Aegeus, King of Athens and Medea's old friend, enters. He is coming from a visit to the oracle of Apollo. Still childless, Aegeus asked the god to help him, but the oracle's answer only baffled him. He is in Corinth to see an old friend, a wise man, to discuss the oracle's reply. Medea informs him of the sorrows that have befallen her of late, and Aegeus is sympathetic and shocked by Jason' behavior. Medea begs Aegeus to help her, promising that through her medical expertise she will help him to have children. Aegeus, mindful that Medea has been exiled by the powerful king of Corinth, tells her that he cannot help her to reach Athens, but if she comes he will provide her safe haven and hospitality forever. Medea makes Aegeus promise that he will not hand her over to her enemies, no matter what. Aegeus swears by all the gods. Medea wishes him well, and the kindly king exits.
Medea is overjoyed. Now, with promised safe haven from Aegeus, she can execute all of her plans. She will call back Jason, adapting a conciliatory tone. She will beg him to allow her children to remain in Corinth, and she will send the children bearing gifts to Jason's new bride. The gift will be a poisoned dress, bringing death to the princess and all who touch her. These deeds done, Medea will then murder her children.
The Chorus urges Medea not to continue with these plans. Medea replies evenly that there is no room for compromise. She will kill her children to wound her husband. The Chorus delivers another ode ("From of old the children of Erechtheus are splendid"). They sing of the holy rivers of Athens, asking if the divinities of Athens will bless Medea, or the citizens of Athens shelter her, after such an abominable act. The also sing of the horror of the act itself, and the coldness of heart it will require.
Jason enters, with attendants. Medea is fawning, apologizing for her anger, congratulating Jason on his good sense and his new marriage. She calls out the children to greet him. As they reach out to their father, Medea speaks of a feeling of foreboding. She imagines the children, "after a long life" (l. 901) reaching out their arms in this way when they die. She begins to cry. The Chorus, too, becomes teary-eyed. Jason approves of Medea's change of heart, although he is puzzled by her tears. She asks him to try and arrange for the children to be allowed to stay in Corinth; he promises to try. Medea then sends an attendant to get the dress and diadem for the princess of Corinth. Her children will bring these gifts to her. Jason objects to the extravagance, but Medea insists. He exits, with attendants, followed by the Tutor and the children.
In her exchanges with Aegeus and Jason, we see Medea as master manipulator. Manipulation is an important theme. She plays perfectly on the weaknesses and needs of both her enemies and her friends. Earlier, we watched as Medea played to Creon's pity and underestimation of the sorceress. With Aegeus, she uses her skills as a bargaining chip and takes advantage of the king's soft-heartedness to win a binding oath from him. Against Jason, she uses his own shallowness, his unmerited pride, and his desire for dominance. She plays the fawning and submissive woman, to her husband's delight and gratification. Jason buys the act, demonstrating his lack of astuteness and willingness to be duped by his own fantasies. Just as he has successfully convinced himself that his marriage to the Corinthian princess is a noble act, he accepts Medea's submissive woman act because it is exactly what he wants to believe.
Manipulation is more complicated than simple lying. Note that with Aegeus, Medea tells the truth, though she omits important details (i.e. she is planning to kill the Corinthian royal family). With Aegeus, we see Medea use the partial truth to achieve maximum advantage for herself. In these various manipulations, we see the depth of Medea's cleverness and skill. She has the know-how to make deadly poisons and drugs of fertility; she has the cunning to manipulate both enemies and friends. But we also are reminded that Medea is barred from the highest circles of power. Her cunning manipulation of others is the act of a desperate woman, outside the structures of power and the bonds of kinship. In a bad situation, Medea uses her wits secure two ends: a brutal, single-minded revenge, and her own survival. We are reminded of Eleanor Wilner's comment that Medea is a Machiavel without a kingdom to rule. Unable to rule the system, she remains nonetheless capable of tearing it all down, though not without great cost to herself.
The scene where Medea weeps for her children to some extent humanizes her, although the effect remains chilling rather than sentimental. Presenting her children to Jason, she becomes wet-eyed thinking about her children's mortality. These moments, and her later speech in which she talks sorrowfully to her uncomprehending young sons, show us that Medea feels remorse for her actions. She imagines their deaths "after a long life"; the dramatic irony is that her children do not have long to live. Medea is not without feeling, nor is she a sociopath. She comprehends the difference between right and wrong, but chooses to follow the dictates of rage.