Justice In Aeschylus
’ Eumenides Essay, Research Paper
Justice in Aeschylus’ Eumenides
The main point in “Eumenides,” is the issue of justice. Orestes stands accused of murdering his mother. Like any case, there are two sides. However, the argument against Orestes is strong. He admits to striking down his mother, in violation of the sacred bond of kinship. “I will not deny it-exacting the penalty of death in return for my dear father.”(Eumenides lines 463-464) This signifies that Orestes was fully aware of the act he was committing and he willfully committed it. The bond between mother and child was broken when Orestes murdered Clytemnestra. In the old order of things, family is by blood only. A husband and wife have no blood relation, yet the son is of the same blood as his parents. Clytemnestra is able to murder Agamemnon because they have no blood relation with each other. The Furies right to vengeance cannot be dismissed.
Clytemnestra is determined to uphold the law of the furies. She felt Agamemnon’s murder of Iphegenia at Aulis needed to be avenged. Agamemnon killed his own blood relation in order to sail for Troy. This too, is a terrible crime, seemingly of the same weight as Orestes’ act. Clytemnestra believed she was justified in avenging her daughter, because her husband violated a sacred tenant of the old gods. “This is Agamemnon, my husband, and a corpse, the work of this right hand, a just workman.”(Agamemnon1404-1406) This shows a clear morality behind Clytemnestra motives. She appears to have justification for her actions. The curse on the House of Atreus is fulfilled. In the last lines of Agamemnon the chorus foreshadows Orestes’ return. Clytemnestra responds by saying to her new husband, “Do not care for these idle barkings; you and I, ruling this house, shall order all things for good”(Agamemnon lines 1672-1673) The chorus’ purpose for suggesting Orestes’s return is to show that the house is not yet cleansed of the curse.
Like his mother, Orestes possesses, what he believes to be, a just motive for revenge. Unlike his mother, however, Orestes has reservations about killing. He does not wish to strike down his mother, but realizes that he must. The defense of Orestes is rooted in the fact that Apollo ordered him to do so. Orestes trusts Apollo’s guidance at his trial. “Never shall I be betrayed by Loxias’ mighty oracle which commands me to pass through this danger.”(The Libation Bearers 269-270) Orestes believes that he is justified in avenging his god-honored father, who was so brutally murdered by his mother.
The Furies enforce the ancient law of retaliation, which states that blood must be paid for with more blood. This task was given to them by Destiny at the dawn of time. Their concept of justice is one where the law of retaliation is applied absolutely. They have no notion of compassion or understanding. They uphold the belief that regardless of circumstances, Orestes must be made to pay for his crime of matricide. The Furies represent something older and sacred, which Apollo and Zeus do not respect.
Athena’s establishment of the court to judge the case is significant, because it provides a place for the citizens to which moral elements will be upheld in the Polis. The Eumenides is the battleground for the two competing moralities. The furies invoke their rights as defenders of blood, and it is up to Orestes and Apollo to convince the jury that the son was just in his actions
Athena, however, initiates the ideal that the law should be concerned not only with the forms of justice, as the Furies are passionate about, but with justice itself. The jurors must ask themselves whether Orestes was justified in committing matricide. The ultimate decision is arbitrary. The vote is tied because there is just reasoning on both sides. Athena decides to acquit Orestes. She casts her vote for Orestes because she supports her father’s Order, believing that patricide is a more heinous crime. Despite the fact she is a female, she is on the side of men.
Having settled the trial, Athena must also settle the anger of the Furies. She tactfully invites them to join Zeus’s Order-something that is necessary if peace is to be made between the generations of immortals. She does not completely refute them, nor deny them their place in the world. “I will bear with you in your anger; for you are more ancient than I.”(Eumenides lines 847-848) She asks the Furies to accept her offer of making their home in Athens, and to endure as the upholders of the sacred bond of marriage. They accept her offer because it allows them to maintain their dignity. It also transforms the Furies from destructive forces to beneficial ones.
This resolution ends the conflict in the House of Atreus, as well as many of the differences between the old and new gods. Orestes is free to claim his city and the Furies have been given a place in Zeus’ Order. The latter is the other main point that is emphasized in the play because of the arbitrary decision on Orestes’ case. The best possible justice has been realized in the decision.
A new Apollonian concept of justice has been achieved. It represents a higher level of understanding and shows development in society. Now, people like Clytemnestra may be prosecuted in society for their crimes instead of waiting for a banished son to come home and set things right. Also, this new concept refutes the idea of absolute justice. Orestes is set free on the basis that he had