“Justice is a theme of all great literature” Is justice more important in the Odyssey or the Aeneid?

Justice comes from actions and decisions being balanced, in that when someone does a good thing, they are rewarded, and when they do something bad, they are punished. It is the gods’ primary role to hand out justice and make sure everybody is treated fairly. This theme appears immediately in the Odyssey, as Zeus is considering the story of Aegisthus, who courted Agamemnon’s wife and then killed Agamemnon. Aegisthus was killed for this treacherous act. This story of justice shows us instantly that the Odyssey will be strongly structured around it. “May all who act as he did share his fate!” says Athene. This shows how openly the gods in the Odyssey despised the works of those who went against the will of the gods. Both Nestor and Menelaus repeat this story of Aegisthus, and as god fearing men, they know how important it is to stay on their right side because they know what happens as a result of an imbalance in terms of justice.

The Aeneid opens however and we’re told that the poem is based on the founding of Rome and the main string of ‘justice’ seems to be coming from one scorned goddess, who simply doesn’t want her favourite city to be destroyed. The balance she tries to restore is simply an act of revenge rather than actual justice, and rather than convincing the other gods it’s the right thing to do, she simply bribes Aeolus. Justice is however looked upon a little while later as Venus goes to Jupiter and asks why the Trojans are being made to suffer after doing nothing wrong. Jupiter tells her not to fear as justice will be done and Rome will be founded. Such behaviour seems to recur constantly throughout the Aeneid. For example, in book 8 we learn of the betrayal that a Tuscan tribe suffered at the hands of Mezentius, and in book 9 he continues his evil ways killing Trojans. The Gods have decided to stay out of the battle and so the following events have nothing to do with the justice that is familiar in epic poems. Both Mezentius and his son Lausus are killed, by Aeneid. I see these deaths as acts of revenge rather than justice, although Lausus’ death is more deserving. The death of his son is Mezentius’ true punishment. I see these deaths as acts of revenge because Mezentius tried to kill Aeneid, as well as all the other innocent people and the treachery he brought upon the aforementioned Tuscan tribe, and so Aeneas kills them. The fact that the innocent Lausus dies shows that the ‘justice’ portrayed in the Aeneid is much more malicious, and it doesn’t just affect the culprit. There’s also the case of the unfortunate people in the underworld that must wait 100 years to cross the river, through no fault of their own. Justice really does seem obscure in the Aeneid. Another instance of this is when the people of Carthage feel Dido’s death was just, simply because she fell in love with the wrong man, and through no fault of her own. I believe Turnus’ death to be the best example of the incomprehensible justice served in the Aeneid. His justice only prevails once they see fit, once it fits in with their plans. In the end, it becomes obvious that while justice is a powerful motivator and regulator in the lives of mortals, it is the will of the immortals that truly controls their lives, and their disfigured system of justice

On the other hand, there are moments when actual justice is served. Examples include the groups beyond the river in the underworld and the story of Hercules and the giant for example. He goes to extreme lengths to kill the giant for all the robbery and murder he’s committed, and it’s just that Hercules puts a stop to it, even though it’s brought about by someone who isn’t quite immortal, and so possibly not what the gods perceive as justice. Although we’ve already established that the gods’ perspective is fairly warped in the Aeneid. The other case of actual justice involves king Minos, who spends eternity hearing the cases of people, unjustly executed, and finally getting the plea their cases. They are finally being treated fairly, even if it is beyond life.

In the Odyssey however, deaths and misfortunes seem to come about through the idea of justice, and nothing else- no malicious or unfair punishments seem to prevail i.e. there seems to be a point behind them, rather than them just being malicious acts of immortals. For example, Zeus becomes angered at Odysseus because his men eat the sun god’s cattle, despite being warned not to; however he doesn’t let Odysseus die, because the sun god only asks that the crew be punished, because after all, Odysseus did warn them. However he does unavoidably get caught in the cross fire and this is how he winds up on Calypso’s island in the first place. Another example is Poseidon. He makes Odysseus’ aqua adventures a nightmare because he impairs Poseidon’s son Polyphemus’ vision, which goes against the rules of Xenia really. It is of course, Odysseus’ own fault because he becomes arrogant about what he did to Polyphemus, by telling him his name, after he’s left. Therefore it’s just and fair to punish him. Even though he’s such a great hero, he does a wrong act and is punished as any other man would be. Then of course, there is the case of the suitors; the epic conclusion to the Odyssey. Odysseus finally returns to find all the suitors and some of the maids running riot in his home, having raunchy sex, eating all the food, and drinking away his wealth. Odysseus is of course a bit bothered by this, so he decides, and Athene, who borrows Mentor’s image again, agrees that he, Telemachus and a couple of close friends will pick up their weapons and launch them through any part of the suitors they see fit. The fact that Athene helps proves that the act is just. Rarely do gods help out in a way that we can perceive as just in the Aeneid, because most of the time, the punishments are just vicious or over-exaggerated. So anyway, Telemachus sees to it that the ill-mannered maids are hung until they stop twitching, and Odysseus destroys all the suitors so that he and Penelope can live happily ever after, as they justly deserve. By the end of homer’s poem, everyone has been served the justice they’ve earned, both good and bad.

I think it’s fair to say that justice is very important in both plays, but as a modern day reader, it’s easier to understand the justice in the Odyssey because at times, the events in the Aeneid seem so obscure.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *