Exploring the ancient Greek's view of justice in opening ceremony
Dr. Joe Rudolph
Our examination of the classical virtue of justice continued this week with Dr. Claudia MacMillan’s address to the whole school at Monday’s opening ceremony. Dr. MacMillan, curriculum consultant, spoke about an understanding of true justice in the trilogy of Greek tragedies, the Oresteia.
Dr. MacMillan reminded the students that justice, in ancient times, was based on retribution –– at best, this retribution could be measured and equal –– “an eye for an eye” –– but in the warrior cultures represented in Greek Tragedy and Epic, justice was a game of revenge. Then, as now, revenge only leads to more revenge, initiating a vicious cycle. Dr. MacMillian explained how, in the Oresteia, Aeschelyus presents how, through suffering and heroic action, a new order can be established. In the first play of the trilogy, Clytemnestra murders her husband, the Greek hero Agamemnon; in the second play, Orestes, aided by his sister Elektra, avenges his father’s murder and kills his mother; the third play recounts how the furies harass and torment Orestes for the murder of his mother. The final resolution comes when Orestes seeks refuge in Athens, where they undergo a jury trial by the Athenian people. The jury (with Athena herself casting the deciding vote) rules that Orestes was innocent of any crime. Athena declares that such trials must henceforth be decided through due process, not blood-vengeance.
Justice, in the ancient Greek understanding, just as in the Christian understanding, is not mere retribution to be carried out by the hurt or the wronged –– it is the task of a society willing to seek and suffer for what is true, acting so as to protect the vulnerable and restore balance in world where injustice is all-too-often the norm.
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