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Is justice even possible in the world of The Furies?

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.

Feminine Fury: Gender roles

Gender takes on a very important role in The Furies. In one of the two stories prefacing this one, the death of Iphigenia is the first death in the immediate family. Iphigenia is one of Agamemnon’s two daughters and she is the first to suffer death in the family. After her death comes the vengeful death of Agamemnon committed by his wife over her rage that he sacrificed their daughter. Now, does this not seem to be an eye for an eye? A life for a life? Yet, Oreste takes it upon himself to avenge his father’s death by killing his mother. This totals the family deaths out to 3. The saying is not an eye for an eye for an eye. This death of his mother brings a sort of imbalance in the way women’s deaths are treated vs. the way men are. It goes to say that one man’s death equals the death of two women. And if Oreste had killed his father, the ruling may have been more straightforward and to the point. His father was a mighty warrior and his mother was just that; a mother. Athena even takes the side of Oreste and her vote is what saves him from being the 4th death in his family. Because she was born from the head of Zeus and has no mother, she sympathizes with Oreste.

 The furies themselves are also women and seen as old detesting hags. This gives another harsh perspective on older women and categorizes them as grotesque creatures. Their names being “the furies” shows an anger and ill temper in women, as if they are always seemingly furious. Because these furies have never bore children, which is what it seems that every mortal woman’s purpose is, they are now hags. Women who never did their one duty in life and they are now cast out of society and seen as evil, relentless women.

Gender matters very much in this play because there is an obvious power struggle between the killings of daughters, husbands, and mothers. Yet, the mother is the only one who did not kill someone of her same bloodline. The female deaths vs. the male deaths definitely send a message of inferiority and unimportance in women and superiority and power with men.