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World Views

Aeschylus dramatic trilogy Oresteia deals heavily with the issue of revenge and justice in society. In this essay we will explore how the characters deal with justice, revenge and the burden of a familys past crimes.

The theme of revenge runs very strongly throughout this play. Every character that kills feels deeply justified in doing so, to the point of bragging about their accomplishments to the world. When Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon she presents herself to the Elders of the city, the city that her former husband had ruled so well, and feels no guilt. She confronts them claiming, I am not ashamed to speak openly I have caught my hated enemy in the inescapable trap, all the while pretending friendship (Lines 1374-1376). She stands with bloody hands, stating that she killed the king, and that the most inescapable trap that is death has been sprung. She is so exhilarated that he is dead. Her lover, the kings cousin Aegithus, comes forward to proclaim that Justice has been done, since he feels that Agamemnons father had placed a blemish on his familys name when he killed Aegithus brothers and sister and served them to Aegithus father in a stew. With Agamemnons death, Aegithus also feels that he could die content. The Chorus of Elders cries out to Aegithus, that he has not ended the curse, but that the people will punish his family. Aegithus cries in rage, A lesson in discretion can be hard for the elderly (Line 1620) and takes the crown of the slain king and marries his widow. When the crowd sees this they ready themselves to fight him but the new king is convinced by Clytemnestra not to kill these men, that they need

not be murdered. The crowd knows that no justice has been done and they cry out, hoping that the son of Agamemnon, Orestes, will return to Argos and avenge his slain father.

The cries of the people demanding that Agamemnons son avenge his fathers death can only lead to more bloodshed. When Orestes returns home the first thing that he does is visit the tomb of his father, crying out, Give me revenge for the death of my father (line 18). Orestes does not desire justice: which is defined as a well-founded reason; rightfulness; lawfulness. He does not want to see Aegithus taken before a court and judged. Instead, Orestes wants to kill Clytemnestra and Aegithus, the two people who murdered his father. Orestes doesnt think of justice ad defined in a reasonable manner, instead taking the vengeful view demonstrated by the chorus, when they say, How could it not be right to repay your enemy, evil for evil (line 164)? This group has a skewed view of what is right, favoring revenge over justice. Orestes buys their view and kill both of his fathers killers.

No sooner has he started to celebrate in his success than he is he tormented by the mothers curse, the hellhounds of hate (line 1054) and runs off stage. We learn in the third play of the trilogy that these hellhounds are in fact Furies, spirits which torture the souls of those who kill their blood relatives. On the word of Apollo Orestes runs to Athens, to have Athena pass judgment on what should become of him, and whether the Furies have a right to torment him. Athena, the goddess of wisdom leads a trial that is much like a modern court, with a jury of Athenian Elders, witnesses, and

evidence. Here Orestes cries out to Apollo asking him, Was Justice with me when I struck her down? (line 610) Apollo tells the court that Zeus himself was avenging the life of the noble Agamemnon by having Orestes take the life of his mother. The trial ends with Orestes being granted his life, free from the torments of the Furies. However little is in fact settled. The Furies are enraged that Orestes is able to be let off without punishment, so to appease them Athena promises them a grand temple, in their honor, using their own pride to allow them to be bought.

To the modern reader there is little sense of Justice. The murderer of two people is released, claiming that he was driven by the gods. When put in these terms Orestes behavior looks more like revenge than justice. However, there is a higher justice here as Apollo explains. Zeus sees all that happens and desires justice for the loss of Agamemnon, punishing Clytemnestra and Aegithus with their lives. The cost of Zeuss justice is very steep: his daughter, Athena, must appease lesser entities, and the life of Orestes is ruined - himself being exiled from his native Argos. The cost of justice is high, and only when taken from the gods viewpoint is there true justice and rightfulness in the actions of Orestes.