By Nevin Ulusoy

Nature has its dark sides, the brightness of the moonlight is there with the howl of the wolves.

Mythology, legends that have been told for thousands of years, full of mysteries, love, passion,  desire,hatred, murder, blood, fear and darkness. All those stories are the reflections of what human beings have in the depths of their souls, the wild, the dark, the terrifying side of us which we live with unnoticing them in our daily lives. In our making we have the things we see as horrible, dark in the daylight of the modern life. Legends tell us about ourselves in all their chilling terror.

There are innumerable stories and characters of course, in all different mythologies, all very interesting and worth studying deeply. They have also been great subjects for different kinds of works of art. If we think only of Greek and Roman tragedies, their subjects and characters are nearly all taken from mythological stories. One of the most fascinating characters, in the light of modern thinking as well, is Medea, famous for her what we call horrible and unbelievably terrifying deeds. The granddaughter of the Greek god of Sun, Helios, an amazing sorceress, a witch in the full term, a passionate and fearless princess. Medea has been a great source for different kinds of works of art, more than other female mythological characters. It is the name of the unforgettable play by Euripides(484-406 BC). It was first produced in 431 BC and it won the third place in the festivals of Dionysos. Based on the play, Luigi Cherubini composed the opera “Medea” in 1797 in France. The famous Italian film director Pier Paolo Pasolini directed the film “Medea” in 1969, he also wrote the script. Maria Callas, the Greek primadonna, one of the most famous and successful opera singers of the world, acted Medea in the film. She sang “Medea” in 1953 for the first time, but the film is different from the opera and the play as well. She never sings in the film, indeed she rarely speaks. In 1988, Lars von Trier made another film with the same name.

“The fire of her love, passion burns the world they have. Whatever they have in common, their children, the time they spent together, are in ashes.”

The play starts after Jason decides to marry the king’s daughter Glauce in Corinth. We get to know some of their past through the dialogues. Medea’s country had the Golden Fleece, which Jason wanted to get to take to his uncle, the king who usurped the throne. So Argonauts went to Colchis, Medea’s country, probably Georgia, through a very adventurous and dangerous journey. The Greeks believed that barbarians lived there. Medea fell in love with him, stole the Golden Fleece and took her brother with her. She killed her brother and threw parts of his body on the way, so her father could not overtake them. They went to Iolcos with the Fleece, but the king did not leave the throne. Jason was afraid of his uncle and Medea killed him. She persuaded the king’s daughters that if they killed and threw him in a cauldron, she could make him young and strong again with magic. They believed her, but it was not true and Medea and Jason escaped to Corinth. The play starts in front of Medea’s house in Corinth with the nurse’s speech and we sense what is going to happen in a way. Medea is not the kind of woman who would sit in submission to her husband’s will. Women of Corinth visit her and she talks about her sorrows knowing she is a foreigner:

-“And those who live quietly,as I do, get a bad reputation.”

She expresses her feelings as a woman and what it is to be married for a woman:

-” It was everything to me to think well of one man,

    And he, my own husband, has turned out wholly vile.

    Of all things which are living and can form a judgement

    We women are the most unfortunate creatures.

    Firstly, with an excess of wealth it is required

    For us to buy a husband and take for our bodies

A master; for not to take one is even worse.

And now the question is serious whether we take

A good or bad one; for there is no easy escape

For a woman, nor can she say no to her marriage.

She arrives among new modes of behaviour and manners,

And needs prophetic power, unless she has learned at home,

How best to manage him who shares the bed with her.

And if we work out all this well and carefully,

And the husband lives with us and lightly bears his yoke,

Then life is enviable. If not, I’d rather die.”

She also emphasizes that a man could go out, fight in the battles, but the woman, especially if she is away from her family and friends, has to stay at home and wait for him. Men think the women sit comfortably at home, but she says she would rather go and fight in the battle than bear children. King Creon comes and tells her that he banishes her from his country. She will have to live in exile, with her children, friendless and surrounded by enemies. She cannot go back to her hometown. Jason tells her that they will be more comfortable if he marries the king’s daughter, but he has not spoken to Medea about that before. It is all nonsense for her and she finds the power in herself to do what she has to do. 

Pasolini’s film starts with the childhood of Jason, then we move to Medea’s country. The film was mostly directed in Capadoccia, Turkey. It was Medea’s country. The people there were seen as barbarians and it starts with the scene of a human sacrifice. Pasolini was very interested in myths, legends and the history of religions. Capadoccia was just the place for him to make a film about a mythical character. It seems like that people have been living there just in the same way for thousands of years. It is in a once-active volcanic area, with the effect of rain, wind and ice, the rocks that are called “fairy chimneys” came into existence. There are 250 underground cities around Capadoccia. In the II. AD Christian monks lived here unnoticed, building their homes and churches in the rocks. The last part of the film where it tells us about Corinth takes place in Syria. Pasolini himself wrote the script as well. He was also a writer and a poet. He was against political propaganda through art,  dictatorship and all kinds of pressure. Most of the people in the film are the native people there, not actors or actresses. The music takes us into a remote, epical, mystical world, like the music of ancient tribes, Shamanists or Celts. The film has very few dialogues, it is as if the music and the scenery tells us the story. It is different from the play or the opera. Maria Callas is unbelievably successful as Medea, her facial expressions, her eyes, her whole being is Medea herself.

Pasolini has a scientific approach to the whole event the beliefs, the customs, the sacrifize. The scenes are long, gives us time to think, to grasp what goes on in the scenes. We see that Medea has to do the horrible deeds she does, she is the daughter of nature with all the dark powers it has, lives with the rythm of nature and her heart.  She finds peace that way, inside. Her people who are thought to be barbarians are like her, following nature in their own ways, like African people, natives of different regions. This gives her a stronger notion of being a foreigner, as a woman especially, after she gets married. She cannot hear the sound of the earth, the sun, nature. She is alienated from her former self, she recognizes this after she escapes with Jason, what she sees as holy is not holy here, in this remote land, with these people she does not know actually. But her love, her passion is very strong, stronger than Jason can ever understand. Jason’s world is a more modern, civilised world where profit, prosperity is more important. What he argues as reasons to get married to the king’s daughter is absolutely out of place here. The fire of her love, passion burns the world they have. Whatever they have in common, their children, the time they spent together, are in ashes. When they were happy together, in her passion, she wholly committed herself to her husband, leaving everything she had behind, betraying her country. She did them all for him, in her blazing passion, Jason was her world, she needed nothing else. She is not happy about the things she does, the enchanted gifts she gives to the bride, killing her own children. She has to do them for her own dignity, honour as well. She is totally in pain, she sees her own world collapsing, she cannot submit to it without doing anything. She is not a cold-blooded murderess, it is a very painful deed for her; not like brothers,fathers or husbands who kill their sisters, daughters or wives because they have done something dishonourable according to their ideas of it and the rumour was enough, even if they did not do anything. She tries to persuade herself to do it, just like the slaves who killed their own children for them not to be caught as they were escaping. Nature has its dark sides, the brightness of the moonlight is there with the howl of the wolves. At the end of the film we see Medea in flames, with all the world she had with Jason, different  from the end of the play, where Medea goes away with the bodies of their children, by the chariot Helios sent for her. Jason is left all alone, without any friends, home, a foreigner in a foreign land. 

2 thoughts on “MEDEA – MYTHS AND TODAY”

  1. Having read this I thought it was very informative. I appreciate you taking the time and effort to put this article together. I once again find myself spending way to much time both reading and commenting. But so what, it was still worth it!

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