Comparison of Ethics, Works and Days vs. The Eumenides, part 2

(to see the first part of this assignment click here, this will provide a background for this article)

“How does the view of ethical cause and effect in history in Works and Days compare with the furies’ view in The Eumenides?”

In these two pieces of Greek literature, there are two substantially different views on ethical cause and effect in history.  In Greek civilization, it is noticeable that there was some confusion; there is no ultimate sovereignty.  Zeus is supreme over the other gods, however he does not have ultimate sovereignty.  This raises the issue of which gods’ laws should be followed, because they each had a different system of laws.  This creates confusion in the society, because there is no obvious ultimate good or evil, it is up to the individual to determine which god to obey.  However, we begin to see in these two pieces of literature, foundations of a system of ethical cause and effect.  While these are two separate systems, they share some essential similarities.

In Works and Days, Hesiod lays out to his brother Perses how to live a good life.  He writes about a lifestyle that possesses a system of ethical cause and effect.  He describes what his brother must do to please the gods and tells him how to live his life, he actually goes into impressive detail.  Unlike in The Eumenides, Hesiod explains to his brother that he should not listen to the decisions of the courts, but rather the omens sent directly by the gods.  He attempts to persuade his brother that the decision of the court is not necessarily something he should abide by.  However, in The Eumenides, we see the goddess Athena convince the furies to submit power to the courts of men.  The gods are perceived as above men, but they give men the power of judgment in jury.  This is a contrasting situation.

In The Eumenides, when the furies submit to the court of men by the persuasion of Athena, we see a tremendous transfer of power in history.  The furies had a reputation for being relentless in pursuing their victim.  In the end, the court decision, was against the furies and they were bribed by Athena and for love of fame, accepted her offer to live in Athens.  In lust for fame, the furies submitted their positions as huntresses for violators of the laws against family murder, and changed to a different life, out of the under-ground.

There are two systems here, Hesiod is telling his brother not to trust the decision of the courts, but in The Eumenides, the furies submit to the idea of the courts, and the gods transfer substantial power to men.  Hesiod, in Works and Days is saying to obey to the gods directly (he gives account on which gods to obey and pray to), while Aeschylus, in The Eumenides, is demonstrating that the gods transferred this power to the hands of men.  It is a confusing situation.  If one believes in the Greek religion, how would that individual know which of these accounts is accurate?  It is inconsistent.

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