Justice and joy

Violence is Impiety’s child, true to its roots
but the spirit’s great good health breeds all we love
and all our prayers call down,
prosperity and peace.

All in all I tell you people,
bow before the altar of the rights,
revere it well.
Never trample it underfoot, your eyes set on spoils;
revenge will hunt the godless day and night –
the destined end awaits.
So honour your parents first with reverence, I say,
and the stranger guest you welcome to your house,
turn to attend his needs,
respect his sacred rights.

All of your own free will, all uncompelled,
be just and you will never want for joy,
you and your kin can never be uprooted from the earth.
But the reckless one – I warn the marauder
dragging plunder, chaotic, rich beyond all rights:
he’ll strike his sails,
harried at long last,
stunned when the squalls of torment break his spars to bits.

He cries to the deaf, he wrestles walls of sea
sheer whirlpools down, down, with the gods’ laughter
breaking over the man’s hot heart – they see him flailing, crushed.
The one who boasted never to shipwreck
now will never clear the cape and steer for home,
who lived for wealth,
golden his life long,
rams on the reef of law and drowns unwept, unseen.

(Aeschylus, The Eumenides, trans. Robert Fagles, lines 542–71)

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