Murasaki and Medea
Although The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikibu, is set in late tenth-century Japan, the plights of the characters are universal. In Chapter 12, Genji leaves his wife, who is named after the author, and goes into exile. Desperately in love with Genji, Muraskai is similar to Euripides' Medea in the play of the same name. She suffers because her husband, Jason, abandons her for a princess. Shikibu and Euripides seem to have shared the same worldviews about women's emotional dependence on their mates.
Women often rely on men to whisk them away from their old lives and to take the place of their father. Genji brings Murasak at age ten from a convent to his world at the Japanese court and raises her as the perfect wife. As an adopted daughter, Murasaki gradually becomes "closer to Genji than her own father" (2143). As for Medea, she kills her father and replaces him with Jason, ...view middle of the document...
Medea's duty causes her to help Jason get the "Golden Fleece" (6), kill her father (474-475), and even to follow him to Corinth (11). Medea "helped Jason in every way" (13) because she is bound to him by love. Medea and Jason are, like Murasaki and Genji, duty-bound in marriage through "vows they made to each other, the right hands clasped in eternal promise" (22). Both men break these duty-bonds when Jason marries Kreon's daughter (19) and Genji leaves for exile (2147). Murasaki clings dutifully to a mirror left behind by Genji to remind her of him (2143), and she keeps it just as he leaves it. Genji also calls Murasaki out of the house before he departs, and she "at length obeyed" (2147). The word "obeyed" suggests Murasaki's subservient role to Genji, and she must comply with his commands. As a dutiful wife, Murasaki sends "bedding and other supplies" (2149) to Genji when he is in exile.
Both Medea and Murasaki grieve and become despondent after their husbands' departure. Medea is "slighted" (26), refuses food (24), cries all day long (25), and stares at the floor (27) all day. Murasaki, who is gloomy (2140) when only separated for a short time, becomes very sad. Murasaki even takes "to her bed" and clings to the presents Genji has left her (2149). Both Murasaki and Medea are arguably like women in general, who become depressed when they lose their mates.
Throughout time, women have essentially maintained the same dependence on men, and both Shikibu and Euripides show this universal truth through their portrayals of Mursaki and Medea.
Note: This brief report is based on Chapter 12 in The Tale of Genji and Medea (lines 6-28, 474-475).
Murasaki Shikibu. "Chapter 12: Suma" from The Tale of Genji. Trans. Edward G. Seidensticker. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Expanded Edition. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995. 2139-2159. All quotations are from this text.
Euripides. Medea. Trans. Rex Warner. The Norton Anthology of World Masterpieces. Expanded Edition. Ed. Maynard Mack. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 1995. 669-700. All quotations are from this text.