International Journal of the Classical Tradition

, Volume 11, Issue 3, pp 369–382 | Cite as

Re-living the apocalypse: Robinson Jeffers’ Medea

  • Edmund Richardson


Robinson Jeffers’ adaptation of Euripides’ Medea was a Broadway hit in the late 1940s. While many of Jeffers’ poetic works were highly engaged with contemporary political discourses, critical opinion has been united in seeing Medea as fundamentally apolitical. This article offers a rather different perspective: it examines Jeffers’ preoccupation with blending the past and the present, and his debt to the historical theorist Oswald Spengler, who proposed a cyclical theory of history. It sites Medea within a considerable body of post-Second World War literature which was engaged in polemical parataxis of ancient and modern; these works, influenced by Spengler, used narratives of the ancient world to point up the ‘decline’ of contemporary Western society. On close reading, Medea is inextricably linked to such discourses, and to Jeffers’ most trenchantly political volume of poetry, The Double-Axe: it is a text which subtly combines Euripides with polemical commentary on the atomic bomb, American involvement in the Second World War, and the future of Western civilization.


Classical Tradition Atomic Bomb Ancient World Cyclical Theory York Time Magazine 
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Copyright information

© Transaction Publishers 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Edmund Richardson
    • 1
  1. 1.Robinson CollegeCambridgeUK

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