Looking at Medea

Bloomsbury Press


Euripides' Medea is one of the most often read, studied and performed of all Greek tragedies. A searingly cruel story of a woman's brutal revenge on a husband who has rejected her for a younger and richer woman, it is unusual among Greek dramas for its acute portrayal of female psychology. Medea can appear at once timeless and strikingly modern. Yet the play is very much a product of the political and social world of fifth century Athens and an understanding of its original context, as well as a consideration of the responses of later ages, is crucial to appreciating this work and its legacy.

This collection of essays by leading academics addresses these issues, exploring key themes such as revenge, character, mythology, the end of the play, the chorus and Medea's role as a witch. Other essays look at the play's context, religious connotations, stagecraft and reception. The essays are accompanied by David Stuttard's English translation of the play, which is performer-friendly, accessible yet closely faithful to the original.

Reviews and Comments include

A wonderfully accessible guide to a dazzling play. David Stuttard's introduction and translation, along with critical essays by twelve different scholars, offer richly varied ways of looking at Medea.

Pat Easterling, editor The Cambridge Companion to Greek Theatre

In this volume, Stuttard has assembled an impressive cast of scholars in order to elucidate aspects of Medea’s original context an later reception. The best of these 12 chapters focus on a clearly-defined subject and attempt to offer some fresh and novel approaches rather than rehashing familiar material – no mean feat when it comes to a play as well-studied as this one... Stuttard has produced a companion to the play which is extremely accessible and helpful to those wishing to learn more about its original context, interpretation and ancient and modern reception. He insists that Medea should be considered in the light of 5th-century thoughts, religion and politics, and the end result is an enjoyable and wide-ranging overview of current scholarship on this tragedy and its afterlife, accompanied by a clear and accurate translation.

The Anglo-Hellenic Review

The participation of leading academics from Europe and the United States makes of Looking at Medea, Essays and a translation of Euripides’ Tragedy an influential international contribution to the study of Classics Literature. With his collection of essays and his beautiful and faithful translation, David Stuttard not only gently guides non-specialist readers into Euripides’ tragic play but also opens new perspectives to specialists of the field. The editor has thus faced the challenge to offer fresh insights into one ‘of the most often read, studied and performed of all Greek tragedies’.

Emeline Jouve, Caliban French Journal of English Studies, 53

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‘In peace time sons bury their fathers, but in war fathers bury their sons.’ If the historian Herodotus was in Athens’ Theatre of Dionysus on that brisk March morning in 431 BC, he may well have thought of these, his own words, as he watched while Medea unfolded to its bitter end, where Jason cannot even touch his dead sons, let alone bury them.

For, that Spring, war was in the air – indeed, tradition suggests that it was to chronicle the coming conflict that Herodotus returned to Athens at around this time – and, although the democracy’s ‘first citizen’, Pericles, was promising a relatively easy victory, many knew that, once conflict is unleashed (in the words of the late American political scientist, George Kennan), ‘war has a momentum of its own and it carries you away from all thoughtful intentions when you get into it’. To judge by his later works, Euripides was probably cautious of Athens’ escalating conflict with Corinth and her Peloponnesian allies, and it may be that he was hinting at these cautions in Medea.

So, to set Medea in its historical context and to provide something of a general background to the play and to this book, we should begin by outlining a little of the history of the times and (first) of some of what Medea’s original audience might have come to the theatre expecting to see.