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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 #1

(Chorus): "To have good success –
this is god among men, and more, even, than god
Justice weighs down with its dark,
quickly upon some in the light;
for some mid-way to the dark,
delay grows full with time;
some have night with no fixed end." (59-65)

Scholars have long debated the exact meaning of these lines. We at Shmoop think they're certainly pretty confusing, so don't get worried if you can't puzzle them out completely. All the same, the general gist of them is basically clear: human beings worship success, and justice comes to everybody sooner or later. This view presents Justice as essentially a divine force, or a goddess, who interferes in human affairs. Do you think this is meant to be taken literally? How could the rest of the play be used to back up this idea, or argue against it?

Quote #2

(Electra): "How am I to speak sensibly to my father, how am I to pray to him? Am I to say that I bring [these mourning-libations] to a dear husband from a dear wife, from my mother? I have no words for that, no words I should say as I pour this offering on my father's tomb. Or am I to follow men's custom and make my speech this, that he should well repay those who send these offerings, and with a gift which their goodness deserves?" (88-93)

One interpretation of "justice" would be giving people what they deserve. Thus, in this early speech, we already see Electra engaging with the problem of justice, by asking what form of prayer she could make that would be appropriate to the situation.

Quote #3

(Chorus): "And while you remember him, upon those guilty of the murder…"
(Electra): "What am I to say? Explain, and instruct me; I have no experience."
(Chorus): "…pray there comes upon them some god or man…"
(Electra): "A judge, you mean, or a just avenger?"
(Chorus): "…state it simply: someone to kill them in return."
(Electra): "And I may ask this from the gods in proper piety?"
(Chorus): "And why not, to requite an enemy with harm for harm." (117-123)

Here, we can see that Electra's ideas about justice might be a little different from those of the Chorus. Notice that, when the Chorus starts suggesting prayers for her to make, she asks them if they want her to pray for a "judge" or a "just avenger." Even though Electra clearly thinks that revenge can be justified – how else could there be a "just avenger"? – she also thinks that justice and revenge are two different things. The Chorus, however, seems to think there's no big difference between them. Based on everything that happens in the plot and the views of the various characters, which of these views do you think Aeschylus's play supports?

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