CHICAGO, IL – After reexamining the trial of Socrates last year, the National
Hellenic Museum continued its court series, this time revisiting the mythological
trial of Orestes before a crowd of about 600 at the UIC Forum.
The verdict: not guilty. But coming to that conclusion was not simple. The case,
taken from Ancient playwright Aeschylus’ (525-456 BC) trilogy the Oresteia,
revolves around Orestes, who is tried for matricide after killing his mother, Queen
Clytemnestra, to avenge the murder of his father King Agamemnon. As in many
such cases, however, laws, ethics, and loyalty collide.
On one hand, Agamemnon, who has sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to the
gods in exchange for favorable winds to launch his fleet toward Troy, comes back
to his family with a Trojan princess as his concubine. On the other, he has
returned to an angry wife who, with the assistance of her younger lover, a
nephew, slays her husband.
Orestes returns to his homeland to find his family situation in shambles and is
plagued with guilt, not knowing how he ought to react. Should he avenge his
father’s death? According to the law of the gods, he must. That means, however,
that he would have to kill his own mother, something forbidden by the gods. He
decides on the former and slays Clytemnestra with the help of his sister Electra.
Orestes is then chased by the Maenads, angry spirits who vie for his blood. The
situation, taken by Apollo before the rest of the Greek gods, represents one of
the earliest known “documented” trials. Revisited in front of a modern audience
with professional prosecutors, Orestes was let off the hook, but just as in the
Oresteia, there was stark opposition.
“Orestes was totally guilty. Ridiculously guilty. Incredibly guilty,” said Angelo
Kokkino, president at Ghafari Associates and a prosecutor at the trial. “Anyone
who killed anybody else is guilty of killing somebody else. It’s as simple as that,”
Still, the majority of the crowd agreed that Orestes, caught up in all the drama he
inherited from the condemned House of Atreus, was treated unfairly by the
Maenads who wanted his head on a platter.
“This thing was like a football game. Nobody was paying attention to the rules.
Everybody was committing penalties, no penalties were being called, and then all
of a sudden at the end they’re like ‘oops we’re going to catch this last guy,’” said
John Corkery, Dean at John Marshall Law School, who served on the jury and
voted not guilty.
Defendants claimed that Ancient Greece represented a patriarchal society that
considered the mother figure as more of an incubator. Therefore, Clytemnestra’s
murder was not as great of a deal as that of Agamemnon’s. Additionally, they
mentioned that back then, listening to the gods was a “do or die” situation, and
higher order rules applied to Orestes, which only forced him to go through with
the murder. Lastly, defendants argued that Orestes was being treated unfairly
since none of the others involved were being punished for their terrible actions.
Prosecutors argued that Orestes did not even try bargaining his way out of
having to kill his own mother to satisfy avenging his father. Rather, he asked the
gods for help in committing the crime he is fully responsible for. Judge Charles Kocoras didn’t buy Orestes’ excuse of “they made me do it.”
Bringing up the example of the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi Germany, Kocoras
stated that it is better to kill oneself if forced by others to kill another person.
Judge William Bauer rebutted, bringing up a personal example of the intense
pressures one faces when having to choose between killing, and getting killed.
Then the tables turned to the audience and all cast their vote, a blue token for
“guilty” and a white token for “innocent.” Tokens were weighed on a scale of
justice, and the results were very favorable for Orestes.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the results,” said Elif Senturk, student and vice
president of DePaul University’s Classics Club. “Clytemnestra was a
questionable character at the very least so Orestes was very much justified,” she
“I believe that given the standards of the ancient times, that Orestes was not
guilty,” said Mary Giannetos, a grade school teacher, “I believe that there is a
higher god, one that rises above the human laws. Orestes was acting by the
command of the higher gods and given that, he did the right things for his time.”
“It’s really dangerous for you to go against the perspective of the gods, and that’s
not a life that anyone wants. I understood why Orestes chose to kill his mother
and I do agree that she was guilty herself of committing heinous crimes,” said
Paulina Kijek, student and president of DePaul University’s Classics Club. “When
Agamemnon chose to kill his daughter, that was a sacrifice to the gods, that was
not a murder. Clytemnestra wanted to keep the palace, the wealth, and power.
Orestes killed her to avenge his father. There is a huge difference between each
one of those,” she said.
The validity of the charges were decided by sixteen distinguished Chicago
citizens including J.P. Anderson, Editor-In-Chief, Michigan Avenue Magazine;
Louis G. Apostol, Executive Director & General Counsel, Illinois Property
Tax Appeal Board; Alderman Walter Burnett, Jr., 27th Ward, City of Chicago; John
Corkery, Dean, The John Marshall Law School; Anna Davlantes, Chicago
Journalist; Dean R. Glassberg, Regional President – First Midwest Bank; Angelo
Kokkino, President Ghafari Associates; Eleni Kouimelis, Partner, Winston &
Strawn & President-Elect, Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois; Annie Kuhlman,
American Bar Association; Hon. Anthony C. Kyriakopoulos, Circuit Judge, Circuit
Court of Cook, County State of Illinois; Dan Mihalopoulos, Chicago Sun-Times;
Dr. Sara Monoson, Professor of Political Science and Classics, Northwestern
University; Dr. Robin Rhodes, Archaeologist and Historian of Classical Art &
Architecture, University of Notre Dame; A. Thomas Skallas, Partner Thompson
Coburn LLP, President, Hellenic Bar Association of Illinois & Vice-Chairman,
National Hellenic Museum; Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times; Larry Yellen,
Anchor, Fox News.
A closing reception followed the trial. The National Hellenic Museum plans to
make the trial series an annual event, said Director Connie Mourtoupalas. For
more information on Museum events and exhibits, visit