Saturday 3/19/16: My notes on the reading
This story makes me re-think how I feel about each character. They play different roles in this story. This story is not particularly my favorite but it is interesting to see how they use the characters differently in the plot. Helen is telling the story leading up to the Trojan War. Three goddesses came to Paris for a beauty contest: Athen, Hera, Cypris. Hera was angry and gave Paris a fake Helen and Helen was hidden in the clouds with Hermes. Then Helen was kept in the home of Proteus while Menelaus went to go fight for her. Now Proteus is dead and his son Theoclymenus wants to marry her but Helen wants to honor her marriage to Menelaus when he returns. Teucer enters looking for the master of the house (Theoclymenus palace; Proteus tomb where Helen is sitting. he wonders why Helen looks so much like Helen. Tells her that he is a Greek warrior exiled from his home salamis by his father Telamon, because his brother Ajax killed himself when he did not win the armor of dead Achilles. Helen asks about Troy and Trevor tells her that it has been destroyed for 7 years. He was there for 10 years. Menalaus came out and dragged Helen by her hair. Helen wants to make sure that Teucer actually saw her.
He was shipwrecked in Egypt with Helen and some other friends. While he looks for help, the others watch Helen and keep her safe in a cave. He saw the palace and decided to ask for help. Doorkeeper tells Menelaus to leave Greeks because and has lived there since before the Acheans sailed for Troy. Menalaus is confused and decides that many people have the same name and its is just a coincidence. He decides to stay and talk to Theoclymenus anayway because he is in dire need and no man should be that uncivilized. Helen enters and says that Theonoe said that Menelaus is not dead, just lost at sea. He sees Menaulaus and thinks he’s trying to hunt her. Menalaus tells her that he is not there to kidnap her. Helen and Menaleus recognize eachother but Menaulaus does not believe that she is the real Helen. The servant of Menalaus enters and tells Menalaus that Helen disappeared into the sky. Menalaus and Hellen are happy to see one another. Menalaus wants to know how she was captured.
Helen tells the story of how Thera replaced her so Paris wouldnt have her. Menalaus tells the servant to tell the others about his luck. The servant believes that prophicies are pointless and they fought the war for nothing. Helen asks about Troy and Menalaus says it will cause him double pain to talk about it. Helen wants Menalaus to esacape so that Theoclymenus will not kill him, also says Theoclymenus wants to marry her. Menalaus and Helen plan to ask Theorioe to help them escape and if she does not, they will die together. Theorioe appears and says she knows that Menalaous is there and must make a decision. (1) Follow the instructions of Cyprus (Aphrodite) and her brother to tell Theodymenus when Menalaus is there so that Menalaus can be killed. Or (2) follow the wishes of Hera and allow Helen and Menelaus to escape safely. Helen argues that Theorie should save them because proteus kept her kept her safe and Menelaus is back and and she wants to go to Sparta to clear her name. Menelaus argues that Theorie should save them because if not she is evil and he will kill himself and Helen in Prateus tomb to shame them.
Theorie agrees not to tell her brother that Menelaus has arrived and tells them to pray to Aphrodite and Hera so they can make it back to Sparta. Helen and Menelaus decide to fake Menelaus’s death at sea so Helen can get a boat and pretend she is burrying him and then they will escape by boat. The chorus sings about the Trojan War, pointless fighting, and the gods and how they interfere with the mortals lives. Theoclymenus enters and is talking aloud to his father’s tomb about an unknown Greek man that has been seen trying to steal Helen. Helen enters wearing black with her hair cut grieving. Tells Theoclymenus that Menelaus is dead.
Tuesday 3/22/16: Class Discussion
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.
Tuesday 3/22/16: Sunoikisis discussion
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.