In the classical Greek drama Medea, written by Euripides, the play is about a woman called Medea who escapes her home with her beloved Jason. With him she raises two lovely children, but Jason turns his attention to a different woman, Glauce. With great anger and the feeling of betrayal, Medea plans revenge on her husband. Some major characters in this drama such as the chorus, and nurse portray cultural values that explain the fury behind Medea’s jealousy and actions. The existence of these two characters is not only to guide the audience, but to interpret and help relate to culture as it was before, and still is. This essay explores the importance of cultural values in the play as portrayed by the chorus and nurse.
In the opening speech, the nurse questions Medea’s decision of disposing of her own culture and land, just to be with Jason. She abandoned her home land and traditions, knowing she won’t come back, for a new unknown terrain. The nurse seems to warn Medea with what is right in her own eyes.
The nurse herself doubts and knows that what Medea has done is awful towards her culture and society. The word ‘smitten’ accuses Medea of being so lost in love that it blinded her from her family and friends. It would be very strange for woman to leave her family behind and sail away killing her brother down the road. In addition, this act was common for a man, as they were perceived to be risk takers, and likely to live on their own. This work of searching for a new society was more likely to be a man’s act of shame towards his family. This shows the awareness of the nurse and people around Medea. But her ignorance of her surroundings leads her to this family threatening situation.
Furthermore, the nurse conveys cultural values through the famous Greek ship Argo. The voyage of the Argo talks of the first famous long ship built to withstand long travel and brutal waves. The nurse depicts regret to this traditional achievement as she thinks this is one of the reasons that Medea was able to meet Jason and come back with him.
The words “if only” clarifies regret by the nurse. This portrayal by her is blaming Jason’s cultural history for being so wise and creating the Argo. The nurse evokes an impression of shamelessness when she utters “heroes never pulled the oars”. This illustrates to the heroes not pulling the oars in the first place for Jason to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The nurse feels responsible and she should change the outcome of this occurrence. She is blaming characters and looking for incidents that initiated these problems.
This quote conveys both the nurse’s fretfulness and desire to undo the series of events that led to the encounter of Medea and Jason. When she says “Who went” she is asking why did such brave heroes go and accomplish the task, she is trying to put the blame on something, but can’t seem to find a reason for these series of events. The Golden Fleece is a historical symbol in the Greek society. It is one of the main reasons leading Jason to the discovery of Medea in the distant lands.
Moreover, the nurse helps connect between the audience and the ancient drama, which in return allows the reader to relate with such a situation and put themselves in the characters shoes. The nurse is not only perceived as a female, but she mentions phrases which give the extra detail about the setting.
Furthermore, by bringing out the rules and conditions in the Greek society, the nurse portrays cultural values. It would be usual for a mistress’s servant to be female. But in this case slaves are being used. Euripides might have given this quote to the nurse as to show the relationship between a mistress and her servant. In addition, the word ‘slave’ amplifies the fact that the nurse was not paid, but rather worked free for the mistress. This would not be possible in this current society. This quote brings out the true emotions and level of the nurse in Greek society. It helps the reader understand her situation with Medea.
Accordingly, the chorus engages in dramatic irony to convey the difference of what the audience knows is true, and what a character says. This allows the audience to make assumptions and predict what will happen next, through the characters attitude. The chorus conveys cultural values through the calling of the Greek god Zeus who Medea believed in to solve her problems. This relates back to ancient society showing beliefs and values that the people possessed.
Euripides chooses the chorus to portray this cultural message as the chorus provides opinion and beliefs as well as their point of view to the audience. This act allows the reader to have an insight into what Medeas culture believed in. However, Medea completely crosses out her beliefs and draws her own road. The chorus chooses to relate to Zeus as he was the supreme god of the Greeks with a vast range of concerns. This meant that Medea was supposed to settle her problem into his hands for him to resolve. Here a cultural value is portrayed. Zeus, the head of the Greek gods is being referenced to in order to bring out cultural values by the nurse.
The chorus distinguishes between men and women in Greek society where men where more superior than women. The chorus talks of Medea’s position towards her husband in relation to her marriage and decisions. In addition, Euripides uses metaphoric language to address this issue. This allows the audience to visualize Medea’s strength in Greek society, portraying slight power over Jason’s supposedly masculine characteristics.
Surely, this suggests that women in Greek society had no power over choosing divorce. It also enforces the fact that a woman could not refuse her husband. The chorus’s position here is to reflect the overall position of women in the Greek culture, where a male dominant society is situated. The chorus also analyses Medea’s words that ‘child birth could be more taunting than fighting’, which involves the traditional values of that time. This speech by the chorus supports the fact that the chorus portrays cultural values but yet it also questions Medea’s behavior. Here, it is done so that the reader can better understand the position of which Medea is in, and relate it to their current society. Euripides also reinforces the beliefs of Greek culture through the chorus, with the use of personification. This illustrates the importance of culture, where a sacred river can flow ‘uphill’, even though this is physically impossible, such an occurrence portrays a strong connection between Medea and her beliefs. This demonstrates to the audience that Medea has no limits, and will do anything to get revenge. The nurse’s portrayal of cultural values is again used to help the reader engage with the atmosphere. This quote signifies that men were more superior then women in Greek society.
Thus, on the whole, there are some characters whose chief role is to convey cultural values. Both the nurse and chorus are involved throughout the drama, to help interpret meaning behind some characters actions. This in return helps the reader understand the drama, and allow the audience to relate the situation to their own society, in order to see how it now differs. Without such characters to convey cultural values, the audience will not understand the culture in which the characters live in, and will question some events in the play. Medea’s persistent desire to have respect from others especially from Jason, evokes a sense of change among women in Greek society. This cultural value portrayed by the nurse and chorus, depicts a fierce barrier between Medea and success.