The Tale of Genji vs Medea: Compare & Contrast

The Tale of Genji vs Medea: Compare & Contrast
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The depiction of Genji’s incestuous affair with his stepmother, not just successfully labeled the incest problem of its Heian time. This affair illustrated the consequent breaking of the moral taboo (i.e., through the “cuckolding of the father”) and the socio-religious taboo (i.e., the “blasphemous offense against the sun-goddess Amaterasu-o¯mikami”) (Bargen, Woman’s Weapon 328; Bargen, “Search for Things Past” 44). Though philandering among distinguished men of the court is commonplace, incest was still considered an abominable deed. In fact, the depiction was so vivid that it is not impossible to assume that these events did occur. It also presented several conspiratory aspects and scapegoating tactics such as Genji’s taking of another lover at his stepmother’s blessings to make a convincing cover-up of the incestuous affair that ensued between them.       

Achilles and Medea

            The similarity between Achilles and Medea lies in the preoccupation of pride among other virtues (Gibbs, “The Epic”). While Achilles tends to make decisions, on behalf of his army and as the assigned warrior-leader, to reap personal gain (e.g., “most fame and glory”), Medea’s inhibitions about being viewed as a laughingstock or someone to be pitied always lead her to do whatever is “necessary to prevent” from being any of those two (Gibbs, “The Epic”). In other words, these two characters’ primary concern is themselves, their image or reputation, and draw decisions and actions from whatever that may enhance their object of primal significance — themselves.

            On the other hand, the difference between Achilles and Medea is evident in the societal roles they play. While Achilles is evidently a popular and prominent figure in the Greek society (of Iliad), Medea is the opposite and is described as living “outside the current system of law and order” (Gibbs, “The Epic”). Though both came from an immortal bloodline (making them demigods), Achilles held a more visible societal position than the less exposed Medea.

The common denominator between these two famous Greek characters, Achilles and Medea, is their ‘heroic factor.’ The heroic factor may indicate the ‘ends’ by which the hero upholds to be the ultimate goal, or through the ‘means’ by which the hero carries the deeds. In Achilles’ case, his heroic factor is crucially determined by the ‘ends’ and is immortalized in this line: “He constantly acts for the goodness” (Gibbs, “The Epic”). The phrase ‘for the goodness’ is Achilles’ primary motivation and goal. Meanwhile, Medea’s heroic factor lies more on the ‘means’ than the ends (since her ‘ends’ is tied up with her pride). This is justified through an outsider’s look of her situation; that in her “political and civil mobility,” to do as she wishes or get what she desires is an understandably, constant struggle (Gibbs, “The Epic”). Yet, despite her plight, her ‘means,’ which is characteristically “manipulative” or crafty, enabled her to become a hero in herself and of her time. Though Medea’s contribution to society is but minuscule her transcendence from a no-one to an independent and powerful individual may even serve as an inspiration for those people who are poorly viewed and underestimated.      

Works Cited:

Bargen, Doris G. A Woman’s Weapon: Spirit Possession in the Tale of Genji. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawaii Press, 1997. Print

Bargen, Doris G.. “The Search for Things Past in the Genji Monogatari.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: The Tale of Genji. Ed. Harold Bloom. Broomall,

PA: Chelsea House, 2004. 43-72. Print.  

Gibbs, Natasha. “The Epic: Identity and Reputation.” The Muse: Sigma Kappa Delta.

The Muse, n.d. Web. 3 Feb. 2012. <>.