Title: Medea

Writer: Christa Wolf

Publishing House: Nan A. Talese

Date of Publication:  October 24th 2012 (first published 1996)

Rating: 5 stars

‘’I am Medea, the sorceress, if you all will have it so. The wild woman, the foreigner. You shall not belittle me.’’

I’ve always declared-to the dismay of many- that if I ever had a daughter, I would name her Medea. My fascination with this larger-than-life woman has been undiminished ever since I started learning about the ancient, endless, eternal myths of my country from a relatively young age. Call me ‘’weird’’ but dark, controversial figures have accompanied me for the most part of my reading life. It also helped that my mother had the knowledge and the patience to explain to me how myths were made in a society of men, by men and for men. World Culture is loaded with mythical women who have been vilified as an excuse for the stupidity, disloyalty and absolute lack of courage on men’s part. Eve, Medea, Helen of Troy, Pandora, Circe, Phaedra, Jocasta…The list goes on and on….A woman can either be a whore or a saint. Too bad for the ‘’willing’’ ones because the first team makes for the best of stories. In this extraordinary moment in European Literature, Christa Wolf reimagines Medea’s story, focusing on her last days in Corinth and culminating with the death of her sons. The result is a haunting, raw elegy of broken promises and thwarted dreams….

‘’They’ve made what they need out of each of us. Out of you, the Hero, and out of me, the Wicked Witch. They’ve driven us apart like that.’’

People create myths to explain passions, hopes, wishes, and inclinations. They need the heroes, the ones who battle against gods and men, as they need the scapegoats responsible when the hero goes astray. What happens when the Hero succeeds only after the Scapegoat has provided the necessary help? Well, noone cares about this tiny detail, all that matters is that the job is done. However, when everything crumbles because of disloyalty and ambition, it’s time for the Scapegoat to be driven out. Medea is either a healer or a bringer of curse. This is what the mob, the ever-changing, witless crowd believes. She is the Other, the Foreigner, the one who threatens the established order with her powers and invocations. Jason is blaming his obsession and lust to Medea, always unwilling to admit what a phony ‘’hero’’ he is. He doesn’t care anymore, the glory is his and it’s time to find a younger, docile wife who would worship him without questions and thoughts of her own…

‘’Is it a comfort to think that people everywhere fall short of the agreements they have made?’’

I feel that this quote expresses the essence of our times extremely accurately. In the outstanding introduction, Margaret Atwood refers to the political and social background and the status quo that shaped Wolf’s work. Coming from the troubled land of former East Germany, it is clear that her political and social views influenced her writing. How could it have been otherwise? Medea was written in 1996, six years after the reunification of Germany, and while reading, one can feel a deep sense of bitterness and intense distrust towards the institution of the state and the authorities. Knowing the political context, Medea becomes much more than a retelling of an ancient legend.

The writing and the characterization are unique. The portrait of Medea is moving, sad, haunting…There are quite a few exceptional descriptions of the city of Corinth and the nightly scenes are eerie, foreboding. Don’t expect any infanticides, gore, violence or sex and the end will surprise you. I will not compare Wolf’s work to Euripides or Seneca. Each one is a different beast, all masterpieces in their own right. However, I know which one I prefer. Wolf’s esoteric, haunting, solemn cry for the truth and for a world that turned out quite different than promised. For the innocent victims of the frustrations of the mighty, the demonization of the weakest links.

‘’Up there in the dark, night-blue sky, like a slightly tilted silver of peel, the crescent moon was still swimming, though on the wane, reminding me of my waning years, my Colchian moon, endowed with the power to pull the sun up over the edge of the earth every morning.’’

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  1. Rachel says:

    Wonderful review Amalia! I read this earlier this year and loved it. It was such an interesting twist on Medea’s story and I was also fascinated by the thematic ties to East Germany. I totally support you in naming your daughter Medea!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Rachel! I loved your review on this and I can’t wait to find “Cassandra”.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Rachel says:

        I own Cassandra and I cannot wait to read it! I hope you track down a copy!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I cannot wait to read your thoughts on it:)

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hannah says:

    I love this book so much! (although Cassandra is my favourite book of hers so far)
    Great review 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Hannah! I finally found a copy of “Cassandra”, I can’t wait to read more of Wolf’s work.


  3. Vera says:

    I’m currently reading Circe and Medea is briefly featured there as well. After reading your great review, I really want to read this book now as well. 🙂
    Happy reading. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, Vera! I am going to start “Circe” soon. Circe is also present in Wolf’s novel and quite an influence in Medea’s way of thinking on men and authority. These women are two of my absolute favourites in Greek mythology.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I took a course in college entitled Ancient Greek Literature, and I wish the professor had included some modern readings of the stories so we could look at them from different angles and better understand them. He had been a professor forever and felt that students were just too lazy to learn like he did back when he was in college in the 50s. Today, I am a professor, and I like to bring in loads of perspectives and questions instead of lectures and disappointment.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Amazing review Amalia! This one sounds really interesting and I’ll add it to my tbr, as I always want to read more about mythology, especially from different perspectives. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dearest!! I love retellings of ancient myths and it is always a pleasure to see them being treated with such respect. I need to explore Wolf’s work further:)

      Liked by 1 person

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