Comparison of ethics, Works and Days vs. The Eumenides, part 1.

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

Both pieces of literature, “Works and Days,” and “The Eumenides” state general principles of ethical cause and effect.  However, the ethics are different and produced to the reader in different forms.

Works and Days is a poem written by the ancient Greek poet, Hesiod, who was assumed to have been active from 750-650 B.C..  In this poem, he tries to convince Perses, his brother, to be ethical and to live a good life.  Hesiod provides account to his brother of the sanctions that will occur whether he lives a life of good ethics or whether he lives a life of corrupt ethics.  He gives Perses an example of what the good life is like and what he must do to attain this lifestyle.  Hesiod’s real goal in this poem was to persuade his brother to allow him his fair share of the inheritance, he did this by presenting him with ground laws of ethics.

The Eumenides is the third tragedy of a trilogy, leading up to this third tragedy there were acts of blood revenge in the family.  It started with Agamemnon, the head of the house, sacrificing his daughter Iphagenia to the gods during the Trojan war.  Clytaemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, conspires with Aegisthus, her new lover, to deceive Agamemnon and murder him.  Orestes, son of Agamemnon and Clytaemnestra, vows to the Greek god Apollo to avenge his father and kill the murderer, however to do so he must kill his mother.  With some hesitation, he kills his own mother and for this, the relentless furies pursue him.  This was an act that violated the ethical system of a household, therefore the underground gods had to send the furies to restore justice.

Unlike in Works and Days, the furies only demonstrate that this is the wrong way to live, they do not provide example or instruction for the goo, ethical life.

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.

What was Aeschylus’s view of the Trojan war?

In ancient Greek history Aeschylus is often described as “the father of tragedy,” he receives this description because he wrote about great Greek tragedies.  He was said to have written a vast amount of plays, however, unfortunately, only a small number of those survived to this day.  He was born in the late 6th century B.C. and died in the mid 5th century B.C..  In one of his most famous tragedies “Agamemnon” he provides some account on his view of the Trojan war.  This tragedy is dramatic, however, one may not learn about the Trojan war by reading it.  He only provides brief account on his view of the famous and devastating war.

While many people are in doubt about whether the Trojan war actually happened or not, the story of the Trojan war was heavily influential on western society.  The war that lasted 10 years, was believed to have began by an act of adultery, it ended in the destruction of Troy, and many deaths of Greek men.

During the war, the main character of the play, Agamemnon, offered a human sacrifice, his own daughter, Iphigenia.  This act was performed to settle war-related issues.  In the tragedy, this act itself was not perceived as wicked, but the wickedness was directed towards the attitude of Agamemnon.  He showed no mercy towards his daughter and did not struggle to command the wicked act.  Personally, I took from this that Aeschylus was attempting to display the way that this horrendous war effected the minds of men.  Agamemnon slaughtering his daughter was a mere example of the other acts that took place during the span of this war.  It seems as though Aeschylus’ view of the war was that it poisoned the minds of men.

Regarding justice, there was no finality, there was no ultimate judgement of good or bad.  Bloodshed was justified by more bloodshed.  These men had no morals, or at least it was interpreted that way in the plays.  Without a set of morals, humankind becomes no better than a beast.  The thing that sets human beings apart from all other creatures is the ability to apply reason, take away reason and men become brainless creatures unaware of the impact of their acts.  Even without an idea of God, I believe that men can reason and separate the difference between good and evil.  In general, a man would not order to have his daughter killed and be satisfied with the act, the war corrupted man’s reason.

Some of the gods sided with Troy, while some of the gods sided with Greece.  The gods did not impose an ultimate end sanction in the war, however they did intervene with more powerful acts than men, for instance, the gods had the ability to install a curse on man, which in some cases can be worse than murdering a man.

The tragedy was not central to the war itself but rather the affect of the war on the men who fought, the families of the men who fought, and the acts of the minds that were corrupted in the war.

What was Hesiod’s view of the mankind’s past and future?

Hesiod was a Greek poet assumed to have been active in 750-650 B.C..  Among his writings, he wrote a poem called “Works and days” in which he attempts to persuade his brother, Perses, to pay him his rightful share of the inheritance.  The poem is essentially divided into two sections, the first section provides ethical instruction in the way man should live.  The second section provides instruction for how men should live practically.  Hesiod tries to persuade Perses to listen to Zeus (the supreme god) rather than the courts, who may take bribes in making their decisions.  The persuasion of Perses was the purpose of this poem, but in persuading Perses, Hesiod shared his view of mankind’s past and future.

Hesios tells us that there were 5 ages in sequence of mankind.  We are the fifth race.  The first period, was the golden age.  Man lived luxuriously in a god-like lifestyle, men stayed young and healthy and saw no harm or despair.  The second period was the silver age.  These men, unlike the golden age, had to work, however, a child could play for up to 100 years before growing up.  The third period was the bronze age.  The people were made of bronze and lived in a bronze world.  The fourth period of mankind, were the demigods. The demigods were a god-like race of hero men, far more righteous and more noble than man.   Then, finally, there is the fifth period, the iron age.  The iron age is the era we live in now, and we are told by descriptions that this is the lowest of the 5 ages.

In terms of the future, we are told that we (the iron age) are ultimately doomed.  We are told that Zeus will destroy the Iron race, like he did all the others.  It is a pessimistic view, the iron race have nothing to hope for, because ultimately it will be destroyed.

While Hesiod provided this ultimate gloomy fate of men, he also said that men should have good ethic, and that men should pray to and rely on Zeus.  Hesiod gave reasons for short term optimism, but regarding the long term, he had only reasons for pessimism.  In this poem, he is telling mankind to live their lives in justice, and in hard work, but at death, it is over.  The only hope for mankind is death.

To live a prosperous life, according to Hesiod, man must pray to Zeus and live his life according to the will of Zeus.  If a person is unjust, Zeus will inflict sanctions accordingly.  To attain reward, humankind must live justly.  However, Zeus is inconsistent, he is not predictable.  If a supreme figure is not consistent in their laws of ethics, or in the sanctions inflicted based on those laws, then difficulty arises for the person trying to abide by said laws.  Man can attain short term reward, if he is able to please Zeus, but in the long term, there is only darkness and death to look forward to.

The main differences between Theogony and Genesis 1.

Theogony and Genesis chapter 1, have many differences.  In each piece of literature, we see the foundational concepts of two completely different worldviews.  The entire system of ethics, hierarchy, and sanctions is completely different.

Theogony was a poem written by the Greek poet Hesiod (c. 750-650 B.C.).  He began with his account on the Muses, 9 goddess daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne.  These Muses told him to sing of the races of the gods, and that is what Theogony is fundamentally about.

It was believed that chaos came to be, however we are not told how.  From this chaos, came Earth, followed by the gods she bore and their descendants.  The creation came about by means of sexual relation between the gods.

It is evident from this poem that the gods did not have a consistent system of ethics and sanctions.  The curses brought on man were not a result of the sins of man.  Sanctions were also imposed on the gods, however theses were also inconsistent, because there was no real system of ethics.

It is not said in Theogony, where men come from.  They were in a sense, just assumed into the text.  It is also apparent that Zeus, who is said to be the most powerful of the gods was not omnipotent.  He calls on the other gods to assist in the war against the Titans.  He is at the top of the hierarchy, but he is not sovereign over the creation.

In Genesis chapter 1, it is apparent from the first verse, that God is an omnipotent being.  He always was, and always will be.  Christians believe that God created heaven and earth.  He did not make heaven and earth, he created heaven and earth; he started with nothing, and with nothing brought forth the creation.  After each subcreation, God saw that it was good and continued.  God created day and night to separate the light from the darkness.  “God called the light ‘day,’ and the darkness He called ‘night.’ thus evening came and morning followed–The first day” (Genesis 1:5)  With each day he brought forth a new creation.  On the sixth day of His creation, He created man in his own image and likeness, he gives man a woman as a companion, and He tells them to go forth and multiply.

We cannot fully understand the concept of creating something out of nothing, it is beyond the human mind.  However, in Theogony, we are not provided with the origin of men.  Were men believed to have been created by the Greek gods?  We are not given an answer in this account.

While it is not included in Genesis 1, we see pretty early in the book of Genesis that God lays down a system of ethics and sanctions.  Sanctions are imposed based on ethics and it is a consistent system.  We do not find that in Theogony, it is evident that sanctions were imposed, but the system of sanctions was not consistent.  It was provided in Theogony that the curses man endure existed before man as a result of the behavior of the gods.

These are two completely different perspectives that disagree with each other on many terms.  They are completely separate worldviews, that are mutual in very few aspects.

The Development of Ethics in History Influenced by Biblical Material.

What is the view of the biblical materials on the role of ethics in the development of history?

There are many views conveyed in biblical material that present the role of ethics in the development of history.  These views were presented in Genesis, the first book of the bible, and they are consistent throughout the rest of the scriptures.  There are basic ideas that have prevailed through history and have been adopted by many societies today.  This system of ethics and sanctions is not exclusive to Christians, the ideas of this system conveyed in the bible, formed many aspects of western civilization.

A significant amount of the biblical passages possess one theme, sanctions will be inflicted according to ethics.  These sanctions are inescapable and it is the responsibility of the individual to follow the law of God and have good ethics, otherwise, he will ultimately receive negative sanctions.  In order to have good ethics and receive positive sanctions, the individual must obey the law of God.  The righteous who seek out wisdom and understanding, and submit themselves to the law of God, will receive eternal reward.  Evil-doers may receive a temporary earthly reward, but ultimately they will receive sanctions according to their ethics.

The system of obedience towards God’s law, and the sanctions afflicted accordingly is similar to the system of most civilizations of their state state laws.  This system of cause and effect in relation to law is basic to human reason.

It is demonstrated in biblical text that man has free will, men are agents of God, but they are not robotic instruments.  Individuals have the ability to think rationally and choose their own ethical path.  They cannot, however, determine the punishment or reward, except through the correspondence of their obedience towards the law of God, and their ethics.  Good ethics will result in positive sanctions, while bad ethics will result in negative sanctions.

Individuals can choose for themselves how they live out their lives, they can choose the sanctions they will receive, by choosing a lifestyle of wisdom and righteousness, or a lifestyle of wickedness.  This has remained consistent through the development of history.

If a life of righteousness leads to ultimate positive sanctions, why do men choose to participate in evil acts?  There are pleasures in evil, this is why man engages in it.  However, those pleasures are temporary, they wear off, this can result in an addiction to evil activity.  These are materialistic pleasures, but men are weak, they fall to the addictions of materialistic pleasures.  They lose mindfulness of the idea of ultimate sanctions, and forget about the debts they will have to pay back for their loans of temporary material pleasures.  Again, this idea has been consistent throughout the development of history.

The views of ethics as expressed in biblical text, have shaped western civilization.

Ethics and Sanctions in Proverbs 1-7.

There is a strong relationship between ethics and sanctions throughout the book of Proverbs.  Chapters 1-7 of the Proverbs present significant representation of this relationship.  The Proverbs are written mainly by Solomon, the son of David.  David wrote a majority of the Psalms; the previous book of the bible.  In the first 9 chapters of the Proverbs, the author provides an introduction.  This is unique, this is not seen in any other book of the bible.

In reading this introduction, it is understood that he is offering guidance to his son.  He provides instruction through imagery.  Wisdom is imaged as the form of a woman, wickedness is also imaged as a woman.  The individual man must not let himself be tempted by the strange woman; the woman of evil.  This is an effective use of rhetoric, the message is conveyed in a way that makes sense.  Women are used as an example of what men desire, and this is represents it in a way that the reader can understand the power of the the decision; good or evil.

If man allows himself to be tempted by the “strange woman,” he will go in the path  of  wickedness.  Bad ethics may give a temporary reward, but that reward will eventually die, and negative sanctions will be inflicted.  However, if a man keeps his heart on the woman of wisdom, and devotes himself to the pure path of righteousness, he will be granted positive sanctions.  Good ethics, may present temporary disposition, but this is only temporary, and in the end, positive sanctions will be given to the righteous man.  While there are several examples, this is the basic theme, and the idea of the feminine forms of wisdom and wickedness effectively conveys this theme.

We see in Proverbs 2:18 “For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead.”  This verse is referring to the strange woman, who represents wickedness.  There may be earthly pleasures for a period of time, but these will fade and the man who follows the path of this wickedness will be lead to death; negative sanctions.  In Dr. Gary North’s conclusion of this verse, he says “If you go with the unrighteous individual, you’re headed for destruction.”  This message is based on the relationship between ethics and sanctions.

There is instruction provided for the man who chooses the path of wisdom.  The individual must be close to law of God.  The laws of God are standards to which all individuals must live by in order to attain eternal reward.  If one follows the law of God, they exercise good ethics, and this provides them with deliverance from God.  Wisdom is ethical (wisdom in terms of understanding right from wrong).  The individual who seeks wisdom and understanding, rather than wicked action, will attain everlasting positive sanctions.

The relationship between ethics and sanctions in proverbs 1-7 is of great significance.  Ethics influence the end sanction.  While God is the supreme being, man has the free will to choose for himself what path he wants to take.  If the individual lets himself be deceived from the path of righteousness, that is a moral decision of the individual and sanctions will be inflicted according to that moral decision.

 

Reasons Offered in the Psalms for Long-term Optimism.

The book of Psalms is the longest book in the bible, and perhaps one of the most influential on modern society.  This collection of literary praises, demonstrates faithful men who remained faithful in both good times, and times of deep despair.  It is clear through this text that these faithful people looked to the future, and had reasons for long-term optimism.

It is indicated that God is sovereign, and this is consistent throughout the Psalms.  To start, it is important to understand the meaning of sovereignty: “Sovereignty is the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.”  With that in mind, the Psalms convey that God is the ultimate, there is nothing higher than God.  God is therefore the ultimate good.  Personally, I believe that God created man, and gave man a sense of morality.  In making decisions, man knows what is right and what is wrong.  However, he also gave man free will.  Thus man has the ability to make his own choices.  While the ideal would be to obey God, this is a choice for the individual to make.  What is it that inspires the individual to choose obedience towards God; good over evil?  What were the reasons for the long-term optimism of the faithful?

There is a connection between the law of God and the sanctions of God.  It is a simple idea, obedience towards God, will result in positive sanctions from God.  If God is the sovereign being, then these positive sanctions from God are the ultimate reward that man can attain.  This hope that faith and obedience of man towards God, is a significant reason for long-term optimism.  If you obey God, He will deliver you.

This long-term optimism was only rejoiced in by the individuals who remained faithful and obedient to God.  In the Psalms, there is military language that implies the faithful were delivered by God from the evildoers who refused to dwell in the house of the Lord.  Not all men possessed this long term optimism, there were those who disobeyed the laws of God.  These evildoers did not receive the historical deliverance that the faithful received.  Those who refuse to bow before God, who rebel against His name, were inflicted by God with negative sanctions.

Regarding sanctions, there is sufficient motivation for man to look to God in times of despair and remain faithful and pure in the eyes of God.  Every man has an idea of morals; what they believe is good and what they believe is not moral.  This may or may not coordinate with the law of God, because man has free will, however, if man’s morals do not coordinate with the laws of God, he will be inflicted with negative sanctions.  God intervenes, if man cannot be stronger than the temptations of evil, God will intervene.

The idea of faith and obedience towards God, and in return eternal reward, is, in my opinion, the fundamental reason offered in the book of Psalms for long-term optimism.

How important is the concept of historical sanctions in the Psalms?

The book of Psalms is the longest book in the bible.  This collection of praises, is an important account that has established foundations in modern day Christian beliefs.  The concept of historical sanctions is a re-occurring theme throughout the Psalms.

When reading the text, there is a noticeable poetic aspect.  It is easy to think of this as a book of poetic praises, and not challenge the thought of the meaning and representation of these Psalms. However, this book delivers an important literary concept between God and man.

An obvious theme, is that God is above history, and those that obey the law of God are protected and delivered in history.  The righteous found favor in God’s judgment, while the acts of the wicked were despised by God.  God inflicted historical sanctions based on the obedience of man towards God.

As for the righteous, their faith in God was their shield in times of despair.  The righteous received protection and deliverance, while the wicked, received negative reward from the hand of God.  With the idea of God as the ultimate being, sovereign over all things, this is a very logical concept, basic to most ideas of religeon.

From simply reading the Psalms, it is not obvious what historical events are taking place, it was not really intended to be a historical account.  The historical importance taken from the book of Psalms, is the foundational relationship between God and man; how men were delivered in history because of their faith.  A portion of these Psalms were written by David, who was a significant historical figure.  His accounts were in relation to his faith and praises in God, and how God supported him in times of despair, and how God rewarded the obedience of David.

The theme of God being ultimate justice, was basic to this collection of writings.  The God of Israel is all merciful, but He is also all just.  The righteous who obey the law of God, will desire his judgement, as they are inflicted positive sanctions.  The wicked, who see themselves as beyond the requirement to obey God’s laws, will be inflicted with negative sanctions.   God is predictable and reliable in history if man will turn to him and pray to him and humble themselves before him.

The interpretation of this form of biblical language can be dangerous, as several different meanings could be derived from it.  The author could mean something, completely different from what scholars, or any individual who later reads it, interprets from the text.  In the Psalms, there is a lot of imagery used, and it is often odd to modern language.  In this scenario, it is easy to derive a meaning, and take it to heart, but it is important to be cautious in doing this, that we do not interpret a different meaning.

In conclusion, historical sanctions were majorly significant in the Psalms.  The concept of God’s judgement is based on sanctions.  Men with bad ethics, received negative sanctions, and were deprived from protection and deliverance in history.

Ethics and Sanctions regarding Noah and the Flood.

The story of Noah and the flood was an issue of ethics and sanctions. Man lost good ethics and God imposed sanctions according to the infractions of men.

God was angered by the attachment of man to sin.  God is all good, and sin, being an act of evil, drives man away from God.  As a christian, I believe that God is the Creator and is sovereign over all things.

It is fairly simple in context, men had bad ethics, and therefore were inflicted with appropriate sanctions.  Men have free will, and at the time of Noah, man chose to stray away from what is purely good (disobedience towards God).  They received sanctions according to their ethical decisions.  The negative sanction was a flood that would demolish man and beast from the earth.

Noah, however, found favor with God, therefore God chose not to inflict these negative sanctions on Noah.  The favor God found with Noah, extended to Noah’s family.  This gives an example of the foundational culture of a household.  Noah’s obedience to God was possibly shared by Noah’s wife and sons, however, there is no account on this.  It is possible that because God found favor in Noah’s obedience, that the descendants of Noah, would also be pure, and would re-populate the earth.  It is also possible that if Noah was a good man, that God chose to not take Noah’s family.  There is not direct account on this, and interpretation is not accurate when the proper details are not included in the original account.

God gave grace to Noah, and instructed him to build an ark.  He also instructed Noah in bringing animals onto the ark.  When the time for the event of the flood had come, it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, and the flood swept man and beast from the face of the earth leaving alive only the menn and beasts that dwelt in the ark.

God signaled to Noah through a dove that the waters had withdrawn from the land, and again, God told man to be fruitful and multiply.

After the flood, God made a covenant with man.  A covenant is an agreement that brings about a relationship between God and his people.  In this covenant, God promised that never again would he repeat the event of the flood.  It is the common belief, that God symbolized this covenant with the rainbow.  Men continued to sin, but this would be settled in a different kind of judgment.  There are different beliefs of the judgment between God and man, but God made a covenant with man that this judgment would never again be the destruction of all mankind.

There were many covenants to follow this one, but this one is considered foundational.  Even among atheists who do not believe in the sovereign God behind this series of events, most of them are familiar with the idea of this covenant.  The story of Noah and the flood, and the covenant is basic to western literature.