What can we make of this ending? In the Theban plays of Sophocles, the gods help even Oedipus to achieve a kind of redemption. His fall, too, has a kind of terrible logic. In the Oresteia of Aeschylus, every death requires an atonement in blood, until Athena and Apollo, in all their glory, descend and help set the world right. So what can we make of Medea, where every death comes about through Medea's unchecked rage? Where many deaths are undeserved, and terrifyingly brutal, even by the standards of Greek tragedy? Where we nonetheless watch with fascination, and even satisfaction, as Medea coldly destroys her enemies and children, one by one, until she has nothing left? Where the Chorus watches but does not interfere, although Euripides makes sure to remind us that they could? Considering these questions, and considering also the elusiveness of divine will in Medea, one begins to see why this play must have been an unsettling spectacle for its first audience. We are left the final tableau of the barbarian sorceress, exultant and destroyed at the same time, having achieved her final victory over her enemies only at the cost of her children's lives. Below her, Jason wails in impotent fury and grief, and the Chorus sings that the gods have had their hand in these events; yet how or why is anyone's guess. Medea establishes the Euripidean universe, one in which heroism is rare, the gods are at worst malicious and at best absent, and suffering falls on the innocent and the guilty with equal brutality. In later plays, his vision is deepened by the possibility of compassion, but that possibility does not exist here. Medea's rage, unchecked and unchanged, carries us from the opening of the play to its final horrific moments. In this way, she is an interesting counterpoint to Achilles of Homer's Iliad. The Iliad is the story of Achilles' rage, and the final transformation of that rage into understanding and compassion; Medea's rage is as central here as Achilles' rage in the Iliad, but no redeeming transformation occurs in Euripides' play. Her hatred indicts her world, the home that is also her prison, the injustices and hollow pieties of Greek civilization. The play also implicates us, as her hatred and rage, though extreme, remain unnervingly and immediately recognizable; the grim satisfaction she takes in her revenge, however brutal and self-destructive, bears at least some resemblance to our own secret and unfulfilled fantasies.
The scene where Medea weeps for her children to some extent humanizes her, although the effect remains chilling rather than sentimental. Presenting her children to Jason, she becomes wet-eyed thinking about her children's mortality. These moments, and her later speech in which she talks sorrowfully to her uncomprehending young sons, show us that Medea feels remorse for her actions. She imagines their deaths "after a long life"; the dramatic irony is that her children do not have long to live. Medea is not without feeling, nor is she a sociopath. She comprehends the difference between right and wrong, but chooses to follow the dictates of rage.
Medea does not flee in a dragon chariot, Jason arrives at her house (hoping to kill her for Murdering Creon and Creosa) just after she has killed the children, then she comes out to talk to him at first denying that she killed the children. She then tells servants to bring out the children, who are dead, and Jason is heartbroken. Medea then goes back into the house and Jason tries to follow her, but "collapses". At least that is the way I have read it, maybe there are multiple versions, I would check to be sure which way you are reading it.... Read more →