Study Guide

The Eumenides Justice and Judgment

By Aeschylus

Justice and Judgment

This may very well be every lawyer's favorite Greek play. The Eumenides is all about justice and judgment getting the upper hand over the bloody cycles of revenge that dominated the action of Agamemnon and Libation Bearers (the first two plays in the Oresteia trilogy).

Now, the key thing here is that justice and judgment triumph. The characters that carried out gory revenge-killings in the earlier plays in the trilogy thought of themselves as carrying out justice… but unbiased judgment wasn't really part of the equation. As it turns out, according to The Eumenides, justice without judgment is like cranberry sauce without sugar, or popcorn without salt. It's incomplete, and kinda gross.

Questions About Justice and Judgment

  1. Does the play present judgment as automatically guaranteeing justice?
  2. At the end of the play, the Furies are transformed into the "Kindly Ones" who reward good people—but who still continue to punish wicked people. Does this make them more just, or is it really just more of the same?
  3. How important is Apollo's crazy argument about mothers not being parents in getting Orestes acquitted? Do you really think that the play's audience (including us readers) is expected to buy this argument? If we don't, how does that affect our vision of justice at the end of the play?
  4. What is the main difference between justice and revenge, according to the play? Is there even a clear difference?

Chew on This

Aeschylus's The Eumenides shows that courtroom trials are good because they put an end to the cycle of revenge-killings—but they're still somewhat arbitrary, which makes them potentially unjust.

Aeschylus's The Eumenides shows that fear is not enough to make people just; they must also be rewarded for doing good deeds.

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