The Medea syndrome


  • Maria Michela Sassi Università di Pisa



Greek philosophy, Greek tragedy, Euripides, Medea, shame culture, emotions, anger, love and hate.


In the last thirty years, Greek tragedy has been increasingly recognized as a ground of moral reflection that is at least as worthy of philosophical attention as are the writings of Plato, Aristotle, or the Stoics, owing to the simple fact that dramatic characters move on the scene like in a living world of relationships that requires them to find their way through complex emotional situations. As regards Euripides, the characters of Phaedra and Medea are particularly revealing for their capacity to understand and express the reasons underlying the tremendous emotional stress under which they are.

The paper deals with the problem of Medea’s conduct along the drama, facing once more the challenge that Euripides launched on the scene of the Great Dionysia in 431 a.C. A challenge whose meaning can be thus summarized: while Medea perpetrates a horrible crime (the most horrible one can think of, actually), her gesture did not impress the ancient audience (neither does it impress us) for its being “evil”, but for its tragic grandeur. Indeed, in analyzing the famous monologue in which Medea reflects on how to best achieve her vengeance on Jason, we see that she does not evaluate her strategy in terms of what would be morally good or bad to do, either for herself or for her children, while clearly acknowledging that she is driven by her passion (thumòs). Besides stressing the extraordinary lucidity Medea displays in the monologue, we aim to disentangle the diverse and contradictory emotions that constitute her emotional syndrome, that is, love and hate, shame and anger, pleasure in revenge and despair.