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Hey there and welcome back to another episode of fun queer history!! Today we’re looking at the story of the ancient super powerful lady Medea and how her story can be understood better through Taylor Swift’s song Mad Woman from her latest album Folklore. Niche I know!! But ever since I first listened to that song, it’s all I’ve been wanting to write. So hey! I’m going for it.

Firstly, let’s talk about Medea. Medea is most famous for her appearance in the stories about Jason and the Argonauts (the one with the golden fleece!), but also appears in a tragic play by a guy called Euripides, cleverly named Medea. Look Euripides used up all his imagination on the actual plots, he didn’t have time for clever titles okay?!!! But this play is what we’re going to focus on in order to really understand her.

Once upon a time there was a super cool powerful sorceress/general boss b*tch called Medea. She was the daughter of a king, but more importantly, the granddaughter of Helios. Who’s he? The actual literal sun. That’s right, her grandpa was the sun. So you can already tell she’s gonna be a powerful figure right? *Side note – if you’ve heard of Circe from the Odyssey, or other stories - she’s Medea’s aunt! cool coincidence hey?*.

Anyway so before the play kicks in, Jason has arrived with his ship at Medea’s dad’s palace, where he wants to get the famous golden fleece. (Think sheepskin, not the kind cool gen z teens wear!). Anyway, the old troublemaker Hera (queen of the gods!) had chatted to Aphrodite (goddess of love!) and managed to convince her to make the princess Medea fall in love with Jason. Just a prank lol!!! Honestly playing with mortal’s emotions is their number one favourite game, and they do it pretty well. So our poor Medea is suddenly love struck for Jason, and I mean like proper head over heels. If you can imagine how much I loved one direction in 2012, or how much I love Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez right now, it was pretty much like a hundred times more than that. So anyway, Medea’s dad gives Jason a bunch of impossible tasks to do, and tells him he’ll get the fleece once they’re done. But what he doesn’t know is his lovestruck daughter is helping Jase out on the down-low, using all her smarts and sorcery. When Jason finally gets the fleece and starts running away, Medea is too obsessed to be without him – he’s her one true love!! Aphrodite has her well and truly hooked, and she’s absolutely gone for him. She’s so gone in fact, that she even helps them escape by distracting her father (if you don’t like gore, don’t read this next sentence!!!) which she does by chopping up her brother, and throwing bits and pieces into the sea as they go, leaving her dad to stop chasing to try and pick all the parts up.

That’s right, she basically created the most messed up puzzle in history. Pretty grim. But look okay, Medea is basically under a spell at this point, she’s in love with Jason and thanks to Aphrodite’s clownery, he’s all she can think about.

You’d think after Medea helped Jason escape death like a thousand times, sorted every problem he had, and left her homeland for him, that he’d be grateful right? And he was! For like five minutes. And this is where the Euripides’ play Medea kicks in.

The scene opens with Jason back in his homeland, with his now wife Medea in tow, along with their two children. Yes! They made it! Their family can be happy together at last. Except it’s literally the opposite of that. Because Jason has some news – he’s met a new princess, Glauce (who is also sometimes called Creusa!!). And like every useless man-child in history, Jason has decided that he wants a shiny new toy, and abandons Medea and their kids for the new princess. But see Medea gave up everything for him, she’s an exile from her homeland, and now he wants to throw her out of this land too. She’s a woman with no one, she left everyone and burned every bridge for him, and now he’s left her.

And now it’s time for Taylor. I’m going to share the lyrics as I go along, and match up the bits of Medea’s story, and hopefully we’ll all understand what I’m getting at. Here we goooo:

What did you think I'd say to that? Does a scorpion sting when fighting back? They strike to kill, and you know I will

Medea’s response to Jason. She’s declaring herself a threat, but forcing him to acknowledge that his actions have caused this, she is defending herself from what he has done. In the last line, Medea reminds him of what she did to her brother, and what’s she’s capable, while also foreshadowing her final gruesome act.

What do you sing on your drive home? Do you see my face in the neighbor's lawn? Does she smile? Or does she mouth, "Fuck you forever"?

Here Medea reflects on Jason’s new life, on his return home to a new wife, in a new bed. Do the other women of the island side with him and their new princess? Or can they understand her pain and rage? In Euripides’ Medea she asks this of the women around her, recalling the struggles that Greek women collectively feel in their patriarchal society, their use as pawns in political marriages, how they are robbed of their own agency, and how their husbands can cheat while they are expected to remain the perfect wives.

Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy What about that? And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry

As Medea mourns her lost relationship and fears for her future, she is met with nothing but scorn and abuse from Jason, and his new bride’s father. Pretty soon, the people around Medea start to notice how the abuse and threats are impacting her, leading her nurse to warn Medea’s children of her “troubled and angry heart”, and the women of the city to worry about what she’ll do.

And there's nothing like a mad woman What a shame she went mad No one likes a mad woman You made her like that And you'll poke that bear 'til her claws come out And you find something to wrap your noose around And there's nothing like a mad woman

Again here we witness the degrading of Medea, and the central role Jason plays in it. He refers to her as having a “stupid attitude”, and calls her mad and angry, saying that she’s crazy for how she’s reacting right now. She’s compared to a lioness, demeaned, and attacked. The men of the play consistently belittle her, refer to her as an animal, and call her reactions crazy - she's just being a typical mad woman.

Now I breathe flames each time I talk My cannons all firin' at your yacht They say "move on," but you know I won't

And Medea is in action. Her plan is sorted. She is going to bring the man who hurt her down. Even though a visiting old friend lets her know she can stay with him, and tells her to move on, she’s set on her path. Jason will pay for what he did to her, and she’s ready to destroy him.

And women like hunting witches too Doing your dirtiest work for you It's obvious that wanting me dead Has really brought you two together

Called a sorceress by the people around her, Medea doesn’t forget the role Jason’s fiancée Glauce has played in her downfall - after all, it was at Glauce’s request that her father exiled Medea. The desire to see Medea gone brings Jason and his new bride even closer together as they plot to send her into exile, with both of them chasing the sorceress Medea.

Every time you call me crazy, I get more crazy What about that? And when you say I seem angry, I get more angry

And there's nothing like a mad woman What a shame she went mad No one likes a mad woman You made her like that And you'll poke that bear 'til her claws come out And you find something to wrap your noose around And there's nothing like a mad woman

And we’re back to the chorus again. This is what makes Medea the most mad, that Jason consistently rejects any sense of wrongdoing, blaming Medea’s exile and replacement on her own “surly temper”. If she hadn’t spoken up, Jason says, then she would’ve been allowed to stay, but it was her fault, and that she’s being a typical woman. Getting Kanye West vibes here anyone? Yep just like our little stage stormer, Jason tells Medea that she wouldn’t be famous without him, no one would know her name, and she should actually be thanking him. Honestly that’s enough to make anyone crack, and definitely would have me absolutely fuming. And it has that effect on Medea too.

I'm taking my time, taking my time 'Cause you took everything from me Watching you climb, watching you climb Over people like me

Need I say more? Jason took everything from Medea, her brother, her family, her homeland, and then left her with nothing. He used her to get the golden fleece, then treated her like she was disposable. He’s used to walking over people, and she’s going to make sure he never plays anyone else again.

The master of spin has a couple side flings Good wives always know She should be mad, should be scathing like me, but…

Jason is the ‘master of spin’, and Medea curses him as a ‘criminal with the gift of speaking’, ‘dress[ing] his foul thoughts in fair words’. Speaking of his ‘side flings’, Glauce has been held up as the ideal wife, with Medea the crazy spurned woman. She says Glauce should be mad, should be scathing, maybe reflecting on the reality that Jason’s fiancée would have ended up with. …Would have…

No one likes a mad woman What a shame she went mad You made her like that

And this is how it concludes. Medea truly goes mad. In her plot to destroy Jason, she sends her children with a golden dress and crown as a bridal gift, secretly infused with poison. As Glauce puts it on, she is killed, along with her father who tries to save her. But Jason may have thrown his new wife aside, just like he did Medea, and so she needs to do more. She needs to destroy everything he holds dear. And so Medea does the unthinkable, she kills her own children. When Jason finally arrives at her door, she emerges on her grandfather’s chariot, being drawn by dragons, her dead children at her feet. (I know right?!). As Jason calls her a lioness, an abomination, a monster, she refutes him, telling him that his actions forced her to do this, and that now she and her children will be forever free from him. She will bury her children far from him, and his enemy population, and he will never see any of them again. But Medea makes clear that she is upset by this, that she never wanted this – how can Jason claim to mourn them when only she loved her children, he didn’t, or he wouldn’t have exiled them. This tragic end to the play was the result of Jason’s actions, and Medea knows that the gods agree with her. If she has become mad, it is only because he made her like that.

And there we go!!! Medea à la Taylor Swift. I know this one was kind of weird and out of the box but hey! That's what the Queer Classicist is all about. Women in ancient history have often been characterised as mad or crazy for thousands of years, and it's only relatively recently in this history that people have started questioning these approaches. It's actually pretty similar to how Taylor Swift was demonised - just check out my article on Cleopatra for evidence of this!! Whether it was their sexuality, politics, or their deviation from their assumed societal role, women have constantly been labelled as 'crazy' in order to both demonise them, and invalidate their actions. And this is why I honestly think using Taylor Swift's media reception is a really great case study for feminist reevaluations of ancient women. The sheer hatred and vitriolic language that Taylor Swift received for years based on her sex life, her political views, or her opposition to powerful men is one that we also see reflected in writings, both fictional and historic, regarding ancient women. And just as Taylor has fought to readdress her image, we need to do the same for women of the past.

Thanks everyone for checking this post out!! I genuinely loved writing this - let me know if you enjoyed reading it. Love you all lots and lots xxxx

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Think this might be my fave yet, Taylor's song was playing in my mind as I read this 🥰


Andrew Hobley
Andrew Hobley

Wow! Great post (even though I've never knowingly heard Taylor Swift - shall rectify that shortly). Euripides' attitude in his plays towards women is intriguing given the culture he lived in - way more understanding than Sophocles or Aeschylus. And I think you may have set me of on my occasional reread of my Penguin Classics Greek Dramatists and of course Aristophanes. Thank you. And keep posting.

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