Medea was a character in Greek mythology. According to ancient writers, her name meant “cunning,” and she was skilled in witchcraft. All of the stories about Medea portray her as a treacherous schemer who betrayed or murdered even the people closest to her. The Greek poet Pindar and other Greek writers recorded several versions of her colorful story.
Medea came from a distinguished family. Her grandfather was said to be the sun, and her father was Aeetes, king of Colchis and owner of a great treasure that was known as the Golden Fleece. When a handsome Greek warrior named Jason arrived in Colchis to capture the fleece, the gods caused Medea to fall in love with him. She used her magical skills to help Jason steal the fleece and escape. According to one version of the story, she murdered her younger brother and scattered pieces of his body so that her father, stopping to gather them, would be unable to catch her and Jason as they fled. In another version, her brother was older, and Medea helped Jason kill him when he followed them to reclaim the fleece.
Violence also marked the later events in Medea’s life. Medea learned that Jason planned to divorce her and marry the young daughter of the king of Corinth. Medea was so jealous that she not only murdered the Corinthian princess with a poisoned wedding dress but also killed her own and Jason’s children to punish him. With the help of her grandfather the sun, Medea escaped from Corinth—according to legend, in a chariot drawn through the sky by winged snakes. These events are dramatized in Euripides’ tragedy Medea, produced in 431 B.C.
Medea later married Aegeus, the king of Athens, and bore him a son, Medus. When Theseus, the king’s son by an earlier marriage, arrived in Athens to claim his inheritance, Medea tried to kill him. Medea left Athens with Medus and returned to her homeland of Colchis. The later years of her life are shrouded in mystery, but some accounts say that she and Medus gained control of Colchis, and that Medus later conquered the region known as Media, part of present-day Iran, and named it after himself.