In hindsight, the historical context from which I analyzed the US Declaration of Independence is quite lacking in comparison to the literary perspective. The most prominent thing that I kept coming back to was the emptiness of the wording used. Phrases such as “one people,” all men are created equal,” and “powers from the consent of the governed.” I see all of these as merely a presentation; they do not truly represent the “one people” of the US. These were written down to provide a sense of unification, equality, and shared power — in reality they are far from that. This entire document is put on as a sort of act to show power in writing rather than in action. While this document was written and published no actions were made to ensure what was said was enforced. This declaration presents representation where there is none to be found.
Going back to the second phrase I quoted, “all men are created equal,” there enslaved West Africans who would have disagreed. Calling upon the erasure poem “Declaration” by Tracy K. Smith, there is a line from this poem that reads “We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. –taked Captive — on the high Seas — to bear–” (Smith). The irony being that this is the exact words of the Declaration the founding fathers wrote. Yet they could not see that they too were the same as they they enslaved. In my opinion, it was an insult to write such a phrase as “all men are created equal” as a presentation to the world how just the US is, while in reality, when it comes time to represent what they wrote, such justice is merely spilled ink.
Smith, Tracy K. “Declaration.” Poetry Foundation, Graywolf Press, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/147468/declaration-5b5a286052461.
In Aeschylus’s The Furies, the concept of the patriarchy doesn’t fully extend to the exclusion of female entities in terms of law and politics. While among the gods, Zeus is the father of most gods and his word and will are practiced and held at the highest standard, as said by the god Apollo many times in his argument against the revenge-seeking Furies, some women in this society, and even among the gods, still hold some sort of powerful influence over the idea of justice. The goddess of wisdom, Athena, is sought out by Orestes for shelter and protection from the Furies, who are pursuing Orestes for committing matricide. The retributive justice that the Furies seek in Clytemnestra’s name asserts a high level of respect for women in society, especially mothers, which allows them to use the law and justice system to correct or settle wrongdoings done unto them. The goddess Athena also serves as a judge or mediator in the trial scene of the play, and her word is understood as the final say in the matter of Orestes’ fate. Athena seems to have more authority than the god Apollo does, considering Apollo and Orestes ask Athena for her guidance and judgement. While the women (or female entities) in this part of the drama clearly hold some sort of high authority, it is also clear that the patriarchy is still most powerful in Greek politics. Apollo often times refers to Zeus as the highest power and Athena casts her vote in favor of Orestes based on her relationship to her father Zeus and lack of relationship to any sort of motherly figure. Apollo even goes so far to say that mothers essentially have no role in parenthood, and are strangers to their children, only existing to birth and feed their young. The presence of a patriarchal society is also clear through the anger of the Furies, who furiously defend the concepts of motherhood and womanhood, and are angry and repulsed at the men in this play for holding little importance on the criminality of matricide. At the end of the play, Orestes is found not guilty and the power of the male authority is reinforced through this holding.
Being someone who has read only a few Greek playwrights, Aeschylus’s The Furies gave me a vast take on vengeance and tragedy that was unanticipated, but worthy of talking about. There are many things that could be addressed in this playwright such as the blatant gender inequality or the lack of consistency between the characters, but what I was quick to recognize was the series of “normalized” violence that took place throughout this play. Agamemnon sacrifices his youngest daughter, Iphigenia solely so that he can go to war. Clytemnestra, the wife of Agamemnon is upset at him for sacrificing his daughter, so she decides to stab him to death. Orestes the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemmno, decides to kill Clytemnestra for killing his father. This, among other things in this play is what puzzled me, but made me think about a real-world situation. Our society is set up in a way where in order to feel avenged, we must retaliate against those who hurt us, much like this and other Greek tragedies.
As you dive deeper into this tragedy, you start to see the major misogyny taking place when it comes to The Furies and their way of thinking. The Furies claims that Orestes paying for what he did is justified because he killed his own blood, but Clytemnestra killing her husband for the murder of their daughter isn’t. Apollo, Orestes lawyer argues that Orestes and his mother aren’t really blood and uses Athena as an example of someone who doesn’t have a mother. This scene was very interesting to me because Apollo gives a convincing argument, despite the reader maybe thinking different before. Once again, I was able to relate this tragedy to the real world and how things in society and in a courtroom are never just black and white. This goes to show the most unjustifiable claims can be justified in a court of law.
For such appalling and murderous acts that took place in this play I thought this play had an acceptable ending. It started with the furies form of justice as revenge, but ended with a legal system being set in place. This proves how important having a legal system is and how without it a society as a whole would fail. Although, vengeance and retaliation is something people will always have a hand in, justice will prevail.
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.
Within Aeschylus’ play, The Furies, there are many topics regarding law and order and the justice system as a whole that are portrayed. Something we talked about as a class prior to reading this play is the ideology of “an eye for an eye” and whether it is moral. This is seen within The Furies, when Clytemnestra kills her husband Agamemnon because he sacrificed their daughter, Iphigenia. After Clytemnestra kills Agamemnon, their son Orestes takes matters into his own hands, and kills his mother. (So, this situation is actually an eye for an eye for an eye). For the remainder of the play, Orestes is being held accountable by the Furies for committing the act of matricide.
The concept of “an eye for an eye” is a very interesting one to think about. In some degree, “an eye for an eye” can also be argued as being the basis of the justice system as a whole. For example, those receiving the death penalty as a form of punishment for committing the act of murder alines with exactly what “an eye for an eye” is defined as. When being punished for your crimes is a result of the legal system it is deemed as being just, as opposed to someone outside the justice system taking matters into their own hands, which is deemed morally wrong. Although a complicated topic, “an eye for an eye” is very interesting to think about in terms of within both literature and the real world.
Another topic that can be examined within Aeschylus’ play The Furies, is the discussion of individual accountability. Within the play, Orestes shifts the blame of killing his mother to Apollo, who he claims orchestrated the crime. This begs the question, who is to blame, the one that committed the act or the one who told the other to do so? This is an issue that is seen in real world situations as well. Although both would technically be culpable in a court of law, which one truly deserves to have the harsher punishment for the crime?
Overall, The Furies sheds light on many topics in regards to law and order and the justice system. It is interesting reading and discussing these topics because although they are being portrayed in a literary and Mythical setting, they are still relevant to today’s society as well.
The Furies deals with the complexity of the law in the context of wondering if the law is meant to truly be steadfast, or to be flexible. In theory, the law is an equalizer. Every citizen approaches the law on the same level, and the law treats each person the same. It is a black-and-white part of society that is neutral and firm. This is the role that the Furies are trying to fulfill. When they approach Orestes and Apollo, accusing them of the murders, they say that “blood must pay for blood”. This is a familiar concept and purpose of the law- that an “eye for an eye”- but the play shows that this concept is more of an ideal than a practical application of the law. Orestes is an example of how the law is a dynamic work- how it cannot be rigid like the Furies wish it to be. Orestes is charged with the murder of his mother and her lover. It’s complex because his mother killed his father who killed his sister as a sacrifice to the gods in order to be back in their favor. The play doesn’t ask the question if murder is justified, but it does ask if the law is not supposed to account for the circumstances of each situation- and here, each murder presents a new set of ambiguous circumstances. The play answers the question with Orestes being given a trial which ends in a tie, and is acquitted in the murder. The answer itself is still unclear because of the tie, and I see it as a balance between the two answers. The Furies stand for the what the law strives to be in theory, because in the most basic sense, murder is not justified. However, Orestes and Apollo show through their situation that taking that stance is not always easy. The law is imperfect and cannot be truly steadfast and equalizing. I have been thinking about this concept because I know that it is still relevant today. When speaking to a former attorney at work, she told me that it isn’t always as easy as getting the most possible jail time for a crime and that prosecutors have to take into account the circumstances of the situation. I found it incredibly interesting that an idea presented in the play still applies. I think it is a dynamic of the law that people often criticize or just ignore, but it is a part of it that is worth thinking about and understanding.
The story of The Furies in the play we read in class ends on a very interesting note that raises many questions I don’t really know how to answer. In the end, Orestes is acquitted of the charge of matricide when the vote of the Athenian mortals is split evenly and Athena’s deciding vote falls in his favor. Orestes swears the everlasting devotion of himself and his people to Athena and Apollo and his friendship to the people of Athens, and then exits the stage.
Remaining for the conclusion of the play and the final act in the drama is the goddess Athena and The Furies. Their exchange is strange to me. Athena is the patron goddess of Athens. She represents culture, wisdom, strategic warfare, and the arts. In a symbolic sense, Athena IS Athens. She is the embodied spirit of the city and it’s people and the ideals they (literally) deify.
So the goddess, the spirit of the city conceptualized and embodied, has sat as high arbiter of the dispute and has ruled in favor of Orestes. And yet The Furies demand for their right of vengeance is something she cannot deny and instead must appease. Just as Athena symbolically represents the ideals of wisdom and culture/civilization, The Furies are the embodied representations of hatred, pain, and vengeance. Rather than rebuking and banishing The Furies, the play ends with Athena acknowledging their right and appeasing them by giving them a position of high honor in the city.
The play is carried out by these larger than life, mythological symbolical figures. So what does it mean that the embodied spirit of wisdom, the embodied spirit of the city itself, decides to acknowledge the right of vengeance and exalt it and honor it within the city?
Vengeance is in the end thwarted at the hands of Wisdom, but is given a high and honored position within the city in order to secure peace. I believe this is the theory of the play; the supposition it is making about the nature of justice. The play believes that vengeance is real and powerful and cannot be denied. It must be respected and honored if peace is to be secured, but it must always be ruled over by wisdom, and cannot always be indulged if the proper conditions for redemption and mercy have been met, as they were by the sacrifices of Orestes.