Graphic by Michelle Jia; photo by Daniel Friedman.
Euripides’ Medea has generated endless debate about its patriarchal depiction of Medea in general and her deeds—the betrayed wife and woman who kills her own children to punish her husband. However, a closer examination of the sources of Medea’s myth as well as her Pelasgian culture gives us a different view.
Scientists such as Rismag B. Gordeziani and Malkhaz G. Abdushelishvili suggest that one of the centers of pre-Hellenic, proto-Iberian civilization was the kingdom of Kolkhi (Kolkheti). Before and during the invasion of Indo-European nomadic warriors, this civilization was doing its creative work around the Mediterranean basin of Greece, Asia Minor, North Africa, and southern Europe. Inhabited by Kolkhis, Hayastanis, Iberians, Pelasgians, Etruscans, Pyrenean Iberians and others, this was not a monoethnic civilization but a multilingual world with an egalitarian, likely matriarchal social system. The historical Medea came from this civilization. Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia writes of a female-led proto-Iberian culture that had prospered even before the fall of Troy, approximately 1194-1184 BCE, the date given by Eratosthenes. Other historians place the time of Medea slightly earlier, in the thirteenth century BCE. All the myths and Greek legends had some historical events as their basis. At this time Indo-European Achaeans, a warrior culture, were finalizing their conquest of Greece, Asia Minor and largely Mediterranean Basin. And at the same time, the egalitarian culture of the Pelasgians fell to the domination of the culture of Zeus. Thus Medea was represented as an evil person. But the project of Medea’s demonization was not successful with Hesiod and other authors that preceded Euripides.
As we know, Euripides wrote and produced his Medea in Dionisia around 431 BCE, much later than the original myth was written. The play took only third prize in competition, falling short of Sophocles, who was second, and Euphorion, son of great Aeschylus, who was first. While Euripides’ Medea was not well regarded by contemporaries, its genius lay in the final part of the drama, the catastrophe, when Medea kills her own children in an act of vengeance. Somehow this female monster justifies the deceitful steal of Golden Fleece and medicine (the term comes from Medea’s name) by the Achaean world in the distant thirteenth century BCE.
Contemporary archeological studies such as the discovery of the Sakdrisi Gold Mines in contemporary Georgia show that legends such as the Golden Fleece were not myth but a retold and mystified reality. Archaeological works conducted in the 1980s by the group led by Dr. Teimuraz Mujiri discovered that the Sakdrisi-Kachaghiani region may have had one of the world’s oldest gold mines. Furthermore, in 2007-2013 the German-Georgian archeological group led by Thomas Schtrollner and Irina Ghambashidze dated the gold mines to pre-historic period of 3350 to 2500 BCE. The implication of this discovery is that the matriarchal civilization of Medea started to produce gold long before any patriarchal empires of the world. The Dionysian culture of wine and nutrition came to the Iberian region even earlier. Archeologists in Georgia and Armenia have discovered that wine production in the region of the South Caucasus started about 5000 BCE. The most significant places were found in the regions of Kakheti, Kartli, lower Armenia, Imereti, Racha Lechkhumi, Lower Svaneti, and Abkhazia. The last four of those regions belonged to the kingdom of Kolkhi, where Medea was born. For example, pkhaleuli is a vegan food coming from Kolkheti that dates back thousands of years. Even today, Kolkhetian culture has preserved more than 120 types of healthy vegan food that contribute to one of the world’s highest average longevities in the regions of Abkhazia and Samegrelo.
Scientists note that many places, among them the Proto-Iberian culture of the Mediterranean, have preserved the remnants of a matriarchal world order from so-called prehistoric times. We know for sure that African, Native American, Old Celtic, and Pacific Oceanic cultures have strongly preserved the remnants of a matriarchal, caring, and nonmilitaristic culture. Indeed, African civilization is known to be the oldest one in this regard. But somehow it is being ignored by today’s world order.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, the linguist and archeologist Niko Marr suggested that an Iaphetic civilization preceded Indo-European invasions. His linguistic work proposes that the structure of Iberian, as well as Etruscan, Pelasgian and other Iberian languages including Basque, was different from the main Indo-European strain. As a result and after the conquest of the Mediterranean region by Achaeans, Arians, and other nomadic and warrior civilizations, some sort of linguistic integration occurred between Iaphetian and Indo-European languages. The matriarchal nature of the language was slowly but surely changed by the more militaristic patriarchal order.
According to Dr. Zviad K. Gamsakhurdia, the invasion of the South Caucasus region by Indo-European nomads started somewhere between the third and second millennia BCE. Other sources imply that around 1900 BCE we see footprints of Indo-European warriors in the region. However, the matriarchal system did not end until Argonautic times, about 1300 BCE. In other words, the creative, matriarchal civilization of Medea managed to create fundamental pillars of human civilization in prehistoric times.
As Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, and Emanuel Levinas have argued, care for the the Other is an essential part of being human. That is what Medea did. Even Euripides did not deny her care in his masterfully remade tragedy. Love towards the Other, giving the most precious gifts from Medea’s own civilization, is an indelible contribution to humanity, especially in light of today, when we came to the realization that the Other is all of us in the small village called the world.
Euripides - Medea - Penguin Classics - 1963
Aristotle - Poetics - Penguin Classics - New Edition - ISBN-13: 978-0140446364
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Niko Marr - “How does Iaphetic Linguistics work?” - Petrograd Institute of Living Eastern Languages, 1923
Emanuel Levinas - “Time and the Other “- 1948 Le Temps et l'Autre
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Judith Butler - “Undoing Gender” - New York; Routledge - 2004 ISBN 978-0-203-49962-7
Jacques Derrida - “The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation” - New York: Schocken, 1985
Constantine Zviad Gamsakhurdia - “Journal MAZAIKON about the Caucasus inhabitants” - Publishing House SAARI, 2006 - ISBN 99940-29-88-6
Julie Hill - Silk Road Revisited - AuthorHouse, 2006 - ISBN-13: 78-1425972806