The Body as Argument: Helen in Four Greek Texts

Classical Antiquity 16 (1):151-203 (1997)

Certain Greek texts depict Helen in a manner that connects her elusive body with the elusive maneuvers of the persuasive story. Her too-mobile body signals in these texts the obscurity of agency in the seduction scene and serves as a device for tracking the dynamics of desire. In so doing this body propels poetic narrative and gives structure to persuasive argumentation. Although the female figure in traditional texts is always the object of male representation, in this study I examine a set of images of a female body whose representation ultimately seems to frustrate the narrative strategies for which its depiction was created. What emerges in the fifth century as a rhetorical technique begins in Book 3 of the Iliad as a narrative strategy that uses Helen's cloaked and disappearing body to catalyze plot, and develops in Sappho's fr. 16 into a logic of desire shaped by the movement of Helen's and other bodies in the visual field. Gorgias, in the Encomium of Helen, transforms these depictions of Helen into an argument that is structured by Helen's body, an argument that Helen herself employs in Euripides' Troades, where her own body serves as the anatomy of her argument. These texts all associate Helen's body with a type of persuasive narrative that repeatedly invokes the field of vision, describing physical presence in terms that aim at attracting the eye. At the same time this verbal portraiture disrupts the audience's perspective by depicting bodies as cloaked, mobile, and/or half seen, and by obscuring distinctions between desirer and desired, viewer and viewed. As both subject and object in this viewing process, Helen's body comes to be associated with the double vision of seduction and the distracting power of persuasive images, which seduce the mind's eye while eluding the mind's grasp
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DOI 10.2307/25011057
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References found in this work BETA

The Helen Scene in Euripides' Troades.Michael Lloyd - 1984 - Classical Quarterly 34 (02):303-.
Sappho Fr. 16. 6–7L–P.G. W. Most - 1981 - Classical Quarterly 31 (01):11-.
Zu Alkaios und Sappho.C. Bowra - 1935 - Hermes 70 (2):238-241.
Magic and Rhetoric in Ancient Greece.Jacqueline De Romilly - 1977 - Philosophy and Rhetoric 10 (3):199-202.

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