The First Femme Fatale?: Don’t Mess with Medea

Opera Singer Maria Callas in her only film role as Medea (1969).
Opera Singer Maria Callas in her only film role as Medea (1969).

Here's where to start if you haven't already read about Medea's involvement in Jason's Big Heist.


Medea’s adventures didn’t stop just with obtaining the Golden Fleece, though. She married Jason. Now, if this were a modern romantic comedy, the couple marries, has children (which they did), and they live happily ever after. However, we’re dealing with the Greeks, here. Happily ever after is not their forte. Betrayal, murder, and revenge are the stuff of ancient Greek stories, and Medea’s is no exception.

Medea by artist Frederick Sandys
Medea by artist Frederick Sandys
But first, we need to know a little bit more about Medea. She is a princess of Colchis, what we consider modern-day Georgia (the country east of the Black Sea, not the place where Sherman marched). This country is around 1,500 miles away from Greece, as far east as a person can get through sailing. The people, according to the ancient Greeks, were uncivilized, tribal, and worshiped strange deities. She is royalty in this foreign land, which allows her character to act in ways outside of the Greek norms for women.

She is also a sorceress, and puts her arcane knowledge to use aiding Jason in obtaining the Golden Fleece through dispensing magic potions and important tidbits of information. She’s also the niece of the witch Circe (the one who transformed Odysseus’s crew into pigs).

portion of Medea and Jason by artist John William Waterhouse
Medea by artist John William Waterhouse
Knowing who she is, we can now pick up the story after Jason returns to Greece. According to Euripides’ play Medea, Jason abandons Medea for Glauce, a Corinthian Princess. It is because of Medea’s exotic and foreign nature that this happens. Medea is outspoken and very much not-a-Greek. The ancient Greeks did not have a problem with discrimination; they freely embraced it. Medea also possesses power beyond what a proper Greek woman should have, so she never had a chance to fit in with Greek society.

And Jason? Well, he’s not very broken up. Glauce is his ticket into ruling Corinth. So Jason betrays Medea, the woman responsible for masterminding the retrieval of the Golden Fleece, the one who saved his life on countless occasions, and the woman who mothered two of his children.

Marble relief shows Medea's wedding gift to her replacement Princess Glauce
Marble relief shows Medea’s wedding gift to her replacement Princess Glauce
What’s that line about a woman scorned?

Medea, being the intelligent, active woman that she is, does not take betrayal lightly. She becomes a one-woman force of utter destruction. In fact, everyone is afraid of what she might do, so King Creon wants to exile her.

a portion of Medea's gloating over the dead King Creon by artist Cesare Ligari
Medea gloats dead King Creon by artist Cesare Ligari
Instead of having a spine, Jason lamely says he will try to support her. Now betrayal is hardly new in Greek myth. It happens quite often (perhaps more often to the great heroes), Medea doesn’t want to kill Jason. She wants to destroy his life and family.

She wants him to suffer.

She feigns acceptance of what has happened and sends her children with a robe for the bride-to-be, Glauce. Only, the robe is poisoned. So, no more Glauce.

Medea get a bonus as Creon, Glauce’s father and the king of Corinth, also dies from the poison as he tries to save his daughter from the robes.

That’s two down.

Medea and her sons by Eugene Delacroix
Medea and her sons by Eugene Delacroix
Next, Medea opts for a terrible revenge ,very similar to what was seen in the story of Philomela, Procne, and Tereus.

Medea murders her own children.

This is in the belief that the children will become like their father, so in order to stop the bad seed, it’s important to snuff it. However, there’s a higher aspect of cruelty in what Medea does. After murdering her children, the chariot of Helios takes her up, and she has the bodies of her children with her, displaying them for Jason. She wants him to know they’re dead, but also to deny him a chance at closure. She flees with the dead boys to bury them in secret, so Jason will never know their final resting place. As a parting gift, she set the city of Corinth on fire.

Future wife: dead. Future father-in-law: dead. Children: dead. City: burning. Jason’s life is in utter ruins because of his betrayal.

This ancient vase depicts Medea's escape
An ancient vase depicts Medea’s escape

Oh, and Medea gets away clean, returning eventually to her homeland. Mastermind, femme fatale, supervillain, and getaway artist all in one.

 Andy Adams is an adjunct professor of English at various colleges in the Phoenix area. He has an affectation for fedoras as they complement his villainous goatee. He’s been known to poke his head onto Twitter @A3Writer, but he’s never been big into birds. He blogs at about writing, teaching, and the conquest of fictional worlds—they’re more fun than the real world.

Read all posts by Andy Adams for Criminal Element.

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