Rhetoric As Signification In Gorgias Encomium Of Helen

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Encomium to Rhetoric as Signification in Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen
This essay looks at Gorgias’ epideictic oratory, through his Encomium of Helen. I inspect Gorgias’ encomium in terms of Roland Barthes’ Myth Today (1984). Gorgias’ ‘form’ can be interpreted as the use of Troy and Helen in a way that draws on the historical reception of Helen. Helen is used as the central figure, Gorgias providing four arguments for her exoneration; necessity, force, persuasion and desire. Concepts present shift from the body as argument, to rationalism, the application of reason to human actions. Whilst some may interpret Gorgias’ signification of these concepts as radical feminism, I will present an argument for the Encomium of Helen instead as an encomium
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Firstly we can consider Gorgias’ treatment of speech when referring to Helen’s lack of blame, that “Speech is a powerful ruler and achieves the most divine feats with the smallest and least evident body” . Gorgias compares the effect of speech on the mind with the effect of drugs on the body, “some speeches cause sorrow, some cause pleasure, some cause fear, some give the hearers confidence”, emphasising its powerful qualities. Rhetoric is portrayed as transcendent to truth and morality, but also painted as a thing of beauty, as through the juxtaposition with Helen of Troy. Like speech, Helen has the power to lead many bodies in competition by using her body as a weapon. Gorgias’ writing style further develops this metaphor. Balanced clauses, the structure of successive clauses, the joining of contrasting ideas, and the repetition of word endings in the original Greek perpetuate a literary beauty. Helen’s nature is used as a means to an end. Demonstrating paradoxologia, the rhetorical innovation of paradoxical thought and expression, Gorgias takes for granted the literary tradition of Helen’s guilt, demonstrating the power of rhetoric in transforming a weak argument, into a strong argument . It is ultimately the paradoxical nature of Gorgias’ arguments and the careful formulation of his prose which ultimately allow for the praise of rhetoric. Rhetoric is the signification present within the Encomium of

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