The Fourth Writing Assignment–Helen

Spring 2016 Forums Pandionis The Fourth Writing Assignment–Helen

This topic contains 7 replies, has 8 voices, and was last updated by Profile photo of Jack Anastasi Jack Anastasi 2 years, 7 months ago.

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  • #659
    Profile photo of Gwen Gruber
    Gwen Gruber
    Keymaster

    Helen is a popular figure portrayed in much classical Greek literature. In Encomium of Helen, classical rhetorician/sophist, Gorgias flexes his rhetorical skill and defends Helen. Please review sections 2-8 of Gorgias’ text, keeping in mind his characterizations of Helen. Click here for a free downloadable version.

    Euripides’ Helen provides many different characterizations of Helen from various points of view, leaving it up to the audience to decide whether his intent was to praise or blame Helen. Comparing Euripides’ characterization of Helen to Gorgias’, explain in a 300-400 word response whether Euripides’ Helen should be read as praise, blame, or some combination of the two.

    Please “reply” to this topic to post your response, rather than starting a new topic.

  • #665
    Profile photo of Omar Walker
    Omar Walker
    Participant

    A comparison between Gorgias’ Encomium and Euripides’ Helen cannot escape
    the daunting question of what made her figure such a luring subject for two Greek 
    authors of the V century BCE. The question becomes even more pressing if one considers that the Encomium and Helen share the conspicuous characteristic of representing a subversive alternative to the secular tradition of this myth, for they depict Helen, archetype of guilt and adultery, as innocent. This is even more striking, given that one is a piece of prose, and the other play. To describe the ways in and the means by which Gorgias and Euripides attend to their specific purposes will therefore be part of my present task but not before having offered first a hypothesis regarding what could have made the figure of Helen so attractive to Gorgias and Euripides. What I wish to show in the forthcoming section is that to ask the question “Why Helen?” means really to ask which one, of all her mythological traits, had the potential to provoke the attention of two authors so famously engaged with the epistemological problems of their age. The obvious traits are her beauty and the force of her seductive power. The least obvious ones, but by no means less relevant, are her association with verbal skill and the reoccurrence, in her myth, of the category of the “double”. Indeed, if Gorgias’ focuses mainly on the nature of logos, Euripides focuses mainly on Helen’s “double” nature. However, I will show that both these author have been, to different extents, engaged with both these concepts simultaneously, and to the point of turning each into a defining characteristic of the other. The resulting intertwinement of the two and the philosophical poignancy of this operation are
    the primary commonalities that make a comparison between the Encomium and Helen worth drawing.

  • #689
    Profile photo of Keaira McMiller
    Keaira McMiller
    Participant

    Both Gorgias and Euripides discuss the innocence of Helen in two different ways. In Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen he actually defends the act of Helen going to Troy with Alexander by telling of different ways that she is not to blame. Euripides’ Helen explores a different scenario, completely taking the blame away from Helen.
    In Gorgias’ 2nd-8th points he explains how her journey to Troy was not by her own free will; therefore she should not be blamed for anything. A few defenses Gorgias proposed was her “godlike beauty” (Gorgias), divine intervention, a violent kidnapping, or that Alexander had a very skilled way of speaking. Helen’s beauty could have been a curse in disguise, for she was known as the most beautiful woman in the world and of course, Aphrodite offered Alexander the most beautiful woman as a prize for judging her as the fairest of the goddesses. This ties in with the divine intervention because if Aphrodite rewarded Alexander with Helen, who is she to go against a divinity such as Aphrodite? Another defense that Gorgias proposed was that Helen went against her will or was violently kidnapped and taken back to Troy. How can we blame this woman if she was forcefully taken away? We cannot, and she should be relieved of the blame that was placed on her. The last point that was suggested was that Alexander persuaded Helen to leave Greece with him. According to Gorgias “speech is a great lord which with the most invisible and subtlest substances accomplishes the most divine works.” If Alexander was such a great speaker and fooled Helen, is it fair to put blame on her?
    Throughout Euripides’ Helen the character Helen was completely removed from the events of the Trojan war and safely placed in Egypt. Although Helen was still blamed by the people of Greece the actual wrongdoer was the goddess Hera. Hera, spiteful that Alexander did not name her as the fairest of the goddesses had Helen hidden away and an image of her was taken to Troy. This play replaced the idea of a scandalous Helen with a morally right and loyal one by explaining how she keep herself pure for Menelaus and continuously refused to marry the King Theoclymenus.

  • #691
    Profile photo of Eileen Comerford
    Eileen Comerford
    Participant

    If we are to understand Euripides’ plays in a timeline according to the order of events in each play (and according to the order in which we’re reading them in this class), I would argue that Euripides’ Helen is most definitely praising the character Helen. Since the very plot of Helen reveals that the Helen who has been questionably blamed in the previous plays was not even the real Helen, this most recent play undoubtedly frees the real Helen of all blame. If her guilty act is fleeing with Paris, and it wasn’t even Helen who did the fleeing, how could she be blamed? Helen’s innocence is clearly portrayed in Euripides’ play when Menelaus and the servant are speaking. In lines 702-704, the servant asks Menelaus, “Did [Helen] not cause the sorrows for the men in Troy?” and Menelaus answers, “She did not. We were swindled by the gods. We had our hands upon an idol made by the gods” (Euripides 50). Euripides is unmistakably depicting Helen in a blmaeless manner. Of course, on whom the blame should now be placed is an entirely different investigation, but as per Helen, it seems Euripides is convincing his audience that the perpetrator is not Helen (the real Helen). However, reading Helen as an exhibit of praise for Helen seems like a bit of a stretch. He might be indirectly praising her by way of removing her blame, but the praise is never explicit. While Euripides is not blaming Helen for the war, he certainly does not seem to be praising her at any moment in the play, either.
    On the other hand, Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen at first seems like an explicit work of praise for Helen. The very word “encomium” means a piece written to praise someone or something. However, just like Euripides’ play, Gorgias’ Encomium does not do much praising beyond removing blame from Helen. The work is introduced in a way much more passionate, as if setting the record straight, that Helen is not guilty, is the most important task Gorgias faces: “It is the duty of one and the same man both to speak the needful rightly and…to end the blame of [Helen] who has a bad reputation and by revealing her critics as liars and by demonstrating the truth to end ignorance” (Gorgias section 2). After this, though, no descriptions of direct praise are made about Helen, besides in section 4, where Gorgias describes her “godlike beauty” and men’s “desires for love.” While some might consider this a section of praise, I would argue that it couldn’t be praise, since there really is no goodness or honor in having beauty or being loved – those are simply characteristics out of Helen’s control. Thus, sections 2-8 of Gorgias’ Encomium never actively praise Helen, rather they remove blame from her, perhaps indirectly praising her, if anything.
    Therefore, I argue neither Euripides nor Gorgias necessarily praises or blames Helen in their works discussed here. Rather, they both remove blame from Helen, and as a result, indirectly praise Helen for not being guilty. She hasn’t done anything wrong, but she hasn’t done anything extraordinary, either.

  • #694
    Profile photo of Donnell Arnold
    Donnell Arnold
    Participant

    In today’s discussion it brings out how Helen is being protrayed. In Encomium of Helen, classical rhetorician/sophist, Gorgias flexes his rhetorical skill and defends Helen. However Euripides’ Helen provides many different characterizations of Helen from various points of view, leaving it up to the audience to his intent was to praise or blame Helen. In Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen he actually defends the act of Helen going to Troy with Alexander by telling of different ways that she is not to blame. In section 2 it brings out introducing some reasoning into my speech to end the blame of her who has a bad reputation and by revealing her critics as liars and by demonstrating the truth to end ignorance. Brings out how her name itself was being bashed and how her it was bashed so bad that she began to gain bad reputation for absolute no reason when the whole entire time she was back at home in Greece being faithful to her husband while he was over Troy battling for honestly no reason at all. However it was suggested was that Alexander persuaded Helen to leave Greece with him. According to Gorgias speech is a great lord which with the most invisible and subtlest substances accomplishes the most divine works. Section really stuck out to me because of what was said
    “Why and how and who sailed away taking Helen as his love I will not say. To tell the knowledgeable what they know commands trust, but brings no joy. Having gone beyond the time for the present argument, I will now proceed to the beginning of the next argument and will set forth the causes by which it is likely.”

  • #703
    Profile photo of Emily Porter
    Emily Porter
    Participant

    Helen has been one of the most dynamic characters we have studied so far. She’s characterized differently in three separate works we’ve read: Iphigenia at Aulis, Trojan Women and, of course, Helen.

    In Iphigenia at Aulis, Helen is depicted as the reason for the Trojan War and the death of Iphigenia. She is blamed and ridiculed, and seems to possess no human qualities. In reality, she’s just a figure at this point in our readings.

    In Trojan Women, Helen is also blamed for the war by both the Trojans and the Greeks. She possesses more human-like qualities here, however can and tries to blame Hecuba for giving birth to Paris. She She is depicted as the most beautiful woman in the world, and attempts to manipulate the Trojans and Greeks into thinking Paris is the one to blame.

    In Helen, Helen surprises the audience and shows remorse for her destruction. She takes the blame for her mother’s suicide and is almost obsessed with the loss of her “good name.” These are all signs of a very different and more human Helen in Euripides’ Helen.

    In these works, I believe that in Euripides’ eyes, his version of Helen is what he perceives to be the real accounts of The Trojan War. Helen develops as a character. At first, she is blamed, but then something changes. Helen feels remorse, and she truly becomes a dynamic character in Greek mythology.

  • #713
    Profile photo of Carlissa Fells
    Carlissa Fells
    Participant

    After reading Euripide’s Helen and Gorgias’ Encomium, I believe that the blame should not be placed on Helen. In Euripide play, Helen finally gets a chance to tell he side of the story. For so long we wee made to believe that Helen was “the face to launch a 1000 ships.” However, in the story Helen explains that it was gods who tricked everyone including Paris and Menelaus. During the judgement of goddesses, Aphrodite promised Helen to Paris if she was to win. Because of the this Hera and Athena became jealous and sent Helen’s real body to Egypt and created a phantom Helen to give to Paris. Everyone back in Greece believe Helen was really with Paris in Troy, including Menelaus. However, this wasn’t the real Helen.
    All of this could have been avoided had it not been for the goddesses and their jealousy. Many like to blame Helen, but once again it was divine intervention that truly caused the war. In Gorgias’ Encomium 2nd point, he explains how Helen was taken against her will. Someone taken agains their will should not be held accountable, and cannot be blamed for something she had no control over.
    I believe she was innocent. This was evident in her reaction to seeing Menelaus again. Euripides Helen was not like his other tragedies, it was somewhat of a romance with a happy ending. After so many years apart from eachother, Menelaus and Helen were finally reunited and able to escape her keeper.

  • #838
    Profile photo of Jack Anastasi
    Jack Anastasi
    Participant

    Euripides’ Helen is a poetic praising of the title character. In this work, the character of Helen is not only the main protagonist, but she is arguably the hero of the play, which is made even more shocking with the knowledge that Menelaus, the king of the mighty Spartans, is also a significant character. The play also goes to absolve Helen of any guilt her character had acquired from the events of the Trojan war. This absolution, paired with Helen’s portrayed intelligence, loyalty to her husband, and honor, are all indicators that Euripides wrote the Helen to praise the character. Her only crime, then, was being born so beautiful that she could be offered as a prize for Paris by Aphrodite. Importantly, Helen is shown to be intelligent and calm from the start. When she is whisked away to Egypt, she almost immediately adapts to her situation, and goes about securing her own safety. When the king passes away and his son wishes to marry her, Helen takes it upon herself to preserve her honor, whether that be hiding out in caves or devising a plan to escape Egypt and return home. When she and Menelaus are finally reunited, it is Helen who devises their plan of escape, and she plays the leading role in its execution. If Helen had been portrayed badly, or if this play had overall been written as a condemnation of her character, then none of these events would have been included. Helen has often been portrayed badly as manipulative, which she arguably is in this play. But, her manipulation is all in the name of preserving her honor, and eventually getting back home. If Euripides wanted two he could have had her manipulate the king and prince via temptation, which she was shown to do to the Greeks in the Odyssey. Instead, all of her usually bad traits are spun and shown in an positive light by the author, making this play a praising of her character.

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