Justice in Herodotus and Aesch

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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...