Readings for reflection: Medeia

Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 3.1045
And Medeia said to Jason, ‘In the morning, melt this charm, strip, and using it like oil, anoint your body. It will endow you with tremendous strength and boundless confidence, neither the spear-points of the earthborn men nor the consuming flames that the savage bulls spew out will find you vulnerable.’

Apollonios Rhodios, Argonautika 4.121 ff
A path led them to the sacred wood, where they were making for the huge oak on which the fleece was hung, bright as a cloud incarnadined by the fiery beams of the rising sun. But the serpent with his sharp unsleeping eyes had seen them coming and now confronted them, stretching out his long neck and hissing terribly. The high banks of the river and the deep recesses of the wood threw back the sound, and far away from Titanian Aea it reached the ears of Colchians living by the outfall of Lykos, the river that parts from the loud waters of Araxes to unite his sacred stream with that of Phasis and flow in company with him till both debouch into the Caucasian Sea. Babies sleeping in their mothers’ arms were startled by the hiss, and their anxious mothers waking in alarm hugged them closer to their breasts. The monster in the sheath of horny scales rolled forward his interminable coils, like the eddies of black smoke that spring from smouldering logs and chase each other from below in endless convolutions. But as he writhed he saw the maiden take her stand, and heard her in her sweet voice invoking Hypnos, the conquerer of the gods to charm him. She also called on the night-wandering Queen of the world below to countenance her efforts. Jason from behind looked on in terror. But the giant snake, enchanted by her song was soon relaxing the whole length of his serrated spine and smoothing out his multitudinous undulations, like a dark and silent swell rolling across a sluggish sea. Yet his grim head still hovered over them and the cruel jaws threatened to snap them up. But Medeia, chanting a spell, dipped a fresh sprig of juniper in her brew and sprinkled his eyes with her most potent drug; and as the all-pervading magic scent spread round his head, sleep fell on him. Stirring no more, he let his jaw sink to the ground, and his innumerable coils lay stretched out far behind, spanning the deep wood. Medeia called to Jason and he snatched the golden fleece from the oak. But she herself stayed where she was, smearing the wild one’s head with a magic salve, till Jason urged her to come back to the ship and she left the sombre grove of Ares.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.45.2
And Perses had a daughter Hecatê, who surpassed her father in boldness and lawlessness; she was also fond of hunting, and when she had no luck she would turn her arrows upon human beings instead of the beasts. Being likewise ingenious in the mixing of deadly poisons she discovered the drug called aconite and tired out the strength of each poison by mixing it in the food given to the strangers. And since she possessed great experience in such matters she first of all poisoned her father and so succeeded to the throne, and then, founding a temple of Artemis and commanding that strangers who landed there should be sacrificed to the goddess, she became known far and wide for her cruelty. After this she married Aeëtes and bore two daughters, Circe and Medeia, and a son Aegialeus. […] From her mother and sister Medeia learned all the powers which drugs possess, but her purpose in using them was exactly the opposite. For she made a practice of rescuing from their perils the strangers who came to their shores, sometimes demanding from her father by entreaty and coaxing that the lives be spared of those who were to die, and sometimes herself releasing them from prison and then devising plans for the safety of the unfortunate men. For Aeëtes, partly because of his own natural cruelty and partly because he was under the influence of his wife Hecatê, had given his approval to the custom of slaying strangers.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.51.6-4.52.3
Also, by means of certain drugs, Medeia caused shapes of the dragons to appear, which she declared had brought Artemis through the air from the Hyperboreans to make her stay with Pelias. And since the deeds which Medeia had performed appeared to be too great for mortal nature Pelias ordered his daughters to co-operate with her and to do whatever she might command them with respect to the body of their father, and the maidens were quite ready to carry out her orders. Medeia then, the story relates, when night had come and Pelias had fallen asleep, informed the daughters that it was required that the body of Pelias be boiled in a cauldron. But when the maidens received the proposal with hostility, she devised a second proof that what she said could be believed. For there was a ram full of years which was kept in their home, and she announced to the maidens that she would first boil it and thus make it into a lamb again. When they agreed to this, we are told that Medeia severed it apart limb by limb, boiled the ram’s body, and then, working a deception by means of certain drugs, she drew out of the cauldron an image which looked like a lamb. Thereupon the maidens were astounded, and were so convinced that they had received all possible proofs that she could do what she was promising that they carried out her orders. All the rest of them beat their father to death, but Alkestis alone, because of her great piety, would not lay hands upon him who had begotten her. After Pelias had been slain in this way, Medeia, they say, took no part in cutting the body to pieces or in boiling it, but pretending that she must first offer prayers to the moon, she caused the maidens to ascend with lamps to the highest part of the roof of the palace, while she herself took much time repeating a long prayer in the Colchian speech, thus affording an interval to those who were to make the attack.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.54.1-4.55.1
But we have now recounted all the myths which are told about this god, and at this time must add what remains to be said about Jason. The account runs like this:– Jason made his home in Corinth and living with Medeia as his wife for ten years he begat children by her, the two oldest, Thessalos and Alkimenes, being twins, and the third, Tisandros, being much younger than the other two.

Now during this period, we are informed, Medeia was highly approved by her husband, because she not only excelled in beauty but was adorned with modesty and every other virtue; but afterward, as time more and more diminished her natural comeliness, Jason, it is said, became enamoured of Glaucê, Creon’s daughter, and sought the maiden’s hand in marriage.

After her father had given his consent and had set a day for the marriage, Jason, they say, at first tried to persuade Medeia to withdraw from their wedlock of her free-will; for, he told her, he desired to marry the maiden, not because he felt his relations with Medeia were beneath him, but because he was eager to establish a kinship between the king’s house and his children.

But when his wife was angered and called upon the gods who had been the witnesses of their vows, they say that Jason, disdaining the vows, married the daughter of the king.

Thereupon Medeia was driven out of the city, and being allowed by Creon but one day to make the preparations for her exile, she entered the palace by night, having altered her appearance by means of drugs, and set fire to the building by applying to it a little root which had been discovered by her sister Circê and had the property that when it was kindled it was hard to put out. Now when the palace suddenly burst into flames, Jason quickly made his way out if it, but as for Glaucê and Creon, the fire hemmed them in on all sides and they were consumed by it.

Certain historians, however, say that the son of Medeia brought to the bride gifts which had been anointed with poisons, and that when Glaucê took them and put them about her body both she herself met her end and her father, when he ran to help her and embraced her body, likewise perished.

Although Medeia had been successful in her first undertakings, yet she did not refrain, so we are told, from taking her revenge upon Jason. For she had come to such a state of rage and jealousy, yes, even of savageness, that, since he had escaped from the peril which threatened him at the same time as his bride, she determined, by the murder of the children of them both, to plunge him into the deepest misfortunes; for, except for the one son who made his escape from her, she slew the other sons and in company with her most faithful maids fled in the dead of night from Corinth and made her way safely to Heracles in Thebes. Her reason for doing so was that Heracles had acted as a mediator in connection with the agreements which had been entered into in the land of the Colchians and had promised to come to her aid if she should ever find them violated.

Meanwhile, they go on to say, in the opinion of everyone Jason, in losing children and wife, had suffered only what was just; consequently, being unable to endure the magnitude of the affliction, he put an end to his life. The Corinthians were greatly distressed at such a terrible reversal of fortune and were especially perplexed about the burial of the children. Accordingly, they dispatched messengers to Pytho to inquire of the god what should be done with the bodies of the children, and the Pythian priestess commanded them to bury the children in the sacred precinct of Hera and to pay them the honours which are recorded to heroes.

Diodoros Sikeliotes, Library of History 4.55.4-4.55.5
Now as for Medeia, they say, on finding upon her arrival in Thebes that Herakles was possessed of a frenzy of madness and had slain his sons, she restored him to health by means of drugs. But since Eurystheus was pressing Herakles with his commands, she despaired of receiving any aid from him at the moment and sought refuge in Athens with Aegeus, the son of Pandion. Here, as some say, she married Aegeus and gave birth to Medus, who was later king of Media.

Etymologicum Magnum 62.9
Aletis: Some say that she is Erigone, the daughter of Ikarios, since she wandered everywhere seeking her father. Others say she is the daughter of Aigisthos and Klytemnestra. Still others say she is the daughter of Maleotos the Tyrrhenian; others that she is Medeia, since, having wandered after the murder of her children, she escaped to Aigeus. Others say that she is Persephone, wherefore those grinding the wheat offer some cakes to her.

Hyginus, Fabulae 26
Medea, an exile from Corinth, came to Athens to the hospitality of Aegeus, son of Pandion, and married him; to him Medus was born. Later the priestess of Diana began to censure Medea, and tell the king that she could not perform sacrifices piously because there was a woman in that state who was a sorceress and criminal. She was exiled then for the second time. Medea, however, with her yoked dragons, returned to Colchis from Athens. On the way she came to Absoros where her brother Absyrtus was buried. There the people of Absoros could not cope with a great number of snakes. At their entreaties Medea gathered them up and put them in her brother’s tomb. They still remain there, and if any goes outside the tomb, it pays the debt to nature.

Hyginus, Fabulae 182
Daughters of Oceanus, their names are Cisseis, Nysa, Erato, Eriphia, Bromis, Polyhymno. On Mount Nysa these obtained a boon from their foster-son, who made petition to Medea. Putting off old age, they were changed to young girls, and later, consecrated among the stars, they are called Hyades. Others report that they were called Arsinoe, Ambrosie, Bromie, Cisseis, and Coronis.

Orphic Argonautika 122 ff
After I came to the enclosures and the sacred place, I dug a three-sided pit in some flat ground. I quickly brought some trunks of juniper, dry cedar, prickly boxthorn and weeping black poplars, and in the pit I made a pyre of them. Skilled Medeia brought to me many drugs, taking them from the innermost part of a chest smelling of incense. At once, I fashioned certain images from barley-meal [the text is corrupt here]. I threw them onto the pyre, and as a sacrifice to honor the dead, I killed three black puppies. I mixed with their blood copper sulfate, soapwort, a sprig of safflower, and in addition odorless fleawort, red alkanet, and bronze-plant. After this, I filled the bellies of the puppies with this mixture and placed them on the wood. Then I mixed the bowels with water and poured the mixture around the pit. Dressed in a black mantle, I sounded bronze cymbals and made my prayer to the Furies. They heard me quickly, and breaking forth from the caverns of the gloomy abyss, Tisiphone, Allecto, and divine Megaira arrived, brandishing the light of death in their dry pine torches. Suddenly the pit blazed up, and the deadly fire crackled, and the unclean flame sent high its smoke. At once, on the far side of the fire, the terrible, fearful, savage goddesses arose. One had a body of iron. The dead call her Pandora. With her came one who takes on various shapes, having three heads, a deadly monster you do not wish to know: Hekate of Tartarus. From her left shoulder leapt a horse with a long mane. On her right should there could be seen a dog with a maddened face. The middle head had the shape of a lion [or snake] of wild form. In her hand she held a well-hilted sword. Pandora and Hekate circled the pit, moving this way and that, and the Furies leapt with them. Suddenly the wooden guardian statue of Artemis dropped its torches from its hands and raised its eyes to heaven. Her canine companions fawned. The bolts of the silver bars were loosened, and the beautiful gates of the thick walls opened; and the sacred grove within came into view. I crossed the threshold.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.241 ff
Two turf altars Medea built for the ritual, the right to Hecate, the left to Juventas, wreathed with the forest’s mystic foliage, and dug two trenches to the gods of the underworld in the ground beside and then performed her rites applying her magic potions to the body of the man … and Aeson woke and marvelled as he saw his prime restored of forty years before.

Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.412
For Theseus’ death Medea mixed her poisoned aconite brought with her long ago from Scythia’s shores. There is a cavern yawning dark and deep, and there a falling track where the hero Hercules of Tiryns dragged struggling, blinking, screwing up his eyes against the sunlight and the blinding day, the hell-hound Cerberus, fast on a chain of adamant. His three throats filled the air with triple barking, barks of frenzied rage, and spattered the green meadows with white spume. This, so men think, congealed and, nourished by the rich rank soil, gained poisonous properties. And since they grow and thrive on hard bare rocks the farm folk call them ‘flintworts’–aconites.

The Second Vatican Mythographer 137-38
After Jason led Medea to Greece, he had sex with her as he had promised her marriage. Having seen her clever skills in many things before, eventually he asked her to transform his father Aeson into young manhood. She had not yet put aside the love she had for him. Boiling in a bronze cauldron plants whose power she knew, obtained from diverse regions, she cooked the slain Aeson with warm herbs and restored him to his original vigor. When Father Liber noticed that Aeson’s old age had been expelled by Medea’s medicines, he entreated Medea to change his nurses back to the vigor of youth. Agreeing to his request, she established a pledge of eternal benefit with him by restoring his nurses to the vigor of youth by giving them the same medicines that rejuvenated Aeson. But when Jason, spurning her, took in Glauce, the daughter of Creon, Medea gave his mistress a tunic laced with poison and garlic: when she put it on, she began to burn alive by fire. Then Medea, not putting up with the soul of Jason raging against her, did away with her and Jason’s sons and fled on a winged serpent.