Medea, Murderous Mother or Defiant Defender of the Oikos?

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Medea by Artemisia Gentileschi (1620) (Public Domain)

Medea, Murderous Mother or Defiant Defender of the Oikos?

In his Argonautica, ancient Greek author Apollonius of Rhodes provides a rather romantic introduction of Medea as a young woman desperately in love. Unfortunately, this introduction quickly takes on a sinister turn and casts Medea as one of the most infamous and controversial figures in Greek mythology.

Ariadne and Theseus by Jean Baptiste Regnault (1754 – 1829) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen (Public Domain)

Ariadne and Theseus by Jean Baptiste Regnault (1754 – 1829) Musee des Beaux-Arts, Rouen (Public Domain)

Helper Maidens

To understand how a young girl in love can turn into a murderous woman who commits infanticide, it is helpful to look at the women who, over time, have been relegated to the role of ‘helper maidens’ in ancient heroic stories. A helper-maiden is typically personified as a young woman who, usually because of love, helps a hero in his quest. One of them is Ariadne. Ariadne was a priestess-princess and daughter of King Minos of Crete. Her father ordered the creation of a labyrinth by the engineer Daedalus. In the center of this labyrinth lived the Minotaur, half-human and half-bull and Ariadne’s half-brother. Ariadne fell in love with the young hero Theseus, a prince from Athens, who planned to enter the maze, to slay the Minotaur. Before Theseus entered the maze, Ariadne gave him a ball of string to help him find his way out.


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