Cause and Effect in ‘The Eumenides’ and ‘Works and Days’

The views expressed by Hesiod on ethics and sanctions in Works and Days are opposed to those of the Furies in Aeschylus’s final play in the Orestia trilogy, The Eumenides.

In Works and Days, there seems to be an element of forgiveness. Hesiod believed that his brother had cheated him out of his inheritance by bribing the courts, and yet most of the book is devoted to giving his brother advice on how to live a successful and happy life. There is no element of forgiveness in the system of justice of the Furies, simply vengeance.

In Works and Days, the ultimate source of ethical justice and sanctions is Zeus and other Olympian gods. The earthly courts of law are viewed as corrupt and untrustworthy because they can receive bribes. The Furies in The Eumenides are the main source of sanctions. They did not view the law courts as a legitimate system of justice until Athena convinced them of their authority by the use of bribes.

The systems of ethical cause and effect in Works and Days and The Eumenides are very different. The Fury’s view of justice in The Eumenides is retribution without mercy, until they are bribed by Athena to accept the judgement of an earthly court set up by her. The Furies view the underground gods as superior to the Olympian gods because they have been around much longer, and have the benefit of tradition. In Works and Days, Hesiod seemed to forgive his brother of cheating on his inheritance by giving him advice that would assist him in becoming successful. Hesiod thought that the law courts could not be trusted to do justice because they received bribes. Hesiod also believed that the Olympian gods (in particular Zeus) were superior. The ideas of justice, ethics and sanctions in Works and Days and in The Eumenides are quite fundamentally opposed.

 

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