Unnatural Crimes and Artificial Justice
The cycles of violence and revenge that convulse the House of Atreus differ from other tit-for-tat feuds of the Hatfields-versus-McCoys sort by taking place all within one family. What would be heinous crimes no matter who committed them against whom (murder, cannibalism) become abominations when committed against close family members: what Roman law would classify as unnatural crimes because they violate the bonds among close kin allegedly observed even by animals. Parricide surpasses homicide. This is not the only intra-family dispute at the heart of The Eumenides: the Erinyes, themselves the product of the titan Cronos’s castration of his father Uranus, clash with the gods Apollo and Athena, respectively their great-nephew and -niece, as older generation squares off against younger generation of deities. Athena proposes to put an end to both cycles of intra-family hatred and violence by the artificial mechanism of enlisting the Athenians as both jurors in the case of Orestes and new hosts for the Erinyes. Paradoxically, the Dea ex machina turns over divine authority to oversee justice, even among the immortals, to human beings. Will it work? Should it work?
Lorraine Daston, emeritus Director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and Visiting Professor at the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago. In 2018 she was awarded the Dan David Prize in the History of Science. She has published on a wide range of topics in the history of science, including probability and statistics, evidence, wonder and curiosity, the moral authority of nature, anthropomorphism, and scientific images. Recent books include: Objectivity (with Peter Galison, 2007); Histories of Scientific Observation (co-edited with Elizabeth Lunbeck, 2011); and How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind: The Strange Career of Cold War Rationality (with Paul Erikson et al., 2014). Recent books include Science in the Archives (2017) as well as Gegen die Natur (2018; English edition Against Nature, 2019).