Greek Wednesday: Medea 1-48

I’ve decided that every Wednesday, I’ll post my translation of some Greek I’ve been reading. I’m reading selections from Euripides’ Medea in my Greek class this semester, so I figured that would be a good place to start.

———-

Nurse

(1) I wish that the Argo had never sailed through the dark Clashing Rocks to the land of Colchis, that in the forests of Mt. Pelion no pine would ever have been cut and felled, and that the hands of the most excellent men, who fetched the pure gold fleece for Pelias, (5) were never given oars. If none of this had happened, then my mistress, Medea, wouldn’t have sailed away from Iolcus, struck senseless by love for Jason,* nor would she have persuaded Pelias’ daughters to kill their father or inhabited the land of Corinth (10) with her husband and children. I’ll admit, she was pleasing both to the citizens to whose land she came as an exile, as well as to Jason, to whom she brought everything; it proves to be the greatest deliverance (15) whenever a woman does not disagree with her husband. But now, everything that was beloved has turned to strife and has become diseased.

Jason betrayed his own children and my mistress, and laid down in a royal marriage with the daughter of Creon, the ruler of the land. (20) Medea, that wretched, dishonored woman, cried aloud about the oaths she and Jason took, invoked the greatest trust they made — a handshake with his right hand — and testified to the gods about what an awful return she had gotten from him. She lays around without eating; she freely submits her body to pain; (25) she spends the whole time dissolving into tears because she perceived that her husband had been unjust to her. She doesn’t lift up her eyes or look up from the ground, and when her friends admonish her, she listens like a rock or the waves of the sea. (30) The only time she does any different is when she turns her pale, white neck** to herself and bewails her beloved father, land, and household, which she betrayed when she arrived here with her husband, who now holds her in dishonor. This wretched woman has come to know, because of these circumstances, (35) what sort of blessing it is not to leave one’s fatherland. She hates her children and feels no joy when she sees them.

I’m afraid she’s plotting something now, because her mind is weighed down and cannot put up with such intense suffering; I know it’s true, and I’m afraid that (40) she will shove a sharpened sword through her liver, sneak into the house where the marriage bed is laid out, or kill the king and the man she married — and then, something even worse will take her. She’s fearsome; no man who quarrels with her (45) will easily proclaim victory.

But look! The children have stopped playing and are coming this way, with no ill thoughts toward their mother; after all, young minds are not fond of pain.

———-

*Euripides is making a play here between Κυανέας Συμπληγάδας (“dark Clashing Rocks”) and θυμὸν ἐκπλαγεῖσ’ (“struck senseless in her heart”), implying that Medea was struck senseless by her love for Jason with the same force that the Clashing Rocks destroyed the ships that tried to pass through them. On love as a source of pain in ancient Greece, see Claude Calame, The Poetics of Eros in Ancient Greece (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999), 3-6.

 

** A sign of aristocracy. Respectable, well-off Greek women were expected to spend all their time either indoors or veiled. Donald J. Mastronarde, Euripides: Medea (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), 169.

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