Ethical Comparison in ancient Greek Literature

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

To summarize the poem “Works and Days” in one paragraph would be an accomplished feat indeed. I suggest you read my post Life: by Hesiod in order to better understand the poem. It can be summarized as general life advice in hard work, religion, and relationships, from an Ancient Greek perspective, nevertheless applicable today.

“The Eumenides” is a story in poetic form. It focuses mainly on a man who has murdered his mother in order to avenge the murder of his father. In Greek religion, a group of underworld gods called “The Furies” were responsible to bring to a ruthless end those who had contravened justice through murder or other such crimes. (For more information, and to see a perspective as to how the modern story of Orestes might have happened, see my post, “Modern Orestes”.)

As I have already alluded, Greek ethics are inconsistent. One god wants men to murder, the other avenges it. One god rapes, another god kills the rapist. Its whatever set of rules works for you and every man for himself. There is no Greek ethics. It is a changeable system with many conflicting rules.

Some people have this idea of the Christian God. The “God of the Old Testament” supposedly is strict and unbending, with a law that must be followed. In reality, Yahweh’s law is meant to keep you safe, much as your parent’s laws or the laws of nature. Many times, Yahweh follows up a seemingly harsh command with the phrase, “Thus you shall purge the evil from your midst.”

Think about that. Think about having no evil. The concept blows my mind! If there were no evil, we would have nothing to be sad or upset about. Isn’t that desirable? Shouldn’t we want that?

Anyways, back to literature comparison.

In ‘The Eumenides’, Athena hands over the responsibility of the judgement to the human judges of Athens. The decision was based on the question “Would the father’s or mother’s death be avenged?” (Ironically, she stated that she always sides on the side of man, which seems like a biased judgement to me!!) In the end, Orestes was acquitted of his guilt.

The human court decides the verdict, effectively shutting out the furies. Thus, the endless rule of revenge is broken. However, the judgement was not made by the gods – the resolution was decided by civic religion and judicial system.

In the poem “Works and Days”, the gods are the one bringing judgement, punishment, or blessing upon those who either live the right way or choose to walk the crooked path.

In Conclusion, although both stories include the involvement of the Gods of Mount Olympus, the judgement is given by different parties. I think this is partly due the fact that Orestes’ case was unprecedented, however the only real-life situation that was given in “Works and Days” was decided by a corrupt courts system, however, there was an obvious opinion that the gods would bring negative sanctions upon the trespasser.

Thanks for reading!!!



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