Song Sweeter than Orpheus’

Euripides’ Medea 542-544

in Mnemosyne
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In Euripides’ Medea, Jason expresses a preference for fame over riches or musical talent such as that which Orpheus possesses. Orpheus was well-known for the supernaturally persuasive qualities of his music, and as the play makes clear, Jason’s rejection of Orpheus’ talents is not purely rhetorical—he lacks the persuasive skill of Orpheus, skill which he needs to reconcile Medea to his new marriage. Medea is persistently compared to things which Orpheus is able to influence through his song, such as rocks, lions, and bulls, highlighting Jason’s failure to persuade where the mythical singer succeeds. Jason is, however, successful in persuading his new bride; as a lover rather than a husband, he possesses Orpheus’ abilities. The implied comparison between Jason and Orpheus foreshadows the death of Jason’s Corinthian bride and Jason’s downfall at the hands of a woman.

Mnemosyne

A Journal of Classical Studies

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References

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3

Page 1938, ad 542-544, Elliot 1970, ad 543.

7

Machemer (1993), Johnston (1995), Walsh (1984), and Parry (1992) deal with the equation of poetry/music and magic. See Entralgo 1970, de Romilly 1975, Buxton 1982, and Ward 1988 for persuasion as a type of magical compulsion.

9

Linforth 1941, 34.

10

See Buxton 1982, 162-163 and Nicolai 2012, 104-106 on the rhetorical features in Jason’s (and Medea’s) speeches.

13

See Mossman 2001, ad 92 and 103-104 for parallels and the tragic connotations of ταυρουμένην and ἄγριον.

17

However, see Mossman 2011, ad 1187. Hercules in S. Tr. 769-771, 987, 1054-1057, 1084, 1088 is also described as being eaten and burned by his poisoned clothing.

20

Hadas 1936.

23

Robbins 1982, 17-19.

24

See Graf 1987, 97 on this and other evidence for Orpheus as an Argonaut.

25

Clare 2002, esp. 231-260 on Orpheus in the Argonautica.

31

See Graf and Johnston 2007, 168-169 for other discussion of Orpheus’ reputation as an early singer.

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