In Greek mythology, Medea (/mɪˈdiːə/; Greek: Μήδεια, Mēdeia) is the daughter of King Aeëtes of Colchis, a niece of Circe and the granddaughter of Helios, the sun god begat by the Titan Hyperion.
Medea figures in the myth of Jason and the Argonauts, appearing in Hesiod's Theogony around 700 BC, but best known from a 3rd century BC literary version by Apollonius of Rhodes called the Argonautica. Medea is known in most stories as a sorceress and is often depicted as a priestess of the goddess Hecate.
Medea's role began after Jason came from Iolcus to Colchis, to claim his inheritance and throne by retrieving the Golden Fleece. In the most complete surviving account, the Argonautica of Apollonius of Rhodes, Medea fell in love with him and promised to help him, but only on the condition that if he succeeded, he would take her with him and marry her. Jason agreed. In a familiar mythic motif, Aeëtes promised to give him the fleece, but only if he could perform certain tasks.
- First, Jason had to plough a field with fire-breathing oxen that he had to yoke himself; Medea gave him an unguent with which to anoint himself and his weapons, to protect them from the bulls' fiery breath.
- Next, Jason had to sow the teeth of a dragon in the ploughed field (compare the myth of Cadmus), and the teeth sprouted into an army of warriors; Jason was forewarned by Medea, however, and knew to throw a rock into the crowd. Unable to determine where the rock had come from, the soldiers attacked and killed each other.
- Finally, Aeëtes made Jason fight and kill the sleepless dragon that guarded the fleece; Medea put the beast to sleep with her narcotic herbs. Jason then took the fleece and sailed away with Medea, as he had promised. Apollonius says that Medea only helped Jason in the first place because Hera had convinced Aphrodite or Eros to cause Medea to fall in love with him. Medea distracted her father as they fled by killing her brother Absyrtus.
In some versions, Medea was said to have dismembered her brother's body and scattered his parts on an island, knowing her father would stop to retrieve them for proper burial; in other versions, it was Absyrtus himself who pursued them and was killed by Jason. During the fight, Atalanta, a member of the group helping Jason in his quest for the fleece, was seriously wounded, but Medea healed her.
According to some versions, Medea and Jason stopped on her aunt Circe's island so that she could be cleansed after murdering her brother, relieving her of blame for the deed.
On the way back to Thessaly, Medea prophesied that Euphemus, the helmsman of Jason's ship, the Argo, would one day rule over all of Libya. This came true through Battus, a descendant of Euphemus.
The Argo then reached the island of Crete, guarded by the bronze man, Talos (Talus). Talos had one vein which went from his neck to his ankle, bound shut by a single bronze nail. According to Apollodorus, Talos was slain either when Medea drove him mad with drugs, deceived him that she would make him immortal by removing the nail, or was killed by Poeas's arrow (Apollodorus 1.140).
In the Argonautica, Medea hypnotized him from the Argo, driving him mad so that he dislodged the nail, ichor flowed from the wound, and he bled to death (Argonautica 4.1638). After Talos died, the Argo landed.
Jason, celebrating his return with the Golden Fleece, noted that his father Aeson was too aged and infirm to participate in the celebrations. Medea withdrew the blood from Aeson's body, infused it with certain herbs, and returned it to his veins, invigorating him. The daughters of king Pelias saw this and wanted the same service for their father.
While Jason searched for the Golden Fleece, Hera, who was still angry at Pelias, conspired to make Jason fall in love with Medea, whom Hera hoped would kill Pelias. When Jason and Medea returned to Iolcus, Pelias still refused to give up his throne, so Medea conspired to have Pelias' own daughters kill him. She told them she could turn an old ram into a young ram by cutting up the old ram and boiling it in magic herbs. During her demonstration, a live, young ram jumped out of the pot. Excited, the girls cut their father into pieces and threw him into a pot.
Having killed Pelias, Jason and Medea fled to Corinth.
Various sources state that Jason and Medea had between one and fourteen children, including sons Alcimenes, Thessalus, Tisander, Mermeros and Pheres, Medus, and Argos, and a daughter, Eriopis. They were married for 10 years in Corinth