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Eumenides

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Apr. 17th, 2007 | 07:02 pm
posted by: sarahjane4 in democracy105w

The Eumenides, the concluding scene of the trilogy Oresteia, is a useful tool for demonstrating the relationship between tragedy and the political atmosphere of Athens. The tale of Eumenides involves the seminal case determining the fate of Orestes, who is was condemned for the murder of his mother, Clytaemestra. Orestes was advised to do so by the god Apollo in order to seek avenge for this father, the king, for it was his mother who murdered Agamemnon unexpectedly one evening as he bathed.

The majority of the play takes place before the temple of Athene on the Acropolis of Athens. It is here where Athene judges the case between Orestes and the Furies, who represent the “old gods” and demand justice for the murder of a mother by her own son. Athene uses this opportunity to educate the people of Athens on the litigious process, and calls upon twelve jurors to offer their opinion in this procedure.

A dialogue ensues between Apollo, in defense of Orestes, and the Furies, in which the two debate the meaning of justice and its application to the present case. By a highly slim margin, the court rules in favor of Orestes, which was determined by the vote of Athene, for the jury was indecisive and ruled in a tie. Following the results of the case, the Furies were outraged and accused the people of Athens of being unjust, and for denouncing the opinion of the older generation of gods. Athene attempts to reason with them by establishing a place within Athens in which the Furies can reside without being cast as outcasts, but rather as protectorates of the polis. Regardless of their initial fury and outrage, their discontent is melted by the persuasive abilities of Athene, and the Furies ultimately accept Athene’s offer.

The Eumenides is a prime example of the political function of tragedy within classical Athens. Aeschylus used the role of Athene in order to heighten the awareness among the common citizenry to the litigious procedure of the court. According to Henderson, in his article Drama and Democracy, this was a common function of Athenian tragedy during the 5th century, and like “the orators, and like all the Greek poets before them, the dramatists were expected to inform, to instruct, and within certain bounds even to castigate their audiences” (Henderson 186).

Aeschylus may also have used his characters in order stress the need to establish a balance between the political atmospheres of the present with that of the past. The Furies, representing the older gods who were made outcast by Zeus, have been replaced with a newer generation of gods with new, conflicting philosophies. However, Athene, with her moderate rationale and willingness to negotiate, can be seen as being reflective of the possibility for reconciliation between both spheres of society.

1. What do you feel the significance is of the use of female, protagonist characters? Do you feel this is demonstrative of Greek tragedy as a reflection of the egalitarian principles of democracy?
2. In your opinion, what are the greatest implications of justice found within the play?

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