Humanities Medea play

In order to write Response Essay 4, one needs to open and study the Instructor Study Guide of Notes and Questions for the ancient Greek play, MEDEA, by Euripides. For this study, we did not read a written version of the play but watched a filmed version of a stage performance of the play that had been given a modern translation by Robinson Jeffers. In this essay, one needs to respond analytically to one or more of the topics or issues brought out in the “Notes and Questions”. You will need to come up with your own thesis statement that best embodies what you wish to argue in the essay. The play contains a rich body of content about ancient Greek culture as seen through the eyes of one of its major intellectual observers. You need to glean from the play and from my notes what you consider most important to know or understand about the ancient Greek cultural world, then explore that interpretation as thoroughly as you can. You may wish to choose to position your point of view as either a modern observer or as an ordinary Greek who is watching the play back in time (and as a male or a female…if you think gender matters in the interpretation).

I expect to see direct evidence from the play incorporated into your essay as support for whatever more general, interpretive claims you make. Therefore, it is a good idea that one take notes when watching the play in order to have good quotes to use.

The following are a few observations and rhetorically stated questions on the Greek play MEDEA by the tragic playwright, Euripides. One should use these notes while watching the play in preparation for the “Essay Writing 4” assignment, which (in part) involves an analysis of the play in terms of what we can learn about ancient Greek culture. Use YouTube to look up the video. There will be several options. The version of the play you need is the following: “MEDEA” (full movie) posted on YouTube by Carole Carroll. This version is a modern rendition of Euripides’ play by the poet, Robinson Jeffers. As we did with the Epic of Gilgamesh, it is useful to pay attention to ways in which this ancient play is incredibly relevant to contemporary social and philosophical issues, especially as regards debates about personal and social ethics, political authority versus raw power, and Justice in society.
It is also possible to locate a copy of the video at a library or through Netflix.

• You can look up the historical background yourself by use of the class textbook
• These notes also assume you know the basic plot and characters.
• People have long debated exactly what Euripides was trying to convey about Greek city-state politics (perhaps especially in Corinth), about mythic heroes and the heroic ideal, and about gender values in ancient Greek society. The play is rooted in the stories about Jason and his adventures, with a focus on Jason’s relationship with Medea and the decisions he made as a hero and as a man when he reached Corinth and sought the throne of Corinth.
• Remember that all Greek plays were intended to address serious issues for the Greek public (the engaged, thinking public) to discuss and debate: plays raised questions, made provocative observations about life and tradition and current events, thought philosophically about all aspects of Greek cultural and political life…doing all of this in narrative and dialogic form. Notice how the emphasis in Greek plays (including MEDEA) is not on action, but on dialogue that incorporates point/counterpoint dialectical interaction; this is the famous dialectical method devised and promoted by Socrates for pursuing knowledge and truth.
• Remember: philosophically, the Greeks thought the highest ideals to seek were Absolute Truth, Absolute Beauty, and Absolute Goodness…so, in MEDEA you will hear discussion about what is true vs false, beautiful vs ugly (disgusting), and good vs evil (the just and unjust; justice vs revenge) in the actions and words of the characters relative to the particular situation in which they find themselves. You need to look for specific scenes and verbal exchanges that illustrate these big existential themes.
• In the play you hear observations, reflective personal ponderings, and open debates (arguments) about the moral/ethical meaning of what is happening relative to Jason’s decisions to leave Medea and marry the young Corinthian princess with the blessing of King Creon. Is it inherently Right for Jason to leave Medea in order to fulfill his personal (and heroic) ambitions? Or has he wronged Medea? Does she have a case against him, against this hero? Or is she simply not accepting her place (social status) as a foreigner and a woman? Who is being rational and who irrational? Remember, generally speaking, for the Greeks, that which is Rational=the Good, and that which is Irrational=Evil. In ancient Greek culture, Good vs Evil has nothing (or nearly nothing) to do with obeying “the will of God and God’s laws” as one would find in monotheistic worldviews; rather it has to do with Order vs Chaos (anarchy), the Civilized vs the Barbaric, Rationality vs Irrationality, Socially approved conduct vs individualistic egoism and spontaneity.
• Also remember the meaning and role of hubris in Greek philosophical ethics which was explored in all of ancient Greek heroic literature all the way back to Homer: ethically a human being was born (males at least) to pursue arête (Excellence) while avoiding hubris (personal arrogance). Did Jason exhibit hubris in his decision to leave Medea? Or, as his own argument goes, he was simply pursuing arête as expected of a blessed man, a hero; a hero favored by the gods? What about King Creon? What about Medea?
• Does Euripides make Medea a sympathetic or pathetic character? Who is the true embodiment of irrationality—Medea or Jason? Thus, who is truly responsible for the “evil” that comes forth by the hands of Medea?
• What about Fate and Chance? Does Euripides seem to argue that the whole situation was “fated” to happen from the first adventure on which Jason embarked and/or from the first breath Medea took as a newborn with extraordinary powers/gifts (she was a “sorcerous”)? In the play, are the main characters responsible for their actions and the words they say, or are they equally “caught up” in the throes of forces larger than any mere human purposes—Fate?
• Notice how Greek culture is compared and contrasted with “Asian,” “barbarian” culture of Medea’s homeland (Asia Minor). Is Euripides warning Greek audiences to beware barbarian “wolves,” in this case the singular “wolf from Asia” that is Medea? Who are really the civilized ones here? In the play, what seems to constitute being “civilized” vs “barbarian”?
• How much can one read into the play literal statements, irony, or sarcasm?
• According to the play, who is better off—the rich and powerful or the poor and humble?
• Back to the issue of Fate and God’s will…are they one and the same? The Greeks greatly valued freedom and the power and responsibility of human choice (which is why ethics is so important to them…humans are responsible for their actions)…but they were perplexed by how often the appearance of things indicated free will was real, but the hidden reality was that Fate or God or some other set of external forces were really in control. Is Jason responsible for his actions, even though at one point he claims he was the instrument of a goddess? Was Medea responsible for her actions? Were they responsible for some actions but not all?
• Notice what is indicated about the meaning of death (mortality) and immortality. The scene with the Athenian visitor reveals a common view about these matters by the time we get to the era of great thinkers in Greece (and afterwards).
• Ultimately, who or what was at fault for the events that unfold in the story of Jason and Medea? Plays sought to move their audience emotionally as much as provoke complex thinking…to persuade them to find a place of taking some sort of determined and passionate and resolute action…to enter an experience of catharsis that would lead to personal and societal transformation. Notice how important and powerful the Greeks took their theater to be. By the end, Euripides does not finally and absolutely “resolve” all of the issues and questions; he leaves it up to the audience to think, feel, and decide what meanings to derive from the play. Ultimately, the individual viewer must internally decide who deserves the greater sympathy or support, Jason or Medea. However, one might also find it impossible to sympathize with either character; one’s mind might find itself transcending these characters and all Greek traditions (related to the various deep issues) in order to imagine new perspectives. Is Euripides challenging the typical Greek viewer critically to examine old, traditional values and attitudes in order think creatively and courageously about New Ways of Understanding?
• Another way to put the main point noted above is the following assertion and series of questions:
o Notice that the play only APPEARS to end in resolution. Why would I say that? Am I wrong? Did Medea “WIN”? Did Jason “WIN”? Did Justice win? Did injustice win? Did Truth win? Did Irrationality win? Did Good win? Did Evil win? Did Beauty win? Did Ugliness win? Did Revenge win? Did Fate win? Did God or Fate win?

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