Justice In Herodotus And Aesch Essay

1374 words - 5 pages

Orestes, the Furies, Croesus, and Cyrus - What do all these disparate characters have in common? The answer is that divine justice decides the course that their lives will take. Divine justice plays a large role in both of the works that these characters are from - the Oresteia of Aeschylus and The Histories of Herodotus. However, the two works differ on what exactly constitutes divine justice, and how divine justice operates. Aeschylus would argue that divine justice is reactive. In other words, justice acts after man has committed some terrible act. Herodotus would argue that divine justice is proactive, striking before the culprit has actually sinned. Also, Aeschylus and Herodotus disagree about why divine justice affects men. Aeschylus argues that man must commit a sin for justice to be meted out. In the views of Herodotus, however, God strikes down those who are too rich and successful. It is not necessary for a man to have sinned to be punished, in the view of Herodotus. Herodotus directly tells the reader his views on divine justice through the character of Solon. Solon is one of "…the great Greek teachers of that epoch." (Histories Bk 1 Ch. 29) He was traveling around the world when he paid a visit to Croesus, the King of Lydia. Croesus gave Solon a tour of the palace, and then asked Solon a question. "Well, my Athenian friend, I have heard a great deal about your wisdom, and how widely you have traveled in the pursuit of knowledge. I cannot resist the desire to ask you a question: who is the happiest man you have ever seen?"(Histories Bk 1 Ch 30) Solon's response to this question speaks volumes about Herodotus's opinions on divine justice. The two examples that he presents of people having true happiness have one thing in common - all of the people in them are dead. Why is this significant? It is significant because in Solon's opinion, no man can be called truly happy until he is dead. "But mark this: until he is dead, keep the word 'happy' in reserve."(Histories Bk 1 Ch 32) In Solon's opinion, man cannot be truly happy until he is dead because "…God is envious of human prosperity and likes to trouble us"(Histories Bk 1 Ch 32) In other words, God strikes down those who are too rich and successful. That is why Croesus did not get the response that he wanted to hear - that he, Croesus was the happiest person Solon had ever seen. Solon expounds upon his views when he says, "Great wealth can make a man no happier than moderate means, unless he has the luck to continue in prosperity to the end."(Histories Bk 1 Ch 32) In a nutshell, Herodotus, through the character of Solon, is saying that divine justice strikes those that are too lucky. Therefore, until he is dead, no man can be called happy. Solon's views are confirmed a few pages later. "After Solon's departure nemesis fell upon Croesus, presumably because God was angry with him for supposing himself the happiest of men."(Histories Bk 1 Ch 34) Why did Croesus...

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