Recent Seminars and Lectures
Steve Makin (Sheffield) - Amusing Gorgias: Why does the Encomium of Helen end as it does?
Weekly Research Seminar:
Please note that this seminar was held in room 005, 48/49 Old Elvet, Durham. Refreshments were served from 11am with the talk commencing at 11.30am.
Title: Amusing Gorgias: Why does the Encomium of Helen end as it does?
This piece - very much a work in progress rather than a paper - is an exercise in speculative exegesis. The question to be addressed is: why does Gorgias end his Encomium of Helen by saying that one of his reasons for writing the speech is as an 'amusement' or 'plaything' (παιγνιον) for himself? The answer I will suggest is that Gorgias' 'amusement declaration' is a striking dialectical device. It is intended to guarantee that anyone in Gorgias' audience who has had their confidence in Helen's blameworthiness (and therefore her wickedness) shaken by the argument in the Encomium, however temporarily, should remain committed to Gorgias' rehabilitation of Helen - and in particular, that they should remain committed regardless of whether they come to think that Gorgias' argument might after all have been fishy.
My suggestion about the closing words of Gorgias' Encomium provides an extremely charitable interpretation: they embody a powerful and reasonably successful dialectical strategy. In order to support that charitable verdict on Gorgias' words I consider a string of objections to Gorgias strategy. By thinking about those objections I hope to strengthen and defend the strategy. The eventual goal of my line of interpretation is to provide a general characterisation of strategies of this type, and to identify other instances of the type in ancient philosophy ( for example, there may be some interesting connection here with the use of ridicule by the ancient Cynic philosophers)