Medea wrestles with the ideas of motherhood, her love for her children, and the role children play
“O children, O my children, you have a city,
You have a home, and you can leave me behind you.
And without your mother you may live there forever.
But I am going in exile to another land
Before I have seen you happy and taken pleasure in you,
Before I have dressed your brides and made your marriage beds
And held up the torch at the ceremony of wedding.
Oh, what a wretch I am in this me self-willed thought!
What was the purpose, children, for which I reared you?
For all my travail and wearing myself away?
They were sterile, those pains I had in the bearing of you.
Oh surely once the hopes in you I had, poor me,
Were high ones: you would look after me in old age,
And when I died would deck me well with your own hands;
A thing which all would have done. Oh but now it is gone,
Sad will be the life I’ll lead and sorrowful for me.
And you will never see your mother again with
Your dear eyes, gone to another mode of living.
Why, children, do you look upon me with your eyes?
Why do you smile so sweetly that last smile of all?
Oh, Oh, what can I do? My spirit has done from me,
Friends, when I saw that bright look in the children’s eyes.
I cannot bear to do it. I renounce my plans
I had before. I’ll take my children away from
This land. Why should I hurt their father with the pain
They feel, and suffer twice as much of pain myself?
No, no, I will not do it. I renounce my plans.
Ah, what is wrong with me? Do I want to let go
My enemies unhurt and be laughed at for it?
I must face this thing. Oh, but what a weak woman
Even to admit to my mind these soft arguments.
Children, go into the house. And he whom law forbids
To stand in attendance at my sacrifices,
Let him see to it. I shall not mar my handiwork.
Do not, O my heart, you must not do these things!
Poor heart, let them go, have pity upon the children.
If they live with you in Athens they will cheer you.
No! By Hell’s avenging furies it shall not be–
This shall never be, that I should suffer my children
To be the prey of my enemies’ insolence.
Every way it is fixed. The bride will not escape.
No, the diadem is now upon her head, and she,
The royal princess, is dying in the dress, I know it.
But–for it is the most dreadful of roads for me
To tread, and them I shall send on a more dreadful still
I wish to speak to the children.
Come, children, give
Me your hands, give your mother your hands to kiss them.
Oh the dear hands, and Oh how dear are these lips to me,
And the generous eyes and the bearing of my children!
I wish you happiness, but not here in this world.
What is here your father took. Oh how good to hold you!
How delicate the skin, how sweet the breath of children!
Go, go! I am no longer able, no longer
To look upon you. I am overcome by sorrow.
I know indeed what evil I intend to do,
But stronger than all my afterthoughts is my fury,
Fury that brings upon mortals the greatest evils.”
Trans. Rex Warner, The Medea, originally published Bodley Head Limited, 1944. Ed. David Grene and Richard Lattimore, Euripides I. University of Chicago Press, 1955, pp. 94-95.