Tom Brady Channels Medea’s Fury

John William Waterhouse, study for Medea

John William Waterhouse, study for Medea

Sports Saturday

When I watched the New England Patriots run roughshod over the previously undefeated Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday, I was struck by their fury, especially that of quarterback Tom Brady. There were a couple of times on the opening drive when the future Hall of Famer attempted himself to bull through the defense, quarterback sneaking for a first down and then attempting to do so again for a touchdown.

When you’re looking for literature about fury, there’s no better place to go than the ancient Greeks, especially Euripides. I’ve decided to focus on Medea in today’s post. First, however, here’s the current situation with New England.

After Kansas City shellacked the Patriots two weeks ago, Schadenfreude seized NFL fans and commentators everywhere. This was no surprise given that the Patriots have dominated the league for so long and that their coach Bill Belichick makes no attempt to be agreeable. (Belichick’s name contains the Latin prefix for war, and belligerent and bellicose are words that fit him.) Many were glad to see New England humbled and not a few wondered whether Brady’s illustrious career was coming to an end.

Some of the quarterback’s fury, therefore, was directed against the doubters, and for one game at least he proved them wrong. But some suggested that Brady was furious also at the Patriots’ organization. While Brady’s archrival Peyton Manning has been given all the role players he needs to succeed, the Patriots sometimes appear to take Brady for granted. Although he is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, he has not been given skilled wide receivers who can stretch the field or skilled linemen who will protect him from sacks. Management thinks he can make do with lesser parts and didn’t seriously try to re-sign his good friend and reliable safety valve Wes Welker (who is now breaking records playing for Manning). They also traded away the heart of the offensive line, Logan Mankins, because he wouldn’t take a pay cut.

Brady, who had restructured his salary so that the Patriots would use the savings to support him, is rumored to have felt betrayed. When you have a future hall of fame quarterback, don’t you do everything you can to make sure he has everything he needs to win now, even if it means sacrificing your immediate future? That is what the Denver Broncos have been doing with Manning. The Patriots, by contrast, used their second round draft choice to choose another quarterback, one who they hope will be Brady’s successor. While the Bengals may have been the victims of Brady’s fury, therefore, perhaps his fury wasn’t directed only at them.

Now to Medea’s fury. After helping Jason obtain the Golden Fleece and then instigating a murder on his behalf, she learns that he wishes to marry the king of Corinth’s daughter, which will be a significant social step up. After all, Medea is only a barbarian. Meanwhile, his new father-in-law, understandably, desires that Medea and her sons be exiled. Think of this exchange of women as a blockbuster trade in a league where “what have you done for me lately?” is the reigning philosophy.

Medea’s nursemaid, lamenting the day her mistress ever met Jason, explains the situation:

Then my mistress,
Medea, never would’ve sailed away                                             
to the towers in the land of Iolcus,
her heart passionately in love with Jason.
She’d never have convinced those women,
Pelias’ daughters, to kill their father.
She’d not have come to live in Corinth here,
with her husband and her children—well loved

in exile by those whose land she’d moved to.
She gave all sorts of help to Jason.
That’s when life is most secure and safe,
when woman and her husband stand as one.
But that marriage changed. Now they’re enemies.
Their fine love’s grown sick, diseased, for Jason,
leaving his own children and my mistress,
is lying on a royal wedding bed.
He’s married the daughter of king Creon,
who rules this country. As for Medea,
that poor lady, in her disgrace, cries out,
repeating his oaths, recalling the great trust
in that right hand with which he pledged his love.
She calls out to the gods to witness
how Jason is repaying her favors.

If you know the story, you know how Medea gets her revenge. Death and mayhem are the order of the day—this is a Greek tragedy after all—with Medea first killing Jason’s bride and father-in-law with a poisoned crown and poisoned robe and then slaying their two young sons. The description of the bride dying is one of the most gruesome in all of literature. Some Bengal fans might have felt that their own heads were on fire as they watched Brady take their team apart:

[T]he poor girl woke up,
breaking her silent fit with a dreadful scream.
She was suffering a double agony—
around her head the golden diadem
shot out amazing molten streams of fire
burning everything, and the fine woven robe,                            
your children’s gift, consumed the poor girl’s flesh.
She jumped up from the chair and ran away,                                   
all of her on fire, tossing her head, her hair,
this way and that, trying to shake off
her golden crown—but it was fixed in place,
and when she shook her hair, the fire blazed
twice as high. Then she fell down on the ground,
overcome by the disaster. No one
could recognize her, except her father.

Of course, there’s one significant difference: Brady’s fury actually benefitted his coach and the Patriots. Given Belichick’s genius, maybe he even intended this to happen. I’ve compared him to Professor Moriarty in the past, and maybe Professor Belichick is psychologically manipulating his quarterback. A successful coach once told me that coaches who win regularly take advantage of all kinds of emotions, including team anger at themselves.

So who knows what is going to happen? Maybe the strength of Brady’s fury will carry his team to the Super Bowl. But if not, don’t be surprised if there is a day of reckoning and Brady leaves the team, although probably not in a dragon-drawn chariot. After which Patriot fans can say, along with Euripides’ chorus,

 Zeus on Olympus,
dispenses many things.     
Gods often contradict
our fondest expectations.
What we anticipate
does not come to pass.
What we don’t expect
some god finds a way                                                    
to make it happen.
So with this story.

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