Launching a thousand ships: the beauty of Helen of Troy in Isocrates

Serena Georgiades

Research output: ThesisMaster's Thesis

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[Truncated abstract] This thesis focuses on the significance of the beauty of Helen of Troy in the Encomium of Helen written by the fourth-century philosopher Isocrates. Previous traditions, and especially epic poetry and tragedy, had assessed Helen’s beauty and either blamed or excused her for causing the Trojan War. Isocrates moved beyond this dichotomy to create a new focus on her beauty as the ultimate source of all that made Greek culture distinctive. Modern scholarship, however, has been generally unsympathetic we may almost say blind to this projected beauty. The meaning of beauty in Isocrates’ work has been overlooked by scholars in favor of its rhetorical structure. The work was criticized for its disjointed arrangement and lack of seriousness. The Helen has been interpreted as a reaction to contemporary rhetorical issues or as merely an educational manifesto. This thesis aims to identify and clarify the ideology underlying Isocrates’ construction of Helen’s beauty in his encomium. … The Helen of Isocrates is also compared with the contemporary Platonic work Phaedrus, which explores beauty as a means of arriving at pure knowledge. In this case, comparisons are drawn thematically and reveal that while the two works share similar topics and aims regarding the notions of beauty, Isocrate’s aesthetic idea is much more practically grounded and intended to be of benefit to the entire society when compared to the more idealistic and individual Platonic notion. Finally, the reasons for Isocrates’ choice of beauty as a major theme for the Helen are explored through a comparison of Helen’s beauty to that of Hellas an equation which Isocrates deems important for the fourth-century society.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2005


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