Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

IF the curse over Northern Ireland is finally to end, breaking the long cycle of bloody vendetta in which the IRA and Unionists have been engaged, both sides had better read Aeschylus' great trilogy Oresteia (458 BC), in which the avenging Furies can be fruitfully seen as IRA/Sinn Fein.

The Oresteia deals with a curse descending through the ancient house of Atreus. As the revenge killings multiply and the bewildered characters wonder where it will all end, Orestes, pursued by the Furies for killing his mother Clytemnestra, arrives in democratic Athens and there, by a new legal process, overseen by Athena, in the first ever homicide court consisting of Athenian jurors, is acquitted.

If the trilogy had ended there, one could reasonably argue that Aeschylus was depicting the development of a system of punishment whose object was, as Lord Chief Justice Lane asserted in Regina v. Darby, 16 December 1986, 'to prevent, so far as possible, the victims of crime from taking matters into their own hands'. That is the only way to break a vendetta - take it out of the hands of the injured individuals and let a democratic court of law, which cannot be part of a vendetta sequence, decide the rights and wrongs.

But the trilogy does not end there. …

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