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The oaths in Euripides’ Medea

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Euripides, Medea

Abstract (summary)

Readers have long appreciated the importance of oaths in Euripides' Medea, but it is open to question whether or not they have always understood the significance of those oaths. Modern readers may assume that these oaths are marriage vows, such as would be exchanged by a married couple in the modern West, and broken in the case of infidelity or divorce. This reading, in my experience, loses none of the sting of betrayal felt by Medea, or the faithlessness exhibited by Jason, but it is patently not the reading intended by Euripides or understood by his first audience. The oaths that Medea speaks of are not marriage vows. No vows were exchanged by the bride and groom at an ancient Athenian wedding. So, what sort of oaths are these in the Medea? Euripides does not specify, but his imprecision is not an oversight. The oaths are left open to a number of different interpretations which underscore important aspects of the characterization of Medea and Jason, incidents of the drama, and its legendary background. As illicit lovers' oaths they recall and foreshadow the destruction of the household. As an imitation of a betrothal they show Medea adopting a man's role, and making an enemy out of Creon. They can offer some justification for Medea's great crime of infanticide. And they give a deeper significance to Medea's encounter with Aegeus.

Publication Information

Garstad, Benjamin. “The Oaths in Euripides’ Medea” Arctos 40 (2006) 47-63.



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Attribution-NonCommercial (CC BY-NC)