Medea: One of the Truly Complex Women in Mythology

        Like Dido, Medea is one of the truly complex women in mythology. Both women could be characterized as intelligent, passionate, cunning, and assertive. Yet, at the same time, both women are also emotionally vulnerable. Both are indeed capable of unconditional love, but just as capable of its opposite: hatred and/or disdain. Medea's heritage is a distinguished but strange one. Helios, the sun, is her grandfather. Her father is Aeetes, the brother of Perses, Circe, and Pasiphae. Accordingly, Medea acquires her unusual powers quite naturally. Her mother is commonly called Idyia, daughter of Oceanus. Medea grows up in Colchis, the seaport and capital of Aea, the name of country which her father rules.

        One day, Jason and the Argonauts arrive at Colchis and ask to be given the Golden Fleece, a sacred object which King Aeetes had guarded for several years. Although Aeetes agrees to hand over the above-mentioned fleece, he first insists that Jason perform a series of seemingly impossible tasks. Medea approaches Jason and tells him that if he agrees to marry her and take her away from Aea, she will help him complete the formidable tasks assigned to him by her father. However, Medea neglects to reveal to Jason that she has fallen deeply in love with him.

         Medea helps Jason to vanquish the obstacles set before him by Aeetes. However, Aeetes quickly realizes that Jason could not have been able perform his required tasks without Medea's help. Moreover, Aeetes has no intention of parting with the sacred fleece. Therefore, Aeetes decides to burn the Argo in order to hinder Jason's escape. Nevertheless, Jason and Medea are able to flee from Aea before Aeetes has a chance to command his servants to burn the Argonauts' ship. Before running away with Jason and the Argonauts, Medea steals the Golden Fleece by lulling the guardian dragon to sleep. Additionally, Medea seizes her younger brother, Absyrtus, to use as a ransom.

         The Argo sails away from Colchis with Aeetes and his men in quick pursuit. In a very Dido-esque action, Medea viciously slits her brother's throat, then dismembers him, and sprinkles pieces of his body overboard one at a time. Because Medea correctly guessed that her father would stop to collect his son's remains, the Argonauts were able to evade capture. This incident reveals Medea's violent and savage character as well as her unnerving dedication to Jason.
After Jason and Medusa successfully evade capture by Aeetes and his crew, they settle on the island of Cornith. It is there that Medea expects Jason will immediately marry her. However, Medea's virginity becomes a polemic issue on the island. And it became increasingly evident that Jason is postponing the marriage because he does not truly love Medea. In fact, he was most likely using Medea simply to gain possession of the Golden Fleece. Eventually, Jason agrees to marry Medea even though her chastity is still questionable and he is not in love with her. Like the marriage between Aeneas and Dido, Jason and Medea are married secretly in a cave. Soon after Medea and Jason are married, two sons are born. Although Jason appears to be happily married to his wife, he callously abandons Medea and marries the King's daughter.

        Medea, like Dido, becomes enraged when she realizes that she has been abandoned by a man she has risked her life for. And again, in a very Dido-like fashion, Medea weeps and fasts for days after Jason abandons her and becomes completely overwhelmed by bitter anguish and sorrow. In a rage, Medea plots to kill Jason's new wife and her father and then in one of the most controversial scenes in the play, determines to kill her own two children, knowing that this, more than anything else, will be a terrible blow to the hated Jason. This scene is reminiscent of the episode in the Aeneid, when Dido declares that she will through fire torches onto the deck of Aeneas' ship and burn him and his entire crew. Like Dido, Medea seems to be representative of passion without prudence or control. Simultaneously, Jason, like Aeneas, seem to represent moderation, untempered by emotion or feeling. However, it is important to realize that although Medea and Dido exhibit many characteristically "female" and impassioned traits, neither woman should be considered motherly. Medea, especially, seems much less concerned with her children's welfare, than the issue of whether Jason loves her or not. It is unfortunate that neither woman realizes that her destiny is being directed by her obsessive love for a man.