Ensemble Performances: Architects and Justice in Athenian Drama
Among the fragments of Athenian drama one finds a few lines of tattered script belonging to a play by Aeschylus in which the activity of Dikē, the personified figure of Justice and daughter of Zeus, is arguably cast in terms of ‘architecting’. Although the textual remains of this play are slight, one can nevertheless discern from them that a pivotal scene is unfolding: Dikē, having arrived as a stranger to an unnamed land, is in the midst of persuading a group (presumably the play’s chorus) to receive her kindly. As Dikē explains, ever since Zeus ‘justly’ overcame Kronos, she has shared a place of honour on Zeus’ throne. Now, at Zeus’ bidding, she has descended from her divine seat with a beneficent intent. Prompted by questions from the chorus, Dikē pronounces her name: ‘Justice, who has the greatest primacy in heaven.’ She then elaborates on her special role, or office: for ‘the just’ she extends their ‘life in justice’; for the brash, she chastens them. How does she do this, ‘by the charms of persuasion, or by the method of force?’ the chorus asks. ‘By writing’, Dikē responds, ‘by writing their transgressions on the tablet of Zeus’, then disclosing these inscriptions at the ordained time. In the last intelligible fragments of this play, Dikē testifies to her benefits by recalling how she once reformed the most violent of gods: presumably Ares, whom she brought to trial before a divine assembly, thereby founding Athens’ first court.2 Finally we learn how Dikē is likely to be received,
for the chorus predicts that the ‘people’ will welcome this divine stranger who brings procedures for fair treatment and proof of her civilizing benefits.