After reading his work "Medea", I'm left wondering how the immediate audience and subsequent generations thought about it. Namely, whether it was accepted straight away as part of this wider universe, the same literary world as the Argonautica -- or if Medea existed in a "silo", held apart from the Argonautica. The latter scenario, in other words, would mean the audience largely regarded Medea as Euripides' riffing on a foundational myth, and nothing much more than that (not canon).

But perhaps the audience's views changed over time, which is part of what I want to explore.

Some evidence to consider: There are the famed illustrated pottery seemingly depicting Medea in her chariot drawn by dragons. This is encouraging, but somewhat anecdotal.


Perhaps the notion that there was a canon in the first place underpins my question, and maybe "canon" is too strong a term. But to the best of our ability to take informed guesses, how readily was Medea "embraced" or was it seen as a fringe offshoot from something more culturally significant in the Argonautica?

1 Answer 1


In the story of the Argonauts, yes, Euripides' Medea did indeed influence later writers. As Andrew Zissos puts it in his commentary of Argonautica I (Oxford, 2008), "Euripides' focus on Jason's betrayal and its disastrous consequences added a tragic coda to the saga that had a profound influence on both art and literature, including subsequent epic treatments" (p. xx). He goes to point out that this ending "eclipsed" other endings and became the dominant form in both visual and literary works.

As a side note, it really isn't accurate to call any of this "canon" or even "canonical", even though you'll see some scholars playing a little bit too loose with their language sometimes. It's not even about what's mainstream or fringe, but rather what's dominant v. what's a variant, and for many mythical scenes, there are no dominant ones.

But at least here, Euripides' Medea certainly had an enormous impact on the way the story was transmitted to others pretty soon (relatively speaking) after it debuted.

  • Viewed from that angle, it's really fascinating: Euripides' version was so profound and moving that the myth couldn't end any other way. And in way it shows that the "canon" was an open canon, provided sufficient genius and graceful storytelling. May 16, 2023 at 7:38
  • @ArashHowaida I debated how much I should mention this in the answer, but there really is no canon at all. Authors are free to change things that even Homer "penned", and mythographers and other ancient commentators regularly employ language like "Her name is X in Homer, Y in Simonides, and Z in Aeschylus." They never had a true bible, so it's less of an open canon and more of an open body of legends that they draw on.
    – cmw
    May 16, 2023 at 12:44
  • I just meant canon in the loosest sense of the term. But I take your point. May 17, 2023 at 1:02
  • @ArashHowaida I mostly state that emphatically because so many people make that mistake, but as I mentioned, even scholars will play fast and loose with that term, so you're not in bad company.
    – cmw
    May 17, 2023 at 1:13

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