Medea (1889). Evelyn De Morgan
Medea was a classical heroic virgin (whose name means ‘cunning’), known as the ‘All Wise One’ whose abode was forever in heaven, who appears as the archetypal barbarian scheming woman. It was Medea’s avowed view that virginity gave a woman the powers of healing and witchcraft. Medea is first represented on an Etruscan vase from around 630 BC as well as portrayed on Attic vases a century later. Her appearance at this time is usually in eastern dress and carrying potions. Medea was described to Jason by one of the Argonauts as having yellow ringlets of hair for which she was renowned, round of face her hair was as yellow as mountain cassidony, she had voluptuous lips, amber eyes, a slightly hooked nose, and aged 20 to 24 (Graves, 1989).
Medea (1871). Anselm Fuerbach. Public domain.
Daughter of King Aetes of Colchian Aia (Colchis) and his wife Eidyia, by one of the Oceanids or Hecate, and eventual wife of Jason. A priestess of Hecate her name may mean medesthai or ‘to devise’. Medea was regarded as the ablest and most skilful healer and witch in the kingdom of Colchis. It was the goddess Aphrodite who caused Medea to fall in love with Jason when he came to Colchis in his quest for the golden fleece.
Jason and Medea (1907). J. W. Waterhouse. Public domain.
Medea then helped Jason obtain the fleece by the use of her magical powers. For this purpose she used witchcraft to make Jason invulnerable using a potion made from yellow flowers grown from the blood of Prometheus. During the procurement of the fleece Medea, as a priestess of the shrine of Prometheus, she wore the willow chaplet customary for the god.
Medea, the good witch (1868). Henri Klagman. Public domain.
Having stolen the fleece from the grove Medea escaped with Jason in the Argo taking her brother Apsyrtus with them . Aetes had plotted to kill Jason and the Argonauts and set off in his flotilla of ships in pursuit. When Aetes drew near the Argo Medea, protecting the Argonuts killed Apsyrtus and threw his body parts overboard. Whilst Aetes collected the remains of his son the Argonauts escaped from the pursuing Cholchians.
Jason and Medea made their way to Corinth. Indeed, Medea had never really felt settled in Cholchis amongst its dark skinned inhabitants. Once settled in
Corinth Medea was abandoned by Jason for the daughter of King Creon or called Glauce or Creusa.
Medea (1870). Anslem Fuerbach. Public domain.
In anger Medea thereupon sent Glauce a coronet and dress covered in poison. The sorceress Medea had sent a death robe which also killed Creon. Medea killed by stabbing to death her children by Jason. Traditional myth and legend (4th century BC) purports that Medea fled to Athens in a chariot of the sun drawn by dragons. In Athens Medea then married Aegus or Aegeus.
Medea about to murder her children (1862). Eugene Delacroix. Public domain.
Whilst in Athens recognised Theseus the son of Aegeus and tried to persuade the king to send Theseus to the Minotaur. This ploy having failed she tried her witchery to try and poison Theseus. Aegeus banished Medea to Asia after recognising Theseus as his son. Having been driven from Athens to Asia her son Medeus killed Perses the uncle of Medea. This Medeus became the ancestor of the Medes thus making Medea the eponymous ancestor of that tribe. Hera rewarded Medea with immortality in recognition of her opposition to Zeus, but it was not until she arrived in Elysium she found happiness with Achilles as his wife.
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