Anna Cullhed
Anna Cullhed.

Anna Cullhed is Professor of Literature at the Department of Culture and Aesthetics, Stockholm University. She holds a PhD from Uppsala University and has been fellow at SCAS and a Research Fellow at the Swedish Academy 2007-2012. She has published on eighteenth-century and early nineteenth-century European poetics and on Swedish sentimental literature (Bengt Lidner). Her current project, funded by the Swedish Foundation for Humanities and Social Sciences, is a study of European Medea drama in the late eighteenth century.


In Euripides’ tragedy, Medea is defined as a barbarian from the far-off Colchis by the Black Sea. As Edith Hall argues in her ground-breaking study, Inventing the Barbarian (1989), the barbarian was a non-Greek character, defined by transgressions and excess. In the eighteenth century, several authors in Europe transformed the meaning of the word barbarian (and its cognates in other languages): the differentiation between Greek and non-Greek was generally played down, and the barbarian was mainly characterised by pitilessness and inhumanity. This paved the way for representing the Greek hero Jason as a barbarian, as in Bengt Lidner’s 1784 opera libretto Medea. This paper will focus on three questions: How does the inversion of the barbarian function in relation to the sentimental reversal of the Medea story in the late eighteenth century? How do the authors handle ethics in relation to ethnicity? And what part does emotional excess – one of the characteristics of the ancient barbarian – play in the period’s depiction of Medea?