Medea’s name has been linked to darkness, murder, witchcraft, and vengeance for as long as her story has been told by ancient poets and playwrights like Euripides and Apollonius of Rhodes. A talented sorceress, Medea was invaluable to the Greek hero Jason as he sought to reconquer his kingdom by finding the Golden Fleece. When he abandoned her to marry a Corinthian princess, Medea horribly murdered their own and Jason’s children. new bride.
Even to the Greeks, Medea was a complex figure with valuable traits like intelligence and cunning (then associated more with male characters) as well as a witch’s control over nature. Euripides depicts her as a woman with strong maternal instincts, which end up serving her devastating revenge.
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Now, “Medea,” a new mythological tale from Los Angeles-based author Eilish Quin, delves into Medea’s family history to examine the complexities of her character. Quin’s debut novel, released February 13 by Atria Books, imagines Medea’s forbidden, power-seeking father, the son of a Titan and a sorcerer himself, and her detached stepmother, a sea nymph who just wants to return to his ocean home. .
Talented but “different,” Medea grew up in the shadow of her more conventional and popular siblings. Her independent side leads her to learn Pharmakon, or plant magic, normally forbidden to women. That same independence becomes a target that men like his father and Jason must master in order to use his skills for their own glory.
In “Medea,” Quin explores the influence of generational trauma and oppression on a woman whose actions would make her name infamous for millennia. This interview has been edited for clarity.
Q. How did Greek mythology and the classics lead you to this book?
Greek myths were some of the first stories my mother read to me before bed when I was very young. These stories fascinated me because they were simultaneously thrilling, brutal and poignant, in a way that seemed very seductive to a child’s mind.
There are so many stories from Greek mythology that have become ubiquitous, like Medusa or the Minotaur – and there are stories that are a little less well known. Hopefully this book will be a great opportunity for people to learn about another story from ancient mythology that I think has a very real impact on the world today.
Q. Out of all the mythology, why choose Medea as a subject?
At first I found the story of Medea extremely difficult to remember. When brought up in conversation, it is often reduced or simplified to this very violent and savage creature. She’s a witch, a murderer or a bad mother, isn’t she? And certainly, certain actions attributed to him are very difficult to manage. She is not the first character in Greek mythology to commit acts of violence against her children, but she is perhaps the most subsequently despised for her transgressions. I think a lot of this comes from the fact that mothers are associated with comfort and familiarity. So it seems very threatening when they suddenly defy these characterizations.
As I wrote, I found her story made a lot of sense. His story is one of those stories that have been told for thousands of years by some of the most talented and eloquent composers, from Apollonius to Euripides. I was definitely inspired by their versions, but I also wanted to blow them up a bit just to give Medea herself space as the protagonist. I felt like she deserved to be given the space to embody all the things that women are traditionally vilified for in ancient times – ruthless, complex and vulnerable. To explore this further, it was necessary to understand the context in which she came from, her childhood and her family.
She has a very interesting background: she is the granddaughter of a Titan and the daughter of a sea nymph. Her aunt is Circe, an enchantress. She comes of age in a world where monsters run everywhere, not to mention the power dynamics within her own family.
Q. What inspired the magical system of Pharmakon, or planetary herbalism?
During my undergraduate years at UC Berkeley, I was very interested in ancient creation, mythologies, and dead languages. I took classes on topics like Egyptian demonology, Scandinavian folklore, Islamic mysticism, and Greek myths. All of these ideas have informed my own understanding of ancient mystical practices. I also learned more about contemporary witches to understand how to adapt ancient magic to the modern world.
When you translate Pharmakon from ancient Greek, it means both poison and remedy, which is interesting. The double edge of plant magick is that plants can be anything we want them to be, but it depends on the relationship we have with them. I was also very enchanted by this idea that everything that springs from the earth is a clue to the universe and to ourselves – and that plants can be some sort of sign to the divine.
I wanted Pharmakon to honor the rituals of an ancient magical practice while conveying them in such a way that they seemed intuitive and accessible. I don’t think I can say I created it, but it’s my interpretation of existing systems.
Q. What attracted you to the “story” genre, and are there others you could explore?
I love the story genre. What’s very unique is that you almost have a ready-made setting, plot, and characters that act as creative suggestions or desires for inspiration. There is a lot of creativity that can happen between these lines.
But my next novel is not in that genre. It’s a sort of Los Angeles gothic novel steeped in ancient Irish folklore.
Q. Speaking of which, how has Los Angeles influenced your writing?
My next book is a kind of love letter to Los Angeles, in the sense that it takes place in all of these places that I grew up in and loved. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is very prominent, as are the Huntington Botanical Gardens, Point Dume in Malibu and Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills.
We moved to Los Angeles when I was six. Before that, I lived in this tiny rural town at the foot of the Sierra Nevada in the Central Valley, which I loved. I spent most of my life in Los Angeles, until I went to college, and then I came back. Initially, when I moved to Los Angeles, I didn’t really let myself settle in until high school. When I left for college, I was like, “Oh, wait, I actually really missed this place.” »
Q. What would you like readers to take away?
At its core, “Medea” is a novel about what happens when you put people, no matter how brilliant, fierce, kind or resilient, in impossible situations. It’s about how trauma doesn’t necessarily make us better or stronger people, but rather drained husks of ourselves, isolated from our humanity.
Structures of oppression, like patriarchy and xenophobia, can cause profound damage, and when we restrict the bodily autonomy and rights of marginalized people at the state level, we do them more harm than we could. never imagine it. I think that applies perfectly to a lot of things that are happening in the world today, like the overturning of Roe v. Wade, or what’s happening with immigration, or the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills which were introduced in state legislatures.
And in the end, even if a reader isn’t very familiar with the story of Medea, I hope they can still delve into it and perhaps find something relevant or intriguing.
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