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Encomium of Helen
Transcript of Encomium of Helen
"God's predetermination cannot be hindered
by human premeditation"
"Honored with praise if praiseworthy"
"incur blame if unworthy"
"blame the praisable and to praise the blamable"
Food for Thought: Contemplate the Following
By John, Danya, and Nicholette
Gorgias of Leontini Bio
Gorgias was a pre-Socratic sophist from the Greek colony of Leontini in Sicily.
He was sent to Athens when he was about sixty years old to ask for Greek protection from hostile invaders. He stayed in Greece because he started to make money teaching rhetoric.
He would recruit students from the various festivals and contests that surrounded the panhellenic games. Basically, he would solicit different topics from the audience and give extemporaneous speeches about them, kind of like freestyle rappers do today.
Apparently, he made a great deal of money doing this because, upon his death at a reported 108 years old, his sister had a solid gold statue of him installed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi, one of the venues for these types of contests.
He is considered a nihilist because he did not teach virtue above all things. He held that virtue was specific to the situation and the individual. For example, the virtues of a soldier are inherently different than the virtues of a farmer.
First of all, the whole story of the Trojan war was a legend and therefore only loosely, if at all, based on facts.
Helen of Troy was the daughter of the Spartan king, Tyndareus, and his wife Leda, but, according to a 5th century B.C. play by Euripides, Leda is said to have conceived Helen with Zeus while He was in the guise of a swan. According to the myth, she laid an egg and hatched Helen.
When Helen came of age, she had many suitors, including Odysseus, but her father Tyndareus, ultimately chose a Mycenaen prince named Menelaus. Helen and Menelaus soon became the rulers of Sparta after Tyndareus abdicated the throne.
The other suitors agreed that they would defend Menelaus’ claim at all costs, an agreement which led ultimately to the infamous “launch of a thousand ships” that initiated the Trojan War.
Paris was a Trojan prince from a region in present-day Turkey. According to the legend he was asked by the gods to choose the most beautiful goddess. Aphrodite bribed him to choose her by guaranteeing that she would provide him with the most beautiful woman on Earth. Later, he went to Sparta under the auspices of a diplomatic mission and either persuaded Helen to come back to Troy with him or abducted her outright.
The Greeks and Spartans vilified Helen for abandoning her husband and people.
So...Gorgias’ defense of her was tantamount to walking into a mega-church today and convincing the members that it wasn’t Eve’s fault in the garden, or persuading a bunch of Beatles fans that it wasn’t Yoko’s fault that the band broke up.
*"For either by will of Fate and decision of the gods and vote of Necessity did she do what she did, or by force reduced or by words seduced of by love possessed."
Argument One: She was Fated
God is a force stronger in might and wit then man, arguing that the strong are not hindered by the weak, but rather the weaker are over ruled by the stronger and follow the stronger lead.
Gorgias conclusion: "If blame is placed on Fate and god, then Helen is free from disgrace."
Argument four: She was compelled by love
Two different Perspectives:
“For if it was love which did all these things, there will be no difficulty in escaping the charge of the sin which is alleged to have taken place.”
"For the things we see do not have the nature which we wish them to have, but the nature which each actually has. Through sight the soul receives an impression even in its inner features."
"If, therefore, the eye of Helen, pleased by the figure of Alexander, presented to her soul eager desire and contest of love, what wonder?"
1) "If, being a god, love has the divine power of the gods, how could a
lesser being reject and refuse it?”
2)“ If it is a disease of human origin and fault of the soul, it should not be
blamed as a sin, but regarded as an affliction”
1) Do you agree that Helen is at fault for the Trojan War?
2) Does Gorgias present a persuasive agrument pleading Helen's case?
3) Among Gorgias four arguments, which do you find most plausible or compelling?
Argument 3: Power of Words
"For speech constrained the soul, persuading it which it persuaded, both to believe the things said and to approve the things done. The persuader, like a constrainer, does the wrong and the persuaded, like the constrained, in speech is wrongly charged."
Argument 2: She Was Forced
"But if she was raped by violence and illegally assaulted and unjustly insulted, it is clear that the raper, as the insulter, did the wronging, and the raped, as the insulted, did the suffering"
If Helen was forced to do her bad deeds by an outside source against her will, then her bad deeds are not her fault but that of the outside force.
“Speech is a powerful lord, which by means of the finest and most invisible body effects the divinest works: it can stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity.”
“The effect of speech upon the soul is comparable to the power of drugs over the nature of bodies.”
Speech is powerful enough to persuade someone to do something that they might not normally do. If that is the case, the person being persuaded isn't wrong, but the person doing the persuading is in the wrong.