Reader's Encyclopedia

Medea

In Greek mythology, a sorceress and priestess of Hecate, daughter of the Colchian king Aeetes, and wife of Jason, later of Aegeus. Falling in love with Jason, Medea helped him to steal the Golden Fleece and to murder her half brother Apsyrtus to delay their pursuers. (See Argonauts.) Purified of murder by her aunt Circe and married to Jason among the Phaeacians, she returned with him to Iolcus. There she persuaded the three daughters of Jason's enemy Pelias that she could rejuvenate him if they would cut him in pieces. Alcestis refused, but her sisters did so, and when Pelias was dead, Jason's Argonauts captured the city and placed Pelias' son Acastus on the throne.

Medea laid claim to the throne of Ephyre (Corinth), where Aeetes had once reigned, for Jason. Although he owed most of his successes to her, Jason later repudiated her in order to marry Glauce, daughter of Creon. Medea murdered her two children by Jason and escaped in a chariot drawn by winged serpents to Athens, where she married Aegeus. After trying to poison his son Theseus, she was banished and ultimately returned to Colchis.

Medea was sympathetically portrayed by Apollonius of Rhodes in his epic Argonautica and by Euripides in his drama Medea, which told of her revenge on Jason, but neither forgot that she was both witch and barbarian. Robinson Jeffers based his poetic drama Medea on the story of the Euripides play. The story has also been the subject of operas by M. A. Charpentier (1693) and Cherubini (1797), both entitled Médée.

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