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York University
HUMA 1825
Roger Fisher

Readings – Dr. Fisher – Law and Morality Week 2: The Furies The Furies begins with the pursuit of Orestes by the furies, mythological deities who avenge patricide and matricide. Orestes, having killed his mother in response to her murder of his father, is now tormented by these creatures, who view crimes against blood bonds as more heinous than crimes against marriage bonds. In desperation, Orestes seeks refuge at the temple of Apollo, but Apollo is only able to delay the Furies by casting a drowsy trance over them. As they sleep, the ghost of Clytemnestra, Orestes’ murdered mother, descends and urges them to resume their pursuit. They follow Orestes by smelling the blood of his dead mother in the air and by watching the trails of blood soaking the earth underneath his feet. These horrifying figures catch up with and finally surround Orestes, but at the last moment the goddess Athena intervenes. She assembles a jury of twelve Athenian peers and subjects Orestes to a trial. With Apollo defending Orestes and the Furies defending the slain Clytemnestra, the drama becomes a legal, intellectual one rather than one of violence. But as Orestes’ fate hangs in the balance, it remains to be seen whether the final verdict will appease the Furies and end the cycle of revenge. During the trial, Apollo convinces Athena that, in a marriage, the man is more important than the woman, by pointing out that Athena was born only of Zeus and without a mother. Athena casts her vote for acquittal; she does so before the votes are counted, to prevent the Erinyes from being "even more indignant." After being counted, the votes on each side are equal, thus acquitting Orestes as Athena had earlier announced that this would be the result of a tie. She then persuades the Erinyes to accept the verdict, and they eventually submit. Athena then leads a procession accompanying them to their new abode and the escort now addresses them as "Semnai" (Venerable Ones), as they will now be honored by the citizens of Athens and ensure the city's prosperity. Athena also declares that hence forth tied juries will result in the defendant being acquitted, as mercy should always take precedence over harshness. Week 3: Antigone By Sophocles After the bloody siege of Thebes by Polynices and his allies, the city stands unconquered. Polynices and his brother Eteocles, however, are both dead, killed by each other, according to the curse of Oedipus, their father. Outside the city gates, Antigone tells Ismene that Creon has ordered that Eteocles, who died defending the city, is to be buried with full honors, while the body of Polynices, the invader, is left to rot. Furthermore, Creon has declared that anyone attempting to bury Polynices shall be publicly stoned to death. Outraged, Antigone reveals to Ismene a plan to bury Polynices in secret, despite Creon's order. When Ismene timidly refuses to defy the king, Antigone angrily rejects her and goes off alone to bury her brother. Creon discovers that someone has attempted to offer a ritual burial to Polynices and demands that the guilty one be found and brought before him. When he discovers that Antigone, his niece, has defied his order, Creon is furious. Antigone makes an impassioned argument, declaring Creon's order to be against the laws of the gods themselves. Enraged by Antigone's refusal to submit to his authority, Creon declares that she and her sister will be put to death. Haemon, Creon's son who was to marry Antigone, advises his father to reconsider his decision. The father and son argue, Haemon accusing Creon of arrogance, and Creon accusing Haemon of unmanly weakness in siding with a woman. Haemon leaves in anger, swearing never to return. Without admitting that Haemon may be right, Creon amends
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