Abstract – Harming Your Friends to Harm Your Enemies: Reading Achilles in Euripides’ Medea

Sophocles’ unique presentation of the hero as explained by Bernard Knox in The Heroic Temper provides an engaging and convincing model for Medea as a hero, but we can look even farther back in literary history to the influences of another, older, heroic tradition originating in Homer on Euripides’ heroine. Scholars such as Helene Foley have mentioned connections between Medea and an older heroic tradition embodied in the Homeric Achilles in their work without exploring them in depth. There are a number of similarities between Achilles as he appears in the Iliad—the ultimate hero—and Medea, both in circumstance, in the language used to describe them, and in the language used to describe their relationships with others. All of these components differentiate Achilles from other archaic heroes and their appearance in Medea makes it clear that it is Achilles alone of the Homeric heroes whom Medea is supposed to evoke. Furthermore, Gregory Nagy’s explanation of the Achilles figure and his relationship with Patroclus and the other Achaeans in The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry presents an excellent way of analyzing how Medea’s highly individualistic heroic identity complicates her relationships with those closest to her, specifically her children.

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