How does
Euripedies use the symbol of hands to highlight the complexity of the human
character in Medea?


In the play Medea,
Euripides highlights the complexity of the protagonist through the exploration
of the themes of oaths, deceit and justice, as represented by the recurring
symbol of hands. Its contradictory uses within the play portray Medea’s
capacity for both care and harm, and the duplicity of her character, and its
transformation over the course of the play.

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The events of the
play, in particular, Medea’s search for justice, are set in motion by an
implied oath and its subsequent betrayal that both occur before the beginning
of the play: the failed marriage of Jason and Medea. This event is alluded to
in the opening monologue, where the nurse describes Medea’s reaction to Jason’s
betrayal, referring to when Medea “in despair, rejected by her husband, howls
out 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, as
well as alluding to the preceding of the joining of hands in a marriage
ceremony. The use of zoomorpism
“howls” evokes a strong auditory image, as if the betrayal is causing her physical
pain, as if reverting her to a
almost animalistic state of anger and hatred. This is emphasized further by the sibilance of “howls”,
“oaths”, “swore” and  “calls”, as if
hissing in anger. This reinforces the significance of hands as a
representation of oaths, as well as the importance of these promises and the
magnitude of the crime against her of breaking them.

This anger towards
Jason’s betrayal is further evident in the following line, when she “invokes
the 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, further
enforcing the significance of the theme of justice, as if breaking the oaths
were crimes against the gods themselves, further demonstrates the importance of
these oaths. Here, insight is given into Medea’s character, as the significance
of these broken promises reveal Medea’s motivation for revenge. It also marks
the first and last time that the symbol of hands is used in this play purely to
represent oaths, marking the beginning of the transition of Medea’s character.