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I was talking with a friend a few days ago, and he asked me what I thought about a particular news story. He was surprised when I responded that I knew a good bit less than he did about this story, and he seemed even more surprised as I was describing it with what he considered a high level of apathy. Despite my best efforts to persuade him that the most recent “news” event or political scandal about unlawful government actions toward its citizens, current wave of political or social propaganda, government sideshow, national media silliness, or Presidential diversion was far less engaging and meaningful than the extremely engaging and meaningful Oresteia by Aeschylus. So, I urge you as I urged my friend, make a conscious decision to be a liberated citizen and step away from the noise and the confining distortions of this particular moment, and be free to think about important issues in an equally important manner. I guaranteed him that reading the Great Books will give him a way to look at distortions, perversions, and social atrocities with eyes that truly see and ears that clearly hear. So, let me encourage you to read the Oresteia and make your way through these questions provided by Mortimer Adler.

I. Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, Choephoroe, and Eumenides

  • Was justice done to Orestes?
    • Did Orestes act justly?
      • Was Orestes just in killing his mother, avenging his father, obeying the command of Apollo, and/or killing Aegisthus?
    • Did Clytaemnestra act justly?
    • Was Clytaemnestra just in killing her husband, revenging the death of her daughter Iphigenia, and/or being unfaithful to her husband?
    • Did Apollo act justly in urging Orestes to kill Clytaemnestra?
    • Did Athena act justly in casting her vote for Orestes?
    • Did the Furies act justly?
    • Were the Furies just in pursuing Orestes, in not pursuing Electra or Clytaemnestra after she killed her husband, and/or in resting satisfied with the judgment of the Athenian court, as the result of Athena’s persuasion and flattery?
    • What if you substitute the word “justly” for “lawfully”?
    • Is lex talionis, the law of retribution and revenge, really a law?
    • Is human law placed above divine law?
    • In terms of what law are you judging the justice of the verdict?
  • What do you think of the court procedure?
    • Does the court follow the rules and customs that are used in British or American courts?
    • First of all, is the court duly constituted?
    • How can one decide what “duly constituted” would mean?
    • Is there any assurance that this was a fair jury?
  • Is the existence of law a good or an evil?
    • Are Agamemnon, Clytaemnestra, and Orestes better off because they live in a lawless condition, or anarchy?
    • Is there a sense in which men are freer in a civil society, with laws, than they are in a lawless condition?
    • Is that society best which has the most laws?
    • Is the best society halfway between the extremes of anarchy and regulating everything by laws?

Books mentioned in this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore

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2 replies to this post
  1. The one thing that could possibly be better than reading the Oresteia is watching it performed live in theatre. The version I saw was done in the modern style of New Theatre, thus the aesthetic (and in parts story) was somehwat reinterpreted, but the director did so as if to give his vision of the tragedy as the prelude to a broader reconsoderation of its main themes.

    As an aside, I also once saw a performance of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra – a four hour long performance – generally I find great works of poetry and philosophy to be ideal material for theatre.

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