Eumenides | Study Guide

Aeschylus

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Eumenides | Stasimon 2 | Summary

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Summary

If Orestes wins, the Chorus sings, it's the end of order. Humans will believe "everything's permitted," and children will commit terrible crimes against their parents. The Furies will no longer help humans avenge crimes once "the house of justice falls."

They acknowledge suffering has a purpose; without fear humans couldn't control themselves. Only moderation and justice lead to happiness. The Chorus exhorts humans to honor their parents and welcome strangers. Humans who act out of self-interest will be punished, despite the temporary advantages of selfishness. The Chorus compares reckless men who disregard justice to sailors who wreck their ships on the high seas and drown.

Analysis

Orestes and his crime become a test for democracy's success or failure. His will be a precedent-setting legal case.

In this Stasimon the Furies present an argument against trial by democratic jury. There's always a chance the defendant will go unpunished, encouraging others to commit crimes without fear. The Chorus wonders if humans can self-regulate without the constant intervention of the gods, if they can treat each other with reverence, or if they will revert to "all forms of killing known to man." The goddesses of the underworld see the darkness at the heart of human nature, since they've been avenging crimes for a long time.

The Furies can't imagine any effective form of justice other than their own. Their image of "the rock of Justice" portrays justice as a punitive, destructive force, not a healing one. The moral quandary at the heart of the Furies' song emphasizes the uncertainty in any transition from old laws to new laws. The old laws let justice be delivered within the family, on a personal level. The new laws put justice in the hands of the city-state. Families can't take matters into their own hands to avenge loved ones, or call upon the Furies to help. The image of "the house of justice" is a telling one. The house means not the physical structure but the safety of the family unit. The Furies threaten families ("houses") with crime and betrayal from their children and hostile ignorance from the gods.

The audience hears from the gods themselves why divine intervention is so important. Men need to be scared into right action. Without respect for greater powers, which can harm—without "a heart attuned to fear"—humans won't do the right thing. This idea is common in Aeschylus's choral odes. So is the assertion that selfishness is human nature, and mortals can only learn "control through suffering."

With this song the Furies grow bolder in asserting their own moral code. They honor traditions of respect for parents, guests, and strangers, the traditions that keep families and communities intact. They provide an extended metaphor (also called a Homeric metaphor) of a proud man trying to escape fate as a doomed sailor on a ship. Sailing metaphors are frequent in the Oresteia since ships were a common and dangerous mode of transportation and were employed in the Trojan War, the cause of the strife in Agamemnon's household.

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