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Greek/Euripides's Madea


I am doing a project were I have to suggest a work of literature to be put in our high school curriculum. My job is to pick a work that pertains to a specific social issue that should be taught in school. I have chosen to use Euripides's Medea. The social issue I have chosen is evocations of women's rights. Is this issue appropriate for the whole play. Or is there another more significant one? Also if I am correct, what is the significants of learning about the evocations of women's rights today? Also would reading Euripides's Medea be more effective in getting the message across than simply reading an editorial about the issue?  

Thank you

Hello, Tom.

Your questions really require a full seminar to be properly addressed, so this answer can only touch upon some of the issues raised.

To begin with, "Medea" is probably not an appropriate work to choose as the platform for a discourse on women's rights, or indeed any other single issue; the play is one of the densest, most complex works in the entire surviving classical canon, and one of the least reducible to a formula. Among its many interwoven themes are revenge, honour, obligation and oath-breaking, but not, I believe, women's rights. I am aware that "Medea" is sometimes read as a proto-feminist text, but that is to wrench it violently out of context. After all, Medea's actions are not in support of any general principle, but the overwhelmingly and disproportionately violent revenge of an arrogant and intemperate barbarian incapable of moderating her desires: throughout, she acts exclusively for the satisfaction of her personal thirst for vengeance.

There is also the more general problem that "women's rights" and feminism are discourses with no application to classical Greek society: to talk about feminism in the context of 5th century BC Athens is to evoke little of any use or value today. By this I mean that whilst we can certainly study the condition and (insofar as possible) the aspirations of women in classical Greece, we do so from the historical and social perspective of the 21st century; on the other hand, to search the productions of that time for evocations of issues which simply did not then exist strikes me as fruitless.

This does not mean that Greek tragedy does not include plays which deal with and illuminate issues which are just as important today as they were then. One example, which you might want to consider for your project in place of "Medea", is the "Antigone" of Sophocles, dealing as it does with the crucial issues of civil disobedience and the conflict between law and morality.

On your last question, keep in mind that an editorial and a work of literature cannot be compared, for the simple reason that they are designed to do two different things. An editorial expounds upon an issue or subject in necessarily simplified terms, usually though not always propounding a specific point of view; it is designed to be unambiguous and easily absorbed. A work of literature such as a Greek tragedy, on the other hand, has the potential to approach the subject in a profounder and often more ambiguous way; it takes a greater effort and more time to absorb, and may not even offer a firm and comforting conclusion, but it can consider subtleties and complexities well beyond the reach of journalism.

I hope this helps a bit.


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I can answer questions and offer advice or, at least, an educated opinion on a range of questions concerning Greek culture. Particular areas of expertise include: Modern Greek language & literature; Greek history, ancient to contemporary; contemporary "high" culture; Greek politics; Greek society. I am unable to answer questions on the following: Ancient Greek language; Greek music; popular culture; sports and athletics; tourism and holiday issues.


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