Aeschylus, was a master dramatist - he liked to portray conflict between persons, human or divine, or between principles.1 His trilogy of plays, the Oresteia, develops many conflicts that must be resolved during the action of the Eumenides, the concluding play of the trilogy. The central theme of the Oresteia is justice (dike) and in dealing with questions of justice, Aeschylus at every stage involves the gods.2 The Oresteia's climactic conflict in the Eumenides revolves around justice and the gods - opposing conceptions of justice and conflicting classes of gods. This essay will describe and discuss these conflicts and, more importantly, the manner in which they are resolved so that the play, and indeed the entire trilogy, might reach a satisfactory conclusion.
The conception of justice associated with the Erinyes is that of the ancient lex talionis - the law of retaliation akin to the biblical 'an eye for an eye'. They are primitive female deities, born of Earth. Their chief function is to hound anyone who murders a blood relative and to seek vengeance for that crime by visiting violent death upon its perpetrator. The Olympian deities are champions of the justice of Zeus, their master. The justice of Zeus is more progressive and discriminating than the lex talionis - it never sees the innocent punished.3 In the Eumenides, Apollo is representative of the newer and younger Olympian deities and he speaks on Orestes behalf at the trial. The trial of Orestes takes place when the fate of Orestes cannot be decided by the conflicting powers. Orestes is guilty of murdering his mother, Clytemnestra; hence the Erinyes are baying for his blood as a just and rightful penalty. ...
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...RAM, R. P. (1983). Studies in Aeschylus. Cambridge
1. Lloyd-Jones (1971), 89.
2. Sommerstein (1989), 19.
3. Cohen (1986), 46.
4. Aeschylus, Eumenides 626-628.
5. Sommerstein (1989), 21.
6. See Winnington-Ingram (1983), 125 on the controversial, but not very consequential, question of whether Athena casts a vote or merely lays down the principle of acquittal if the votes are equally divided.
7. Winnington-Ingram (1983), 167. Rejected by Lloyd-Jones (1971), 94.
8. Cohen (1986), 46.
9. Winnington-Ingram (1983), 128.
10. Winnington-Ingram (1983), 128 based on THOMSON, G. (1946). Aeschylus and Athens. London, 288.
11. Aeschylus, Eumenides 750-752.
12. See Aeschylus, Agamemnon 61-65.
13. Sommerstein (1989), 23-24.
14. Aeschylus, Eumenides 514-517.
15. Aeschylus, Eumenides 991-996.
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