What would have been Orestes’ proper course of action, had he been living today?

The libation bearers is the second part of a Greek trilogy written by Aeschylus, a Greek tragedian (6th century-5th century B.C.).   In this tragedy, dialogue is continued from the first section of the trilogy; a series of blood guilt justice within the household of Agamemnon.  Like most ancient Greek tragedies of this time, this tragedy was a story of the effects of the Trojan war.  This was a series of events that followed the Trojan war, it did not take place during the Trojan war.

The character Orestes, son of Agamemnon, is faced with a difficult decision.  He makes an oath to the Greek god Apollo to avenge his father’s death.  To do so, he must kill his father’s murderer. In this case, his father’s murder is Orestes’ own mother, Clytaemnestra, and her new found lover, Aegisthus that she conspired with to kill Agamemnon.  Orestes is trapped with a decision, if he does not avenge his father by killing his mother, he will face the consequences of his father’s furies, and the consequences of Apollo.  However, if he does go through with the action of killing his mother, Clytaemnestra, he will face her household furies.  He is facing a decision in which he is potentially doomed either way.  Orestes asks for advice from his associate and ultimately kills his mother, and announces at the end of the tragedy that he must flee to avoid her furies.

It was a complicated system of justice.  One act of blood guilt in the family required another act to attain justice, but the system is endless because every murder will require another murder.  It was an “eye for an eye” system of justice.  This is a system that any given individual in the modern world would perceive as corrupt.

If Orestes had been living today, he would have needed to take a completely different course of action.  The series of slaughtering started with Agamemnon offering his daughter Iphogenia, as a sacrifice during the Trojan war, then Clytaemnestra and Aegisthus conspired the murder of Agamemnon to bring justice on his actions, and Orestes followed by avenging Agamemnon.  In this system, the murders are justified by personal reasons, there is no ultimate sovereignty that lays down laws.  In terms of courts, there were no ultimate laws that prevented this slaughtering of family murders, it was all personal to the family.  In most modern systems of justice, this is an issue that would be taken to the court and settled by the system of justice in that state.  No matter how personal the issue, murder is not permitted.

Orestes, if operating today, would have to take this issue to the courts, or he himself would be liable for his murderous actions.  In most modern systems of justice, decisions like the decision Orestes faced, would be made according to the law of that particular society.  In the time of this event, Greek religion played a big role, however, today, in most societies, it is not acceptable to justify murder based on one’s religion.  Had Orestes been active today, perhaps he could have avoided the situation and the difficult decisions he faced by appealing to the court and attaining justice for his household.

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