Agamemnon Justice and Judgment Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.
(Herald): "[Agamemnon] is the most worthy to be honoured of mortals now alive: for not Paris nor his city as associate proclaim their deed greater than their suffering. Convicted of robbery as well as theft he both lost his stolen prize and reaped total ruin for his father's house, soil and all; the sons of Priam have paid double for their misdeeds." (530-537)
One way of understanding justice is giving people what they deserve. But does it count as giving people what they deserve if you do something much worse to them than they did to you? Here, the Herald says that Agamemnon should be "honoured" because he gave Paris and the Trojans double payback for what they did to him. Actually, it seems like a bit more than double, if you weigh stealing someone's wife against fighting a ten-year war that ends with destroying an entire city. Can what Agamemnon did be considered just? Do you think the rest of the play supports the idea that this is just, or not?
(Herald): "So, as to Menelaus, first and above all you may look forward to his return; in fact if a ray of sun finds him alive and flourishing through the devices of Zeus who is not yet willing to destroy his family-line utterly, there is some hope he will come home again." (674-679)
Here, the Herald suggests that, if Menelaus is still alive, it might be because Zeus doesn't want to destroy his entire family ("yet"). But if Agamemnon is being punished for the crime his father Atreus committed against Thyestes, why does Menelaus get off scot free? If Agamemnon is guilty because his father is guilty, then Menelaus should be just as guilty, right? What do you think this means? Is Agamemnon guilty for some other reason (such as, say, sacrificing his daughter Iphigenia), or is this just a sign that the will of the gods is incomprehensible?
(Chorus): "Justice gleams in houses foul with smoke,
doing honour to the righteous life;
but gold-bespangled mansions where hands are unclean
she leaves with her eyes turned away,
and approaches those which are pure,
with no respect for riches and their power
when falsely stamped with praise;
she directs all things to their ending." (772-781)
Don't worry if you find this passage, spoken by the Chorus, a little tricky to understand. The most difficult idea is that "Justice" here doesn't just refer to something abstract; instead, the Chorus imagines Justice as a goddess, who leaves houses that are sinful and seeks out houses that are pure. The idea here is that, by killing his brother Thyestes's children, Atreus made his house "unclean." Because his house was unclean, Justice left; because Justice left, Agamemnon acts in unjust ways. Here's the big question though: if Agamemnon acts in unjust ways because his father drove out Justice, how is he responsible for those actions? Can it still be just for Clytemnestra to punish him?