The word “justice” is thrown out numerous times in The Furies, by nearly every character, but what it truly means never seems to be agreed upon. There are a lot of legal ideas to unpack in the play, and a seemingly never ending slew of moral dilemmas, but while a verdict is eventually reached, I would argue that the “resolution” of the story is still unclear and unsatisfying.
For one thing, I find it highly circumspect and not impartial that Athena votes on his side simply because of her own lack of experience with having a mother. I also find it hypocritical of the Furies to try to “end the bloodshed,” only by spilling more blood. Apollo is also hypocritical in his derision of the Furies for being involved in this matter where he claims they have no place–what right does he have to mortal affairs that they don’t? Especially when, according to Orestes, he led him to killing Clytemnestra in the first place. Honestly, I see nothing in this play that I would want a true legal system to replicate, but I think that is also because of the fact that it is almost impossible to translate “law” as we understand it to gods and goddesses and mythical creatures. By their very definitions, they are outside of human law, as we clearly see in the text, in how they do whatever they want at any time they want to anyone they want.
The only character I can somewhat sympathize with is Clytemnestra. From my admittedly limited understanding of the events which led up to the start of the play, the sole point where “justice” had been reached was right after she murdered Agamemnon, but before Orestes murdered her. I say “justice” because I don’t know if I fully believe that true justice means more killing, but in her circumstance, I understand why she felt that her husband deserved to die. Some broken version of justice had been reached: her daughter was dead, killed in cold blood, but Iphigenia’s killer was also dead. I don’t argue that Clytemnestra was a murderer, but of the three murderers, she was the only one who wasn’t a parent killing a child or a child killing a parent. In that sense, I agree with the Furies that Orestes’ crime was of a higher caliber than his mother’s. What obligation does someone have to a spouse who literally killed their child? Any marital bond between them was broken the second Agamemnon even considered killing Iphigenia, and demolished when he did.
One thought on “Is justice even possible in the world of The Furies?”
Unfortunately the gods have tipped the scales against Clytemnestra; just as Orestes argues, in The Furies, that he acted at the behest of Apollo, Agamemnon can argue that Iphigenia died as part of a divine sacrifice (to Poseidon who, as Zeus’s brother, trumps all these other gods whose names begin with A). But that fact only bolsters your point that the involvement of gods in this play only seems to muddy the waters more. I encourage you to think more about this problem and what implications all this divine intervention has for our understanding of law both in Athena’s mythic Athens and perhaps beyond that framework.