I’ll admit it: I didn’t think Medea was appropriate for the tenth grade curriculum, especially for the at-risk kids that I teach.
If you will recall, Medea is a Euripides play about the demi-goddess Medea who marries Jason (of the golden fleece). They have two kids and look to be on the way to happily ever after, till Medea facilitates the murder of Jason’s wicked uncle Pelias, whereupon they are driven from the island of his birth.
They end up in Corinth and there, Jason realizes that he will never be satisfied with happily ever after. He decides to marry the daughter of the king and claim royalty even though he couldn’t have it at home. Problem is, Jason’s already married to Medea, but in this mysogynistic society, he can get away with turning his back on his first marriage (and kids) and get into a second one.
Or so he thinks. . .but remember, Medea is magical and in the ancient myths, gods and goddesses don’t have to play nice. So Medea ends up killing the king of Corinthand his daughter (Jason’s new love) by poison. Then she takes a sword and stabs her two young sons to death. Goddess-wise, she escapes unscathed.
Well! If that isn’t a good story for tenth graders!
To top it off, although we had a nice translation of the play, it’s still rather formal for rural, at-risk fifteen-year-olds, or so I thought. I was wrong! To be sure, I skipped over many of the long chorus sections, comparing them (roughly) to the songs that are played behind some CSI and Law and Order stories, to tell the story in music. And after all, the Greek choruses were all about singing and dancing, not just reading aloud.
The kids wanted to read the parts. They all claimed parts and read them if not with full expression, then at least with genuine feeling. The bell rang. Next day, they all leaped into their parts again.
When Medea stabbed her children, they almost couldn’t stand it, but it was such a splendid lesson in curbing yourself. Kids at risk have a hard time curbing themselves. Reading about Medea who went way over the line helped them realize what it looks like to others when they cross the line.
I’ll admit it: I was delighted and shocked that they understood this play and really got the message–and that they enjoyed it. I generally mistrust the recommended curriculum (bad admission, I know), but at least in this case, whoever the curriculum-recommenders are got it right and I was wrong.
Nice way to be wrong, though.