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—Thucydides, The Peloponnesian Wars

Thus did every type of bad practice take root in Greece, fed by these civil wars. Openness, which is the largest part of noble character, was laughed down; it vanished. Mistrustful opposition of spirit carried the day, destroying all trust. To reconcile them no speech was strong enough, no oath fearful enough. All of them alike, when they got the upper hand, calculating that security was not to be hoped for, became more intent on self-protection than they were capable of trust.

Hecuba’s Transformation

it is the end of the Trojan War. Hecuba, the noble queen of Troy, has endured many losses: her husband, her children, her fatherland, destroyed by fire. And yet she remains an admirable person—loving, capable of trust and friendship, combining autonomous action with extensive concern for others. But then she suffers a betrayal that cuts deep, traumatizing her entire personality. A close friend, Polymestor, to whom she has entrusted the care of her last remaining child, murders the child for money. That is the central event in Euripides’s Hecuba (424 BCE), an anomalous version of the Trojan war story, shocking in its moral ugliness, and yet one of the most insightful dramas in the tragic canon.


From the moment Hecuba learns of Polymestor’s betrayal, she is a different person. Unable to repose any trust in anyone, unwilling to be persuaded, she becomes utterly solipsistic and dedicates herself entirely to revenge. She murders Polymestor’s children and puts out his eyes—symbolizing, it would seem, the total extinction of their relationship of mutuality and care, as well as her own refusal of friendly reciprocal vision. Polymestor wanders onstage blind, crawling on all fours like the beast he always was. At the end of the play, it is prophesied that Hecuba will be transformed into a dog—an animal the Greeks (wrongly) associated with rabid pursuit of prey and a total lack of interpersonal concern. As Dante summarizes her story in the Inferno, “deranged, she barked like a dog: so far had anguish twisted her mind.”

Hecuba is not just grief-stricken: she is stricken, as well, in the very core of her moral personality. She can no longer sustain virtues that used to define her as a human being, friend, and citizen. In depicting her transformation, Euripides clearly inverts the mythic creation of citizenship and human community depicted in the final drama of Aeschylus’s Oresteia (458 BCE), by then a famous creation story of the Athenian democracy. Initially the Furies, grim goddesses of revenge, are said to be like dogs, sniffing after their prey, incapable of love or justice. But at the end of the play, they agree to trust the promises of goddess Athena and to adopt a new way of thinking characterized by “mildness of temper” and “a mindset of communal friendship.” They stand up, receive the robes of adult citizens, and celebrate the law-abiding justice of the city.

Aeschylus’s moral is that a political community must abandon the obsessive pursuit of revenge and adopt an idea of justice that is both law-governed and welfare-oriented, focusing not on hunting one’s prey but on deterring bad behavior and producing prosperity. For Euripides, however, moral trauma can cause the collapse of trust and the otherregarding virtues, producing a revenge-obsessed parody of real justice.

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Anger looms large in our public lives. Should it? Reflecting on two millennia of debates about the value of anger, Agnes Callard contends that efforts to distinguish righteous forms of anger from unjust vengeance, or appropriate responses to wrongdoing from inappropriate ones, are misguided. What if, she asks, anger is not a bug of human life, but a feature—an emotion that, for all its troubling qualities, is an essential part of being a moral agent in an imperfect world? And if anger is both troubling and essential, what then do we do with the implications: that angry victims of injustice are themselves morally compromised, and that it might not be possible to respond rightly to being treated wrongly? As Callard concludes, “We can’t be good in a bad world.” The contributions that follow explore anger in its many forms—public and private, personal and political—raising an issue that we must grapple with: Does the vast well of public anger compromise us all? FORUM Lead essay by Agnes Callard. Responses by Paul Bloom, Elizabeth Bruenig, Desmond Jagmohan, Daryl Cameron & Victoria Spring, Myisha Cherry, Jesse Prinz, Rachel Achs, Barbara Herman, Oded Na’aman. Final response by Agnes Callard. ESSAYS Judith Butler interviewed by Brandon M. Terry, David Konstan, Martha C. Nussbaum, Whitney Phillips, Amy Olberding.