What is Righteousness? The dictionary defines it as the quality of being morally right or justifiable. But that raises the question of what is morality, what is moral and who decides what is moral and what is not. The meaning of morality has fluctuated throughout the centuries and has mirrored the rise and fall of civilizations, societies and cultures. Societies, civilizations and cultures define what righteousness is, its relative and subjective not objective. There is no such thing as objective righteousness.
But just how each individual has his or her own individual moral code, each person has their own personal view on what is righteous. Therefore, how one defines “righteous” is a combination of these influences.
The question of who/what is righteous comes up again in the Oresteia and is a central theme and conflict between the characters of the book. But this question is raised in a slightly different way is there a difference between justice and revenge, and which is righteous? Blood vs Marriage which is more righteous to follow? Oresteia revolves around the actions of a few central character: Agamemnon, Clytemnestra, Cassandra, Athena, and Orestes.
Before the Trojan war Agamemnon Sacrificed Iphigenia, He and Clytemnestra’s daughter, for favorable Sailing winds to Troy. And when he returns from troy she kills him out of revenge ” Now hear you this, the right behind my sacrament: by my child’s justice driven to fulfillment, by her wrath and fury to whom I sacrificed this man ( The Oresteia Pg 70 line 1431- 1433)”.
Clytemnestra shows no remorse for the murder of her husband, she believes she as is just and righteous for avenging the sacrifice (and in her mind murder) of their daughter. Over the Pages 67- 75 she justifies her views and actions.
Can one really be righteous when committing heinous crimes? Well if you are going by the dictionary definition of righteousness then yes. Because as i’ve state Morality and is subjective. But in this case it raises the question can justice be subjective as well. Clytemnestra and the chorus go back and forth for some pages on the justness of her actions, and the stark contrast of their views perfectly encapsulates how different their mindsets are. During the confrontation Clytemnestra says ” you can praise or blame me as you wish; it is all one to me. That man Agamemnon, my husband; he is dead; the work of this right hand that struck in strength of righteousness (The Oresteia Pg 69 line 1403- 1404)” and “No shame, I think the death given this man. And did he not wreak death by treachery? the flower of this man’s love and min, Iphigeneia of many tears, he dealt with her even as he suffered now. So let his speech in Death’s house be not loud. With the sword he struck; with the sword he paid for his own act ( The Oresteia pg 73 lines 1521- 1530)”. Clytemnestra is referring to the sacrifice of her daughter , Clytemnestra is full of vengeance and wanted revenge, She believes Agamemnon deserved to die. She feel no guilt for her actions and believes them to be noble. Because why not? Agamemnon murdered their child, is it not just and righteous to get revenge. Now compare this to the chorus ” O king, my king how shall we weep for you· Caught in this spider’s web you lie, your life gasped out indecent death· by your lady’s hand of treachery (The Oresteia Pg 73 lines 1513- 1519)”. Even after all the reasons Clytemnestra gave to justify her killing of Agamemnon the chorus has no sympathy for her. Its Blood vs Marriage, Clytemnestra has committed the most wicked acts someone can commit and will have to face judgement. Marriage ties are seen as deeper and more sacred than blood ties, so killing one’s husband is an unpardonable offence.
And In response to these killings Orestes, Agamemnon’s and Clytemnestra’s son, vows to get revenge. ” Did she do it or did she not. My witness is this great robe. Did she do it or did she not. My witness is this great robe. it was thus she stained Aegisthus’ sword. Dip and dip again, the smear of blood conspires with time to spoil the beauty of precious thing. Now I can praise him, now i can stand by to mourn and speak before this web that killed my father (Oresteia Pg, 120 line 1009- 1015).” Now the roles have been reversed, now it’s Orestes claiming he is righteous for avenging the death of his father. He now stands before the chorus defending his actions. But is this really any different from Clytemnestra. Was he really righteous in his actions. Orestes is tormented by furies, divinities who punish wrongdoers. But why would they be after him if he what he did was in the name of justice. On page 139, Athena appears and decides to put the matter to trial. The fate of Orestes is out to trial. But this trial is more than just a trial. These to depictions of righteousness are put against each other. This trial should give us our answer on what is righteousness. But when the votes are casted to jury is torn and tied, both actions were seen as righteous and just in their own way, if not for Athena casting her vote for Orestes the jury would have been locked. Athenes vote subverted the judgement of the jury, but by the juries votes we can see that there is no objective righteousness. Both Clytemnestra and Orestes where just in their actions.
In Antigone, Which is more righteous?: Oikos or Polis; human laws or god’s laws; blood or law. All these questions present themselves overtly throughout the play. Where Antigone is a follower of Oikos and blood law and Creon is a follower of human law and Polis, Creon and Antigone are the embodiments of these two forms of righteousness. ” For me it was not Zeus who made that order . Nor did that justice who lives with the gods below mark out such laws to hold among many kind. Nor did I think you orders where so strong that you, a mortal man, could overrun the gods’ unwritten and unfailing laws. (Antigone Pg 37 lines 450-455)” According to Antigone’s personal morals and cultures she was raised in the Oikos is what matters most, to her no human law can over turn what has been decried by the gods, and it is righteous and even honorable to defy human laws that contradict the laws of gods.
This can be seen further down in Creon and Antigone’s conversation, ” it is no shame to serve blood relatives ( Antigone pg 39 line 511)” to Antigone righteousness is upholding the laws of the gods and in this case that means disregarding Creon’s decree and burying her brother. To Creon this is treasonous, to him serving and being loyal to the Polis (society/ city) is the most righteous and honorable thing a person can do, ” you knew the order not to do this thing, and still you dared over step these laws· when you honor him and the criminal just alike ( Antigone Pg 37- 39 line 447- 449 and 516)”. I would compare Creon to a nationalist where serving and upholding the state should be everyones number one priority and anyone who breaks this law should be punished, and in Antigone’s case the punishment is death. But neither of these views are necessarily wrong. Antigone and Creon both grew up under different cultures and have radically different moral codes. In the book Creon and especially in the play ( the one we watched in Harlem) Creon was portrayed as the villain as an evil person opposing Antigone, but in his mind he had the right intentions. It is important to have laws and order, if the only laws were derived from everyone’s individual oikos laws would have no meaning. Everyone would follow their own personal laws and codes, it is important to have some kind of centralized base laws and rules for everyone. Creon is trying to uphold his version of these laws to protect the state and in his mind it righteous to do so. Frequent question I asked myself while reading was who was right or wrong who should I side with, but I could never come to an answer because they are both ” right” both thought they were righteous in their action. And at the end of the day Antigone lost her life and Creon lost his wife and his son, so who was really right ?
In Aristophanes The Clouds, the question of what is just is at the forefront of the book. The book pits to opposing views of justice, righteous and morality against each other. The Philosopher Socrates runs a school called the thinkery. A school where students are taught to use Rhetoric to argue point and bring people over to their side regardless of how moral their point is. The thinkery was created to subvert any views of objective morality. This battle of morals and thought can be seen in the battle between right and wrong.
” Right: simply by presenting the case for justice. Wrong: It’ll crumble as soon as i open my mouth. My Position is that there isn’t any such thing as justice· ” Wrong: Well, if there is, where is ti to be found. Right: With the gods, of course. Wrong: Very well, in that case, why hasn’t Zeus been destroyed for putting is father in chains (The Cloud Pg 108 Lines 900- 905).”
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