Free Essay On The Presentation Of The Character Of Medea And The Symbolism Attached To Her Clothing
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Apollonius of Rhodes was the author of The Argonautica, which is one the Greek epic poetry material written late in the 3rd century. Most of other literary materials of that time have become obsolete, but Apollonius’s work prevailed to become one of the few renowned Hellenistic works. The poem revolves around the adventure of Jason who accompanied by his group of Argonauts are on a mission to get the golden fleece from Colchis. In the process of fulfilling his role, he comes across Medea, a Cholchian lady who was already well known in the Greek epic circles. The poem generally looks into the dynamics and issues associated with love between the two main characters. This paper looks at the nature of the presentation of Medea and the symbolism that is associated to her clothing and especially her use of the veil.
The Character of Medea
Medea’s character in various Greek materials has been presented in various ways that have been intriguing to most writers over time. The most famous descriptions of the character of Medea are the part she played in helping out Jason to fulfill his role and objectives of his adventure. She is also well known due to the tragedy she was part of, that is the killing of her own children. Due to these and other aspects of Medea’s character, she has been influential to the work of many writers both in ancient Greek and the modern day setting. Her character has been variedly presented through various forms of art such as musicals, dramas, and dances. Her character has been the subject of study from different perspectives ranging from psychological, cultural and philosophical bases. She, therefore, remains one of the most important characters in Greek literature and mythology with the ability to arouse questions and debates about various aspects of her life (Claus & Johnstone, 115)
The norm in Greek mythology is that the characters often maintain a specified nature with certain attributes and characteristics expected of them despite the differences in the settings or the story. Medea, however, represents constant change shifting from various roles in various literary material. This raises the question of the different conceptions of the self of Medea in the epic Greek material.
In fully capturing the presentation of Medea in Argonautica, it is important to consider the presentation in other writers such as Euripides. In most of these writings, however, a common theme prevails; a theme of painful love. Normally when one talks about love, aspects of being in pain, considering killing others and even having the desire to kill themselves cannot be mentioned in the same breath. This is however the definition of love in Medea’s view and various experiences of love made her go through such emotions. Throughout the stories, she is always in pain due to the kind of love she experienced and the kind of actions that the love made her perform (Claus & Johnstone 176). This therefore appears to be the only similar presentation of Medea’s character since different stories go on to differ in their narration.
In Argonautica, Medea’s story can be seen as a hero based narration with the intention of letting a reader listen to the story while giving additional information on the same in the story. In Euripides view, the story becomes more complicated and introduced a fusion of various issues such as emphasizing with Medea as a murderous mother and explaining the underlying circumstances.
In the structuring of Argonautica, Apollonius maintains the already known perspective to the already known story of the relationship between Jason and Medea. It seems that in his presentation of Medea and other characters, he plans to remind the reader of all the other myths associated to the characters and fuse them to bring about a narrative that persists over time. In his writing, he gives an unusual attention to a small insignificant issue that brings the picture of a historical piece of work meant to jog the memories of the readers. The use of the third person where the story is told through the eyes of Medea and other characters in the story also brings out this effect (Claus & Johnstone, 121).
In Euripides' narration of the Medea story, on the other hand, the author has certain goals that he intends to achieve with the presentation of her character, goals that differ from those in Argonauitica above. Here, Euripides seemingly decides to retell her fate in a completely new perspective that despite prior knowledge of the character by the audience elicits the feelings of a tragic hero in the story. Therefore, Medea is not presented like the other mothers in the Greek myths that killed their loved ones. She is brought out not as evil but as a tragic hero. Her actions are taken to be justifiable and are blamed on fate and other supernatural forces.
In understanding Medea’s presentation, it is inevitable to compare her presentation to that of her fellow character Jason. In this epic story, he is given the full qualities of a human hero. He is not without weaknesses and often calls for the assistance of other people. What sets him apart is the set of characteristics that he is given that entail him being in possession of key leadership qualities, being a good listener to advice from others and ultimately being able to be right in most of the decisions that he makes. The supernatural bit is also attached to him whereby the gods are on his side for their preplanned ends.
The presentation of Medea is however principally different compared to that of Jason as narrated above. She is not viewed as being wise but rather as a controlling wife who leads her husband to bad decisions. She continues to help him despite the apparent truth that the husband does not seem to be moved by her feelings and actions.
In the ancient Greek art, clothing was important and was given an important symbolic meaning as well as a non-physical meaning attached to it. Different artists used different types of clothing to bring out certain meanings of effects in their art and especially literary material. This is no different in Apollonius’ Argonautica whereby different types of clothing are used and talked about in the poem. All of the clothing materials used by the characters do not however receive similar attention, with some being majorly talked of while others are just mentioned, and insinuations made about them.
Essentially Apollonius does not mistakenly make use of different types of clothing but actually uses them to make some revelations about the self and characteristics of different players in the poem (Pavlou, 186). The clothes in the poem are therefore not merely pieces but essential components that serve a higher purpose of revealing the characters.
Through the kind of clothing given to his characters, Apollonius is able to further expose the different themes in the story including violence and love. The clothing is varied ranging from Jason’s nice cloak, the lion skin wrapper owned by Heracles and Medea’s veil. The focus, in this case, will be on the veil that Medea had and the symbolic representations that can be attached to that piece of clothing. Generally the veil can be seen as a representation of Medea’s inner aspects such as her emotions and feelings. Instances where the veil was used and its various aspects such as color will also be looked into.
The first mention of Medea’s veil occurs when the two meet for the first time. Here, Eros impacts some kind of erotic love into her heart when he shoots an arrow into her. The consequence is that she is smitten by the man Jason and has a series of bodily reactions that implode to erotic love. She uses the veil to hide her face and prevent Jason from seeing that she was looking at him (Pavlou 188). Apollonius further describes the veil used to be bright bringing the connotations of her beauty coupled with her vulnerability in that given situation. In the traditional Greek culture, it was quite common for the women to use the veil. It was expected to show the modesty that the women had especially when interacting with strangers. The implication here therefore is that Medea was caught between the erotic feeling she had started to experience and the modesty that she was obliged to maintain.
The other mention of the veil occurs during the meeting between Medea and Jason. After a night-long struggle between her erotic love and the modesty that she is supposed to maintain, she comes to a conclusion that she has to help Jason to accomplish his mission (Pavlou 190). The veil, in this case, is used in her preparation to meet Jason since it reveals that she intended to be noticed and not just help Jason. The veil represents the calculated goal of attracting Jason and slowly seducing him. It, therefore, serves another purpose; the revelation of the female sexuality. This is different to the modesty role the veil played previously since it can also bear sexual innuendos intended at attracting men.
The next mention of the veil occurs when the two major characters are eloping. This occurs when Medea becomes suspicious that her father has learned of the betrayal of her family and that she helped Jason achieve his goal. She escapes from the place and runs through the streets of the town with her face covered by the veil (Pavlou 193). The veil, in this case, is used to represent the fear that she had about the whole situation.
Another instance whereby the use of the veil can be seen to bear some symbolic meaning is the scene of the murder of Apsyrtus, Medea’s brother. Here, she covers her face with the veil and actually turns away her face to avoid seeing the killing of her brother (Pavlou 196). She had earlier agreed to this action since it was the only way to save Jason and her, but the act had its toll on her. The meaning attached to the veil, in this case, is shame and grief. Medea is ashamed of betraying and leaving her family behind while also being overcome by grief due to the role she played in her brother’s death.
Claus, J. J. and Johnston, S. I. eds. Medea: Essays on Medea in Myth, Literature, Philosophy, and Art (Princeton). 1997. Print.
Pavlou, M. ‘Reading Medea through her Veil in the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes’, Greece and Rome 56.2: 183-202. 2009. Print.
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