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Tragedy Assignment 2
The statement Greek tragedies provide a unified view of justice is very assumptive,
it relies on the assumption that every writer of Greek tragedies shares the same view
on justice and projects this view upon their audience through their texts. It is in fact
wrong to assume this as it can be proven that Greek tragedies do not share a unified
view of justice, the evidence against this completely undermines the statement. Two
Greek tragedies that once compared illustrate this point are Euripides Medea
translated by Phillip Vellacott (1963) and Aeschylus The Oresteia translated by
Robert Fagles (1966) both of these tragedies differ in their views of justice.

To understand the justice in these tragedies the events that bring justice to question
must be outlined. In Aeschylus The Oresteia the events follow Agamemnon
sacrificing his daughter for the battle he fought in Troy. The Oresteia begins upon
Agamemnons return from battle with a slave mistress called Cassandra;
Agamemnons angry wife Clytemnestra, with the aid of her lover Aegisthus, kills
Agamemnon and Cassandra out of anger and revenge for her daughter. Then
Orestes avenges his father by killing his mother and Aegisthus her lover, Orestes is
then followed by The Furies whom claim he is guilty as it was not just for him to kill
his mother, with the aid of Apollo Orestes is judged by a court organised by the
goddess Athena, he is found to be just in his actions. In Euripides Medea its starts
just after Jason leaves his wife Medea and their children to marry Creon king of
Corinths daughter. Medea is angry at her husbands actions so she decides to kill
his new bride, in the process of this Creon is also killed. Medea then goes on to kill
her own children to complete her revenge.

In both of these tragedies The Chorus is a character that aids in telling the story, but
also represents the public opinion and therefore the popular thought, it is safe to
assume that the audience are invited and inclined to agree with The Chorus
opinions. In The Oresteia the Chorus reaction to Agamemnons murder is Oh my
king, my captain, how to salute you, how to mourn you? (Page 165) they are grief
stricken, they feel no sense of justice in his death, Clytemnestras actions are
condemned. When the Chorus express their opinions on Orestes killing
Clytemnestra in turn for her actions they say Stroke for bloody stroke be paid the
one who acts must suffer (Page 192) a philosophy of justice is displayed. When
someone does wrong the equivalent must be acted upon them, Orestes mirrors this
by killing Clytemnestra and Aegisthus in the exact same way that they killed his
father.

In Medea both the Nurse and the Chorus both represent the public and popular
opinion. At the beginning of Euripides play the Nurse believes that Jason is in the
wrong Jason has betrayed his own sons, and my mistress, for a royal bed (Pages
17-18) at this point it looks like the Chorus and Nurse are in Medeas favour, and
would therefore support her in a campaign for revenge, but opinions change. Later
when Medea is near the end of her revenge the Chorus say for jealousy of your
marriage- bed, will slaughter you children (Page 47) they undermine Medeas
actions suggesting they are unfair and for an unworthy cause based on emotions
instead of justice. The Chorus again change their view Today we see the will of
heaven, blow after blow, Bring down on Jason justice and calamity (Page 55)

suddenly they seem to side with Medea again, they say that her actions have
brought justice. Again the Chorus change their attitudes towards condemning
Clytemnestras actions by calling her cursed miserable woman (Page 56) their
opinion is uncertain; there is no consistency or certain final opinion offered from the
Nurse and the Chorus.

In The Oresteia when Orestes kills Clytemnestra, this event is justified by Gods; in
ancient Greece the Gods had universal authority, their opinions are valued higher
than that of the Furies or any human character. Before killing his mother Orestes
calls upon the Gods Dear god, let me avenge my fathers murder (Page 178) from
then on Apollo guides Orestes, defending him against the furies I say your manhunt
of Orestes is unjust. (Page 240) this represents a sense of justice in Orestes
actions, as his actions are defended by a figure that holds great authority in Greek
culture. Orestes is then judged by a court held by Athena whom is a goddess,
another character that represents a high authority, she determines The man goes
free cleared of the charge of blood. The lots are equal (Page 265) it is determined
that justice is served; a clear view of justice is presented. Alternatively in Medea
Jason calls upon the Gods I call the Gods to whiteness that I have done my best
(Page 35) Jason offers Medea help as almost a penance for his actions, when help
is refused he calls the Gods to whiteness that he tried, however there is no
intervention from the Gods, there opinions are never presented. The character in
Medea that has the most judicial authority is Creon, he gives Medea orders I order
you out of Corinth; take your sons and go into exile (Page 25) this is in response to
Medeas angry and threatening behaviour towards his house. This would show a
clear view that Medea is unjust. But this becomes problematic when Creons judicial

power is undermined, he is killed by Medea; this signifies the removal of any


judgement of justice, Eumendies audience are left to determine for themselves
whether the characters actions were justified or unfounded.

If it was argued that Greek tragedies do indeed share a unified view of justice, the
argument would be very simple. It would be argued that in the end of Medea the
character Medea is unjust. This would be based on what can be interpreted from
The Oresteia; the guilty and unjust character in The Oresteia is clearly Clytemnestra.
Despite the fact Clytemnestra killed in revenge for her daughter and Orestes killed to
avenge his father, both being worthy causes, Clytemnestra is the one whom is
punished. The reason for Clytemnestras punishment can come down to her gender
and status; because she is female and kills a male king her murder was more worthy
of punishment than anyone elses. Clytemnestra and Medea can then be compared,
they are both women and they both murdered people above their status, in thinking
Greek tragedies share a unified view of justice this would subsequently make Medea
unjust and a clear view of justice present in Medea. The major issue of believing this
is that this unity is based on one thing, that both tragedies are Greek tragedies.

The evidence for the view of justice in The Oresteia and Medea as being un-unified
is far greater. The Oresteia makes the views of justice very clear, this is done
through the Chorus, the representation of the Gods opinion and because The
Oresteia ends in a trial in which the view of justice is determined. In Medea it is
unfair to say that any clear view of justice is present, this is shown through the
indecisiveness of the Chorus and Nurse, the lack of presence from the Gods and the

death of the only figure of judiciary. Consequently from the comparison of The
Oresteia and Medea it is very clear that Greek tragedies do not share a unified view
of justice, the issue with this statement is that it is too general, it may be true that
many Greek tragedies share a unified view of justice, but the statement speaks for
Greek Tragedies in general.

Word count 1294

Bibliography
Aeschylus., 1979. The Oresteia: Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, The
Eumendies. Translated by Robert Fagles (1966). London: Penguin Classics.
Euripides., 1963. Medea and Other Plays. Translated by Phillip Vellacott. London:
Penguin Classics.