In Greek mythology, Medea (Greek: Μήδεια, transl.: Médeia) was the daughter of King Aeetes of Colchida (now Georgia), niece of Circe (appearing also as daughter of Circe and Hermes or as sister of Circe and daughter of Hecatha), and for some time, wife of Jason.
She is one of the most terrible and fascinating characters in mythology, as she involves contradictory and deeply cruel feelings, which have inspired many artists throughout history in sculpture, painting, theater, cinema, opera, etc.
The myths and characters involving Medea have been classified by some authors as narratives and key elements concerning the cultural and civilizational threshold that separates, on the one hand, the primitive world of the pelasgic cultures of shamans, the kthonic deities, the archaic matriarchies and the mother-goddess and, on the other hand, the new challenges and paradigms opened by the Bronze Age.
The myth of Medea is part of the Argonauts' narrative cycle which has come down to us, in a more complete form, in the work Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes (3rd century B.C.) which was based on scattered material he had access to in the famous library of Alexandria.
It all begins when Jason arrives in Colchis, from the Kingdom of Ioucos, to claim the Golden Fleece for himself. As is often the case in many myths, Aeetes promises him the fleece, provided that the hero accomplishes a task.
Jason would have to plow a field with two monstrous, untamed bulls, with bronze hooves and spewing fire from their nostrils, which had been given to him by Hephaestus. He would then have to sow in the plowed field the teeth of a dragon that was killed by Cadmo in times past.
According to some accounts, Hera, as Jason's protector, asked Aphrodite to persuade Eros to make Medea fall in love with Jason. Thus, she, knowing her father's ulterior motives, begins to help the hero.
In return, he would marry her, and take her with him on his way back to Iolcos. Medea then offers the stranger an ointment that he should use on his body and his shield, making him invulnerable to fire and iron for a day - enough to face the bulls and plow the field.
Medea also warns him that from the dragon's teeth will come forth a host of soldiers who will turn on him and try to kill him. However, Medea, knowing Cadmium's story, gives him the simple solution to the problem: just throw a stone, from afar, into the middle of this army raised from the earth.
The soldiers would get into an argument about who threw the stone and kill each other. With such advice, Jason performed the tasks with ease and returned to claim the golden fleece from Aeetes.
The king of Colchis, furious, resists and tries again to thwart the Argonaut's intentions by trying to set fire to the ship Argo, from which he had come, besides intending to kill his crew.
It is again Medea who helps Jason escape this fate by putting the dragon guarding the golden fleece to sleep with narcotics and warning him of his father's plans. Thus they manage to escape from Colchis, with the desired treasure. In one version of the story, during the escape, Medea is said to have healed Atalanta of serious wounds.
It is then that Medea's cruel side is revealed for the first time. When they leave, she takes Apsirto, her brother, with her, knowing that it would not be long before their father would be on their trail.
To delay him, she kills her brother and tears him apart, scattering the remains along the way, knowing that their father would try to collect every piece to give him a proper burial. The crime causes them to incur, however, the wrath of Zeus, who turns the expedition away from its course.
It is the ship Argo, on which they are on, that gains the gift of speech and informs them that they will have to be ritually cleansed of the crime committed against Apsirto by Circe, Medea's aunt (daughter of Helios - the Sun, just like her father). They spend some time with the sorceress, who purifies them, but does not accept Jason's stay in her territory.
Back in Thessaly, Medea was attributed the prophecy that the helmsman of the ship Argo, Euphemus, would rule Libya - which would, however, only come to pass in his descendant Bato.
When they arrived in Crete, Medea again played an important role before Talos, the bronze man, who, almost invulnerable, prowled the island, throwing stones at the approaching ships to prevent them from coming ashore. His weak point was a vein protected by a pin at the bottom of his leg.
There are many versions about the death of the giant. If there are authors, such as Apollodorus, who attribute it to an arrow shot by Peante, most versions attribute this new success to the magical arts of Medea, who bewitched him from the ship, driving him mad with false visions of immortality if he removed the pin, or through drugs that caused him to injure himself with a rock in the sensitive spot of his body. The giant dying, the crew can rest on dry land.
Several commentators on the myth consider that it was Hera herself, Zeus' wife, who disposed Jason's destiny toward Colchis so that he would bring with him Medea, the right woman to lead Pelias to his death. With the arrival of Medea and Jason, the tyrant refuses to let go of power.
The fact that he tried to take Jason's life by sending him on a quest for the golden fleece, causes Medea to devise a new way to lead him to his doom, using the occult arts and some cunning. Befriending the king's daughters, she tells them that she can rejuvenate anyone she wants.
To prove it, she had an old ram butchered and put into a cauldron with a boiling potion. She then removed the animal, whole and quite healthy.
Other authors maintain that he tested it on Aeson, Jason's own father, which gave him even more credit. The excited girls ran to quarter their father and throw his pieces into the cauldron. As is obvious, he never came out alive again. After this macabre incident, Medea fled with her beloved to Corinth.
In Corinth, Medea's happiness was short-lived. Already with children by Jason, she was the target of King Creon's intrigue, who influenced Jason to leave her in order to marry his daughter, Creusa (or Glauce). Having convinced Jason, he tried to banish Medea from Corinth.
However, before leaving the city, Medea still managed to take revenge, again combining cunning with magic. She brought Creusa a dress and jewelry - a gift literally poisoned, since each accessory had been soaked in a secret potion.
As soon as her rival put on her dress, she felt her body invaded by a mysterious fire that soon spread to her father, who tried to help her, as well as to the entire palace - an episode that has similarities with the death of Heracles, by the work of Nessus.
Some narrators tell that Medea, fleeing, was unable to take her children with her who, in the face of Jason's negligence, were stoned to death by Creon's family in revenge.
However, the best known version is even darker and is due to Euripides in his tragedy Medea, first performed in 431 BC. Here, it is Medea herself who kills her children before fleeing to Athens, not in a fit of madness, but in an act of cold, premeditated revenge on her unfaithful husband.
Euripides was, at the time, accused of giving in to a high bribe from Corinthian citizens who preferred a version where it was not the people of that city who committed the infanticide.
Medea fled to Athens, where she marries King Aegean. They had a son, Medus. When Theseus returns, Medea tries to poison him, but Aegeus discovers that Theseus was her son and prevents the murder.
Back in Colchis
Medea and Medus return to Colchis, and discover that Aeetes had been deposed by his brother Perses. Medea and Medus kill Perses, and Medus becomes king. When Medus conquers a large territory, it is called Media.