39. Gorgias' Helen:

(1) Order for a city-state is manliness, for a body, beauty, for a soul, wisdom, for a deed, excellence, and for logos, truth–and the opposites of these are disorder. And the praiseworthy man and woman and speech and work and city-state and deed one must honor with praise, while one must assign criticism to the unworthy–for it is equal error and ignorance to criticize the praiseworthy and to praise the blameworthy. (2) Since it is required of the same man both to speak straight and to refute (crooked speech, one should refute) those criticizing Helen, a woman concerning whom the belief (pistis) of those who have listened to the poet (sc. Homer) has become univocal and unanimous–likewise the repute of her name, which has become a byword for calamities. And by bestowing some logic to logos, I myself wish to absolve this ill-reputed woman from responsibility, and to show that those who criticize her are lying–and, having shown the truth, to put an end to ignorance.

(3) It is not unclear, not even to a few, that the woman who is the subject of this discourse was the foremost of the foremost men and women, by nature and by birth. For it is clear that her mother was Leda and her father was in fact the god, but said to be mortal, Tyndareus and Zeus–of whom the one, by being, seemed, while the other, by speech, was disproved–and the one was the mightiest of men while the other was king over all.

(4) Born of such parentage, she had godlike beauty, which having received she not inconspicuously retained. She produced the greatest erotic desires in most men. For one body many bodies of men came together, men greatly purposing great things, of whom some possessed great wealth, some the glory of ancient and noble lineage, some the vigor of personal strength, and others the power of acquired cleverness. And they were all there together out of contentious love and unconquerable ambition. (5) Who it was, then, who fulfilled the love by gaining Helen, and the means and manner of it, I shall not say; for to tell knowing people things they know supplies corroboration but does not convey enjoyment. Having now finished that time, I shall now proceed to the beginning of the next logos, and I shall set out the causes through which Helen’s journey to Troy is likely to have come about.

(6) Either by the wishes of Fortune and plans of the gods and decrees of Necessity she did what she did, or abducted by force, or persuaded by speeches, <or crazed by Love>. Now in the first case, the responsible party deserves the responsibility. For the eagerness of a god cannot be hindered by human forethought. For it is not natural for the superior to be hindered by the inferior, but for the inferior to be ruled and led by the superior–for the superior to lead and the inferior to follow. And a god is superior to a human being in force, intelligence, etc. Accordingly, if one must attribute responsibility to Fortune and the god, one must release Helen from infamy.

(7) But if she was abducted by force, unlawfully constrained and unjustly the victim of hubris, it is clear on the one hand that the abductor, as perpetrator of hubris, committed injustice–and on the other hand that the abductee, as victim, met with mishap. Accordingly the barbarian assailant deserves to meet with barbarian assault, by logos and custom and deed–deserves to be blamed in logos, dishonored by custom, and penalized in deed. She who was forced and bereft of fatherland and orphaned of friends–how is she not to be pitied rather than reviled? For he did terrible things; she was the victim; it is accordingly fair to pity her and hate him.

(8) And if logos persuaded and deceived her soul, it is not on that account difficult to defend her and absolve her of responsibility, thus: logos is a great potentate, which by the smallest and most secret body accomplishes the most divine works; for it can stop fear and assuage pain and produce joy and make mercy abound. And I shall show that these things are so: (9) but it must also appear so to the audience. Logos having meter I suppose and name as a whole to be poetry. Fearful shuddering and tearful pity and sorrowful longing come upon those who hear it, and the soul experiences a peculiar feeling, on account of the logoi, at the good and bad fortunes of other people's affairs and bodies. But come, let me change from one logos to another. (10) By means of logoi, inspired incantations serve as bringers-on of pleasure and takers-off of pain. For the incantation's power, by merging with the soul's opinion, enchants and persuades and changes it, by trickery. Two distinct methods of trickery and magic are to be found: errors of soul, and deceptions of opinion. (11) Any who have persuaded and do persuade any about any things are shapers of false logos. For if all people possessed memory concerning all things past, and awareness of all things present, and foreknowledge of all things to come, logos would not be similarly similar; hence it is not now easy to remember the past or consider the present or foretell the future; so that most people on most subjects furnish themselves with opinion as advisor to the soul. But opinion, being slippery and unsteady, surrounds those who rely on it with slippery and unsteady successes. (12) Accordingly what cause hinders Helen . . . what hymn came . . . similarly. . . though not young . . . just as if . . . means of forcing . . . force was abducted. For the mind of Persuasion was able . . . and even if necessity . . . the form will have . . . it has the same power. For logos was the persuader of the soul, which it persuaded and compelled to believe the things that were said and to agree to the things that were done. He who persuaded (as constrainer) did wrong; while she who was persuaded (as one constrained by means of the discourse) is wrongly criticized. (13) Persuasion belonging to logos shapes the soul at will: first the discourses of the astronomers, who by setting aside one opinion and building up another in its stead make incredible and obscure things apparent to the eyes of opinion; second, the necessary logoi in which one logos, written with technē but not truthfully meant, delights and persuades a numerous crowd; and third, the competing logoi of the philosophers, in which speed of thought is shown off, as it renders changeable the credibility of an opinion. (14) The power of logos stands in the same relation (logos) to the soul's organization as the pharmacopoeia does to the physiology of bodies. For just as different drugs draw off different humors from the body, and some put an end to disease and others to life, so too of logoi: some give pain, others delight, others terrify, others rouse the hearers to courage, and yet others by a certain vile persuasion drug and trick the soul.

(15) It has been said that if she was persuaded by logos, she did no wrong but rather was unfortunate; I proceed to the fourth cause in a fourth logos. If it was love that brought all these things to pass, she escapes without difficulty from the blame for the sin alleged to have taken place. For the things we see do not have whatever nature we will, but rather what happens each time. Through vision the soul is impressed in its behaviours. (16) For example, whenever hostile bodies put on their bronze and iron war-gear to ward off and defend against enemies, if the visual sense beholds this, it is troubled and it troubles the soul, so that often panic-stricken men flee future danger <as if it were> present. For the strong habitual force of law is banished because of the fear prompted by the sight, which makes one heedless both of what is judged by custom to be admirable, and of the good that comes about by victory. (17) Some who have seen dreadful things have lost their presence of mind in the present time; thus fear extinguishes and drives out understanding. And many fall into useless troubles and terrible diseases and incurable dementias; thus sight engraves in the mind images of things seen. And the frightening ones, many of them, remain; and those that remain are just like things said. (18) But truly whenever the painters perfectly complete one body and figure from many colors and bodies, they delight the sight; and the making of statues and production of figurines furnishes a pleasant sight to the eyes. Thus it is in the nature of the visual sense to long for some things and for other things to give it pain. And in many there is produced much love and desire for many things and bodies. (19) Accordingly, if Helen's eye, taking pleasure in Alexander's body, transmitted to her soul the eagerness and struggle of Love, is it any wonder? If Love, <being> a god, <has> the divine power of gods, how could the weaker being have the power to reject this and to ward it off? But if it is a human disease and an error of the soul, it ought not to be blamed as a sin but ought rather to be accounted a misfortune. For she went, as she started out, in the clutches of fortune, not by plans of the mind; and by the constraints of love, not the preparations of technē.

(20) How then is it necessary to regard as just the blame of Helen, who, whether passionately in love or persuaded by discourse or abducted by force or constrained by divine constraints did the things she did, escaping responsibility every way?

(21) By this logos I have removed infamy from a woman; I have continued in the mode I established at the beginning. I tried to put an end to the injustice of blame and ignorance of opinion; I wanted to write the logos, Helen's encomium and my plaything.



This playful text is, as Spengel already observed (see Commentarii in Rhetoricam p. 311), constructed ‘from the topos of the distinction’, which Aristotle lists as the ninth of the enthymematic topoi (Rhet. 1398 a30). Hence you would be right to surmise that Gorgias properly built out the art of the dilemma. If it is called a paignion (plaything), then, the paignia of Thrasymachus are in the same league, cf. Suda and Anecdota Bekkeri p. 415, 29, Aristophanes fr. Mein. II 1201 no. 16: ‘”To perform speeches fresh from the bellows”: as if they were new and just composed. Aristophanes: “… To perform sophisticated wordings and paignia all from the bellows and from trickery”.’ Plato Phaedr. 276D; Alcidamas On Sophists – Gorgias’ treatise On Nature reconstructed by Diels from Sextus Empiricus is, according to some (Gomperz 18f.), likewise not a philosophical work but a display of rhetorical prowess and a paignion. See also E. Maas, Hermae 22, 575 f., Fraustadt p. 46 f., Pohlenz 167 f. Isocrates 10.11 warns about ‘how much more tiresome it is to be solemn than to mock, to be serious than to joke.’ On the art of argument in general see Gomperz p. 5 ff., E. Schupp, Wiener St. 45, 17 f., 177 f.