First, there are two gods of the sun mentioned in the text: Phoebus
Apollo and Helios. Phoebus Apollo is invoked as the god of poetry and
prophecy, and by extension the god of the Athenians and Corinthians --
Greeks in general. Apollo is the god of order, of art, of moderation
and civilization. Helios, on the other hand, is the deity of the older
age of the world, the god of wild Nature and barbarism, the Titan who
was replaced when the new gods took command of the world, and it is
from Helios that Medea is descended (she is his granddaughter.)
Euripides refers to Apollo several times, for instance:
Chorus: For Phoebus, Prince of Music,
Never bestowed the lyric inspiration
Through female understanding -
Or we'd find themes for poems,
We'd counter with our epics against man. (424ff.)
Medea: All happiness to you,
Aegeus, son of Pandion the wise! Where have you come
Aegeus: From Delphi, the ancient oracle of Apollo.
Medea: The centre of the earth, the home of prophecy. (ca. 660)
Helios is never mentioned by name, but he is referred to repeatedly indirectly:
Medea: (Speaking to herself) Your father was king,
His father was the Sun-god. (ca 400.)
The genealogy of Medea would have been known by the audience of the
play, to wit that Helios was her grandfather.
Second, Vellacott himself mentions one paradox in the introduction,
when he notes that the Sun, giver of life, personally intervenes to
save his granddaughter, and thereby validates her crimes. (The dragons
that are pulling her chariot are there to remind the audience of the
dragon that had guarded the Golden Fleece, and which Medea helped
Jason to kill.) The poisoned crown which shoots out flames and the
dress that melts flesh are heirlooms of Helios. This paradox is meant
to reinforce that of Medea herself, who has murdered her own children.
Thus, Euripides is contrasting Nature, personified by Helios, which is
both creative and destructive in its ungoverned energy, with the
civilizing force of the arts, law, and society, personified by Apollo.
A Tragic Poet and his Play
All references to the text are from the Penguin Classics edition,
Euripides, Medea and Other Plays, 1963.
Another translation of Medea: