1
On their retur to Hellas, Medea went to the
palace of Pelias 1 and
persuaded his daughters to make mincemeat of their
father and boil him, promising to make him young
again by her drugs. The naive daughters of Pelias 1 did as the
witch instructed, but since then no one heard
anything about Pelias 1,
whose daughters, some say, emigrated to Arcadia. One of them, Alcestis, was later married to Admetus 1, king of Pherae in Thessaly. On Pelias 1's death,
his son Acastus, who succeeded his father as king
of Iolcus, expelled both Jason and Medea from the city. Some say that Medea was indeed able to restore
youth, and that she gave Aeson, Jason's father, his youth
back. But what he did with his regained youth is
Jason changes his mind
Having been expelled from Iolcus, Jason and Medea settled in Corinth, where they are
said to have lived happily for ten years. But then Jason, having grown weary of being married to a foreign sorceress, felt ready for a younger and more representative wife. He found her in Glauce 4, daughter of King Creon 3 of Corinth. But this sort of humilitation and betrayal was more than Medea could bear, and consequently she prevented the new marriage by causing the death of both princess and king in one of the following ways: Pretending that she had accepted her husband's decision, Medea sent to Glauce 4, as a wedding present, a bridal robe steeped in poison, and when the girl put it on, she caught fire. Creon 3 then, tried to rescued his daughter, but died in the attempt. Others say that the king fell upon her daughter's corpse and could not separate from her, as his flesh was torn from his bones when he tried to rise. And still others say that Glauce 4 died when she threw herself into a well in the belief that its water would be a remedy against Medea's poison. It has also been told that when Medea saw that
she, who had been Jason's
benefactress, was treated with scorn, with the help
of poisonous drugs, made a golden crown, and bade
her sons give it as a gift to their stepmother,
who, having taken the gift, was burned to death
along with Jason and Creon 3. Apparently, the whole palace was on fire, when
these events took place.
Medea about to kill her children. 4129: Eugène Delacroix 1798-1863: Médée. Palais des Beaux-arts, Lille.
Death of Jason and his
But concerning the death of Jason it is also told that
Medea foretold that the wreckage of the Argo would
fall upon Jason and kill him. And others say that Jason killed himself, being unable to endure the loss of both wife and children. For on leaving Corinth after the murder of Creon 3 and Glauce 4, Medea also killed her sons with Jason, Mermerus 1 and Pheres 2, being very well remembered for this horrible murder too. But others have said that her children were stoned to death by the Corinthians, having been removed from the sancturay of Hera, where Medea, on her flight, had left them for their protection. Still others have said that Jason and Medea had a son and a daughter and that these were Medeus and Eriopis 2.
Almost nothing of what has been told before is
The relation of Medea to Corinth is sometimes described in a completely different way: Aeetes is said to have
been king in the region of Corinth, and to have left the kingdom to Bunus when he departed to Colchis. When Bunus died, Epopeus 1 extended his own kingdom to include Corinth, and one of his
successors, Corinthus (after whom the land is
named), became king. Upon the death of Corinthus,
they say, the Corinthians sent for Medea. It is
through her, they assert, that Jason was king in Corinth (for they do not mention Creon 3). The reason of their dispute, they say, was that
Medea carried her children to the sanctuary of Hera, where she concealed
them, believing this was the proper method to make
them immortal. She realized that this procedure did
not work by the time Jason detected her, and he, unable to forgive these
manipulations, sailed away to Iolcus. For these
reasons Medea too departed, and handed over the
kingdom to Sisyphus.
Aegeus 1 weds Medea
In any case, Medea left Corinth and came to Athens, as some say,
borne by a chariot with winged dragons, the
offspring of the TITANS's
blood, yoked to it. In this city, she was received
by King Aegeus 1, who protected her well, since in vain Hippotes 3, son of the Corinthian king, claimed from the Athenians the person of Medea on account of her murdering his father. Aegeus 1 married
Medea and had a child by her, himself ignoring that
he already was the father of another child.
Medea lived peacefully in Athens until the arrival
of Theseus, against whom
she plotted, fearing, with good reasons, that the
newcomer, instead of her own son by Aegeus 1, would inherit
the throne. As the king ignored that Theseus was
his son, conceived years ago when he visited Troezen, Medea could, at
first, persuade her husband that this was a
dangerous young man. Aegeus 1 tried then to get rid of the stranger by
sending him against the Marathonian bull, which Theseus, however, either
mastered or killed. In face of this failure, Medea
induced Aegeus 1 to
poison his son, but just before drinking, Theseus happened to show
his sword to Aegeus 1,
and the latter, recognizing the weapon he had once
left in Troezen, prevented him from drinking by dashing the cup from his hand. This is how father and son knew who they were,
and this was also the end of Medea's sojourn in
In her way back to Colchis
Some say that she returned to Colchis, and on her way she came to Absoros where her brother Apsyrtus was buried, and that the people of Absoros could not cope with the large amount of serpents that were all around the place. So Medea gathered them up and put them in her brother's tomb, where they still remain. On her return to Colchis, Medea found that King Aeetes had been deposed by his brother Perses 3. To solve this inconvenience, she killed her uncle and restored the kingdom to her father.
Intrigue in Caucasus
But some say that when her son Medus came to Colchis, he was put under arrest by Perses 3, who had been warned by an oracle no to trust the descendants of Aeetes. Realizing he was in his enemy's hands, and in order to save his life, Medus said he was Hippotes 3, the son of the Corinthian king Medea had murdered. So when Medea came back, pretending she was a priestess of Artemis, she bade Perses 3 to deliver this Hippotes 3, whom she thought had come to avenge his father, into her hands so that she could kill her, but when he was delivered and she discovered who this young man really was, she gave him a sword and Medus killed Perses 3.
Famous names derived from these persons
It is said that the country Media was called
after Medea's son Medus, who is also called Medeus
and considered to be the founder of Meda in
Ecbatana. They say that he died during a military
campaign against the Indians; but the death of
Medea has never been reported. Some affirm,
however, that when she left Athens she came to the
land called Aria, and that she persuaded its
inhabitants to be named after her Medes.