How doesEuripedies use the symbol

How doesEuripedies use the symbol of hands to highlight the complexity of the humancharacter in Medea? In the play Medea,Euripides highlights the complexity of the protagonist through the explorationof the themes of oaths, deceit and justice, as represented by the recurringsymbol of hands. Its contradictory uses within the play portray Medea’scapacity for both care and harm, and the duplicity of her character, and itstransformation over the course of the play. The events of theplay, in particular, Medea’s search for justice, are set in motion by animplied oath and its subsequent betrayal that both occur before the beginningof the play: the failed marriage of Jason and Medea.

This event is alluded toin the opening monologue, where the nurse describes Medea’s reaction to Jason’sbetrayal, referring to when Medea “in despair, rejected by her husband, howlsout the oaths he swore and calls upon the right hand” (L20-21).  The mention of”oaths” and “hands” in this line refer to the promises made in marriage, aswell as alluding to the preceding of the joining of hands in a marriageceremony. The use of zoomorpism”howls” evokes a strong auditory image, as if the betrayal is causing her physicalpain, as if reverting her to aalmost animalistic state of anger and hatred. This is emphasized further by the sibilance of “howls”,”oaths”, “swore” and  “calls”, as ifhissing in anger. This reinforces the significance of hands as arepresentation of oaths, as well as the importance of these promises and themagnitude of the crime against her of breaking them.

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This anger towardsJason’s betrayal is further evident in the following line, when she “invokesthe gods to witness Jason’s treatment of her” (22-23). The ____ terminology of”invoked”, evokes a religious, almost ritualistic connotation of the action.The ___ “witness”, alludes to the legal system, depicting the Gods, furtherenforcing the significance of the theme of justice, as if breaking the oathswere crimes against the gods themselves, further demonstrates the importance ofthese oaths. Here, insight is given into Medea’s character, as the significanceof these broken promises reveal Medea’s motivation for revenge.

It also marksthe first and last time that the symbol of hands is used in this play purely torepresent oaths, marking the beginning of the transition of Medea’s character.


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