Goddess Medea

Dress of Fire

Goddess Medea

by Dahlia Ravikovitch

You know, she said, they made you
a dress of fire.
Remember Jason's wife and how she burned in her dress?
Medea, she said, Medea did that to her.
You've got to be careful, she said.
They made you a dress that glows,
like an ember, it burns like coals.

Dress of Fire

Do you want to wear it, she said, don't wear it.
It's not the wind whistling,
it's the poison spreading.
You're not a princess, what can you do to the likes of Medea?
You must learn to tell one sound from another.
It's not the wind whistling.


Remember, I told her, that time when I was six?
They shampooed my hair and I went outside like that.
The smell of the shampoo trailed after me like a cloud.
Afterwards I was sick from the wine and the rain.
I didn't know then how to read Greek tragedies,
but the smell of the perfume spread
and I was very sick.
Now I realize it is an unnatural perfume.

goddess Medea

What will become of you, she said,
they made you a burning dress.
They made me a burning dress, I said,
I know it.
So why are you standing there, she said,
you've got to be careful,
Don't you know what a burning dress is?

goddess Bast

I know, I said, but I don't know
how to be careful.
The smell of that perfume confuses me.
No one has to agree with me.
I have no great faith in Greek tragedies.

goddess Medea

But the dress, she said, the dress is on fire.
What are you saying, I shouted,
what are you saying?

I'm not wearing a dress at all . . .
what's burning is me.


Points of Reflection

Medea, the "Wise One", a princess and goddess of Parthia, fell in love with the Greek prince Jason when he arrived there to obtain the Golden Fleece that would allow him to claim his rightful place on the throne of  his father's kingdom, a throne that had been usurped by his uncle.   Jason agreed to marry Medea if she would use her considerable knowledge and powers to help him defeat the armies and the dragons that guarded the fleece.  And this she did.

No longer welcome at home for having assisted Jason, Medea accompanied her husband back to his home and there she granted him another favor and restored the youthfulness of Jason's father who had grown old and frail.   Medea was loving and faithful, never complaining about her own personal losses that she faced when she acted to assure Jason's status as a hero. But Jason soon fell in love with another and divorced Medea, who as a "foreigner" in his country had no legal rights.

The distraught Medea was both heartbroken and enraged.  Killing their children, sparing them the shame of their father's betrayal, she also took her revenge on her husband's new bride by sending her an incredibly beautiful dress to be married in, a dress that was saturated with a poison that would burn the one who wore it . . . literally, a dress of fire.

Jason's wedding was not to be, but  Medea eventually remarried and became a Queen.

Have you ever felt the searing pain of a betrayal by one to whom you entrusted your innermost feelings, your hopes and dreams?   Are you a "survivor"?  And what did you learn from the experience . . . never to trust again,  just to forgive and forget while hoping for better luck "next time",  or  to be more cautious, perhaps moving a bit more slowly when next you "give your heart away"?

Sometimes we ignore all the warning signs, the clues that "something is not right",  feeling only sick and "confused by the smell of that perfume".  Blinded by the light, still we can learn "how to be careful".  But how can we learn?

The experience of  betrayal evokes feelings of shame, helplessness (what can the likes of a mere mortal like me do about it),  and hopelessness (I am not a princess).  Thoughts of revenge are entirely human; fantasies of revenge are probably inevitable and are often healing, restoring a sense of empowerment. . . but actually acting on them may have disastrous consequences. Where do you draw the line?

Goddess Bast

Excerpted from A Dress of Fire, poetry by Israeli poet Dahlia Ravikovitch, published in 1978 by Horizon House, translated into English from Hebrew by Chana Bloch.

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