Explain in detail justice in Homer's (Iliad and The Odyssey) and Aeschylus's The Oresteia (Libation Bearers).  What are the contrasting views of implementing justice, as a means of maintaining...

Explain in detail justice in Homer's (Iliad and The Odyssey) and Aeschylus's The Oresteia (Libation Bearers).  What are the contrasting views of implementing justice, as a means of maintaining order in society, in these works?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In both Homer and Aeschylus, justice is accompanied by violent action.  The need to maintain justice and order in a social setting is substantiated through the need to act with violence.  State sanctioned violence in the name of war and conquest or individual acts of violence in which a perceived order of justice is maintained are parts of the Classical understanding.  Moral or legal justice is not an entity where compromise and negotiation are featured.  Rather, individuals feel that some transgression against the just and moral order must feature a response of violent action.

In The Orestia, the need to take violence in the name of justice is evident.  Clytemnestra feels that justice was violated in the taking of her daughter's life.  She conceives of violence against her husband because the just and moral order has been corrupted.  When Orestes recognizes the need to take action in the name of his father, he sees that justice is violated and must commit more violence in order to right that which is wrong. At the critical point, Orestes understands this need:  " "Shall I be ashamed to kill [my] mother?"  This agonizing sense of identity is prompted because he sees that implementing justice through violence is a necessary means to maintain order.  Justice is not something negotiated or bartered.  Rather, it requires swift and defining action.  It necessitates violence.

In the works of Homer, one sees that the perceived denial of justice is followed through with violence.  In The Odyssey, the confrontation with the suitors who have violated the just order in taking over Odysseus's home and wife is a violent one.  With the killing of the Cylops, one sees how Odysseus must embrace violence to ensure that his understanding of justice is kept intact.  The Iliad depicts a reality in which violence supports a need to establish justice.  Agamemnon convinces his brother that there is an issue of justice that has been offended with Paris' taking of Helen.  Hector and the Trojans recognize that there is an immediate need to support the threat to justice to Troy in fighting.  Achilles feels that justice has been violated with the death of Patroclus. Even the sacking of Troy was seen as an act of justice, punishing those who challenged the supposed just order.  In these instances, the need to maintain justice is accompanied with violence.

thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Justice in Homer is of a fairly primitive variety, based on customs of retribution and recompense. Response to what is seen as injustice can result in a demand for immediate compensation, as in the dispute between Agamemnon and Achilles over the war prize, in revenge, as we see in the case of the mutilation of Hector's body by Achilles, or the Trojan War itself as a response to Paris' abduction of Helen. No legal codes or courts exist.

Aeschylus's Oresteia is about the shift from retributive justice to a legal system which includes trial by jury and systematic legal codes. It is a celebration of the evolution of justice in Athens and a moving tribute to an ideal of justice we now take for granted. In the first two plays of the trilogy, we see a Homeric system of justice; harm committed by one person results in an endless cycle of revenge handed down across generations. No resolution is ever possible in such a system without the deaths of entire families. Athena's ability to persuade the Furies to become the Eumenides embodies a more benevolent system of justice which replaces feud with laws and violence with courts.