My lady, your children won’t be exiled.
The royal bride was happy to accept,
with own hands, the gifts you sent her.
Now the boys have made their peace with her.
What’s wrong? Why do you stand there in distress?
Things have worked out well. Why turn away again?
Aren’t you happy to hear my splendid news?
Alas . . .
An odd response to the news I bring.
All I can say is I’m so sad . . . .
Have I mistakenly said something bad?
Am I wrong to think my news is good?
You’ve reported what you had to tell me.
I’m not blaming you.
Then why avert your eyes?
Why are you crying?
Old man, I have my reasons.
The gods and I, with my worst intentions,
have brought about this situation.
Be happy. Your children will one day
bring you back home again.
But before that,
I shall bring others to their homes—alas,
how miserable I feel.
You’re not the only mother whose children
have been separated from her. We mortals
must bear our bad times patiently.
I’ll do so.
But now go in the house. And carry on.
Give the children their usual routine.
Oh children, my children, you still have
a city and a home, where you can live,
once you’ve left me in wretched suffering.
You can live on here without your mother.
But I’ll go to some other country,
an exile, before I’ve had my joy in you,
before I’ve seen you happy, or helped
to decorate your marriage beds, your brides,
your bridal chambers, or lifted high
your wedding torches. How miserable
my self-will has made me. I raised you—
and all for nothing. The work I did for you,
the cruel hardships, pains of childbirth—
all for nothing. Once, in my foolishness,
I had many hopes in you—it’s true—
that you’d look after me in my old age,
that you’d prepare my corpse with your own hands,
in the proper way, as all people wish.
But now my tender dreams have been destroyed.
For I’ll live my life without you both,
in sorrow. And those loving eyes of yours
will never see your mother any more.
Your life is changing. Oh, my children,
why are you looking at me in that way?
Why smile at me—that last smile of yours?
Alas, what shall I do? You women here,
my heart gives way when I see those eyes,
my children’s smiling eyes. I cannot do it.
Good bye to those previous plans of mine.
I’ll take my children from this country.
Why harm them as a way to hurt their father
and have to suffer twice his pain myself?
No, I won’t do that. And so farewell
to what I planned before. But what’s going on?
What’s wrong with me? Do I really want
my enemies escaping punishment,
while I become someone they ridicule?
I will go through with this. What a coward
I am even to let my heart admit
such sentimental reasons. Children,
you must go into the house.
to attend my sacrifice, let such a man
concern himself about these children.
My hand will never lack the strength for this.
And yet . . . My heart, don’t do this murder.
You’re made of stone, but leave the boys alone.
Spare my children. If they remain alive,
with me in Athens, they’ll make you happy.
No! By those avengers in lower Hell,
I’ll never deliver up my children,
hand them over to their enemies,
to be humiliated. They must die—
that’s unavoidable, no matter what.
Since that must happen, then their mother,
the one who gave them life, will kill them.
At all events it’s settled. There’s no way out.
On her head the royal bride already wears
the poisoned crown. That dress is killing her.
But I’m treading an agonizing path,
and send my children on one even worse.
What I want to do now is say farewell.
Give me your right hands, children. Come on.
Let your mother kiss them. Oh, these hands—
how I love them—and how I love these mouths,
faces—the bearing of such noble boys.
I wish you happiness—but somewhere else.
Where you live now your father takes away.
Oh this soft embrace! Their skin’s so tender.
My boys’ breathing smells so sweet to me.
But you must go inside. Go. I can’t stand
to look at you any more like this.
The evil done to me has won the day.
I understand too well the dreadful act
I’m going to commit, but my judgment
can’t check my anger, and that incites
the greatest evils human beings do.
Often, before this present time,
I’ve gone into more complex arguments,
I’ve struggled with more serious issues,
than my female sex should try to probe.
But we, too, have an artistic Muse.
She lives with us to teach us wisdom.
But not with all of us—the group of women
able to profit from our Muse is small—
in a crowd of women you might find one.
And I claim that with human beings
those with no experience of children,
those who have never given birth,
such people have far more happiness
than those who have been parents.
With those who have no children,
because they never come to see
whether their children grow up
to be a blessing or a curse to men,
their failure to have offspring
keeps many troubles from them.
But those who in their own homes
have a sweet race of children growing,
I see them worn down with cares
their whole life long. First,
how they can raise their children well.
Next, how they can leave their sons
a means of livelihood. And then,
it’s by no means clear that all the work
produces good or useless children.
There’s one final problem,
the worst for any mortal human—
I’ll tell you: suppose those parents
have found a sufficient way of life,
and seen their children grow
into strong, young, virtuous men,
if Fate so wills it, Death comes,
carries off the children’s bodies,
away to Hades. What profit, then,
is there for us and our love of sons,
if the gods inflict on mortal men,
in addition to their other troubles,
this most painful extra grief.
My friends, I’ve long been waiting in suspense
to see what’s happening in the royal house.
Now I see one of Jason’s servants coming.
His hard rapid breathing indicates to me
he’s bringing news of some fresh disaster.
Medea, you must escape—leave this place.
You’ve done an awful deed, broken every law.
Take ship and go by sea—or go overland
by chariot. But you must go from here.
What’s happened that I have to run away?
The king’s daughter has just been destroyed,
her father, too—Creon. You poisoned them.
What really splendid news you bring.
From now on, I’ll consider you a friend,
one of my benefactors.
Are you in your right mind, lady, or insane?
To commit this crime against the royal house,
and then be happy when you hear the news,
without being afraid?
I have some remarks to offer in reply.
But, my friend, don’t be in such a hurry.
Tell me of their deaths. If you report
they died in pain, you’ll double my rejoicing.
When your two children came with their father
and went in the bride’s home, we servants,
who had shared in your misfortune, were glad,
for a rumour spread at once from ear to ear
that you and your husband’s previous quarrel
was now over. Someone kissed the boys’ hands,
someone else their golden hair. In my joy,
I went with the children right inside,
into the women’s quarters. Our mistress,
whom we now look up to instead of you,
before she caught sight of your two children,
wanted to fix her eyes on Jason only.
But then she veiled her eyes and turned away
her white cheek, disgusted that they’d come.
Your husband tried to change the young bride’s mood,
to soften her anger, with these words,
“Don’t be so hard-hearted with your family.
Check your anger, and turn your face this way,
look at us again, and count as friends of yours
those your husband thinks are friends of his.
Now, receive these gifts, and then, for my sake,
beg your father not to exile these two boys.”
Once she saw the gifts, she did not hold out,
but agreed in everything with Jason.
And before your children and their father
had gone any distance from the palace,
she took the richly embroidered gown
and put it on, then arranged the golden crown,
fixing it in her hair at a bright mirror,
smiling at her body’s lifeless image there.
Then she stood up from her seat and strolled
across the room, moving delicately
on her pale feet, delighted with the gifts,
with a great many glances to inspect
the straightness of the dress against her legs.
But then it happened—a horrific sight.
She changed colour, staggered back and sideways,
trembling, then fell into her chair again,
almost collapsing on the floor. An old woman,
one of her servants, thinking it was a fit
inspired by Pan or by some other god,
shouted in festive joy, until she saw
the white spit foaming in her mouth, her eyes
bulging from their sockets, and her pale skin
quite drained of blood. The servant screamed again—
this time, to make up for her former shout,
she cried out in distress. Another slave
ran off at once towards her father’s palace,
and another to the girl’s new husband
to tell him the grim fate his bride had met.
The whole house rang with people’s footsteps,
as they hurried back and forth. By the time
it would take a fast runner to complete
two hundred yards and reach the finish line,
her eyes opened—the poor girl woke up,
breaking her silent fit with a dreadful scream.
She was suffering a double agony—
around her head the golden diadem
shot out amazing molten streams of fire
burning everything, and the fine woven robe,
your children’s gift, consumed the poor girl’s flesh.
She jumped up from the chair and ran away,
all of her on fire, tossing her head, her hair,
this way and that, trying to shake off
her golden crown—but it was fixed in place,
and when she shook her hair, the fire blazed
twice as high. Then she fell down on the ground,
overcome by the disaster. No one
could recognize her, except her father.
Her eyes had lost their clear expression,
her face had changed. And there was blood
on top her head, dripping down, mixed with fire.
The flesh was peeling from her bones, chewed off
by the poison’s secret jaws, just like resin
oozing from a pine tree. An appalling sight!
Everyone was too afraid to touch the corpse—
what we’d seen had warned us. But her father,
poor wretch, didn’t know what she’s been through.
He came unexpectedly into the house
and stumbled on the corpse. He cried aloud,
embraced his daughter, and kissed her, saying,
“My poor child, what god has been so cruel
to destroy you in this way? Who’s taken you
away from me, an old man near my death?
Oh my child, I wish I could die with you.”
He ended his lamenting cries. But then,
when he tried to raise his old body up,
he was entangled in that woven dress,
like ivy wrapped around a laurel branch.
He struggled dreadfully, trying to get up
onto his knees, but she held him down.
If he used force, he tore his ancient flesh
clear off his bones. The poor man at last gave up.
His breathing stopped, for he couldn’t stand the pain
a moment longer. So the two of them lie dead—
the daughter, her old father, side by side.
It’s horrible, something to make one weep.
Concerning you there’s nothing I will say.
For you’ll know well enough the punishment
that’s coming to you. As for human life,
it seems to me, and not for the first time,
nothing but shadows. And I might say,
without feeling any fear, those mortals
who seem wise, who prepare their words with care,
are guilty of the greatest foolishness.
Among human beings no one is happy.
Wealth may flow in to produce a man
more lucky than another, but no man,
is ever happy, no one.
This is the day, it seems,
the god tightens trouble around Jason,
and justly so. Oh poor Creon’s daughter,
how we pity your misfortune. You’re gone,
down in Hades’ home—the price you pay
for marrying Jason.
I’ve made up my mind, my friends.
I’ll do it—kill my children now, without delay,
and flee this land. I must not hesitate.
That will hand them over to someone else,
to be slaughtered by a hand less loving.
No matter what, the children have to die.
Since that’s the case, then I, who gave them life,
will kill them. Arm yourself for this, my heart.
Why do I put off doing this dreadful act,
since it must be done? Come, pick up the sword,
wretched hand of mine. Pick up the sword,
move to where your life of misery begins.
Don’t play the coward. Don’t remember now
how much you love them, how you gave them life.
For this short day forget they are your children—
and mourn them later. Although you kill them,
still you loved them. As a woman, I’m so sad.
[Exit Medea into the house]
Medea by Euripides