The Eumenides


Throughout the ages, there have been many different laws and punishments used to bring order to societies. In America today we use a system of justice, which we modeled after the Greek states of thousands of years ago. In Aeschylus' The Eumenides, we see the birth of the civil justice system as we use it today. Before Athens became a great power the people relied on vengeance as justice, which the Greeks described as the supernatural beings of the Furies. In The Eumenides Aeschylus introduces a new type of order, civil justice, through the Gods Apollo and Athena. The gods are no longer caught in the middle of human affairs with dire results.
Before Athena introduced the jury system into Greek society, the people relied on the Gods to exact vengeance. "Show us the guilty?and up from the outraged dead we rise,/ witness bound to avenge their blood/ we rise in flames against him to the end!" (Eumenides, lines 316-320) Many of them carried out vengeance themselves, and said the Gods had declared justice. A great example of how the early Greeks relied on the Gods for punishment was the house of Atreus, as described in Aeschylus' The Oresteia. A curse ran through the family for generations, and would have continued had Athena not intervened and created a jury system. Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter for favorable winds and Clytaemnestra murdered him in part because of this. Orestes then avenged his father by killing Clytaemnestra, his mother. The Furies, who wanted to kill him for his matricide, then chased Orestes. Had they succeeded, his children and children's children would probably have carried on the tradition of murder and destruction.
Like Clytaemnestra, Orestes believed he had a just motive for murder. When Clytaemnestra murdered her husband, she did not ask the Gods if she was carrying out justice. She sought and carried out her own justice, which was really revenge. Before Orestes murdered his mother, he was hesitant about the deed and went to Apollo's oracle to seek his advice. Apollo told him to kill his mother to avenge his father, and he complied. After his mother had expired, the Furies chased him while he purged himself of his deed at Apollo's shrine and supplicated himself at Athena's shrine. Because he had the God's approval before he did the deed and had purged himself of his mother's blood, he believed that the curse should end there. But what of Clytaemnestra's vengeance against Orestes?
Before this whole episode, the punishments for a crime would be carried out by the Gods, in this case the Furies. Since Apollo intervened, however, he could not let Orestes be punished for something he sanctioned. A new form of Justice had to be put in use. With Athena's new system of ten citizens judging the criminal, the jury had to decide whether or not his crime was justified. No longer was punishment an eye for an eye as The Furies practiced. "You'll give me blood for blood, you must?each receives the pain his pains exact" (Eumenides, lines 263 & 269). When Apollo was talking to the Furies, he said, "Go where heads are severed, eyes gouged out,/ where Justice and bloody slaughter are the same" (Eumenides, lines 183-184).
This is where the idea of actual justice comes through, not vengeance. No longer was the law black and white, but everything was taken into account. The Furies believed that Agamemnon should have been murdered because he killed his daughter, he murdered one of his own blood. They did not care that Clytaemnestra killed her husband, because there was no blood relation between them. The furies were upset with Orestes because he killed his own mother, the one who brought him into the world. Apollo did not agree with their logic, so argued with them. "Marriage of man and wife is Fate itself,/ stronger than oaths, and Justice guards its life./ But if one destroys the other and you relent-/ no revenge, not a glance in anger - then/ I say your manhunt of Orestes is unjust" (Eumenides, lines 215-219). Apollo believed that blood relation should not be taken into account when deciding punishments. He believed that marriage is stronger than anything because it is sanctioned through the heavens.
Athena argued that the male should be honored above all else. She was born from Zeus's thigh without any corroboration from a woman. Athena respects