Matricide and Cross-Dressing: Gender Clash in Greek Justice
When two men confront similar situations and meet distinct fates, the perennial question emerges. Why does Orestes in Aeschylus' The Eumenides win redemption, and Pentheus in Euripides' The Bacchae die ignobly? Both address the same moral dilemma between condoning retributive justice and upholding social order. Both men witness women aggressing and doling out retributive justice, and, recognizing the burden of their sex, choose to uphold male social order. The son of Agamemnon succeeds in his quest because he remains true to his masculinity and proves rational, persuasive, and resolved; conversely, effeminate Pentheus perishes because he attempts to adopt an unnatural male identity. The Eumenides and The Bacchae demonstrate that triumph goes to those who remain true to their selves.
In both plays, the abstract conflict of retributive justice versus social order becomes a concrete gender clash. The female forces of retributive justice include Clytaemnestra, the Furies, and the Maenads; the male opposition comprises Orestes, Apollo, and Pentheus, defending the testosterone-dominated status quo. As the female Chorus in The Bacchae declares,
---O Justice, principle of order, spirit of custom,
come! Be manifest; reveal...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 880 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 6849 literature essays, 1851 sample college application essays, 279 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in