The Chorus pities Medea, but she assures them that twenty-four hours is all she needs to destroy Jason, his new bride, and Creon. She will use her skill in the arts of poison to destroy them, but their remains the matter of safe haven afterward. Medea is determined that no man will wrong her and then live to tell about it.
The Chorus delivers an incredible ode ("Flow backward to your sources, sacred rivers, / And let the world's great order be reversed . . ."); they seem to have been won over to Medea's side, and they are living vicariously through her and her plans for revenge. Finally, women will be paid their due.
Jason enters, reprimanding Medea for her loose tongue, telling her that she has brought her exile on herself. He has tried to speak on behalf of her and her children, but she has ruined herself. He tells her he will make sure that they do not go penniless, and that he still does not hate her even if she despises him. Medea lashes back, calling Jason a coward. She reminds him of the many things she made possible for him: she helped him yoke the fire-breathing bulls, she was the one who slew the giant serpent that guarded the Golden Fleece, and she killed Pelias. All was to protect Jason. She also provided Jason with two children, depriving him of any excuse to take another wife.
Jason's responds with enumerated arguments, neatly organized, about how Medea has benefited more from their marriage than he. He tells her that her love compelled her to act, and so he owes his life to Aphrodite, goddess of love, rather than Medea. He also tells her that she, thanks to their marriage, lives among Greeks and is quite famous. Finally, he argues that he took the new bride to save their house; they came to Corinth as exiles, and they needed to secure their position. If he has children by the new marriage, his children by Medea will have siblings to protect them. He accuses Medea of being irrational and caught up in womanly concern for love. The Chorus tells Jason that he has spoken well, but also says that he has still betrayed his wife.
Medea and Jason bicker: Medea tells Jason that he should have discussed the plan of a new marriage with her first, but Jason responds that she is too irrational. He offers to provide money for Medea, as well as send her to the houses of friends; she proudly rejects the offer.
The Chorus delivers an ode on the dangers and benefits of love: love brings great rewards, but unmoderated or ill-chosen love brings suffering. They continue to sing, speaking of the pain of exile.
Medea is a complex and fascinating character. After Creon has left, we learn immediately that she has manipulated him. She has played the role of weak and vulnerable woman, and through it she has secured enough time to destroy her enemies.
She is also fiercely proud. When considering how to kill her enemies, she rules out the direct approach, fearing that she might be caught and give her enemies cause to laugh. The fear of being shamed is one of Medea's driving motivations. The loss of Jason is not only a matter of passion; Medea has been completely humiliated by Jason's decision to take a new bride. Her pride shows again when she refuses Jason's aid. Though her situation is difficult, she would rather destroy all than accept help from one who has wronged her so horribly. Living as a barbarian among Greeks has made her more defensive, more full of hurt pride.
Medea has a powerful effect on the Chorus; she has made them complicit to her plans, and as soon as she promises that she will have her revenge the Chorus responds with glee. Their Choral Ode is a reproach against men: the Chorus recognizes that the domination of women is inseparable from the very order of their culture. Medea's revenge is a chance to strike back, and the rareness of the event is like a miracle: "Flow backward to your sources, sacred rivers / and let the world's great order be reversed" (ll. 410-1). In this ode, they speak of the negative depiction of women in the popular imagination, in art and literature. The Chorus points out that if women were allowed to be poets, the stories would be quite different. Euripides is questioning the fundamental stories of his culture. He is pointing out that art exists in the context of power relations: for every story and every work of art, there is a guiding ideology; there is someone with something to gain and someone else with something to lose. Works that people take for granted as "universal" art are in fact products of a very specific political positioning. A culture has an interest in covering its tracks, effacing its wrongs, justifying its injustices; a civilization accomplishes these tasks in part through art, popular legends, and unquestioned beliefs.
Significantly, Jason is depicted as a hollow shell of a hero. He is calculating, smug, and condescending. His arguments in defense of his actions show that he has studied rhetoric, but the professionalism of his arguments is off-putting. His reasons are tidily enumerated, and his excuses, though well-organized, seem to skirt the important issues. He uses rhetoric to reconstruct truth as he wishes it to be. When the Chorus says that Jason speaks well but still has betrayed his wife, they speak for most audience members as well. Jason's smugness is particularly unattractive because he owes so much to his wife: again and again, she saved his life and completed the quests that he could not. He is an opportunistic man; as in the past, when he used Medea, he now uses the family of Corinth for gain. In their bickering, Jason and Medea show two different ideas of marriage. Jason sees marriage as a social/financial arrangement: he speaks in terms of wealth and security. Medea, though she earlier described marriage as a kind of bondage, still speaks of a more idealistic fashion. She speaks of vows and reciprocity; Jason brushes this talk aside, and treats Medea as if she irrational.
The depth of Medea's passion now manifests itself as rage, and no wonder. Her husband, who owes her everything, has cast her aside. She is constantly at the mercy of those less clever than she. And though in many ways righteousness is on her side, her arguments are brushed aside as womanly irrationality. Many critics have speculated that Medea often speaks with Euripides' rage: like Medea, Euripides was a genius who was not given his due. At the Dionysia, the judges favored others. The Medea itself, now recognized as one of the greatest works of the ancient world, was beaten by now-forgotten plays. Revenge is an important theme, and part of the wonder of the play is the fact that despite Medea's monstrosity, her spell over us is as strong as the hold she has on the Chorus. Her revenge becomes our fantasy, and the depth of her rage usually has some echo, however uncomfortable, in us.
We see more of Medea's fierce pride. She bemoans her fate as an exile, but proudly scorns Jason's offer of aid. To take pity and gifts from the man who wronged her is worse than exile. Though her pride may seem admirable in this case, the same pride will drive Medea to unspeakable acts.