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Breaking Boundaries: Medea As The "Barbarian" in Ovid's Heroides VI and XII

Medea is an intriguing figure in Greek mythology who has been portrayed in a variety of ways by ancient Greek and Roman authors. One dominating feature in all her stories is her identity as an outsider who enters the mainland Greece through her marriage to Jason. In the Heroides, the Roman poet Ovid depicts Medea in two of the single letters. Taking advantage of his audience’ familiarity with the mythical tradition and possible awareness of previous literary works, Ovid plays on the idea of Medea as an outsider: in Hypsipyle’s Letter VI, Medea is represented as a barbarian, while in Letter XII Medea mocks “Greek” values and practices. Through intertextual references to each other and to the prior literary tradition, Ovid is able to portray a complicated, self-reflective figure in these two letters, whose multiple potentials are brought out when confronted with a diversity of life experiences. In creating a figure who breaks all boundaries, Ovid the poet is also breaking the boundaries of texts and genres.

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