mythological art, women of mythology


In Greek Mythology, Medea is the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, a niece of Circe and the granddaughter of Helios, the sun’s god. In most stories she is known as a powerful sorceress. Medea is also an important figure in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, appearing in Euripides’s tragedy Medea, in the epic Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes and in Hesiod’s Theogony.

Medea III by Yannoulis Chalepas, 1933
(Photo credit: WikiArt)

Jason and the Argonauts

In Jason and the Argonauts, she fell in love with Jason, after he came from Iolcus to claim the throne by retrieving the Golden Fleece. She promised to help him with the condition that if he succeeded, he would take her with him and marry her, he agreed.

Aeëtes promised to give Jason the fleece if he could perform some tasks. He achieved to accomplish all the tasks with Medea’s help. Then, Jason took the fleece and sailed away with Medea, as he had promised. Apollonius says, in his text, that Medea only helps Jason due to a complot among the gods Hera, Aphrodite and Eros, what made her fall in love with Jason in the first place. According to the legend, to escape her father’s persecution, Medea distracted him by killing her own brother, Absyrtus.

In some versions they stopped at Circe’s island, since Medea was her niece, the reason for this stop would be Medea’s cleansed after murdering her brother, relieving her of blame for the deed. There are several stories on Medea to reaffirm her power as a sorceress.

Jason and Medea were married for ten years in Corinth, where they had children, however the number of the children change between one and fourteen according to the source.

In Art

Medea by Mucha, 1898
Private collection
(Photo credit: WikiArt)

Medea is a character of Greek mythology which image is vivid in popular culture, appearing in literature, visual arts, music and even in video games.

In visual arts, Medea’s appearance is commonly related to any of the episodes of Jason and the Argonauts in which she participated, sometimes accompanied by their children, Jason or other characters.

Medea by Evelyn de Morgan
Williamson Art Gallery, Birkenhead
(Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Very often she appears as a sorcerer being depicted with objects that symbolise magic and witchcraft. In these cases, Medea is seen as a priestess of the goddess Hecate which is the goddess of the ancient Greek religion associated to the sorcery and witchcraft.

The only depictions of Medea made by female artists that I found were: one by the Pre-Raphaelite artist Evelyn de Morgan, and the other by Italian Baroque painter Artemisia Gentileschi.

Medea by Artemisia Gentileschi, c.1620
(Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)