Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

Orestes pursued by the Erinyes (or Furies) for revenging the death of his  father Agamemnon by killing his mother Clytemnestra). From “Mythology of ...
Orestes being tormented by the “furies” after avenging his father’s death.

The Greek poet and playwright Aeschylus wrote “The Libation Bearers” as a sequel to “Agamemnon”. Its name comes from the ancient Greek religious practice of Libation, which is a basic showing of piety that you do often to appease the gods and dead humans. In the story, the dead were not being appeased because libations were not offered. Differing from “Agamemnon”, the chorus is made up of captured Trojan slaves who converted to Greek religion. 

In this play Zeus is once again in charge, yet seems to always be in the background instead of making every decision. Still, everyone praises Zeus since this was basic to Greek thought. The god Apollo is the most important of the Olympians in this play. Orestes, Agamemnon’s son, promises Apollo that he will kill his father’s murderers, but Apollo has to validate the legitimacy of this oath. He eventually does at the conclusion. There is another set of gods called the “furies” or “hounds.” They are gods of retribution and avenge people who have been murdered. Described as being relentless in their revenge, they are feared by the characters. 

One of the other vital Olympian gods in “The Libation Bearers” is Hermes who is a messenger of Zeus to the underground gods. He is known as a trickster and will sometimes change Zeus’ message to get what he wants. There are gods of the “hearth” who provide the well-being and success of each individual family, and they are the ones that must be offered Libations. Fate, time, fear, and justice are described as invisible forces or gods themselves. Like in “Agamemnon”, bloodshed is dealt with by more bloodshed; justice is constant and merciless. Fate is a large part of the story; the outcome of men’s actions depend on it. The succession of Agamemnon’s family is unclear and we don’t know if Orestes becomes the ruler, but in the end, Orestes kills his father’s murderers fulfilling the oath. 

Ethics and Imagery in Biblical Literature

Depiction of King Solomon.

In the Bible, there are several focuses. However, they all ultimately fall under the umbrella of ethics. Time and time again, the book of Proverbs states that ethics is not only the answer to the issues of life, but also that an ethical person will acquire wisdom. 

The words of God are pure and never unethical. All power of earthly rulers is given to them from God. “By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.” A king should avoid liquor or drinking and only marry a virtuous woman. She is a treasure, for she never stops serving others. 

Obviously, wisdom is vital throughout the Bible, partly because wisdom and ethics are intertwined. Those who hate wisdom love death. Wisdom speaks plainly, is the source of all wealth, foundation of civil rulership, and was the basis of creation. Solomon suggests constantly throughout Proverbs that wisdom is necessary beyond any earthly thing or pleasure. Drawing connections between wisdom and ethics is simple: a wise person will always choose the ethical choice and vice versa. Other themes in Proverbs include the self-destructive nature of adultery and fornication, and how the Lord ought to be feared. 

Proverbs contains heaps of powerful imagery. Many are metaphors for wisdom, which is described as “marrow to one’s bones,” “more precious than rubies,” and “the tree of life.” In contrast when describing those who hate wisdom, it says that they will be “swallowed by the graves,” “destruction will come upon them like a whirlwind,” “their ways are the ways of darkness,” “wisdom cries in the streets for them because they have become the bread of wickedness and the wine of violence.”

Proverbs, and the Bible in general, overwhelmingly deals with matters of ethics. Solomon continuously states that those who follow God’s laws and are ethical will be saved, but evil is suicidal to those who hate wisdom and goodness. 

The Government, Laws, and Culture of Ancient Athens

Draco of Athens.

In ancient Greece, Athens was the leading city-state. Although Sparta’s military was arguably the strongest, Athens had been developing all aspects of civilization. Athens had a unique government, laws, and entertainment. However, the people of Athens would soon be tested when the great Persian Empire attempted to invade the Greek mainland. 

In 621 BC, a man named Draco established a new justice system for the city of Athens. Before Draco, the families of murder victims or other violent crimes took it upon themselves to punish the perpetrator. Draco understood that families would still want to enact vengeance upon the person who harmed their loved one, but wished to create an unified justice and trial system. To attempt to satisfy the families, particularly harsh and heinous punishments were implemented. Later in 594 BC, Solon reformed Draco’s laws and lessened the severity of punishments. He also canceled all public or private debts, freed debt slaves in Athens, and changed the criteria for political participation from ancestry to wealth. Before Solon, only individuals born into certain families had a say in the government, but it was changed so the rich or property owners also had representation. 

The government of Athens consisted of the Assembly, the Council of Five Hundred, the courts, and the magistrates. All male citizens were members of the Assembly. However the Council of Five Hundred and the courts were made up of random men chosen from the citizen body. The magistrates were the highest authority in Athens and were either elected or chosen officials. A common punishment issued by the Athenian people was ostracism. This was the practice of exiling a citizen for 10 years if 6,000 or more citizens wrote his name on a pottery shard. There did not have to be concrete evidence that this person committed any sort of crime, but if 6,000 Athenians wanted him gone, he would be banished.

Athens, like many others of its day, was a slave society. The enslaved were former POWs, criminals, victims of slave raids, or debt slaves, before Solon’s reforms. Because slaves usually did all the manual labor, labor of any sort was looked down upon in society. To labor with one’s hands was to degrade oneself to the level of a slave. Therefore, it was not acceptable for a citizen to labor. Similarly, trade and commerce were also held in contempt. Merchants were seen as untrustworthy liars and were generally scolded by the populus. 

A career in the military was praised and encouraged in Athens, though not forced like in Sparta. Athens’ military might was especially impressive in regards to their navy. During the Persian Wars, the Athenian navy bested the Persian navy on numerous occasions, establishing themselves as the preeminent naval power of their time. 

Athens was an influential civilization in many ways. From becoming the first democracy to expanding navy warfare, it’s hard to deny the city’s historical reputation. Although at one point being the leading Greek city-state, long wars with Persia and Sparta would soon weaken Athens, ending their golden age.