One great fear of the patriarchal Athenians in the audience for
plays was a strong woman. That's one reason there were so
many dangerous women in the safe space of the theater.
We've met scary Clytemnestra and the scary Furies; now we see
scary Medea. Because powerful women leave chaos and
destruction in their wake, the Athenians were reassured in the
propriety of their project to make sure that women are not
allowed to exercise authority.
Medea is a play set against a backdrop of a much larger
story. For that story, we need to read the Argonautica,
the prequel written by Appollonius of Rhodes in Alexandria in
the 200s B.C. It relates the adventures of Jason and his
men as the travel into the wilds beyond the pales of
map here). There we first meet Medea, barbarian
princess and witch, she falls in love with Jason and begins to
help him fulfill his quest. Without her, he probably
wouldn't have returned to Greece at all, much less with the
Golden Fleece. Now with the acclaim and success he owes to
her, he wants to send her away, marry the princess of Corinth,
and become king someday.
We can better understand the stories we've been reading if we
consider the work of Lévi-Strauss (the French scholar, not the
blue jean dude). He developed the structuralist approach
to human thought, arguing that the human mind thinks using
similar structures regardless of time, place, or level of
civilization. Mythic thinking seeks to resolve the
contradiction between life and death (eros and thanatos
for your Freud fans). Each level above these
coorelates to an item horizontally, but it also allegorically
aligns with all the other items in the life or death
poles. Finally you reach a level where the gap can be
mediated by a figure that can resolve the contradiction.
If we look at the Aeneid, we find these levels that
include the Jason/Medea struggle.