Timeless Agendas: Wealth and Power from The Oresteia to Today


Historically, literature and actual history itself consistently underscore a certain relationship both disturbing and not unexpected, in that extremes of power and wealth often translate to abuses faced by those lacking these elements. The forms this relationship takes are many and, in classical literature such as The Oresteia of Aeschylus, the gross disparities are marked by brutal violence and sacrifice. At the same time, different types of violence also reinforce the distinctions between the wealthy and the poor, just as all of these issues are often complicated by the state components so typically associated with the power of wealth. In general terms, what emerges is a perpetual conflict, and one in which it appears that the maintenance of wealth and power actually relies on a violent subjugation of lower classes, which is itself a form of sacrifice. As the following will explore, this is a fundamental reality whenever and wherever power exists, and modern conflicts ranging from the U.S. response to terrorism to the Occupy Wall Street movement essentially reflect this as absolutely as does the classic work of Aeschylus.


The Oresteia is a complex and classic trilogy in which personal “power plays” expand into state concerns, and what is striking about this is how the latter essentially follow the same basis of principle as the former. That is, whether the primary foundation is wealth, the power which arises from wealth, or even the personal elements associated with these forces as in Aeschylus, it appears that those with power are driven to maintain it at all costs. Social or economic disparities are generated, and to grossly disproportionate extents, because the need is felt to be so essential. This is true as Agamemnon orders the death of his own daughter, and it is true today as a fractional percentage of the population consistently seeks to secure the conditions creating its wealth and power. Inevitably, then, there is sacrifice: a child's life, the well-being of the mainstream population and, as in the state response to 9/11, civil rights and the ethics of violence as “proactive.” Modern conflicts, from the U.S. response to terrorism to the Occupy Wall Street movement, essentially reflect the truth in Aeschylus, and reinforce that power invariably demands sacrifice on some level.

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