The Theme Of Justice In The Oresteia By Aeschylus Essay

Throughout the trilogy, The Oresteia, there is a central theme of justice portrayed by Aeschylus. In each of the three plays, justice stems from the ancient guidelines but soon evolves into a more civil justice defined by Athena, with the intention to stop the people from a never ending cycle of blood vengeance.

Throughout the trilogy, Aeschylus emphasizes the difference between the old way of handling justice and the new, more organized way. He also stresses the curse of those who live under the House of Atreus and the moral questions that come up pertaining to Orestes’ killing. When it comes to Orestes case, the evidence is clear and strong. He has completely admitted to murdering his own mother even though it is forbidden to kill anyone of the same blood. “I killed my mother — that I do confess — In retribution for my father’s death”. There is no question here that Orestes aware of the trouble he has caused and because of this he is open to accepting his punishment but no without a fight. There is a sacred bond between and mother and a child but and many may think that this bond was shattered once he killed Clytemnestra. But wouldn’t it be fair to say that this bond was broken far before that, when Clytemnestra murdered her own husband, the father of Orestes. To the Furies, the older order, it was known that family was only blood relatives. Therefore, marriage did not bind you to the same “family”. Because of this, Agamemnon and Clytemnestra have no blood relation unlike the relationship of Orestes and Clytemnestra. The Furies, then, do not seek revenge on Clytemnestra but instead insist in giving Orestes what he deserves. “And so then he slew his own child / For a war to win a woman / And to speed the storm-bound ships from the shore to battle.”

Just as Orestes did, Agamemnon had sacrificed his own family for reasons not justifiably acceptable. He violated the rule of sacred kinship so Clytemnestra was only doing what was right and seek blood vengeance for the sake of her daughter. “It is no matter — here is Agamemnon, / My husband, dead the work of this right hand, / A just artificer. That is the truth.” Clytemnestra is proud of what she has done and refuses to think otherwise. At the end of Agamemnon, the Chorus hints towards the return of Orestes. In response, Clytemnestra says to Aegisthus, “You and I, / the new / Masters of the house, henceforth shall direct it well.” Clytemnestra sees justice has been served but Orestes and the Chorus seem to have other opinions. Even though Orestes has admitted to the murder of his mother, he also believes he rightfully possesses a just motive. In contrast to Clytemnestra’s proud moment, Orestes seemed hesitate in the act of killing. He obviously respected the bond that they had as mother and child but felt as though he had to do what was right for his father. Apollo’s support in his decision gave him that push of confidence because Orestes trusts Apollo’s guidance saying, “Apollo will not break his faith, by whose / Almighty oracles I am commanded / To take on me this hazard.”

Justice has now taken on too many identities to stop this pattern of violence anytime soon. Continuous blood vengeance will never end in the family of Atreus unless something drastic is implemented into society. It would be impossible for Greece to grow and prosper in the world with one death after enough. Soon, there will be no one else to kill. In these two situations, you cannot say that either one of the murders is truly wrong, making it difficult to fully define what justice is. The only thing to do is to pick a side. The ancient gods will always stand by Clytemnestra in this situation because she stayed true to what the Furies say is law in the land. The definition of justice to the Furies is one that absolutely allows and even requires retaliation. This is why they seem to overlook the reasons behind what Orestes did and instead stress that Orestes murdered his own mother, a blood relative. For this he must pay.

Zeus, through the help of Apollo, supports Orestes because he was also avenging his blood relationships. This confrontation is troubling but it forced them to come to a compromise and define a justice that was set in stone. In The Eumenides, it is up to Orestes and Apollo to convince the Furies that Orestes actions were justified. Apollo starts by explaining how the actions of Orestes were supported by Zeus himself. The Furies didn’t seem satisfied and continued with a rebuttal saying, “See what this plea for the acquittal means. / He split upon the ground his mother’s blood, / And he still dwell in his father’s house?” This question is fair to ask but what if we turned it around on Clytemnestra? How can she so quickly start a new life with some else after murdering her own husband? Again the furies definition of justice is blinding them from the parallels of the two events. Apollo then makes a daring accusation by stating that the father of the child is really the only true parent. Using Athena as a true physical example was a smart move but it doesn’t seem to cause much of a reaction from the Chorus. Athena, a supporter of anything masculine, sees his point as valid. Athena is the instigator for the profession of justice. She asks the jury to have an open mind about what justice really is and not be so concrete in the old ways. She understands that there are many elements that go into why this happened and what could ultimately happen next. The consequences of this cycle of vengeance could be severe. The jurors must think about a lot. Is the bond of a marriage as strong and sacred as the bond of a blood relative? Is there even really a bond between a mother and a child at all? Which “side” will you pick, Zeus or the Furies? These all play an important part in deciding whether Orestes actions brought about justice. Athena knows that she cannot make this decision on her own. “Too grave a suit is this for mortal minds / To judge nor is it right that such as I / Should pass my verdict on a suit of blood / Shed with such bitter wrath attending it”

In the end, there is no right or wrong answer because there is no definitive answer to what justice really is. Therefore, in this instance, the jury realizes there is justice in both instances. With Athena’s vote as the deciding factor, Orestes is innocent. I believe that Athena made this decision because she knew that for Greece to rise and prosper in the future, blood vengeance must be stopped. But of course, this decision is not taken lightly by everyone. Athena then had to find a way to mend the relationship between the gods. Athena appreciates there wisdom and does not want to feel their wrath, “My elder art thou, therefore I indulge / They passion; yet, though not so wise as thou, / To me hath Zeus vouchsafed the gift / Of no mean understanding.” She asks the Furies to make Athens their home as the goddesses of Athens. As the Furies accept this wise plan they become allies instead of competing forces. With this, the curse on the House of Atreus is finally over. Without the case of Orestes, justice would have been skewed completely and a never-ending cycle of blood vengeance would continue to destroy Greece until there was nothing else to destroy. Instead, a greater level of understanding was formed and the good of the people was restored.

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