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Justice and Tyranny in the Oresteia

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According to the trilogy, The Oresteia, the theme of justice is highly portrayed by Aeschylus. In the first play of the trilogy, Agamemnon, Clytemnestra’s dual motives to murder Agamenmon explores in relation to the theme of justice also revenge. This happens when Agamemnon returns from war with his new consort, Cassandra the clairvoyant prophetess only to be murdered by his wife Clytemnesta in his bath. On one hand, Agamemnon’s murder is an act of justice for it brings truth to the darkness of the act of her husband sacrificing Iphigeneia, their daughter. This murder was also viewed as an act of violent revenge that creates circles of murders in Atreus’s house. Aeschylus uses fire in Agamemnon to symbolize the two different views of the motives and actions of Clytemnestra.

The system of justice according to the Greek society enables one to view Clytemnestra’s murder as a vivid form of justice. This brings to light a dark matter instead of a cold and ruthless murder. According to the ancient Greek tradition, when one murders a member of a certain family, another member of that the family was to seek a retribution for the act by killing the murderer. Aeschylus in The Oresteia gives Clytemnestra an acceptable and justifiable motive for her husband’s murder. The reason of Agamemnon sacrificing their daughter to the God Artemis was for him, and his men to continue to conquer Troy. This was to protect the armada and meant to appease Artemis however; this action violates his responsibility to his household. The Greek justice system allowed this kind of retribution in the form of murder. Probably Clytemnestra may have been following the Greek tradition of Greek justice by killing Agamemnon.

In addition to Agamemnon’s murder, Queen Clytemnestra murdered Cassandra thinking that by these acts, she brings justice to Argos by ending the curse of bloodshed existed for many generations. Her idea for justice is through revenge. From the second part of the trilogy, Orestus having been exiled by his plotting mother from the father land, he returns to his homeland. He hears his mother’s deed and Apollo tells him to return home and kill her. However in order for him to bring justice he must murder his mother. This violates his family responsibility. In this, Aeschylus shows how justice in some cases can be tragic. In the last part of the trilogy; Orestes goes for judgment for his actions before Athena. Apollo defends him under his mother’s hounds. In the end, the tie vote of the jury breaks, and Athens spares Orestes.

The Oresteia holds on to the Homeric belief in divine justice. This is evident in the manner in which Aeschylus preserves the superstition given by Homer that the Trojan War was a manifestation of the divine will. In The Oresteia justice perpetuates much of the plot  as  divine order like for instance the conflict starts when Artemis demands the blood sacrifice of Agamemnon’s daughter Iphigenia.

The Greeks warfare carried an intensely social aspect thus the citizens engaged in war for one basic reason that is because the safety of the community required conflict. For Greeks, no law requiring military intervention would be necessary .This is because the citizen was willing to risk his life and that of loved ones because of his obligations to the community which was stronger than any other law. Therefore, we see this obligation being rigid and demanding as written law. The polis and oikis established these he these two principal entities became key elements of justice. All this is evident in Anceeschylus’s, Oesteia.

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