Democracy, emerging in the city-state of Athens, allowed unprecedented power to her citizens. Among these new powers was the ability to legislate. Yet, legislation was not without its problems. First the citizens must agree upon what is just and unjust, and then enforce the law by bringing the unjust to reconcile their guilt with the public through trial, and finally dispense the appropriate penalty. This evolution was not without concern. The Greeks were attempting to establish a governmental system which would span the middle ground between anarchy and despotism. By the crimes played out in Aeschylus' tragic trilogy The Oresteia, Aeschylus demonstrates the contrast between anarchy and despotism, and judges them both guilty. Indeed he shows, by the end of the play, that the only way man can be absolved of guilt is by joining leagues with the gods in a united effort to promote justice. His premise is supported by sequentially following the criminal legacy of the house of Atreus, and showing that the curse of continued injustice can only be ended by the cooperative effort of man and god.
Aeschylus draws his contrast between anarchy and despotism through the main characters in the play. First Atreus, the father of Agamemnon, though never appearing himself in the trilogy is a central figure and the vehicle by which the curse is introduced. His crime is that of anarchy. Second, Agamemnon returns from Troy with the blood guilt of despotism. Next, Clytemnestra, Agamemnon's queen, represents a mixture of the two evils in that she portrays a self-serving ruler. Finally Orestes, son of Agamemnon, is introduced as a pious man who allows his fate to be determined by the gods in conjuncti...
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... of the trilogy it was demonstrated the power that democracy wielded. It was able to eliminate anarchy and despotism by the middle ground. Although this had previously been the role of the Erinyes (Eu., ln.526-30), they had through the play proven themselves unsuccessful. Thus at the end of the Eumenides, Aeschylus has the Furies relinquish governance of the city to the citizens, and bestow honor on the people (Eu., ln.1016-20).
Therefore Aeschylus demonstrated that democracy allowed for the union between man and gods that neither anarchy or despotism could achieve. Moreover, it was only through this union that justice could be served and the ancient laws and ways could be overturned. With this new social order, man celebrated unprecedented equality, honor and prosperity
Aeschylus. Oresteia. Trans. Peter Meineck. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1998.
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