In Greek mythology, there are a few tragic stories of mothers who killed their own children. The most well-known is likely the story of Medea. Medea was the wife of the hero Jason, who led the Argonauts in quest of the Golden Fleece. When Jason left Medea for another woman, Medea took revenge by murdering their two sons.
Medea fell in love with Jason when he arrived in her homeland of Colchis to claim the Golden Fleece. She helped him complete his quest, betraying her own family in the process. Medea and Jason married and had two sons together. But later, Jason abandoned Medea for Glauce, the daughter of the king of Corinth. Feeling betrayed, Medea took vengeance by killing Glauce and the king by sending them a poisoned robe and crown. Then, to complete her revenge, Medea killed her own sons to make Jason suffer.
According to the poet Euripides, Medea killed her sons to protect them from being killed by the people of Corinth in retaliation for her murders of Glauce and the king. However, most retellings focus on Medea’s vengeance and portray the murders of her sons as simply a way to make Jason suffer for betraying her.
Medea in Myth
Medea’s story was told and retold by many ancient Greek writers. She first appeared in myth as an enchantress who helped Jason claim the Golden Fleece. Over time, she was portrayed more as a tragic and scorned woman. Below are some key facts about Medea in myth:
- Helped Jason survive the tasks required to win the Golden Fleece using her sorcery and powers.
- Fell in love with Jason and betrayed her own family to run away with him.
- Bore two sons with Jason.
- Was abandoned by Jason for Glauce, so she killed Glauce, the king of Corinth, and her own sons for revenge.
- In some versions, she killed her children to protect them from being killed by the Corinthians.
- After the murders, she fled Corinth and later became the wife of King Aegeus in Athens.
Medea’s story was seen as a tragic warning about scorned women and the lengths they would go to for vengeance. She became an archetype of the dangerous, powerful, and ruthless witch in Greek mythology.
Other Greek Mothers Who Killed Their Children
While Medea is the most famous, there are a few other examples in Greek myths of mothers who killed their own offspring:
- Ino – Ino was driven mad by the goddess Hera and killed her son Learkhos by boiling him in a kettle or throwing him into a cauldron of boiling water.
- Procne – To take revenge on her husband Tereus for raping her sister, Procne killed their son Itys and served his flesh in a meal to Tereus.
- Agave – While in a Dionysian frenzy, Agave and a group of women tore apart her son Pentheus, not realizing who he was until after his death.
- Jocasta – In some versions of the Oedipus myth, Jocasta kills her son by Oedipus after realizing she had married her own child.
However, none of these stories feature as prominently in Greek mythology as Medea’s murders of her children. Her revenge against Jason by killing their sons is the most vivid and well-known example of a Greek mother turning against her own children.
In Greek mythology, the character of Medea stands out as the most famous and vivid example of a mother who killed her own children. After being abandoned by her hero husband Jason, Medea took revenge by murdering their two sons, and this horrific filicide has become an iconic part of her tragic story. While other Greek mothers like Ino, Procne, Agave, and Jocasta also killed their children, none of their stories have captured the imagination through ancient and modern retellings like Medea, who epitomizes the scorned woman and terrifying witch in Greek myth.