Thursday, June 27, 2013

Gorgias: Encomium of Helen

Encomium of Helen
Gorgias of Leontini

Gorgias, the most famous rhetorician of the late fifth-century, composed this speech as for his own pleasure, using perhaps as an example of argument for his pupils. In the speech he attempts to vindicate Helen of Troy, absolving her of blame in causing the famed Trojan War. Helen —according to the populace’s belief— was seduced and taken from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta, by the Trojan prince Paris. You can enjoy Gorgia's speech as he wrote it; we usually know Gorgias because of Plato's dialogue Gorgias--which isn't the same thing.

The following is my adaptation of Gorgia's Encomium of Helen into contemporary English.

(1) What is becoming to a city is order, to a body beauty, to a soul wisdom, to an action virtue, to a speech truth; unbecoming to all these are their opposites. A man, woman, speech, deed, and object should be honored with praise if they are praiseworthy and blamed if unworthy, for it is equally a mistake to blame the praiseworthy and to praise the blamable.

(2) An upright man has the duty to speak what is right and refute what is unfairly spoken. Therefore it is right to refute those who malign Helen —a woman about whom the testimony of inspired poets has become univocal and unanimous— since the mere mention of her name bears a reminder of misfortunes. For my part, by introducing some reasoning into my speech, I wish to free the accused Helen of blame and, having reproved her detractors show them as liars, freeing her from their ignorance.

(3) Now it is well known to all that in nature and in birth the woman who is the subject of this speech is the most preeminent among preeminent of all men and women. It is clear that her mother was Leda, and her rather was in fact a god, Zeus; though an alleged mortal, Tyndareus, legend says is also her father. The former was shown to be her father because indeed he was and the latter was disproved. Tyndareus was the most powerful of men and Zeus the Lord of all.

(4) Born from such stock, she had a goddess-like beauty, which was not concealed but revealed. In many she aroused much desire for her, and her one single body was the magnet for bringing together many bodies of men full of great thoughts, of great deeds, many of whom had had greatness of wealth, others the glory of ancient nobility, still others the vigor of personal agility, and some the command of acquired knowledge. And all came because of a passion which longs to conquer and an unconquerable desire for honor.

(5) Who it was and why and how he sailed away, taking Helen as his love, I shall not say. To tell the knowing what they know shows it is right but brings no pleasure. Having gone beyond the time set for my speech, I shall go on to the beginning of my future speech, and I shall propose the likely reasons for Helen's voyage to Troy.

(6) Either by will of Fate, or the decision of the gods, or vote of Necessity, Helen did what she did, or she was forced, seduced by words, or possessed by love. Now if through the first, it is right for the responsible one to be blamed and not Helen, for god's predetermination cannot be hindered by human premeditation. For it is the nature of things that the strong cannot be hindered by the weak, but for the weaker to be ruled and drawn by the stronger, and for the stronger to lead and the weaker to follow. God is a stronger force than man in might and in wit and in other ways. It follows then that one must place blame on Fate and on a god—one must free Helen from disgrace.

(7) But if she was raped by violence and illegally assaulted and unjustly insulted, it is clear that the violator, as the insulter, did the wronging, and the raped, as the insulted, did the suffering. It is right then for the barbarian who undertook a barbaric undertaking in word, law, and deed deserves blame in word, exclusion in law, and punishment in deed. And surely it is proper for a woman raped and robbed of her country and deprived of her loved ones to be pitied rather than slander. He did the dreadful deeds; she suffered them. It is just therefore to pity her and to hate him.

(8) But if it was speech which persuaded her and deceived her heart, it isn’t difficult to defend her and to erase blame as follows. Speech is a powerful master which by means of the finest and most invisible body achieves the most divine works: it can stop fear and banish grief and create joy and nurture pity. I shall show how this is the case.

(9) I must offer proof to change the opinion of my hearers: I both perceive and define poetry as speech with meter. Fearful shuddering and tearful pity and grievous longing come upon its hearers, and at the actions and physical sufferings of others in good fortunes and in evil fortunes, through the agency of words, the soul is caused to experience a suffering of its own. But come, I shall turn from one argument to another.

(10) Sacred incantations sung with words are bearers of pleasure and banishers of pain, since in merging with opinion in the soul, the power of the incantation works to beguile it and persuade it and alter it by enchantment. In the discovered twin arts of witchcraft and magic: one consists of errors of soul and the other of deceptions of opinion.

(11) Many men persuade people of things to do by crafting a false argument. For if all men on all subjects had both memory of things past and awareness of things present and foreknowledge of the future, speech would not be same as we know it, since as things are now it is not easy for them to recall the past nor to consider the present nor to predict the future. So that on most subjects most men accept opinion as counselor to their soul, but since opinion is slippery and insecure it casts those employing it into slippery and insecure successes.

(12) What reason then prevents the conclusion that Helen, similarly against her
will, might have come under the influence of speech, just as if ravished by the force of a violent violator? For it was possible to see how the force of persuasion prevails; persuasion has the form as compulsion, but it does not have the same power. For speech constrained the soul, persuading it both to believe the things said and to approve the things done. The persuader, like a constrainer, is the wrongdoer and the persuaded, like the constrained, is the victim because she was compelled by speech.

(13) To understand that persuasion, when added to speech, is bound to impress the soul as it wishes, one must study: first, the arguments of Astronomers who, substituting opinion for opinion, taking away one but creating another, make what is incredible and unclear seem true to the eyes of opinion; then, second, logically necessary debates in which a single speech, written with art but not spoken with truth, pleases a great crowd and persuades; and, third, the verbal disputes of philosophers in which the swiftness of thought is also shown to alter the belief based on opinion.

(14) The effect of speech upon the condition of the soul is comparable to the power of drugs over the nature of bodies. For just as different drugs dispel different secretions form the body, and some bring an end to disease and others to life, so also in the case of speeches, some distress, others delight, some cause fear, others make the hearers bold, and some drug and benumb the soul with a kind of evil persuasion.

(15) It has been explained that if Helen was persuaded by speech she did not do wrong but was unfortunate. I shall discuss the fourth cause in a fourth argument. For if it was love which did all these things, there will be no difficulty in exonerating her of 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.

(16) When rivals in war buckle on their warlike accouterments of bronze and steel, some designed for defense, others for offense, if the sight sees this, immediately it is alarmed and it alarms the soul, so that often men flee, panic stricken from future danger as though it were present. For strong as is the habit of obedience to the law, it is ejected by fear resulting from sight, which coming to a man causes him to be indifferent both to what is judged honorable because of the law and to the advantage to be derived from victory.

(17) It has happened that people, after having seen frightening sights, have also lost presence of mind momentarily; in this way fear extinguishes and excludes thought. And many have fallen victim to useless labor and dread diseases and hardly curable madnesses. In this way the sight engraves upon the mind images of things which have been seen. And many frightening impressions linger, and what lingers is exactly analogous to what is spoken.

(18) Moreover, whenever pictures perfectly create a single figure and shape from many colors and figures, they delight the sight, while the creation of statues and the production of works of art furnish a pleasant sight to the eyes. Thus it is natural for the sight to grieve for some things and to long for others, and much love and desire for many objects and figures is engraved in many men.

(19) If, therefore, Helen’s eyes were pleased by the figure of Alexander (Paris), and touched her soul with eager desire and struggled for love, what is so odd about it? If, being a god, Love has the divine power of the gods, how could a lesser being reject and refuse this god? But if Love is a disease of human origin and a fault of the soul, it should not be blamed as a sin, but regarded as an affliction. For Helen came, as she did come, caught in the web of Fate, not by the plans of the mind, or by the constraints of love, or by artful devices.

(20) Since she is utterly acquitted of all charge, how then can the blame of Helen be just? Whether she did what she did through falling in love, or persuaded by speech, or ravished by force, or compelled by divine intervention—she is free of all blame.

(21) By means of my speech I have removed this woman’s disgrace; I have followed the rules which I set up at the beginning of the speech; I have tried to end the injustice of blame and the ignorance of opinion; I wished to write a speech which would be a praise of Helen as well as a diversion to myself.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The City of Bath in Jane Austen’s Work

The City of Bath in Jane Austen’s Work
If you like and still read Mark Twain’s books, I am sure you’ll be curious and tempted to pay a visit to Hannibal, Missouri—the town where he was born and where one can imagine Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn romping around.

Likewise, is you are a Jane Austen fan, and then if in England you’ll be tempted to pay a visit to Bath, where you can picture Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, as well as Anne Elliot and Captain Frederick Wentworth—main characters in Northanger Abbey and Persuasion respectively—in their cotillion balls, the Pump Room, and the Lower Rooms.

Through the protagonists’ eyes one can feel and experience vicariously the City of Bath and its public places as they existed in the 18th and 19th centuries. The narrators of both novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion) tell in vivid detail Bath’s attractions, and all this because the author —Jane Austen— spent some time in that city, in fact she lived there for about five years (1801-1806) after her father’s death. Here’s a passage that captures Catherine Morland’s mood in Bath:

She hoped to be more fortunate the next day; and when her wishes for fine weather were answered by seeing a beautiful morning, she hardly felt a doubt of it; for a fine Sunday in Bath empties, on such occasion, to walk about and tell their acquaintance what a charming day it is.

If you visit Bath you’ll feel the palpable atmosphere that Jane Austen described.

While Gabriel Garcia Marquez invented the fabulous city of Macondo to set his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, Jane Austen used a real city to set the two novels mentioned above. And in this respect she also bestowed a lasting enchantment and immortality to the City of Bath.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Longinus: Some Marks of True Sublimity

LonginusImage by Niall McAuley via FlickrNOTE: to understand this selection, let me quote what Longinus meant by sublimity: "Sublimity is a kind of eminence or excellence of discourse."
At this stage, the question we must put to ourselves for discussion is how to avoid the faults which are so much tied up with sublimity.  The answer, my friend, is: by first of all achieving a genuine understanding and appreciation of true sublimity. This is difficult; literary judgment comes only as the final product of long experience. However, for the purposes of instruction, I think we can say that an understanding of all this can be acquired. I approach the problem in this way:

In ordinary life, nothing is truly great which it is great to despise; wealth, honor, reputation, absolute power-anything in short which has a lot of external trappings-can never seem supremely good to the wise man because it is no small good to despise them. People who could have these advantages if they chose but disdain them out of magnanimity are admired much more than those who actually possess them. It is much the same with elevation in poetry and literature generally. We have to ask ourselves whether any particular example does not give a show of grandeur which; for all its accidental trappings, will, when dissected, prove vain and hollow, the kind of thing which it does a man more honour to despise than to admire.

It is our nature to be elevated and exalted by true sublimity. Filled with joy and pride, we come to believe we have created what we have only heard. When a man of sense and literary experience hears something many times over, and it fails to dispose his mind to greatness or to leave him with more to reflect upon than was contained in the mere words, but comes instead to seem valueless on repeated inspection, this is not true sublimity; it, endures only for the moment of hearing. Real sublimity contains much food for reflection; is difficult or rather impossible to resist, and makes a strong and ineffaceable impression on the memory.

In a word, reckon those things which please everybody all the time as genuinely and finely sublime. When people of different trainings, ways of life, tastes, ages, and manners all agree about something, the judgment and assent of so many distinct voices lends strength and irrefutability to the conviction that their admiration is rightly directed.

The Five Sources of Sublimity; The Plan of the Book

There are, one may say, five most productive sources of sublimity. (Competence in speaking is assumed as a common foundation for all five; nothing is possible without it).
(i) The first and most important is the power to conceive great thoughts; I defined this in my work on Xenophon.
(ii) The second is strong and inspired emotion. (These two sources are for the most part natural; the remaining three involve art).
(iii) Certain kinds of figures. (These may be divided into figures of thought and figures of speech).
(iv) Noble diction. This has as subdivisions choice of words and the use of metaphorical and artificiallanguage.
(v) Finally, to round off the whole list, dignified and elevated word ¬arrangement.
Let us now examine the points which come under each of these heads.
I must first observe, however, that Caecilius has omitted some of the five¬ emotions, for example. [Now if he thought that sublimity and emotion were one and the same thing and always existed and developed together, he was wrong. Some emotions, such as pity, grief, and fear, are found divorced from sublimity and with a low effect. Conversely, sublimity often occurs apart from emotion. Of the innumerable examples of this I select Homer's bold account of the Aloadae [the two sons of Poseidon]:

Ossa upon Olympus they sought to heap; and on Ossa Pelion with its shaking forest, to make a path to heaven-
and the even more impressive sequel—
and they would have finished their work ...

In orators, encomia and ceremonial or exhibition pieces always involve grandeur and sublimity, though they are generally devoid of emotion. Hence those orators who are best at conveying emotion are least good at encomia, and conversely the experts at encomia are not conveyers of emotion. On the other hand, if Caecilius thought that emotion had no contribution to make to sublimity and therefore thought it not worth mentioning, he was again completely wrong. I should myself have no hesitation in saying that there is nothing so productive of grandeur as noble emotion in the right place. It inspires and possesses our words with a kind of madness and divine spirit.

The only writing guide I consult is Toolbox for Writers.
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Boethius: Consolation of Philosophy (In plain American English)


Book I

Chapter 2 — The Poet is speechless

“But the time,” said she, “calls now for healing rather than for lamenting.”
Then, with her eyes fixed full upon me,
“Are you that man,” she cried, “who earlier feeding with the milk and rearing on the nourishment which is mine to give, has grown up to the full vigor of a manly spirit? And yet I had bestowed such armor on you as would have proved an invincible defense, have you not thrown it away. Do you know me? Why are you silent? Is it shame or amaze­ment that has struck you dumb? It might be shame; but as I see, a stupor has seized upon you.”
Then, seeing that I was not only paralyzed, but also speechless, she gently touched my breast with her hand, saying:
“There is no danger; these are the symptoms of lethargy, the usual sickness of deluded minds. He has forgotten himself momentarily, but he will easily recover his memory—if only he first recognizes me. And that he may do so, let me now wipe his eyes that are clouded with a mist of mortal things.”
Quickly, with a fold of her robe, she dried my eyes all swim­ming with tears.

Chapter 3 — Philosophy explains

So the clouds of my melancholy were broken up. I saw the clear sky, and regaining my power I recognized the face of my physician. Hence, when I lifted my eyes and fixed my gaze upon her, I saw my nurse, Philosophy, whose halls I had frequented from my youth up.
“Ah! Why,” I said, “mistress of all excellence, have you come down from on high, and entered the solitude of this my exile? Are you, too, being persecuted with false accusations—just as I am?”
“Could I abandon you, child,” said she, “and not lighten the burden which you have taken upon yourself through the hatred of my name, by sharing this trouble?
Never will Philosophy allow herself to let the innocent to walk alone in his journey.
Do you think I fear to incur reproach, or shrink from it, as yough some strange new misfortune had just happened? Do you think that just now wisdom has been attacked by danger for the first time in an evil age?
 Have I not often in the olden days —even before my servant Plato lived— waged stern warfare with the rashness of folly?
In his lifetime, too, Socrates, Plato’s master, won with my help the victory of an unjust death. And when, one after the other, the Epicurean herd, the Stoic, and the rest, each of them did their best to seize the heritage he left, dragging me off protesting and resisting. Seizing me as their booty, they tore in pieces the garment which I had woven with my own hands, and, clutching the torn pieces, I went off, believing that the whole of me had passed into their possession.
And some of them, because some traces of my clothes were seen upon them, were destroyed by the lewd crowd that mistakenly and falsely took them for my disciples.
It may be that you are unaware of the banishment of Anaxagoras,[i] of the poison draught of Socrates, or of Zeno’s[ii] torturing, because these things happened in a distant country.
Yet, you might have learned of the fate of Arrius,[iii] of Seneca,[iv] of Soranus,[v] whose stories are neither old nor unknown to fame. These men were brought to destruction for no other reason than that, settled as they were in my principles; their lives were a stark contrast to the ways of the wicked. So there is nothing you should wonder at, if on the seas of this life we are tossed by storm-blasts, seeing that we have made it our main goal to refuse compliance with evildo­ers.
Although it is possible that the host of the wicked is many in number, yet is it contemptible, since it is under no leadership, but is chaotic, and subject to the blind driving of mad error. And if at times and seasons they line up against us, and fall on in overwhelming strength, our leader draws off her forces into the citadel while they are busy plundering the useless baggage.
But we from our vantage ground, safe from all this wild work, laugh to see them making prize of the most valueless of things, protected by a wall which aggres­sive folly may not wish to climb.”

[i] Anaxagoras went into exile from Athens about 450 B.C.

[ii] Zeno of Elea was tortured by Nearchus, tyrant of Elea, about 440 B.C.

[iii] Canius was put to death by Caligula, c. A.D. 40.

[iv] Seneca was driven to commit suicide by Nero, A.D. 66
[v] Soranus was condemned to death by Nero, A.D. 66

Boethius: Consolation of Philosophy (In Plain American English)

Table of Contents
Brief Biography        
About the Consolation of Philosophy        

Section I — Philosophical Dialogues         

BOOK ONE —The Poet’s sorrows          
Chapter 1 — Philosophy appears to Boethius        
Chapter 2 — The Poet is speechless
Chapter 3 — Philosophy explains  
Chapter 4 — Boethius’ ruin
Chapter 5 — Philosophy on unhappy change
Chapter 6 — Causes of the soul’s sickness 
BOOK 2 — The Vanity of Fortune's Gifts          
Chapter 1 — Philosophy scolds Boethius  
Chapter 2 — Philosophy impersonates Fortune    
Chapter 3 — Past and present fortunes       
Chapter 4 — Hapiness is sought within      
Chapter 5 — Esternal gifts   
Chapter 6 — Of virtue and power   
Chapter 7 — Philosophy: the pettiness of fame
Chapter 8 — Telling true friends from false           
BOOK THREE — True and False Happiness    
Chapter 1 — Philosophy’s promise
Chapter 2 — Happiness, the ultimate end   
Chapter 3 — Happiness can only add to wants      
Chapter 4 — Titles and power         
Chapter 5 — Tyrants and kings go in fear
Chapter 6 — Of fame and noble birth         
Chapter 7 — Pleasure and remorse 
Chapter 8 — Beauty and strength   
Chapter 9 — True happiness           
Chapter 10 — Happiness is in God and
               God in happiness   
Chapter 11 — Unity in goodness    
Chapter 12 — Knowledge is remembrance
BOOK FOUR — Good and Ill Fortune   
Chapter 1 — Philosophy makes morals plain        
Chapter 2 — Power: good and evil 
Chapter 3 — Rewards and punishments     
Chapter 4 — To be happier and more fortunate?   
Chapter 5 — Happiness or misery are not divine   
Chapter 6 — God’s providence       
Chapter 7 — all fortune is good      
BOOK FIVE — Free Will and God’s Foreknowledge
Chapter 1 — Philosophy says that chance  
Chapter 2 — Philosophy and freedom of choice
Chapter 3 — Free will or determinism        
Chapter 4 — On what knowledge depends
Chapter 5 — God’s foreknowledge
Chapter 6 — A higher form of cognition