116th Annual Conference - Bellingham, Washington
Friday, November 9 - Sunday, November 11, 2018

Medea: A Woman Depicted in a Man's World

Angela Hurley, Brandeis University

This paper aims to analyze Euripides’ masculinization of Medea and the reception of such a character by a Roman audience, specifically using Seneca’s Medea. Where Euripides masculinizes Medea in order for her to achieve her endeavors, Seneca vilifies her character. I will also explore through parallel contemporary examples depictions of and representations of powerful women which follow similar patterns of masculinizing or vilifying the subject. 


This paper explores Seneca’s representation of Medea both in relation to Euripides’ re-shaping of Greek myth and as an expression of Roman cultural differences. Euripides masculinizes Medea, having her break several gender boundaries in order to achieve her goals. I argue that this created an adverse effect on her character’s reception in Roman culture and influenced a more vilified character of Medea found in Seneca’s Medea. By focusing on Medea’s representation, specifically through her masculinization, I show how her character directly contrasts with Roman values which ultimately reduces her character from a conflicted heroine into an oversimplified villain. Medea may be seen as an extreme example of Roman views on threats posed by powerful women. The representation of Medea and how each playwright depicts her, either masculinizing or vilifying her, have parallel examples in contemporary issues, from depictions of powerful women and even to how women feel they need to present themselves. My final point is how a complex female figure, such as Medea, can serve as a model into Roman attitudes towards powerful women but also as a parallel model to view the treatments of powerful women within our current society.

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