MYTHOLOGY ON THE
November 14, 1877
PUCK (1871-1918) was the first successful American humor magazine named for the mischievous Shakespearean character of the same name. In an age when the Classics were considered a marker of good breeding, and popular magazines ran primers on mythological figures, Puck satirized these educational endeavors with its series "Mythology on the Half-Shell," covering such figures as Orpheus and Mintho, and focusing on Greco-Roman mythology's poor treatment of its female characters. This entry from the November 14, 1877 edition discusses the myth of Medea. In doing so, it touches on a number of contemporary issues including the famous Kentucky Meat Shower of 1876, when pieces of meat (probably meat regurgitated by a flock of spooked vultures) fell across a large swath of Kentucky.
Medea was the daughter of Aeëtes, King Aeëtes of Colchis.
Don't ask us who Aeëtes was.
Medea's mother was named Idyia. She belonged in the briny ocean, and was a nymph by occupation, before Aeëtes married her.
It is proper, however, to state that another estimable lady also claimed the honor of being Medea's mother. This was Hecate, who was a Miss Perses before she married.
Thus Medea commenced her career in a singular manner. It is sometimes difficult to determine the paternal ancestor of a given infant; and it is said to be a wise child that knows its own father. But Medea's trouble was all on the other side of the house.
Still, we will not enter at length into this question. It is bad for the memory of King Aeëtes.
Medea was very precocious, as a child. She studied toxicology, and became very popular among her little playmates. Whenever any of her little brothers cheated her at marbles, or a bigger girl ran away with her hoop, Medea didn't go into a corner and cry, and say: "I think you're reel mean, now!" She just went to the nearest druggist's and got ten cents' worth of corrosive sublimate, on a plea that did great injustice to her mother's housekeeping; and then she approached, with a forgiving smile and a stick of molasses candy, the infant who had wronged her, and waltzed her enemy into the happy hunting grounds with a promptness and precision that did honor to her knowledge of chemistry. This made all her young friends love Medea, and keep on the right side of her.
When Medea grew up, she was a beautiful and accomplished young woman. Out of respect for Medea, however, we will pass lightly and airily over her early years. Our regard for Jason, her first husband, also impels us to adopt this course.
Jason was a gentleman of a roving disposition. He came to Colchis on a ship called the Argos, accompanied by a number of sportive companions, young men of fascinating manners, who went much into society, wherever they happened to be staying. They cut out all the provincial swains on the road to Colchis, and when they left a city, they left it a good field for missionary effort.
Jason and his friends came to Colchis with some cock-and-a-bull story about a golden fleece, which has been held by some historians to signify that they were generally on the make, and after a good time. The fact seems to be, however, that the establishment of a faro-bank was the object of their fondest ambition.
Being an engaging youth, Jason, shortly after making the acquaintance of Medea, found himself engaged to her. This speaks volumes for the paternal watchfulness and sagacity of King Aeëtes. Jason married Medea, and the young couple appear to have been decidedly unanimous at first. The fact is, that before the honeymoon was over, the two had so skinned their royal parent at faro that his anger was aroused against them, and they were obliged to fly privily by night from Colchis.
It was here that Medea began to distinguish herself. She took her little brother along. He was a nice, fresh little kid, only about six years old; but History records that he could say swear-words like a little man. From this we may infer that his last remarks, which he had occasion to make soon after starting out with Medea, were touching and appropriate. Medea cut him up into small pieces, and strewed him along the roadside, so as to distract the attention of Aeëtes, who was following them more in anger than in sorrow. The old gentleman was something of a scientist, and he thought he had struck a shower of meat, such as they have in Kentucky. He stopped to analyse; and Medea and Jason proceeded on their winding way.
All who have written the obituary of Medea's little brother have remarked on the beauty and brevity of his life, and the fact that his extensive name, which was Absyrtus Aegialeus, was rather wasted on him. But almost all have omitted to mention that the scientific Aeëtes canned him, and put him on the Colchis market; which not only supplied the Colchians with a new and toothsome viand, but suggested a way of disposing of the superfluous small boys, which was a great comfort to the entire nation.
Jason, having escaped from his venerable father-in-law by thus appealing to his tenderest affections, went with Medea to Corinth. Here Medea made him the happy father of two healthy and precocious infants.
If, just at this point, History gives the historian what might be construed as a wink; all the historian has to do is to take no notice of History's momentary lapse from dignity.
The names of these two children were Mermerus and Pheres. They had a bad time of it.
While they were yet very young, Medea discovered that Jason was at his old tricks again. He was flirting with a young lady by the name of Glauce, daughter of the King of Corinth. In view of Medea's own little eccentricity in this way, one would naturally think that she would be the last woman to rein up Jason suddenly. But she did; or rather she attempted to. Jason declined to be reined up. He said that what was crime in a woman was only folly in a man, and made similar remarks, displaying his close intimacy with the French drama; and added that when he married Medea she didn't weigh 195 lbs., and she had not a well-developed wart on her chin.
Medea listened to what he had to say; and then smiled benignantly on him and offered him a cup of coffee. Jason casually observed that he wasn't taking any cyanide of potassium in his, just then, and that it wasn't a good day for coffee, anyway; and he put on his hat and went out to see Glauce.
Medea ground her teeth, and lightning flashed from her eyes; but she was a woman fertile in expedients, and she only murmured to herself: "We'll see!"
Then she went out quietly and hunted up Glauce's washerwoman, who lived in a retired neighborhood, and was of Milesian extraction. From her Medea procured a garment which we, not being married, cannot specify.
This article of apparel Medea soaked in vitriol and croton-oil, and then sent it to Glauce.
Glauce put it on.
After that, the mutations of fashion, in point of underclothing, interested Glauce but slightly.
Medea, having got her simian up, took Mermerus and Pheres and waited till Jason came in, when she cut up the infants before his face.
Jason did not interfere. Some writers say it was because his hands were blistered. Some assign other causes for Jason's extraordinary lack of interest in the proceedings.
After this performance Medea ran away from Corinth under her own protection. To detail further her variegated history would necessitate giving incidental biographical sketches of Sisyphus, Zeus, Theseus, Hercules, Alcinous, and other individuals. Besides, it would not be in our line. We will therefore part with Medea at this point, with the remark that if to her share some female errors fell, it is the graceful privilege of the true historian, to pull down, when he deems it advisable, the oblivious blind of silence.
Source: "Mythology on the Half-Shell: Medea," Puck, November 14, 1877: 7.