Possibilities for realizing justice

Although Agamemnon knows that it is sacrilegious to walk on such embroideries, his vanity surpasses his logic and by doing so solidifies his fate. Clytemnestra “strews the ground he walks on with tapestries” because she wants the gods to be dissatisfied with Agamemnon. In view of Agamemnon’s disrespectful act, she believes that the gods will forgive her transgression. She persuades him to walk on the tapestries in order to fulfill her goal of murdering her husband. Aeschylus creates two narcissistic and antagonistic characters in the first play of the trilogy. Additionally, complex meanings are typical of all Clytemnestra’s main speeches.

When Clytemnestra first appears her ambiguity reveals itself when she says, “May no longing first come on the army to ravage what they should not ravage” (47). The Furies advocate the old traditions of “an eye for an eye” while the Olympians desire new traditions, where judges and juries decide the fates of wrongdoers. A case results where the Furies are the prosecutors and Apollo is the defender and Athene is the judge. When the jury is induced to vote the result is a tie. Athene must cast the deciding vote and considering that Athene “belongs altogether to her father” (256) she votes in favor of Orestes.

She does not sympathize with Clytemnestra for she had no mother. When a statue of Zeus’ head was smashed Athene rose up out of the head, so she was never born. She frees Orestes by voting in his favor. The Furies believe “the house of Justice is falling” (240), but Athene mollifies the Furies by renaming them “The Kindly Ones” and promising that alters will be set up in Athens to rever! ence the Furies. Athens welcomes the replacement of archaic, autocratic justice with the new form of civic justice, in which an entire society unites to determine and enforce its conceptions of right and wrong.

As Athene proclaims, “In future time also there shall remain for the people of Aegeus forever this council of judges” (251). Aeschylus’ The Oresteia intertwines a theme that is easily conceivable to those analyzing the plays for its universal meaning-justices progression through time. The Oresteia presents a logical progression of justice. The first play, Agamemnon is a play saturated with ambiguous characters like Clytemnestra and deadly finality. The revenge ethic is a method that Aeschylus uses to modify archaic beliefs and to show how those beliefs can be modified to appease everyone involved.

The Choephoroe introduces a son, Orestes, who must battle with inner turmoil, as well as, the supernatural powers of the gods. He must kill his mother to avenge his father with the knowledge that he will inevitably be pursued by the Furies. Eumenides resolves all of the issues battling throughout the previous plays. Orestes is set free and the Furies are contented with their newly acquired veneration. In the end, “all came clear with the rays of dawn” (40). All is revealed in the final play, when ! night descends and the truth is revealed.

In addition, The Oresteia is about the possibilities for realizing justice in the fullest sense of the word. According to Aeschylus, justice needs to progress with the society or justice is not accomplishing what it should. Aeschylus’ portrayal of justice as revenge evolves into a society that rebels against autocratic justice and embraces civic justice. The abuse of power, loss of touch with the citizens, and the false feeling of security all mark the Athenian view of despotism. Clytemnestra rules the kingdom following Agamemnon's death.

Having seized power under her own agenda, she exemplifies both anarchy and despotism. As a self declared ruler (Ag. , ln. 1672-73), Clytemnestra does not have the sanction of the gods (L. B. , ln. 959-60), and further she has wasted the substance of the palace on her own selfish desires (L. B. , ln. 942-43). In addition to these crimes, she of course has slain her husband and is involved in a treacherous affair with Aegisthus. Yet in contrast to Agamemnon, she is aware of her crimes, but even during her confrontation with Orestes acknowledges no guilt and tries to shift the blame to both fate and Agamemnon (L.

B. , ln. 885-930). Moreover, her punishment comes as no surprise, for she herself has foretold her doom through a dream (L. B. , 523-39). Thus, because she is a "woman without scruple" (L. B. , ln. 597) and "godless" (L. B. , ln. 525), she is deserving of the citizens "rancorous hatred" (L. B. , ln. 392). Aeschylus, however, holds Orestes in contrast to all the previous offenders. He acted within the law by murdering Aegisthus (L. B. , ln. 989-90), and his murder of his mother, Clytemnestra, was sanctioned by Apollo himself (L. B. , ln. 1030).

Moreover, he is fully aware of his crime and acknowledges his guilt (Eu. , ln. 588). Further, he subjugates himself to the will and law of the Athenian people (Eu. , 487-88). After setting forth all of these pre-existing conditions, Aeschylus scripts Athena and her people acquitting Orestes, which reinstates his rule and breaks the curse of the house of Atreus (Eu. , ln. 752-61). In reciprocation, Orestes swears an oath to the citizens and bestows honor on them (Eu. , ln. 763-77). Aeschylus has thus shown Orestes to be both pious and lawful.

Therefore, by the end of the trilogy it was demonstrated the power that democracy wielded. It was able to eliminate anarchy and despotism by the middle ground. Although this had previously been the role of the Erinyes (Eu. , ln. 526-30), they had through the play proven themselves unsuccessful. Thus at the end of the Eumenides, Aeschylus has the Furies relinquish governance of the city to the citizens, and bestow honor on the people (Eu. , ln. 1016-20). Therefore Aeschylus demonstrated that democracy allowed for the union between man and gods that neither anarchy or despotism could achieve.

Moreover, it was only through this union that justice could be served and the ancient laws and ways could be overturned. With this new social order, man celebrated unprecedented equality, honor and prosperity.


1. Goldhill, Simon. Language, Sexuality, Narrative, the Oresteia, Cambridge U P, 1994. 2. Prag, A. J. N. W. The Oresteia: Iconographic and Narrative Tradition, Chicago: Bolchazy Carducci, 1985. 3. P. P. Matsen, P. Rollinson, and M. Sousa (ed. ) Readings from Classical Rhetoric (Carbondale 1990)