Medea’s vengeance is this emblem’s central image, as Pulter moralises on the consequences of revenge, both for those who seek it, and those whose actions might provoke it. The story, relayed in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, begins when Jason, leader of the Argonauts, arrives in Colchis to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which his uncle Pelias has requested in exchange for the throne of Iolcus. In Colchis, King Aeetes sets Jason three challenges he must complete in order to receive the fleece, and, in a “violent conflict between reason and passion”, Aeetes’ daughter Medea decides to aid him (Sandys 252).1 Jason promises to marry Medea in return for her help, and they flee to Iolcus, where Medea then further assists her husband by murdering Pelias. When she returns to her husband, however, she discovers he has married Creusa, the daughter of King Creon. It is from this point that Pulter documents the revenge Medea enacts for this betrayal: setting fire to Creusa and committing infanticide.
Pulter contrasts Medea’s active revenge with the analogous story of Ariadne, also in the Metamorphoses, whose passive response to a similar abandonment by her husband Theseus is to marry and devote herself to another, Bacchus. Where Medea’s “mad impiety” goes as far as to “dare the gods to do as much by her”, Ariadne implores the “pity” of the gods and is rewarded with a crown of constellations (lines 13, 14, 18). The moralising turn Pulter takes at the end of the poem is perhaps unexpected, however, as she moves her focus from comparing the actions of both women to instead highlighting the fate of Creusa as warning to “all those / That injure others not to trust their foes” (lines 23-4). It is worth noting that both Medea and Ariadne also appear as speakers in Ovid’s Heroides, a text which also may have informed Pulter. This series of epistolary laments written by Ovid engage in the complaint genre to give Medea and Ariadne (alongside other female figures from Greek mythology) female-voiced narratives expressing the rejection and frustration they suffer in the Metamorphoses (Heroides, translated by John Sherburne , pp. 55-61, 66-74). Pulter herself was well acquainted with the complaint genre: see The Complaint of Thames, 16474, Universal Dissolution6, and A Dialogue Between Two Sisters, Virgins Bewailing Their Solitary Life56 for examples of political and religious complaints.
From line 21, Pulter shifts from her classical narrative to a Christian moral, suggesting that “trust in God” will, like Ariadne’s piety, be “crowned” in reward (line 22). This movement from classical to Christian interpretation is affirmed in her final couplet, as she takes an inward turn to reflect on her own mortal condition and her susceptibility to sin. She asks God to “deliver” her from any “enemies” within, fearing that her own self is worse than the Medeas and Creusas of the world (lines 26, 25). This phrase echoes Matthew 6:13 (“deliver us from evil”), demonstrating a repurposing of the plural “us” to appeal to God for assistance from the “enemies” that she fears exist within her. Pulter here displays a “psalmic inwardness” which affirms the movement from a classical to Christian moral, as Pulter adapts the emblem form to conclude in self-reflection (Rachel Dunn [Zhang]. “Breaking a Tradition: Hester Pulter and the English Emblem Book”, The Seventeenth Century, 30.1 , 64). Thus, her ninth emblem offers a complex didacticism, offering three resolutions: first, she encourages readers to be patient and devout like Ariadne, then she uses Creusa as a reminder to be aware of how one’s actions can provoke enemies, and finally she concludes with a meditation on her own fallibility. Her use of Ovid’s mythology to give greater affinity to her moral and religious expressions demonstrates a sophisticated engagement in contemporary humanist discourses, one that can also be seen in her comparison of the biblical figure Nimrod with Ovid’s ambitious giants in Mighty Nimrod (Emblem 1)67.
- George Sandys’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses Englished (1632) is the most contemporaneous translation to Pulter’s writing, and so we have used it as our point of reference in this edition [New York: Garland Publishing, 1976].