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Libation Bearers

Libation Bearers


by Aeschylus

Libation Bearers Justice and Judgment Quotes

How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Line). We used Christopher Collard's translation.

Quote #7

(Chorus): "There came justice at last to Priam's children,
heavy and just in punishment;
there came to Agamemnon's house
a double lion, double warfare;
there drove absolutely forward
the exile, as Pythia
enjoined, well sped by warnings of the gods." (935-941)

The thought in these lines by the Chorus is similar to that in the previous quotation. Here, however, the Chorus's analysis is a little bit more sophisticated. That's because this time, instead of just generally saying that fate and justice have each other's back, the Chorus points to actual examples from the past, which prove (in their opinion) that things tend to turn out in a just way. We have to fill in some of the details, but basically, they're saying that (1) Priam, the King of Troy, was justly punished by the Greeks (because Paris, the Trojan prince, stole Helen); (2) Agamemnon was justly punished by Aegisthus and Clytemnestra (because he killed his daughter Iphigenia and because his father killed Aegisthus's siblings); and (3) Clytemnestra and Aegisthus are about to be justly punished by Orestes (because they killed Agamemnon).

Do you notice anything weird about this list? How about the fact that the people who carry out justice at different points in this story are the same people whose injustices are punished later on? Can the universe really be just if it leads to these long chains of actions and reactions? Or does this really just mean that actions lead to a cycle of vengeance and further vengeance?

Quote #8

(Chorus): "There came stealthy fighting, the favourite means
plotted by guile in punishment;
there lent her hand's touch in the fight
a true daughter of Zeus – as Justice
we mortals name and address her
with happy accuracy –
breathing rancour's destruction on her foes." (946-952)

Here we have another interesting contrast to the way we normally think about justice today. How often you hear, nowadays, the idea that justice comes about in a sneaky way, using "stealthy fighting" or "guile"? Probably not very often. That's because, today, we tend to think about justice as happening in courts of law, which are designed (within certain limits) to make justice explicit and transparent. Why do you think the Chorus is so eager to connect justice with sneakiness?

Quote #9

(Chorus): "This very Justice Loxias, who keeps
the great inner vale of Parnassus, cried loud and clear –
without guile, though guile brought harm to Justice;
mature now with time, she attacks.
The gods' will somehow prevails
in everything, refusing to serve wicked men;
respect is due to the power which rules in the sky." (953-960)

Now hold your horses. This seems to be the exact opposite of what we were told in the last lines. (Notice that these lines come immediately after the preceding set.) What gives? Now we're being told that guile (i.e., trickery) "brought harm to Justice"? (955). But didn't the Chorus just tell us that guile and justice go hand in hand? What gives?

Clearly, we've got some pondering to do here. Could the Chorus's change of opinion have anything to do with the context of oracles? (Don't sweat it if you have trouble understanding the first part of the first sentence here; translated into more colloquial English, it would read, "This is the Justice that was proclaimed loud and clear by Loxias, a.k.a. Apollo, who has a sanctuary at Parnassus, near Delphi.") Why would it be especially clear for oracles to give clear instructions with respect to justice? But how often do oracles give clear instructions anyway? Either way, what would any of this matter if, as the Chorus says at the end, the will of the gods "somehow prevails / in everything" anyway? Any one of these questions could induce a major headache. Is this Aeschylus's fault, or is it just that the issue of Justice is really hard to understand?

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