Oresteia

Mattis Response Papers

Justice in the Hands of the People

            “Zeus, by your story, gives first place to the father’s death. / Yet Zeus himself shackled elder Cronus, his own / father. Is this not contradiction?” (ln. 641-2). With these words the Chorus of the Furies, representing the unrelenting perspective of traditional Greek justice, presents an interesting point in the trial of Orestes: does Zeus’s murder of his father make fratricide, given certain circumstances, justifiable?

            Aeschylus obviously infers that fratricide is indeed justifiable given certain pressing situations. This is seen most obviously through the sparing of Orestes’s life, made certain by the vote of Athene and the final verdict of the people (ln. 752-3). Rather than upholding the uncompromising perspective of the Furies, Aeschylus welcomes the progressive strain of Greek thought, represented by the founding of the Areopagus by Athene – “a court into all time to come” (ln. 484).

            It is indeed interesting, however, one means of how fratricide is upheld, that is, through Zeus’s own patricide. In the following lines, after the Furies take a shot at Zeus (ln.642) and Apollo furiously defends his lord (ln. 644-651), however, no real sense is made of that particular matter. It seems that due to the circumstances of the situation (Kronos was eating his children), and the resulting good of Zeus’s normally frowned upon action (order restored to the world, gods come into power), Zeus’s patricide is deemed justifiable; thus, Orestes is given similar treatment, and the question of absolute justice (as represented by the Furies) is thrown into doubt for the time being.

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