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... Therefore I shall not give greater weight to the death of a woman" (Eumenides 737-739). This is Athena's judgment, and it sets Orestes free not on the basis that he acted justly, but on the basis that she can "not give greater weight to the death of a woman." By using litotes, Athena belies sympathy for the female in her seemingly male-favoring judgment. In fact, the victory for Apollo and Orestes is far from complete. Before the judgment, Orestes meets the Erinyes and cries out, "O lord Apollo, see, they multiply; and they drip from their eyes a hateful stream" (Libation Bearers, 1056-1057). The Erinyes, a manifestation of the guilt Orestes feels for his mother, drive Orestes to the brink of sanity and exile him to Athens. Athena's judgment does not morally justify the murder; it only relieves Orestes of his suffering. The fact that Athena never dictates that Orestes acted with justice marks a compromised victory for Apollo and Orestes.
The Erinyes are initially compromised by their loss of honor by the release of Orestes, yet Athena grants them new power that overcomes their grief and transforms their divine duties. 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...