Medeia as Mythical Personage of Classical Greek Mythology
The most enduring and daunting remembrance that Classical Greek Mythology projects of Medeia (Medea by the spelling in Latin but always pronounced as Meh-DAY-ah) arises from her earliest youth: They’re mostly sequential horror stories. By the often informal code of ethics attributable to earliest Greeks, to commit a blood crime on presumption of grace from any divine retribution was supposed a sure means to some form of worst ever redress against the perpetrator. Medeia was regarded two times a cardinal transgressor at her age of about fifteen years old. As we know from Oedipüs’ most accidental slaying of his father Laios, a blood crime of patricide and regicide stained permanently any living soul and his progeny thereafter his death. No measure to avert just ill-Fates, often expressed through the personification of Furies, could allay the inevitable divine redress. Some tutelary patron god or goddess, concerned for the victim of a hideous blood crime, became so greatly offended by human Outrage (Hubris) and Presumption (Atasthalia) that any transgressor thought self-deserving of impunity for a cardinal sin was reckoned, instead, a foremost divine target of some ingeniously wrought retribution.
Notwithstanding the ancient historians and mythographers, we must interpret Medeia’s lifetime as an accumulation of hideous blood crimes that somehow rendered justification and fullest exoneration for every one of them. That made her a hugest conundrum for Classical Studies to reconsider. Be assured, therefore, that the series of her exculpations remains a most difficult quandary of interpretation, besides, of Classical Greek Mythology, because she was a rarest ethical exception to virulently dire, insidiously wrought divine penance as supposed inevitable. For what usually had attested to retribution for crimes much lesser than Medeia’s, as say with Oedipüs’ inadvertent slaying of his father as bethought a leader over a band of brigands, never happened to her as so seemingly her just desert. She’s all alone out of the most illustrious mythical personages of Greek prehistory to get away with murder for every occurence of her homocides.
Exception made for Medeia had much to do with a special ethical code, therefore, that got lost between the early Fourteenth century and Fifth century BC. Its efficacy no longer set morally aright the just terms of a penance far past, as cited only by ancient mythography long after the time of foulest deed perpetrated. The tragedians of that latter century attested for a long misunderstood canon of ethics, about whose transgressions they must transgress themselves. Medeia became, therefore, the unforgivable, most deadly female hand in crimes for which she was inexplicably forgiven. What was pertinent to Medeia’s sanctified matriarchy, as though a sovereign womankind particular to a special mind of sorceress wiles, earned Medeia some kind of special dispensation and impunity for being so entertaining for her chosen means and opportunities. Medeia’s worst crimes, we can only keenly observe in hindsight, she committed against upstart patriarchs, including her own father Aiëtes. They had violated the code of ethics that the Ancient Greeks of the Fifth century could no longer understand, much less interpret.
Also pertinent to her every received expiation from blood guilt was her veneration of an obscure tutelary goddess, who was either of Isthmian or Ionic Greek provenance—Hekatë. A tripartite goddess of powerful and feared attributes, all most difficult to fathom fully for from where and how their dread by provenience, may have allayed the expected severest redress imposed by her upon supposed postulants who committed hideous blood crimes. With respect to that goddess, however, there’s really no completely satisfactory explanation for how she empowered Medeia’s to enact sorcery through just, even righteous, means to especially hideous ends. Rather, Medeia was as though a goddess incarnate of that tutelary goddess over sorceresses. That enabled her grace as besworn postulant, or not, to Hekatë, whereby the special wiles to avert all divine redress and visitation of the fiendishly redemptive Furies.
That notional explanation—of sorcery through “magical” potions and brews as set against raw might of upstart manhood—is probably the best interpretation possible that we can glean and thus should retain. It shall have to suffice in explanation of the more intensive overview that follows.
I go back to before the previous posting, circa 1374 BC, and draw from a Bardot Book whose cover I insert nearby. The posting was about Medeia and Aigeus as finally wed to each other after much misery they’d suffer by different failures of their respective marri-ages. I relate her impending divorce from Jason to the perils she learned besides, about his grand conspiracy with the Kreon of Kadmeis to depose her by invasion of the Isthmus of Ephyrëa, which regular readers will recall the region that later split into Corinth and Megara.
Medea of the AcroKorinth
What follows is a full extraction by permission of the author of the Book, who is myself, in my posture of a Translator of Mentor son-of-Alkimos, a contemporary Master of Writ. Mentör comes as close as we may ever attain to the earliest and likely correct mythology with respect to Medeia. The Book’s cover is reproduced for the legendary overview by which this Bardot Blog posting is prefaced.
I begin in prelude with the adulation of her throughout the Sacred League—an amphictyony of isthmian and near offshore insular matriarchs, perhaps the oldest communion of petty realms ever known powerful by earliest Greece. Initiated since her seventeenth year of age attained, Medeia’s tenure over her mother’s homeland of Ephyrëa propelled her beyond her early maiden years as redolent of hideous blood crimes. By nineteen years old, circa 1386 BC, her obvious grace by her tutelary goddess, the greatly venerated Hekatë, she’d attained to Supreme Sister over the AcroKorinth of the Lower Isthmus. She had no taint of those crimes.
Map by Rhys Davies. for Small Batch Books, Amherst, Massachusetts
There was, alas, her grim life ever since Jason had found her yearning to return to the vast plantation demesnes of her mother, Idyia. Their landscape was most steeply sloped by the southern uprise of escarpment along the Isthmus’ skirts below the Treton Mountains. She also governed fine agri¬cultural sward as fed by rills of runoff off the southwestern setback of rises along the Great Gulf, as bordering upon Sikyon. The Lands of Idyia rendered in general a thickly forested borderland that Medeia would most marvelously foster throughout her tenure as governess.
Mentör takes off from such premises of her grandeur. . . .
Any reckoning of what her Fates had accrued for her to have and possess superseded the brutal transgression by her learned sorcery that enabled her to return to her matrilineal inheritances, including the status renewed for her to prove her sacral majesty in the most selfless ways that she’d always intended. She’d committed her worst transgression ever, of course, through her hideous ruse to slay the usurper of Jason’s homeland realm, his uncle Pelias. Medeia having brought Jason to his proper accession, he’d abdicated instead on account of her supervision over his uncle’s murder by being boiled alive. Jason had fled with her to the Lands of Idyia. Notwithstanding her many boons to Ephyrëa afterward, there ensued, perforce, her sacrifice of her children, an act of desperation that compelled her flight away to Attica. Her protectors had defied any retaliation ever since. Some almighty force of reckoning must repeatedly absolve Medeia of her heinous acts, in particular her exactions of ruination upon bully sovereigns and her wrecking of upstart and grasping men such as her husband Jason. Typically her victims became of recently founded Houses at vile assertion of most dubious patriarchal dynasties, if, that is, anything can explain just what her victims altogether stood for. Their postured ascensions by ample proofs of their own outrageous sins of presumption [atasthalia] Medeia had put down each and several most viciously. And yet she was expiated for every cardinal sin as a matter of a plainly dealt divine justice owed to each miscreant male, whereby each put-down was deemed in her good favor by all her peers of the Sacred League.
Over six of the ten years since her escape from her father—since, that is, her adventures by an elopement with, and subsequent marriage [in 1380 BC] to Jason the Navigator—a conspiracy had been brooding [hatching] on both sides of the Isthmus’ mainland footings. What had begun between Argolis and Kadmeis had culminated in a refreshed conspiracy between the embittered husband Jason and the sacral entitled Kreon of Kadmeis. The latter was the brother of Iokastë, the only son of their father, Menoikeus.
The Kreon and Jason aspired toward a tyranny over west coastal Kadmeis, whereby to enjoin a partition of the Upper Isthmus of Ephyrëa to Gargaphia in part to Kadmeis’ Aionian matriarchate upon the Great Gulf shoreline. The Kreon’s means to such ends had proceeded smoothly because uneasily discovered by even Medeia’s keen percipience. Derivative of his hereditary powers by the petty royal clans of the Kadmeian Spartoi, the high royal brother had become his natives foremost personage, whereby appointed to lead over a longstanding coalition of five aboriginal patron clans.
The Kreon, we’ll recall from my previous chronicles, [and postings], had served his sister the Euryanassa in a regent’s capacity after the sudden death of her husband, the High King Laios. Until the ascension of Iokastë’s new husband Oedipüs to High King Consort, the Kreon had enjoyed the sole role of potentate over Kadmeis. But upon the proper blessed ascension anew by his sister’s remarriage, the Kreon had to revert to humble, albeit high sacral, prerogatives of a high priest. Greatly reduced from his former tyranny, his resignation from sovereign temporal powers had hit him very hard.
He’d resented Oedipüs’ ascension from the beginning, had even impeded the prospect of his eligibility as a foremost consort aspirant to Iokastë because of his maimed foot. Overridden, regardless, even immensely embarrassed that he’d overlooked Oedipüs as the only truly licit partner for his sister to marry from the outset of an arcane vetting process, the Kreon had seethed in resentment afterward. He became obsessed with most any alternative, any possibility whatsoever, of concerted overthrow. He couldn’t achieve the backing of the five patron Spartoi clans for that kind of insurrection. He had to narrow his objectives to the creation of an offshoot realm, whose created autonomy he could enjoy all for himself.
The Upper Isthmus is the mountainous area beneath the yellow west-to-east strip that served a base to the H. K. of Kadmeis as the Aionian principality called Gargaphia. The gray bleached zone to the west was old growth forest over the Bay of Alykai, the ifuture shipworks that Laios and the Kreon intended.
[Note: This forested demesne was alternatively called “Greater Ephyrëa,” or “the Lands of Pleionë,” or else, in the next century, “the Lands of the Pleiades.”]
His early initiatives expressed his covets through Kadmeis’ weak hold upon its western tribal and clan feudatories. These lay just above the thickly forested shoreline of the Great Gulf. Upon the large sheltered Alykai Cove, where the Kreon had set up a seat of royal maritime commerce for the late High King Laios, he could conspire with Jason covertly, shore to shore, albeit infrequently, considering the difficult access to seashore from the Kadmeian interior. Notwithstanding, they began their intrigue to effect an annexation of the neighboring littoral belonging to Upper Ephyrëa, essentially covering the seacoast below the entire escarpment of western divide by the Isthmus’ high ridgeline. . . .
. . . Just what had culminated from these ambitions, whereby to compel Jason’s precipitous breach of troth with Medeia? She had proven so generous, even to exalting him through her own personal attainments, going so far as to appoint Jason to the title of Phylax, or Keeper of Ephyrëa.
Jealousy serves sole reasoning, it seems, of all his motives and resolves to prove traitorous. It did not help that he was deemed so inept that Medeia had to resort to Pandion, consort to Pylia of Alkathöos, to manage the entitlements’ many responsibilities of portside administration. Over a last three years of ineffective coalition building with the Kreon, during which the cowardly indecisiveness of Jason proved greatly dampening, anything like an offshoot realm had become a dimmest possibility. All that those years had proved, in fact, was the ability of Medeia to finally discern the Kreon’s long-standing conspiracy against the matron governesses over the Upper Isthmus. She easily sleuthed out his henchmen embedded in the north country. In the meanwhile of those discoveries, she worked surreptitiously with Pandion to undermine Jason’s authority throughout the Isthmus, making too clear that their term of holy marriage would expire, regardless their many children together.
Accordingly, she kept her own counsel while currying best informants to expose the Kreon’s further intrigue. By the sixth year she was fully in the knowing. The subsequent years proved coincidental, incidentally, to the enormous wealth by commerce brought down the Great Gulf through her nephews the Phrixids.
Mentör then explains Medeia’s own frame of mind and inclinations at that juncture:
. . . Medeia knew the moment of coercion impending [to climactic] as an odd quiescence that pervaded the Isthmus and her nearest Southland neighbors, Argolis and Sikyon. Why that cloak of secrecy she failed to discern as the readiness of the former, through the Argive Great Prince Chrysippos, to concert with the two conspirators, even to resurrecting the whole idea of a full and shared annexation of the entire Isthmus.
Soon enough another ominous moment, when there came to her affirmation of a secret betrothal, that of the Kreon’s daughter Glaukë to her own miscreant husband Jason. They conspired for a royal marriage of alliance, the troth to be taken and timed exactly to the Great Year’s end of Medeia’s consortship with Jason.
Duly that time arrived.
Dropped into her lap, with every intention to surprise her, as though some very sudden fact of a seduction accomplished by Glaukë—whereby, too, she was possibly already with child—a wedding date was to take place at the maiden’s Aionian plantation demesne of Gargaphia. While that location expressed all Medeia needed to know of the territorial imperatives behind the larger plot, Medeia shrewdly reacted to the blatant insult to her most sacral majesty through a benign accommodation. She made pretense of her acquiescence for her children’s sake, that they might have a new stepmother to keep Jason close and committed to them. They were duly dressed ornately and sent to Gargaphia to become part of the splendid bridal entourage. The guides among them bore Medeia’s own bridal gifts of finest Ephyrëan apparel.
She was used to surprises from brazen men, and so she knew how to deal with them on any opportunity to prove her own mettle.
Medeia’s isolation until then, I should mention, had seemed a selfless act of her quite usual generosity. It allowed her the time and freedom to implement a fullest thwart of any incursion into Ephyrëa by the schemed annexation of Gargaphia by Kadmeis. As the set term of her troth to Jason drew to its end, Medeia acknowledged its impossibility of extension, conceding as his right Jason’s remarriage to Glaukë. She only insisted on a compact that entrusted her children to Jason’s custody and protection. That was his right to undertake if she so consented, but with nothing added to the children’s best nurture by her concession of divorce. To be free of her meant that he must be dispossessed of everything by her. That could have meant their children as well, but Jason wanted their custody because of the considerable inheritance by demesne and maritime commerce yields that he would then command from them.
Admittedly, I am not clear on the law, only upon the licit good intention of allowing Jason some support as the custodian of their children together. While that hardly resolved the seeming cardinal transgression, of a divorce after parentage of so many children, Medeia abided the quiet tide of support of the dispossessed Jason, even as she was also herself consoled by others so pleased over her riddance of “The Haimonian,” by any fortuitous means at hand!
Medeia pretended to discover only very late the nuptials planned, or that they betokened that Jason meant to overpower her. That the Kreon and he would do so without any support of Oedipüs and Iokastë became clear at the same time. The plot, she’d learned additionally, meant an invasion to conquer all of Ephyrëa, whereby only afterward a treaty perforce with the AcroKorinth. Regardless her further sleuthing, her closest confidants had remained completely ignorant of any lurking conspiracy, because they couldn’t possibly conceive such a heinous, presumably indefensible exploit as in any way possible.
The principal conspirators, now become three, were on their own mettles together, in Medeia’s assessment of their threat. So wrong at the inconceivability of their effective intrigue together, but not so erring for the reasons that Medeia then suddenly expressed, so her abrupt need to stand all alone with a small, elite cadre-at-arms to withstand invasion. Perfectly protected by foremost men-at-arms at ready to rally behind her, she needed the further pretense of her utter ignorance in order to retaliate under fullest justification of defending Ephyrëa from a foreign humiliation.
Moreover, all must be realized after the fact.
I must also suppose that she had to allow the conspiracy to pass beyond the brink, to possess the proofs of how and why an annexation preceded by an invasion. Diplomacy was already proven ineffectual to thwart their high majesties Oedipüs and Iokastë. Any open allegation of conspiracy would be rebuffed, even as its intrigue was being carried out to final violent effects. The tardy, or too late discoveries had no credibility as a matter of disclosed intrigue, as Jason’s part in any annexation, whereby a fullest forfeiture of the Upper Isthmus’ west coastal gulf shore. How could there be any credibility? For nearly eight years he’d proven Medeia injudicious at her support of him as Phylax. Now the Great Year was nearly over and he in open promise to retire from the highest office that men could earn from the Isthmians.
Considering the deep intrigue immediately at hand, Medeia had to act all on her own and then escape the consequences of her sole acts. Justification of her acts could only come later, as apparent by their aftermath. So her liberation from an imposed tyranny must take covert shape and form until the conspiracy in motion and execution attempted to fulfill its ends.
Medeia had no powers to thwart the Kreon directly, much less expose him decisively, through her personal appeal to Iokastë, or through Pandion to Oedipüs, working off the arising close trading relations between Ephyrëa and Kadmeis. While Mentör isn’t completely clear about her major achievement – at sleuthing out the full magnitude of the plot as supposed of two imperial sovereigns –, she very likely discovered the limited ploy to first be implemented—some kind of usurpation of the matron house of Pleionë. Its basis would run along the lines of the Metionids usurpation of Pandion under the support and backing of High King Labdakos, after the High Chief’s forfeit of a suborning bribe. To have found the Kreon at direct support of Jason, and deliberate to arms with intent upon war, was brilliant sleuthing on Medeia’s part. Alas, her discovery was fraught, [ironically], because any allegation seemed too improbable without the involvement of the imperial couplet! Medeia, therefore, was rendered too incapable of bringing all else of the conspiracy to exposure before the actually prosecuted hostilities.
As usual, Medeia found means to circumvent all the vaunting conspirators, by resort to the typically hideous results that had compiled her reputation for ferocious and audacious ruination of all plotters set against her.
Only by destroying Jason’s marriage as well as his prosecuted invasion could she defend her acts of full salvation of Ephyrëa through her deft thwart of a nearly accomplished—and easily accomplished—invasion by Kadmeis. To make any sense whatsoever, therefore, full redress of the alleged conspiracy must be completed before Ephyrëa was proven at desperate need of Medeia’s liberation. Without abrupt thwart, invasion must follow through at greatest force imposed and fulfilled.
That she [subsequently] received full expiation of her crimes, of course, must confound everybody then living for the rest of their lifetimes.
Even to have witnessed her murders of her children defied belief that the slayings could really have happened. How, moreover, could any of them be expiated as infanticides? They must render her apostate and, seemingly, forever banished from Ephyrëa ever afterward. Notwithstanding that single, very important insistence upon the only proper justice required, thus inevitable, Medeia committed her crimes without any excuse or explanation. Her acts were entirely individual, by her self-appointed role of champion of the Isthmus, all parts of Ephyrëa held inalienable against any and all foreign assailants. Jason, all facts told, had meant to usurp her perforce and establish himself in patron regime [patriarchy], thus rendering himself inviolable by accepting the Kreon as his overlord. That, however, was just the final manifestation of a naïveté that had rendered him so constantly inept at holding any sovereign position.
I have observed what the Kreon had once enjoyed, until he misused the autocratic powers that he’d earned briefly after High King Laios’ death—before, that is, his sister Iokastë had happily and successfully remarried herself to Oedipüs. Aspiring for tyrannical powers that were far beyond his reach or competency to achieve, much less control in aftermath, he’d pursued Laios’ long-held ambition of conquest and annexation of the Isthmus. While the actual territorial design proved a last discovery, the Kreon knew that Laios was actively enjoining his plot to another conspirator besides Jason, the Argive Great Prince Chrysippos. [He’d been the childhood catamite of the teenaged Laios, but their roles at sodomy together had switched, I’m told, before death did them part].
Notwithstanding that illustrious equestrian warlord was mostly unbeknown to Medeia before she acted, she alone proved to reveal his part at last, a most astonishing feature yet of the Kreon’s adopted plot to come to revelation, by her startling rebuff of him before Chrysippos could in any way deploy from Argolis.
Her Horrid Deed
As all must know of her acts [per se], she had her children present a magnificent robe to Glaukë. Its fabric was saturated in some kind of incendiary substance, dry or wet become dried, which reached a flash point by its wearer’s warmth of body. Duly robed in that presented attire—it was of fabric and fashioning by the best looming that the Isthmus had ever spun—Glaukë was engulfed in flames. As she perished, so did her father, who sought to smother the conflagration, only to have the fabric flare anew off himself.
Then, making rapid retreat from the scene with her summoned guardian protectors, the appointed Dragonmen drawn from the Lower Isthmus, they and she took flight into Attica aboard a ship of many rowers. Medeia’ children were found dead just after the thwarted bridal; their nurse’s husband had dispatched them even as they awaited their part in their father’s wedding entourage. The premises of her hideous act were immediately made known as a mother’s act of sacrifice and propitiation for fighting off her wicked husband and the Kadmeians by the only means she could practically devise for a fullest instant triumph over all three conspirators concerting apart.
Aigeus had earlier made promise to receive Medeia in supplication, we know, despite meager forewarning of why, if not exactly how, Jason would compel her to abandon homeland, realm, family, and supreme position. Besides that promise taken to heart, Aigeus had become a man in love with his future bride. He took her under his protection. Soon they were lovers. She took position at the royal court as its least awesome personage. By the divine rights unto supplicants, as all still held firm and true until today, the acceptance of Medeia meant an offering of expiation. Upon it she became a most awesome personage. She would prove to the enduring benefit of Attica and a best sovereign friend to serve under and serve well……
Before the Consequences
What we have related of incidents to Medeia does not compete a story that furthers our point that Medeia was so singular to avoid any retribution of a divinely compelled nature. The Ancient Greeks would even feel righteous top assert that retribution happened.
Classical Greek Mythology has Medeia happily married to Aigeus until his son Theseus by Aithra of Tröezen arrived to the skirts of the Kekropia and made obvious by tokens that he was the King’s natural son by token which he’d left with Aithra. He’d then managed a riddance of her as an obstacle to his aspired succession to Aigeus. Medeia feared for her son Medeios more than she frighted for herself; She managed a flight into exile with that son aged thirteen. Civil was followed but proved brief.
[A still lovely Medeia offers a libation laced with the poison Aconite to Theseus, in celebration of his arrival to the Kekropia, or High City of Athens. Discovered, the alleged incident served her husband Aigeus’ pretense for the banishment of Medeia from Attica, whereupon her flight with their son Medeios, less Theseus intrigue to murder him.]
We hold that retribution wishful fantasy that did not happen. There would next arise why we think so. In fact, we know how and why her full exoneration in the tale told hereon as honest prehistory about Medeia up to and through her committed atrocities. Credible people stood to defend her, whereas Attica and Ephyrëa thrived during the years of the marriage. Also, when Medeia had to take flight from it, the exile was not a very long duration. She would return to her plantation estates upon the Lower Isthmus, thriving there with many allies to support and protect her so long as Theseus ruled Attica and of after he was humiliated and deposed by the Peteids, a branch royal family that continued the rule of the House of Erechtheus.