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The People v. Orestes
In the last portion of 'The Orestia';, titled 'The Euminides';, Aeschlyus describes the trial of Orestes, who is brought in front of a jury on the charge of matricide. The jury hands in a tied verdict and the goddess Athena casts the deciding vote in favor of Orestes. This of course begs the question: Was Athena's decision fair? I believe that this decision was in the best interest of fairness because Orestes was motivated by Apollo, enraged by the murder of his father, and aggrieved by the vicious cycle of antisocial behavior that was running rampant in his family.
Often, jurists, counselors, judges, politicians, and citizens alike are called upon to distinguish the difference (and subsequently choose) between the interests of fairness and justice. While Athena's decision might not have carried out the value of justice, it upheld the advantages of reasonable fairness.
The supporting rationalization, I listed above might not have been taken into Athena's consideration of this matter; however, one must consider the practical application of the verdict. This application ceased the Taleonic nature that had befitted the House of Atrius. Although it is difficult to imagine that this action was in the interest of fairness, the applied perspective that the outcome was more important the means, supplied the burden of proof for this acquittal.
Many parallels between modern American juris prudence and that applied in Orestes case can be illustrated, with a primary focus on circumstances creating a reasonable doubt. To better understand this concept one should apply the conditions of this case in a modern setting. If Orestes were called forward, on the same charges under the jurisdiction of a United States court of law, would he have been acquitted? Furthermore, would similar circumstances be sufficient to create a reasonable doubt? By my estimation, I would suggest so.
It is easy to assume that democratic legal standards (standards of law favored by most citizens) are involved in a constant evolutionary process. Subsequently, one is lead to the interpretation that ancient cultures would most likely subscribe to hedonistic principles; however, examination of 'The Orestia'; proves otherwise. Just like the final decree of Athena, most modern juries would see Clytaemnestra as a catalyst for Orestes homicide. This illustrates that while specific legislations evolve to mirror social change, the foundational essence of democratic trial-law remains unmolested.
Orestes was by no means innocent of matricide.
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The murder of Agamemnon embittered Orestes. With his victorious father in the grave and his deceptive mother on the thrown of Argos, Orestes was filled with contempt. This contempt was fueled by the swank attitude displayed by Clytaemnestra, in respect to the murder of Agamemnon. Clytaemnestra remained a free citizen, allowed to set her husband into the grave and carry on with Aegisthus.
One might even be able to defend Orestes behavior on the destiny set forward by the curse placed on the house of Atrius. This curse seemed to have a profound effect on the longevity of the house's inhabitants. Whether or not one may place credence on a household curse, between the abandonment of Orestes and the caustic environment of the house, is undoubtably a negative environment.
Any of the aforementioned points, individually, could have driven the beleaguered Orestes to homicide; however, the justifiable nature of the crime would not have remained in tact. It is the combination of all the points listed that warranted acquittal.
The circumstances that Orestes found himself under were indeed grave ones. Much to his chagrin, he found himself caught up in a deceptive web of lies, betrayal, and murder. While it is impossible to exactly what he was thinking, Orestes was a reasonable man who fell victim to unreasonable circumstances.
Athena, while snubbing justice, smiled upon an act of fairness. The death of Orestes would not have accomplished anything, but to reinforce a long running pattern of death in the house of Atrius. The decision was fair.