preview

Oresteia - The Issue of Justice in Aeschylus' Eumenides

analytical Essay
2472 words
2472 words
bookmark

Oresteia - The Issue of Justice in Aeschylus' Eumenides

The concept of justice is manifested through the three plays of Aeschylus' Oresteia. The old tradition of justice, the private blood feud, caused an ungoverned succession of violent acts that spiralled uncontrollably. Aegisthus, Clytemnestra's lover, is introduced in Agamemnon; he desires vengeance for the plot contrived by Agamemnon's father (Ag: 1605-1611).1 Neither Agamemnon nor Aegisthus took part in this "plot" and yet as the chorus explains (Ag: 755-6)

'But ancient Violence longs to breed,

new violence comes

when its fatal hour comes,'

The justice system of this period demanded that one avenge the death of a family member, this can be seen in The Libation Bearers (Lib:45-60)

'The proud dead stir under the earth,

they rage against the ones who took their lives.'

So Aegisthus must take the life of Agamemnon (because Agamemnon's father is not available) in order to let his father's spirit rest. Thus, one need not have an active part in a wrongdoing to be slain for it in the name of justice; one simply had to be members of the same family as the wrongdoer. This ability to substitute family members for vengeance purposes led to a back and forth phenomenon between two families, as soon as one family avenged its member by 'kill(ing) the killers in return' (Lib: 149) the other would pay them back in kind. As the chorus proclaims (Lib: 394-8)

'It is the law: when the blood of slaughter

wets the ground it wants more blood.

Slaughter cries for the Fury

of those long dead to bring destruction

on destruction churning in its wake!'

Similarly, Clytemnestra wants retribution for the fact that Agamemnon brought misery (A...

... middle of paper ...

...stage a trial scene with a jury and an enacted vote, a genuine coup de theatre not apparently emulated by his successors.' So Aeschylus was a pioneer and the originator of Ally McBeal and Perry Mason. I think he would be very happy about that.

Works Cited

Aeschylus 'The Oresteia' (translation: R. Fagles) Penguin (1977)

Cartledge, P. "Deep plays": Theatre as process in Greek Civic Life' in P.E. Easterling The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy Cambridge (1997)

Conacher, D.J. Aeschylus' Oresteia: A Literary Commentary Toronto (1987)

Goldhill, S. 'The Language of Tragedy: Rhetoric and Communication' in P.E. Easterling The Cambridge Companion to Greek Tragedy Cambridge (1997)

Notes

1. All references to the text are taken from Fagles, R. translation (1977).

2. For more on this subject read Conacher, D.J. (1987) pages 197-212

In this essay, the author

  • Analyzes how the concept of justice is manifested through the three plays of aeschylus' oresteia.
  • Analyzes how the justice system of this period demanded avenging the death of family members, this can be seen in the libation bearers.
  • Explains that aegisthus must take the life of agamemnon in order to let his father's spirit rest. one need not have an active part in a wrongdoing to be slain for it in the name of justice.
  • Analyzes how apollo cleanses orestes of his crime and sends him to athena, who determines the propriety of the furies dogged pursuit of him.
  • Explains that public speaking played a fundamental role in the radical democracy of athens. the word dike is used throughout the oresteia, where the plotting of revenge leads towards resolution through the lawcourt.
  • Analyzes how aeschylus' audience could not have missed the reforms of the areopagus and the recent alliance of athens with sparta.
  • Analyzes how orestes wastes no time in promising argive support in return for protection at athens.
  • Analyzes how orestes' expressions of gratitude for his acquittal emphasize argos and the promised allegiance of argives to athens.
  • Opines that the issue of justice in aeschylus' eumenides is an immense one and one that carried as much importance all those years ago as it does today.
  • Cites cartledge, p., "deep plays": theatre as process in greek civic life, in the cambridge companion to greek tragedy, cambridge.
  • Cites goldhill, s., 'the language of tragedy: rhetoric and communication', in p.e. easterling's the cambridge companion to greek tragedy.
  • Analyzes how clytemnestra wants revenge for the fact that agamemnon brought misery upon her 'proud house' by sacrificing his own child.
  • Analyzes how aeschylus demonstrates the complexity and futility of the blood feud as a system of justice.
  • Analyzes how aeschylus depicts the progression from the traditional from of justice to a much more civilised form, the court system.
  • Analyzes how aeschylus displays his belief that a new system of justice must overtake the old system in much the same manner as athena's power did that of the furies.
  • Analyzes how the faction fight between the conservative traditionalists and the radical democrats resonated in the minds of the athenian audience.
  • Analyzes how aeschylus chose to depict orestes as an argive2 rather than the more traditional mycenean or even spartan prince. he was eager to promote good relations between athens and argos.
  • Analyzes how orestes reminds athena that his father agamemnon and she were allies in that victorious undertaking, and apollo, in his preoration, tells her that he has sent him as suppliant to her hearth.
Get Access