The waters in the sacred rivers
are flowing in reverse.
And all well-ordered things
are once more turning on themselves.
Men’s plans are now deceitful,
their firm trust in the gods is gone.
My life is changing—common talk
is giving me a better reputation.
Honour’s coming to the female sex.
Slander will no longer injure women.
Those songs by ancient poets
will stop chanting of our faithlessness.
Phoebus, god of song and singing,
never put into our minds the gift
of making sacred music with the lyre,
or else I would have sung a song
in response to what the male sex sings.
For our lengthy past has much to say
about men’s lives as well as ours
You sailed here from your father’s house,
your heart on fire, past those two rocks
that stand guard to the Euxine Sea.
You live now in a foreign land.
You’ve lost your marriage bed,
your husband, too, poor woman.
And now you’re driven out,
hounded into exile in disgrace.
The honour in an oath has gone.
And all throughout wide Hellas
there’s no shame any more.
Shame has flown away to heaven.
So to you, unhappy lady,
no father’s house is open,
no haven on your painful voyage.
For now a stronger woman
rules in your household,
queen of his marriage bed.
Right now is not the first time I’ve observed
how a harsh temper makes all things worse—
impossibly so. It’s happened often.
You could’ve stayed here in this land and house,
if only you’d agreed to the arrangements,
showed some patience with those in command.
Now you’re exiled for your stupid chatter.
Not that I care. You don’t have to stop
calling Jason the worst man in the world.
But when you speak against the ruler here,
consider yourself very fortunate
that exile is your only punishment.
I’ve always tried to mollify the king—
he has a vicious temper—and have you stay.
But you just wouldn’t stop this silly rage,
always slandering the royal house.
That’s why you’ve got to leave the country.
Anyway, I won’t neglect my family.
I’ve come here, woman, looking out for you,
so you won’t be thrown out with the children
in total need and lacking everything.
Exile brings with it all sorts of hardships.
Although you may well despise me now,
I could never have bad feelings for you.
As a man you’re the worst there is—that’s all
I’ll say about you, no trace of manhood.
You come to me now, you come at this point,
when you’ve turned into the worst enemy
of the gods and me and the whole human race?
It isn’t courage or firm resolution
to hurt your family and then confront them,
face to face, but a total lack of shame,
the greatest of all human sicknesses.
But you did well to come, for I will speak.
I’ll unload my heart, describe your evil.
You listen. I hope you’re hurt by what I say.
I’ll begin my story at the very start.
I saved your life—every Greek who sailed with you
on board that ship the Argo can confirm it—
when you’d been sent to bring under the yoke
the fire-breathing bulls, and then to sow
the fields of death. And I killed the dragon
guarding the Golden Fleece, coiled up there,
staying on watch and never going to sleep.
For you I raised the light which rescued you
from death. I left my father and my home,
on my own, and came with you to Iolcus,
beneath Mount Pelion. My love for you
was greater than my wisdom. Then I killed
Pelias in the most agonizing way,
at the hands of his own daughters,
and then destroyed his household, all of it.
Now, after I’ve done all this to help you,
you brute, you betray me and help yourself
to some new wife. And we have children!
If you’d had no children, I’d understand
why you’re so keen on marrying this girl.
And what about the promises you made?
I don’t know if you think the ancient gods
still govern, or if new regulations
have recently been put in place for men,
but you must know you’ve broken faith with me.
By this right hand, which you have often held,
and by my knees, at which you’ve often begged,
it was all for nothing to be touched like that,
by such a worthless man. I’ve lost all hope.
But come now. I’ll sort things out with you,
as if you were a friend. I’ve no idea
what sort of kindness to expect from you.
But let’s see. The things I’ll ask about
will make you look even more disgraceful.
Where do I now turn? To my father’s house?
For your sake I betrayed my country,
to come here with you. Then should I go
to Pelias’ daughters in their misery?
They’d surely welcome me with open arms,
since I killed their father. That’s how things stand.
To my family I’m now an enemy,
and by assisting you I declared war
on those whom I had no need to injure.
For all the ways I’ve helped you, you made me,
in the eyes of many wives in Greece,
a lucky woman, blessed in many things.
But what a wonderful and trusting husband
I have in you now, in my misfortune,
if I go into exile, leave this land,
with no friends, all alone, abandoned,
with my abandoned children. And for you,
what a fine report for a new bridegroom,
his children wandering round like vagabonds
with the very woman who saved his life.
O Zeus, why did you give men certain ways
to recognize false gold, when there’s no mark,
no token on the human body,
to indicate which men are worthless.
When members of a family fight like this,
rage pushes them beyond all compromise.
Woman, it seems I’ll need to give good reasons,
and, like a skilled helmsman on a ship,
haul in my sails and run before that storm
blowing from your raving tongue. In my view,
you overestimate your favours to me.
I consider goddess Aphrodite
the only one of gods or mortal men
who saved my expedition. As for you,
well, you’ve a subtle mind. But if I told
how Eros with his unerring arrows
forced you to save me, I could injure you.
So I won’t press the matter very far.
However you helped me, you did it well.
But by saving me you got in return
more than you gave, as I will demonstrate.
First of all, you now live among the Greeks,
not in a country of barbarians.
You’re familiar with justice and the laws,
rather than brute force. Besides, all the Greeks
know that you’re clever, so you’ve earned yourself
a fine reputation. If you still lived
out there at the boundary of the world,
no one would talk about you. And great fame
I’d sooner have than houses filled with gold,
or the power to sing sweet melodies,
sweeter than all the songs of Orpheus.
That’s my response to you about my labours.
Remember you started this war of words.
As for your complaints about this marriage,
I’ll show you that in this I’m being wise,
and moderate, and very friendly to you,
and to my children. You must have patience.
When I came here from the land of Iolcus,
I brought with me many troubles, hard ones,
things impossible for me to deal with.
What greater good fortune could I have found
than marrying the daughter of the king,
me—an exile? On the point that irks you,
it’s not the case I hate our marriage bed,
overcome with lust for some new bride,
nor am I keen to rival other men
in the number of my many children.
We have enough. I’m not complaining.
The most important thing for us to do
is to live well and not in poverty,
knowing that everyone avoids a friend
once he’s a pauper. As for my children,
I want to raise them in the proper way,
one worthy of my house, to have brothers
for the children born from you, and make them
all the same. Thus, with a united family
I might prosper. Do you need more children?
In my case, there’s some benefit to have
new children to help those already born.
Was this a bad scheme? You’d agree with me,
if you weren’t so upset about the sex.
But you women are so idiotic—
you think if everything is fine in bed,
you have all you need, but if the sex is bad,
then all the very best and finest things
you make your enemies. What mortals need
is some other way to get our children.
There should be no female sex. With that,
men would be rid of all their troubles.
Jason, your reasons here seem logical,
but it strikes me, if I may presume,
you’re in the wrong abandoning your wife.
I’m very different from many others,
in all sorts of ways—in my opinion,
the unjust man who speaks so plausibly
brings on himself the harshest punishment.
Since he’s sure his tongue can hide injustice,
he dares anything. But he’s not that clever.
So you should not parade before me now
your clever words and specious reasoning.
One word demolishes your argument:
if you were not corrupt, you’d ask me first,
get my consent to undertake this marriage,
but you didn’t even tell your family.
Oh yes, if I’d told you of the wedding,
I’m sure you would have lent me fine support.
Even now you can’t stand to set aside
that huge rage in your heart.
You thought as you grew old a barbarian wife
would bring you disrespect.
Get this straight—
this royal bride I have, I didn’t marry her
because of any woman. As I told you,
I wanted to save you and have children,
royal princes, with the same blood as my sons.
That way my house has more security.
May I never want a merely prosperous life,
accepting pain or great wealth at the expense
of happiness here in my heart.
Do you think
you can change that prayer and sound more sensible?
You should not consider this advantage
painful, or pretend to be so wretched
when things are going well for you.
Keep up the insults. You have your refuge.
I’m alone and banished from this country.
That’s what you’ve chosen. The blame rests with you.
What did I do? Marry and desert you?
You kept making all those bitter curses
against the ruling family here.
And I’m a curse against your family, too.
Medea by Euripides