15.9.08

Response to Gorgias' Defense of Helen

Response to Gorgias' Defense of Helen


Though it is true, dear Gorgias, that you have indeed written a speech that does both praise Helen and divert yourself, the blame of this woman has neither been ended, nor has it been proven to be a falsehood. Similarly, the ignorance of popular opinion has not been recognized, nor has it been alleviated. The truth, sir, is that you have used your own words as an incantation of witchcraft, as you say, to beguile and persuade an audience in order to grant amnesty to perhaps the most notorious villain our world has seen to date. Simply by molding your own false arguments, you have done an injustice to that which we prize above all else- rationality and law. It is thus my duty as a citizen, though perhaps unequal to you in the talents of the powers of rhetoric and reason, to ensure that truth be served. By accepting the role of plaintiff, whose duty to truth demands that Helen be brought to justice, I will restate your arguments one by one in order to better point out the hypocrisy and deception that has perverted your defense, though it is certainly forgiven due to the unparalleled beauty of the woman in question that has no doubt provoked your pity. Indeed it is that same unparalleled beauty that has put her in the position she finds herself at present, and perhaps what is considered to be an adequate defense against accountability of any kind. So we shall begin.

First, it is true that Helen's beauty be established as divine and that this gift from the Gods' own will has undoubtably caused her downfall. By will of fate and decision of gods did she leave the Greek King for the Trojan prince, so that she may subordinate herself to the wishes of Paris. You say sir, that it is this fate that grants her immunity from her punishment. But if you grant her immunity, must you not grant equal immunity to all those who have been fated to disgrace? Does Oedipus, fated by the Gods to kill his father and sleep with his mother deserve to be pardoned for his sins? Does Achilles, destined to destroy all other men who do oppose him, deserve equal pardon for his dealings with Hector, as it was fate that put Patroclus under Hector's sword, thus causing the hatred of Achilles to bubble and consume? And if we answer yes to these cases, then must we not consider Paris to be free from blame as well, seeing as he was fated by the Gods to accept Aphrodite's beauty as uncontested by Hera and Athena. That it was this goddess who granted his wish for the most beautiful of women, which did cause the War that has killed so many of our brothers, sons, and fathers in the first place? To grant Paris amnesty is a degradation of our judicial system at best and the acceptance of a life married to sin at worst. Nay, we must not dismiss Helen's punishment simply because of her ill fate: she was fated by the gods to commit the crime in question and is likewise fated by the gods to accept the reaction to which her own action provoked- she is justly fated to die.

Second, to say that Helen was forced or raped into submission is purely speculative, a charge that none but she and Paris can contest. If the queen of Sparta met with such an evil act, then the charge can be dropped and never spoken of again, except to denounce those who contributed to the existence of the act. Unfortunately, this defense has been polluted with the hearsay and gossip of time to the point that truth can no longer be extracted from the events surrounding it. We can only point to her actions, that she left her husband for Troy with Paris and surely did not put up much of a fight to stay with the man who won her those years before, our good King Menelaus. Therefore, we cannot in good faith use any evidence that she was raped or forced simply because there is none. So we rely on the Speech Act that Paris invoked to decide whether she is guilty of sin. 

So far we have shown Helen to be an unlucky woman, destined to the fall of which she must have so desperately wished to be absent from. But, in the words that follow the end of this sentence, I will prove to you that we must accept Helen as a traitor to our people in order to finally put the evils of our past to rest so as those many men who died will not have died in vain. For if we let Helen go free, then what did those men fight for? Certainly not for the superficial rights to own and appropriate land crucial to the strategic enhancement of the Greek empire.  Certainly not to go to war with the mightiest army the world has seen, simply because it is we who are trying to steal what is not ours. No, it is because the Trojans did steal what is rightfully the property of Greece, made manifest through the declaration of marriage. Helen dismissed her vows of loyalty by trading them for those to Paris and the Trojans. It is in this act that she has become our enemy.

You say, friend Gorgias, that if Helen was persuaded by speech then she has done no wrong. But it is not so. This is not to say that she was not provoked into loving Paris by his words. This is, to be certain, the most likely case of all points you have mentioned. Yet it is, decidedly, irrelevant whether she was in love or not. We are not imprisoning her in our memories as a harlot for simply feeling a certain way. We are imprisoning her for acting a certain way. You describe the plight of soldiers who, when faced with the overwhelming odds and certain death, lose their sense of duty to a sense of fear. That it is this kind of substitution of mental clarity for irrational emotion that clears these soldiers from their responsibilities to our various nation-states. And likewise, that it is this substitution that clears Helen from the atrocities that has so far prevented her forgiveness. Yet I contend that it is precisely the battle between what is indeed right and what is desired that rages in our hearts, minds, and souls, that give Greece its superior moral code that justifies expelling Helen from ideas of purity and naivete. Does not Sparta, the city from which this entire mess was spawned, instill the infamous words, "come home with your shield or on it" to their soldiers before battle? That while one may have the desire to shirk his responsibilities, it is in fact what makes him a true Spartan and Greek to hold law, rationality, and truth dear to him to ensure his unwavering duty to his homeland? And should not this idea of duty to the homeland extend to women as it does to men? And should not Helen, queen of Sparta, be held to these same standards more so than any other woman in the public light? It is thus that I implore our country and the people who reside within its boundaries to accept Helen as unworthy of our forgiveness, and to consider her an enemy just as her lover Paris is. For it is not her feelings that have killed the people of our country, but her actions. And while we may say that feelings in themselves cannot be controlled, and are perhaps subordinate to speech, actions certainly are subject to the user's whims. It is thus that I deem Helen a traitor to her people, and propose the harshest dealings for her actions, that we may never again bear witness to the character of our country so compromised. For if we are without the moral code that differentiates us from those demons of perverse irrationality, then who are we but animals for which no sense of truth nor justice can extend to? For Helen has transgressed the law that both powerful and lowly; both beautiful and plain must be held accountable by, to ensure the civility that society demands. It is this law that our heritage derives from and if we deny the appropriate measures to be taken, then we must certainly deny our own unique sense of justice and worth as Greeks, and so too-- as free men. 

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