Issue 119, Summer 1991
Medea to Jason
There is nothing marginal about Medea, whose name signifies intelligence and cunning. Enchanting daughter of Aeetes, king of Colchis at the Eastern end of the Black Sea, she was also niece of Circe, whose magic Odysseus narrowly escapes, and, like Ariadne and Phaedra below, granddaughter of the sun. As well versed in the black arts, including pharmacology, as she is well connected, Medea aids Jason in stealing the golden fleece, by means of a series of tests, detailed here, which highlight the fairytale quality of this saga, and then accompanies him to Greece where she tricks the daughters of King Pelias, who had set the whole quest afoot, into attempting to rejuvenate him by cutting him up and boiling him in a magic cauldron. Medea, however, withholds the secret ingredient, with predictable fatal results. When Jason imprudently deserts her for Creusa, Medea takes the terrible revenge threatened at the end of this letter, incinerating her rival, immolating her children by Jason, and flying off to Athens in a dragon-chariot. Ovid wrote a tragedy on this subject, which unlike its heroine has not survived.
While Queen of Colchis, I believe, I made
Available to you my magic aid.
That was the period at which the dread
Sisters should have cut my mortal thread
Short, for then I could have died content:
Existence since seems one long punishment.
Cursed be the day the gilded youth of Greece
Aboard the Argo sought the golden fleece!
When we in Colchis saw this foreign ship
Crowded with heroes in our Phasis dip
Oar! just why your beauty charmed me so,
Fair hair and fair, false tongue, I do not know.
O why, when that strange ship had come to land
And had discharged its brash, adventurous band.
Didn’t heartless Jason meet his death
Unarmed against the bronze bulls’ fiery breath?
Or plant a fatal foe with every seed
And therefore reap what he had sown indeed?
What bad faith would have perished, rogue, with you!
How many woes would have been spared me, too!
There is a certain pleasure, is there not?
In bringing up old benefits forgot,
And I intend to savour what may be
The only pleasure you can give to me.
Untried, obedient to some command,
You trespassed in my happy fatherland.
Medea in that country occupied
The same position as your newest bride
In this; in father’s wealth I too took pride:
Hers rules the shores of Corinth; my papa
Reigns from the Hellespont to Scythia.
Aeetes welcomed you; your shipmates made
Themselves at home upon our rich brocade.
I saw you; even though you were unknown
To me, my peace of mind was overthrown.
I looked and was lost, I burned with strange, divine
Fire, like a pine-torch blazing in a shrine.
Irresistible as destiny
And handsome, with a look you ravished me.
I think you guessed, you wretch! for there’s no way
Of hiding love; it gives itself away.