Academic journal article Acta Classica

Conflict and Emotion in Medea's 'Irrational' Dream (A.R. 3.616-35)

Academic journal article Acta Classica

Conflict and Emotion in Medea's 'Irrational' Dream (A.R. 3.616-35)

Article excerpt


Apollonius' Medea is a psychologically complex character whose emotional depth is revealed in the dream passage in Book 3 of the Argonautica. Scholars have discussed the importance of Medea's psychological characterization in Book 3, and her dream has been considered central to that characterization. (1) The content of the dream is particularly important, as it reflects Medea's own inner conflict.

Past scholarship has primarily emphasized Homer's depiction of Nausicaa's dream (Od. 6.25-40) as Apollonius' model for Medea's dream, but I will emphasize Penelope's emotional disposition in Book 19 of the Odyssey. Both desire a man and are emotionally conflicted: Medea longs for Jason but is torn over whether to help him, and Penelope is distraught over the absent Odysseus and whether to wait for him or remarry. I will show how Apollonius conflates these Homeric models by depicting Medea having a dream which is similar to Nausicaa's dream in terms of narrative function, but which illustrates Penelope's psychological frustration. This is an innovation since Homeric dreams do not illustrate emotional conflict. (2) In the second half of this article, I will show how Apollonius' literary adaptation of Medea's dream can be explained in terms of later philosophical developments that stressed the influence of the irrational passions on dreaming. Whereas scholars have noted that Medea's dream reflects the influence of ancient theories about dreaming, I will provide a more detailed analysis referring to specific developments. (3) Although there has been debate regarding the question of the potentially divine origin of Medea's dream, my analysis will confirm that Medea's dream is better viewed not as direct message from the gods in the manner of Nausicaa's dream, but as a product of her irrational passion. The gods are responsible only to the extent that they incited her desire for Jason.

It is first necessary to consider the passage in isolation (3.616-635):






   And heavy sleep released the maiden from her cares as she       616
   was reclining in her bed. But at once, destructive, deceptive
   dreams were vexing her just as [dreams commonly vex] a girl in
   And she imagined that the stranger undertook the challenge,
   not at all intending to take the animal's fleece,               620
   nor did he come to the city of Aeetes for that [fleece] of his,
   but in order that he may lead her into his home
   as a wedded bride. And she thought that she herself,
   wrestling with the bulls, toiled very easily,
   but that her parents neglected the promise because they did     625
   not propose for the maiden to yoke the bulls but
   for [the stranger] himself; thereupon, contentious strife came
   between her father and the strangers; yet both were urging
   her to direct her thoughts according to her will;
   suddenly, neglecting her parents, she chose the stranger,       630
   but terrible grief seized them and, enraged, they cried out.
   At the same time as the scream, sleep released her,
   and trembling, she arose in fear and she looked around
   the sides of her bed; and with difficulty she gathered her spirit
   in her chest as before and she drew up her heavy voice. (4)     635

The dream is presented as an opportunity for relief from her anxiety, but ends up causing her even more grief. The content is predictive in the general sense that Medea does end up helping Jason and leaving her parents, but strictly speaking, later events do not correspond to the dream. Jason did not come to the city specifically for her, she does not yoke the bull herself, and she will not be given a choice by her parents. (5) The seemingly predictive elements certainly foreshadow future events, but there is nothing in the dream that could not have been foreseen by Medea given the circumstances. …

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