Medea and The Law of Gene Preservation

We all remember as children reading the great tragedy of Medea by Euripides. In a terrible tragedy, as her husband plans to leave her for another woman, the heroine Medea kills their two young sons in a fit of jealousy in the final scene. What inexplicable, unimaginable power could drive a mother to murder her own children?

From the numerous examples cited at the beginning of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”, we know that in nature, any mother, either among humans or the animal world, will sacrifice her own life without a moment’s hesitation, in order to save her child, her young.

What could compel a mother to overcome this fundamental law of nature, the Law of Gene Preservation? Or might the law be fallible?

Literature gives us many examples too of how the madness of love and passion can inspire a lover both either to achieve the greatest feat or commit the gravest crime:

  • Andriy from Gogol’s novel Taras Bulba betrays his father, brother and brothers in arms for the sake of his Polish lover.
  • The young man from Gorky’s fairy tale, “The Heart of a Mother,” who is in love agrees to take his mother’s heart, essentially agreeing to her murder, at the whim of his beautiful beloved.
  • The murder of a competitor (male or female) in love triangles is also a common theme, although, more often than not, even today murders committed in a fit of jealousy involve the object of the murderer’s passions, as was the case with Jose who killed Carmen.

The Law of Gene Preservation cannot be traced in any of these examples, except for the example in which the mother tears out her own heart for the sake of her son’s ‘happiness’.

Yet to kill one’s own children as Medea did? Recalling how early on in the play, Medea kills her own brother in order to delay her pursuers, I could just have put Medea down to being psychologically inadequate and leave it at that. Yet to take such an approach would be to underestimate the complexity of the issue. I decided to route through my memory to see if I could come up with an example I had witnessed in real life. Then I remembered something…

When I was young I had a friend. He was a handsome man, good humoured, always joking around. He had a beautiful voice, played the guitar and was brilliant at telling a good story. He was the life and soul of any party or company of men or women, a fighter and a gambler; in other words, a smooth operator. Naturally, he enjoyed great success with the “weaker” sex and was very responsive to any manifestation of their feelings.

But one day, he met his one and only and with the fiery passion that burned between them, they married in just the second month after having met. A year passed and they had a son, who was the copy of his father. All this time, my friend loved his wife although perhaps not quite as passionately as before, and he adored his son but was unable to fight his own nature and continued secretly visiting his former girlfriends ‘in arms’ as well as our boys’ nights.

When his son was older and going to school, my friend openly and more frequently went out, often not returning home until morning. Things continued in this vein for a couple of years and then one day he called his friends and in a grave voice asked them to stop inviting him to friendly get-togethers. After insistent demands for him to explain why, he gave in and revealed that every time he disappeared from the house, his wife beat their son. We never saw him after that.

I do not know how his family life unfolded, but I heard that he brought up his son, gave him a good education and that his son later married. In other words, he brought him up until he could stand on his own two feet and fulfilled the Law of Gene Preservation.

I could not help comparing my friend’s wife with Medea. Thank God we live in different times according to different customs and values.

Readers of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer” may remember that of all the conceivable and inconceivable questions posed in the Prologue, only one was left unanswered – the riddle of Love.

In saying that the foundations of the Law of Gene Preservation are to be found in Love, we only half answered the question. What we did not express is why Love is so selective, why a person in love can see no-one else in the entire second half of humanity except for the object of their love, their passion.

I imagine this second half of the riddle of Love to be like a dark matter that is capable of suppressing the Gene Preservation instinct and driving a person to commit the most horrific crimes possible in human nature; a dark matter, such as that which fills our Universe and continues to remain the cosmological mystery of our day.


Karmak Bagisbayev, professor of mathematics, author of “The Last Faith: a book by an atheist believer”

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