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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2009-10-06
  • Publisher: Free Press

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The old songs will have to change.No more hymns to our faithlessness and deceit.Apollo, god of song, lord of the lyre,never passed on the flame of poetry to us.But if we had that voice, what songswe'd sing of men's failings, and their blame. History is made by women, just as much as men.Medea has been betrayed. Her husband, Jason, has left her for a younger woman. He has forgotten all the promises he made and is even prepared to abandon their two sons. But Medea is not a woman to accept such disrespect passively. Strong-willed and fiercely intelligent, she turns her formidable energies to working out the greatest, and most horrifying, revenge possible.Euripides' devastating tragedy is shockingly modern in the sharp psychological exploration of the characters and the gripping interactions between them. Award-winning poet Robin Robertson has captured both the vitality of Euripides' drama and the beauty of his phrasing, reinvigorating this masterpiece for the twenty-first century.


Outside the house of Jason and Medea in Corinth.Enter Nurse from the house.

If only it had never happened like this.
If the Argo hadn't opened its sails and flown
to Colchis through the Clashing Rocks.
If the pines were still standing
in the glens of Mount Pelion,
not cut and turned
to oars for the Argonauts.
If Pelias the king hadn't sent those heroes
off to do his bidding, to cross the sea
and steal the Golden Fleece.
It would all be different. Not as it is.
My dear mistress, Medea,
would never have met their leader, Jason;
never fallen for him, head over heels,
never left a life behind to sail away with him.
Not tricked Pelias's daughters into killing
their own father. And not fled here, at last,
to Corinth, far from family and home.
In the beginning everything was fine.
Though a foreigner like me, Medea was welcomed
with her husband and her children --
and was happy in her new life, obedient
to Jason in everything he said and did.
In marriage that's the safest way, I think,
to follow your husband, and accept his rules.

But now this house is full of hate;
its timbers are rotten with it. Jason has gone
from her and the children, leaving them
for a royal bed. He's marrying this young thing,
the princess, daughter of Creon, the Corinthian king.
My poor Medea -- dishonored -- reminds him
of his oaths, invokes the gods of justice
and truth to witness what he's done, after all
she's done for him. To no avail.
Since she heard of his deceit
she's refused all food, and comfort;
she stays in her room and cries the days away,
won't lift her head for anyone,
won't raise her eyes from the ground.
Unmoved by words, by anything around her,
she's deaf as a stone or a wave in the sea.
Sometimes she turns to look away,
to call out for her father, her country
and her home: all abandoned
and betrayed for a man who now abandons her,
betrays her honor and her love.
She has learned the hard way
what it is to be an exile,
to have given up everything.

She loathes to have her children near,
and cannot bear to look at them. I am afraid
some plan is already forming in her mind.
She has a temper on her that is vile, and violent,
and she will never rest.
I know her well enough to be sure.
I fear she will creep into the palace,
stand at that double bed,
and drive a deep blade into each of them.
She is deadly, let me tell you,
and none who spark her rage will walk away.

Enter Tutor, escorting the two sons of Jason and Medea.

But look, here they are now, her boys,
hot from their games. They don't understand
their mother's grief; why should they?
Their minds are still too young for pain.

Old nurse, what are you doing,
standing out here talking to yourself?
Why aren't you with your mistress?

Old teacher, tired slave to Jason's children,
don't you know that if the dice fall badly
for our masters they fall the same for us?
I feel Medea's troubles as my own,
and have come out here
to share them with the earth and air.

So she is still crying?

Still crying? I envy your innocence.
This is only the start.
Her grief has just begun.

The poor ignorant woman -- if a servant may speak so
of a lady. She doesn't know the news.

What news, old man? Don't keep it to yourself.

Nothing. I shouldn't have said...

Please, I beg you as a fellow servant.
I can keep a secret if I must.

Well, I was down by the sacred spring at Peirene
where the old men play at draughts
and I happened to hear something
- though I was pretending not to listen --
something about King Creon banishing these children,
and their mother, from Corinth.
I don't know if it's true. I hope not.

Jason would never let that happen.
His quarrel is with Medea, not with them.

Old loves are dropped when new ones come along.
Jason's love no longer lives here.

We are done for, then.
We were weathering a squall and now it turns to storm.

You must say nothing to your mistress,
this is not the time.

Sweet children, do you hear
what kind of man your father is? He is my master,
so I cannot curse him, but such disloyalty
to those he ought to love...He is guilty...

What mortal man is not guilty?
A new woman in the bed
leaves no room for anyone else.
He has forgotten everything,
including his boys.
Has it just dawned on you
that we're each of us human:
we put ourselves above all others.

Go into the house, children, everything will be fine.

To Tutor.

And you -- keep them as far away from their mother
as you can; she's distraught. I've seen the way
she looks at them, like a wild animal. I'm afraid
she might do something.
She will not let this anger cool
until she's brought it down on the head of an enemy.
And I pray it is an enemy she turns on,
not those she loves...

MEDEA (within)
Oh gods, I am so wretched, so miserable.
Please, let me die!

Just as I said, children, your mother's heart's upset;
she's stirring the pot of her darkest temper.
Quickly, into the house, and don't go near her -
don't let her see you. She is fierce, my dears,
fierce with hate. Quick, inside!

Exit Tutor and children into the house.

The storm is upon us.
There is greater passion to come: lightning flashes
to burst these black clouds of grief
and bring down hellish weather.
What will she do, this proud unbiddable woman,
under the sting of this lash?

MEDEA (within)
Do I not suffer? Have I not been wronged?
Can I not weep? Damned children of a damned mother,
I hope you die with your father,
and his whole house falls around you all!

Oh gods! What part have they in their father's guilt?
Why do you hate them? Poor children,
I'm so frightened you might come to harm.

She explains to the children.

Royal minds are different to ours, and dangerous.
Being used to giving orders rather than taking them,
they can become outraged -- and that rage is slow to cool.
Ordinary life is much better -- where everyone's equal.
I hope to grow old just as I am:
lowly, unremarkable and safe.
Moderation is a lovely word and we should live by it;
it's good for our souls.
Excessiveness brings mortals no advantage. All it does
is draw more ruin on us when the gods are wild.

Enter a group of Corinthian women as Chorus.

We have heard the cry of the unhappy woman of Colchis.
Tell us, nurse. Is she still no calmer?
Even through the double doors of the inner room
we could hear her keening. It hurts our heart
to hear such sounds of sorrow
from within a house of friends.

This house is dead. It is no longer a home.
The husband rolls in a royal bed, while the wife,
my mistress, stays in her room,
beyond the soothing words of any friend,
wasting her life away.

MEDEA (within)
Oh, let a flash of lightning pierce this skull!
What use is there in living?
Give me the freedom of death,
so I can leave behind this life I hate.

Did you hear that, Zeus? Sun and Earth,
did you hear that creature's dreadful cry?
You are rash, woman: it is just as wrong
for you to desire the bed of death as it is
for Jason to thresh in his bed of desire.
Why hurry death?
The marriage is over. Let it rest.
Let Zeus advance your cause, and save your heart.

MEDEA (within)
Oh mighty Themis, vengeful Artemis,
look down on my suffering
and these broken marriage bonds, the oaths
that bound me to my husband now all forgotten.
I will see him and his bright young bride
ground down to nothing,
and their whole house with them.
Was it for this I fled my native country, Father,
leaving you in my wake
fishing up pieces of my broken brother?

You hear? She calls on the gods, on Themis,
daughter of Zeus, goddess of Justice
and guardian of all promises made by men.
Such anger is not easily appeased.

We wish she would come out and listen to us,
meet us face to face.
She might feel her fury lessen amongst friends.
Fetch her from the house, nurse,
and tell her we support her --
but be quick, before she hurts those inside.
Her passion grows so strong the air around her burns.

I'll try, of course, but I doubt I'll persuade her.
When any of us approach
you can see her hackles rise -- like a lioness
when you get between her and her cubs.
If only we could charm her with music;
but those old composers were such fools:
they wrote melodies only for the happy times --
festivals, grand banquets, celebrations.
None of them thought to make a music for real life,
music that would salve our wounds
and soothe our bitter griefs. Didn't they see
these wounds and griefs destroy us,
and a music that healed such sorrow
would be precious?
What is the point of music and song at a feast?
People are happy when they're full.
We need a tune when there's no food there to eat.

Exit Nurse into the house.

We hear her weeping, her litany of accusations
against her husband, the betrayer of her bed.
She calls again to Themis, goddess of oaths,
who brought her here to Greece
over the dark saltwater of the Black Sea,
to the locks and keys of the Hellespont,
a threshold few may cross.

Enter Medea and the Nurse from the house.

Women of Corinth, I have come out here
to show you who I am.
I will not be judged -- by anyone -- as proud.
I know many who are vain, it's true, indoors or out;
but there are others that hide themselves away,
and then people say they emulate the gods.
Whether you go out in public, or retire in private,
you get a reputation either way.
There is no justice in the eyes of men,
they judge by what they see, not what they know.
It is hardest for foreigners like me to be accepted
-- always working, always trying to fit in --
so I have no time for those who think themselves
above the rules, or better than the others.

This blow, when it came, came from nowhere,
knocking me down,
crushing my faith in all that's good and kind.
I am lost, and foundering. The joy
has gone from my life,
and I see no reason, now, to carry on.
My husband, my companion, the man
I thought I knew so well -- in whom I'd invested
everything -- has revealed himself to be
the most contemptible of men.

Of all living, sentient creatures,
women are the most unfortunate.
We must save and save to raise a dowry;
then the man that agrees to marry us
becomes master of our bodies:
a second burden greater than the first.
Loss and insult: that is all we have.
Everything hangs on his character:
is the master good or bad?
We can refuse him nothing, but if we divorce
we are seen as somehow soiled, as damaged goods.
Innocents and strangers, we enter our husbands' houses,
with all these new laws and customs to deal with;
we need to use our intuition to teach us
how best to please our man.
If we do well in all our duties, and don't let him
ever think he's trapped in the marriage,
everything's fine. If not, it's death in life.

When a man's bored with what he has at home
he goes elsewhere: finds someone else to amuse him.
The woman must wait, for she is allowed
to look at one face only: his.
Men tell us that we are lucky to live safe at home
while they take up their spears and go to war.
Well, that's a lie. I'd sooner stand behind a shield
three times in battle than give birth once.

But yours is a different story. This is your city.
Your fathers are here;
you have the pleasures of life,
the company of friends.
I am alone in Corinth, an outsider
in a strange city far from my family --
my only company a husband
who took me as plunder from some foreign campaign
and now dishonors me. I have no mother, no brother,
no kin to turn to, to shelter me from shame.
So I shall ask this one favor from you.
If I can think of any way, any plan,
to make my husband pay for all this hurt,
will you keep my secret?
A woman is too timid, too weak, they say, for war
-- would faint at the sight of battle-steel --
but when she is injured in love,
when her bed has been defiled, she'll have your blood.

We promise. You have every right
to punish your husband, Medea,
and every reason to grieve.

Enter Creon.

But here is Creon, the king.
Here, perhaps, with some proclamation.

So, Medea, sour-faced, glowering with rage
against your husband: hear this.
I order you now to leave this land and go into exile,
with immediate effect. Take your children with you.
I make the law and execute it, and will stay
until I've seen you off Corinthian soil.

No! This is the end of everything.
Fleets of enemies sail against me;
I see only rocks and no safe haven.
After so much abuse, one question, Creon:
why are you sending me away?

I'm afraid of you, to put it bluntly;
afraid that you will do some harm to my daughter.
I have many reasons, and they all add up.
You are a clever woman. It's known that you are skilled
in evil arts. You are wounded,
smarting at the loss of your husband from your bed.
And now I hear that you've been making threats
against the bride, her father, and the man she is to marry.
I will let nothing happen, and so will guard against it.
It's better to harden my heart against you now
than have you break it later.

My reputation, yet again! It goes before me like a curse.
My father should never have allowed me an education,
never raised me to be intelligent.
Those who are out of the ordinary
attract jealousy and bitterness.
If you try to bring new wisdom to fools,
the fools are furious;
if your mind matches the minds
of the city's intellectuals
then they're threatened.
But you, Creon, you are afraid.
Why is that?
What damage can I do?
I am no insurrectionist,
no insurgent against the state.
You've done nothing to me;
only given your daughter's hand away in marriage.
It's my husband I hate.
You've acted with propriety and good sense,
within the law, and I don't resent your happiness.
Make the marriage; I wish all of you good luck.
But let me stay. Although I have been wronged,
I will keep my peace. I yield to you as king.
You have won and I have lost.

Conciliatory words, indeed.
But still I dread to think what evil cooks within your heart.
The softness of these words makes me trust them less.
A hot-tempered woman -- or man, for that matter --
is easier to stand against
than a clever one that keeps her own counsel.
No, I am decided.
You are hereby banished, and must leave now.
No more delay, and no more speeches.
I know you are our enemy
and I will have no enemy in our midst.

Medea kneels before him.Copyright © 2008 by RobinRobertson

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