The Judgment of Athena in Oresteia

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The Judgment of Athena in Oresteia

Athena resolves the conflicts of the Oresteia with an ambiguous judgment that seems to satisfy all parties involved. However, in any conflict, at least one party must make sacrifices to work toward a resolution. Athena achieves her paradoxical result by misleading Apollo to think that he has received total victory in judgment and by offering compensatory powers to the Erinyes, thus creating an illusion of satisfaction for all amidst a reality of compromise.

Athena first addresses Apollo's argument of the superiority of paternity, but she allows compromise by never fully admitting that Clytemnestra's murder was morally justified. Initially, Athena announces, "I approve the male in all things...
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Although Orestes departs without a judgment of justice, the Erinyes nonetheless cry out, "I am bereft of honor, unhappy one!" (Eumenides 780). On the surface, it appears that Athena's judgment, by granting greater importance to paternity and the male gender roles of Apollo and Orestes, has compromised the honor of the female Erinyes, who were acting on behalf of the significance of Clytemnestra's maternity. Athena replies by saying, "In all justice I promise you shall have a seat and a cavern in this righteous land," (Eumenides 804-805). Here, Athena offers the Erinyes justice, which she denied Orestes. This offer convinces the Erinyes to change their ancient ways to become part of the newer Olympian order by serving as protecting goddesses of Athens. This agreement parallels one of the main themes of the Oresteia: just as justice progresses from a system of blood guilt to a more civilized trial system, so the Erinyes progress from the old generation of earth gods to become a part of the new Olympian order.

Athena herself participates in the judgement not as an unbiased arbiter of justice, but as a participant in the conflict who compromises and gains advantage from the consequences of her judgment just as Apollo, Orestes, and the Erinyes did. Athena judges with the interest of Athens, her city, in mind. When her judgment releases Orestes, he promises that "if they [his descendants] always honor this city of Pallas with the spear of allies,
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