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The child of Proteus Helen of Troy and poetics of proteanism

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The child of Proteus Helen of Troy and poetics of proteanism
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Wright, Claire C
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Denver, CO
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University of Colorado Denver
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English
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64 leaves : ; 28 cm

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Helen of Troy (Greek mythology) in literature ( lcsh )
Helen of Troy (Greek mythology) in literature ( fast )
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bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
non-fiction ( marcgt )

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Bibliography:
Includes bibliographical references (leaves 62-64).
Thesis:
Humanities
General Note:
Department of Humanities and Social Sciences
Statement of Responsibility:
by Claire C. Wright.

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|University of Colorado Denver
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|Auraria Library
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ocm47813685
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Full Text
THE CHILD OF PROTEUS
HELEN OF TROY AND POETICS OF PROTEANISM
B.A., Metropolitan State College of Denver
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirement for the degree of
Master of Humanities
2001
by
Claire C. Wright


This thesis for the Master of Humanities
degree by
Claire C. Wright
has been approved
by

i


Wright, Claire C. M.H. Humanities
The Child of Proteus: Helen of Troy and the Poetics of Proteanism
Thesis directed by Catherine Wiley, Associate Professor, English
ABSTRACT
Helen of Troy as character consistently moves through Western literature with
an elusive and indeterminate nature. Her changing and mutable nature places
her in opposition to such characters as Achilles and Odyseus, who remain
stable throughout various texts. Critics often understand Helens mutable
nature as representative of the Other. This essay examines Helen though the
concept of poetic proteanism that functions outside more traditional feminist
interpretations. An initial exploration of proteanisms relationship to sophistry
and play is also discussed.
in


DEDICATION
I dedicate this thesis to my mother, M J. Wright, who as teller of tales first
introduced me to the playfulness of the story. Teller of tales, your
hummingbird finally lighted... for a time.


CONTENTS
CHAPTER
1 .CECI NEST PAS UNE THESE....................1
2. CECI NEST PAS UN PARTI QUE
CECI NEST PAS UN DISCO......................36
3. CECI TROMPE VERS............................52
WORKS CITED
.62


CHAPTER 1
CECI NEST PAS UNE THESE
The Helen of Troy who moves diachronically from archaic and classical
Greek literature to Twentieth century narratives invariably presents a veiled,
mutable, and indeterminate nature. Effie Spentzou calls this indeterminacy
Helens shivering fragmentariness that haunts the poetic landscape with a silent
and enigmatic appearance (301-302). Spentzous essay on Helen and her
tradition highlights the enigmatic qualities that encompass Helen as she travels
through literary time while at the same time hinting at the perplexing and often
contentious debate concerning the manner in which critics interpret the female in
narratives. Within the maelstrom of this debate exists the essential question of
how a narrative ought to be read. Does one place a narrative within a framework
of interconnected approaches that crosses disciplines and purports to find new
insights from old narratives? Does one instead follow along with anti-
theoreticians who aver that theoretical approaches and cross-disciplinary
transgressions are a mistake because theories create an illusion of choice between
1


alternative methods of interpreting (724, 742)?1 How this dispute plays out in an
examination of the female in narratives, too often gives way to an acrimonious
battle over the degree to which a narrative discloses its sexism and misogyny. In
this, feminist interpretations of narratives, working against more traditional,
alleged patriarchal readings, become what Nicole Loraux calls the sterile
opposition between feminism and misogyny(62).
Beginning in the late 1970s with the writings of critics such as Judith
Fetterly, Alice Walker, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Susan Gubar, the past thirty years
witnessed an explosion in feminist approaches to the reading of narratives.2
Mirroring the reemergence of a politicized womans movement in industrial
countries feminist writers sought to establish a close link between the patriarchal
structure in society and the one they perceived in literature. The beneficial
consequences of these critiques led to the opening of the canon to forgotten,
mostly female writers. One need only think of the academic institutionalization of
1. Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels were perhaps the most virulent anti-theoreticians in
the preceding two decades when they wrote the article Against Theory. Critical Inquiry 8
(1982): 722-750. Paul deMan however is perhaps the most articulate commentator on the dispute
since he endeavors to reconcile the opponents on each side of the debate. See Resistance to
Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1986). Edward W. Said and William E. Cain
extends Manns ideas when they write of theoretical approaches to literature as being only
effective when used within the boundaries of literature. See Said, The World, the Text, and the
Critic (Cambridge, MA.:Harvard University Press, 1983,241-42), and Cain, Crisis in Criticism:
Theory, Literature, and Reform in English Studies (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press,
1984).
2. See Fetterly, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Literature (Blomington:
Indiana University Press, 1978); Gilbert and Gubar, The Mad Woman in the Attic: The Woman
2


Louisa May Alcott and Zora Neale Hurston during the past three decades to
recognize the momentous change brought to literary studies by these early
politicized forays into feminist criticism. Yet in expanding the canon, feminist
approaches to appraising literature also resulted in an incessant critique of
narratives within a framework developed from the ideology of the womens
movement. The primary concern of these appraisals was a desire to expose and
subvert the patriarchy believed unearthed in narratives.3 One of the more notable
effects of these appraisals was the general acceptance that narratives cannot
escape the conditions of their production in a patriarchal society. Under the logic
of this axiom then, narratives and the characters domiciled therein become merely
reflective replicants of societal structures which mirror and support the standards
of the patriarchy.
While noting Helens mutability, critics who apply a feminist approach to
Helen take this to mean that Helen, like some ritualistically shattered ancient
vessel of Otherness, only experiences a wholeness and completeness under the
care and skillful restoration of the critic. These restoration projects weave the
fragments of Helen into a web of connected paradigms and vocabularies coming
Writer and the Nineteenth Century Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); and
Walker, In Search of Our Mothers Garden: Womanist Prose (New York: Harcourt-Brace, 1983).
3. Quoting Adrienne Rich, Judith Fetterley called her criticism, an act of survival to save
women from identifying themselves as the enemy (viii). Fetterleys work embodies the politically
grounded criticism which sees all females in narratives as objectified and all males locked into the
hierarchy of male-centered society.
3


from other disciplines and having more to do with the social order than with the
specific nature and language of literature. Indeed, aspiring to reassemble a
shattered Helen is not dissimilar to a music critic endeavoring to reconstruct
allegedly missing notes from a caesuras in a Thelonious Monk composition. To
date no music scholar has ever undertaken such a project, either with Monks
work or any other composers, precisely because music scholars recognize that
these very pauses and spaces constitute important factors to an entire composition.
This is not to say that feminist approaches to literary criticism need to disregard
the patriarchy when approaching literature. What is wanting is an approach which
speaks directly to the specific nature and structure of literature-one more literary
than political or ideological.
The following essay seeks to explore the fragments of Helen without
reconstructing them. In so doing I postulate that Helen best exemplifies a distinct
quality in literature that is protean. By protean I refer to that sense of poetic desire
to transmit imagination into polygamous stories. To accomplish this transmission
poets engage in a sense of seduction and play that operates outside the structure of
society. Poets using proteanism also embrace a neglected form of mimesis,
defined as the assumption of identity rather than imitation or representation.
Proteanism, as a particular aspect of poetic experiences, disengages from the
social order while perhaps being its most insightful observer and proteanism
4


concerns itself little with expressing truth or presenting a riddle with one right
answer. Proteanism, in this respect, finds affinities to sophistic epistemology, in
that both privilege persuasion and pleasure over truth and instruction. One caveat
to this essay is that it does not attempt an exhaustive study of each manifestation
of Helen as she travels through literary time, but rather to employ Helen as an
agent of proteanism. Is so doing I, at times, take brief, heuristic forays, tangents as
it were, to further examine the nature and substance of proteanism.
If Helen simply took a stable identity from narrative to narrative, then
Helens indeterminate and fluid nature might seem purely a case of individual
poets employing Helen to serve a single purpose. But from the Iliad to HDs
Helen in Egypt, Helens protean nature manifests itself within each narrative
seeming to signify something at play that is foundational to literature and poetic
expression. Helens proteanism commences in the Iliad, where the Iliadic poet
never allows Helen to become solely the object of mens desire or the
paradigmatic representation of beauty. The fluidity continues through her history
in literature and seems to defy recent opinions that the female in narratives never
escapes the status of objectification. One proponent of this perspective is Teresa
De Lauretis who argues that women in Western literature are always seen as the
object of desire because:
the hero, the mythic subject, is constructed as a human being and
as male; he is the active principle of culture, the established of
5


distinction, the creator of difference. Female is what is not
susceptible to transformation, to life or death; she is an element of
plot-space, a topos, a resistance matrix and matter (20).
De Lauretis and other feminist critics, relying upon paradigms of literature
modeled from society and the structure of the patriarchy, drive a character such as
Helen into a deeper and more oppressive obscurity because they only admit to a
singularity in literature that reflects the singularity of the patriarchy. De Lauretis
comment also does exactly what it seeks to avoid: the re-absorption of female into
the male-dominated order characterized by a power to reduce all other to the
economy of the same (Irigaray, 1985a, 74). De Lauretis construction of the
female is not that far removed from that of Plato.
Plato asserts that the predisposition of women is one of secrecy and
duplicity since they lack an inner strength (Laws 781 a-b). Plato tells us that poets
and actors, like women, represent the trickery of mimesis in that they seek to
imitate others because of a lack in their essential nature. A true man, an ideal man,
for Plato is one that assumes one identity in both life and theater. Men who sought
the good estimation of their peers needed to avoid assuming different identities
and to endeavor to form a cohesive, stable, and enduring identity. Poets and
actors, unable to achieve Platos definition of an ideal man, become the tricksters
of mimesis, of a fluid and false imitation of identities that brought into question
their manliness (Republic, 71-107). Such a man, an inferior man, who is more like
6


a woman assumes the status of a protean figure. This implies that women
intrinsically are always protean, that is, unstable and inferior beings. Proteanism
as a discredited form of mimesis became neglected since Plato states that poets
imitate rather than assume identities and in this act of imitation, being like a
women they are less than a man (288-316). In arguing that the female positioning
in narratives operates always as an opposition to the subject, or male of a
narrative, De Lauretis upholds Platos conception of mimesis even as she appears
to resist his claims.
De Lauretis inadvertently sustaining Platos theories does not extend
observations of how women corrupt and subvert these perceptions. It is with Luce
Irigarays construction of mimesis and mimetic-play that such considerations are
explored. Irigarays theories indicate a certain affinity to proteanism. This
correspondence emerges when Irigaray discusses mimesis as a powerful tool by
which women subvert, or even ignore the patriarchal structure. Irigaray sees that
by entering into the very roles instituted by men, women jam the theoretical
machinery, and suspend the pretension to the production of truth (1991a, 126).
Irigaray believes that females use mimesis to undermine the social orders
privileging of the phallus and the idea that sciences, such as psychoanalysis, arise
from unbiased research. The dominance in the world of a singular phallogocentric
context foreordains that women must obscure and veil the plurality of pleasures
7


and that they play with the image that men form of them. For Irigaray the
encounter between the oneness of phallogocentrism and feminine plurality brings
about a crisis in the social order as the phallus cannot assimilate nor reduce the
plurality into itself (1985a, 26,28). I find that poets most often employ Helen at
the intersection between the encounter and subsequent crisis of which Irigaray
speaks. Male poets in their ability to assume identities come to recognize the
plurality of female. Making use of this plurality, poets create characters (most
often female) as signifiers of their ability to transmit poetic mutability to an
audience or reader. Helen then functions as a character who empowers the poet to
transcend the experience of the every day world of gender, politics, ideology, and
transitory concerns for the experience of free-play.
John Huizinga, writing on the characteristic of play, observed that play
does not concern itself with obligations and duty but rather characterizes itself
through a sense of freedom untouched by philosophic problems of determinism,
an enchantment of secrecy, as in the use of masks and disguises, and a willing
suspension or ordinary life, spatial reality and time (8). Huizinga believed that
when one is at play one steps out of common reality into a higher order which
heightened experience and allowed the individual to transcend the normal and
assume an identity more beautiful, sublime, or even dangerous (9). Huizingas
definition of play reaches far back in time when story-tellers and their audiences
8


surrendered common reality and suspended disbelief to engage in a shared
experience of insight, desire, and the assumption of different identities. Huizinga
points out that for one to enter into play means that one becomes more than the
sum total of ones parts (10). Literature offers then, infinite potentials of
experience and plurality, of differences and insight. Helen is just one example of
the way poets use character and narrative as pathways that provide the means to
enter into this play realm. In disregarding or discounting that sense of
playfulness, contemporary criticism undermines those very qualities in poetic
experience which make it such a vital element in human experience.
Contemporary criticism is not unique in its resistance to a sense of play as
a primary function of literature. The practice of Sophists, of which I speak later,
sparked Platos ire in that they echo those qualities of play and mimesis as
discussed by Irigaray and Huizinga. The essential difference between De Lauretis
construction of womens place in literature and the proteanism to which I refer is
that in the real world women must disguise their plurality. In literature, in the
play-world, the assumption of different identities makes visible that which the
everyday order attempts to keep invisible. The intersection between theses two
realms finds a fruitful interaction in ancient Greece when poets engage the
character of Helen.
9


One of the more perplexing aspects of Greek narratives lies in the
overwhelming presence of central female figures in a society distrustful of women
and even uncertain about their biological status. In exploring the narratives from
the ancient Greeks within the structure of proteanism, one sees the poetic
expression of plurality flowing through these narratives. In the Iliad and the
Odyssey, so often read as masculine epics, the fleeting and mutable presence of
Helen stands at the center of the stoiy. Created by the Iliadic poet, Helen thwarts
De Lauretis definition of female and her intent to approach the status of female in
literature as a singularity. The poet of the Iliad imbues Helen with a fluidity that
moves betwixt and between the male and female spheres, between the object of
desire and that which desires, between the mortal and immortal worlds.
Early in Book Three, Hector chides Paris for abducting Helen and bringing
war to the gates of Troy. Contrasting Paris with Helen, Hector calls Paris
variously evil, woman crazy, and a coward while Helen is the fair
woman, and blossoming wife of Menelaus (38-51). Hector seems to make
clear that all responsibility for the war lies with Paris. At this point in the
narration Helen appears as a trophy, like the rarest jewel, a prize for either Paris or
Menelaus but not as a character endowed with the ability to transform or create
difference. She is merely the object of desire. Later in the book though, the poet
complicates Helens position by having her take on the role of narrator .Helen
10


coalesces at this point into both the narrator of the story, and its subject. Standing
with Priam on the battlements of Troy, Helen creates the reputation of the heroes
fighting below. Odysseus, Aias, and the other Greeks take form within Helens
descriptions (140-244). The Illiadic poet enhances Helens indeterminacy by
obscuring her figure from the sight of the other characters and hence from ours.
She ascends the battlements in a shimmering gown and the elders of Troy see
her beauty as that terrible likeness to a goddess (141,158). This brief and
elusive portrait frustrates the minds eye as well as strengthening the uncertainty
of her story that the poet builds in this book of the Iliad. Taking on the role of the
narrator, Helen defies De Lauretis claims by becoming the establisher of
distinction. The reader sees the heroes fighting below through her eyes while at
the same time she brings into question her own reputation and status in the story
and war.4
As Helen stands with Priam he contradicts Hectors earlier declaration that
Paris began the war by abducting Helen. Calling to Helen, Priam says: I am not
blaming you: to me the gods are blameworthy who drove upon me this sorrowful
war against the Achaians (161-165). Helen though, speaking as the narrator,
contradicts Hector and Priam alike by asserting her own culpability in the war and
4 In the Iliad Helens figure remains obscure and is always described as cloaked in a shimmering
gown. Her beauty in Homer and later stories always is one that is never detailed or spoken of as
having particular qualities. Like her status, Helens beauty stays indeterminate.
11


stating that she wishes herself dead and describes herself as a slut (171-180). The
instability of blame which converges in this discussion between Helen and Priam
only becomes more undecided toward the end of Book Three during Helens
confrontation with Aphrodite.
After Aphrodite rescues Paris from his duel with Menelaus the goddess
compels Helen to go to him. Helen, resisting both the goddess and Paris,
derisively scorns Paris and ridicules Aphrodite for desiring a mortal. With the
exception of Achilles, Helen alone recognizes the machination of the gods in the
Iliad and implicates them in the war. She lays blame at the feet of Aphrodite, and
in the argument that ensues between the two females, it is Paris described as
glistening with beauty and raiment and as if coming from dancing rather than
battle who functions as the object of desire (390-394). Aphrodite and Helen
mirror the public battle underway for Helen, but remove it to the domestic realm
where Paris becomes objectified and a trophy. At the end of this book, the
question of blame becomes a triangulation, three potential points of culpability
that never reach resolution. Helen, her physical delight and the truth of her
motivation remain as elusive, fluid, and fleeting as to where exactly blame for the
war resides. The Uiadic poets purposeful obfuscation of Helens form figures as
the physical analogy to the fluidity of blame. The Iliads Helen does not just
embrace a doubleness but rather a multiplicity of potentials and possibilities
12


which disallow a comprehensive grasp of her figure, motivation, or reputation. By
remaining a physically obscure and impenetrable character Helen emphasizes the
poets dependence on the female to defamiliarize the sameness and singularity of
social structures and to transmit the multifarious nature of poetic imagination to
an audience.
In the Odyssey the proteanism of Helen continues and deepens when once
again manifold impressions of her character surface. In the Fourth Book the
reunited Helen and Menelaus relate to Odysseus son, Telemachos, two different
versions of Helens relationship to Odysseus. Helens version recounts how she
recognized Odysseus, disguised as a beggar within the city:
I alone recognized him even in this form/and I questioned him, but
he in his craftiness eluded me;/ but after I bathed him and anointed
him with olive oil/ and put some clothing upon him, after I sworn a
great oath/ not to disclose before the Trojans that is was
Odysseus/until he had made his way back to the fast ships and
shelters,/ then at last he told me all the purpose of the Achaians,/
and after striking many Trojans down with thin bronze/ edge, he
went back to Argives and brought back much information./ The
rest of the Trojan Women cried out shrill, but my heart/ was happy,
my heart had changed by now and was for going back/ home again,
and I grieved for the madness Aphrodite/ bestowed when she led
me away from my own dear country,/forsaking my own daughter,
my bedchamber, and my husband(250-264).
Within this speech the poet continually shifts Helens position. At one moment
she is a Trojan, but different from other Trojans; then she is a Greek, looking
forward to going home. She returns once again to her argument that it was
13


Aphrodite who lured her away, but complicates this argument by stating that she
experienced a changed heart over the course of ten years. Helens change of heart
hangs like a lingering question mark within her story. Does the madness brought
about by Aphrodite diminish Helens culpability for the war? It seems so but her
change of heart clause undercuts the divine intrusion permitting free will to enter
the story as well. The poet has Helen take these sharp turns in the telling so as to
create a mental puzzle that plays fate and free will against each other in a constant
and entangled debate. Menelaus speech which immediately follows Helens
supports and sustains this play puzzle.
Menelaus tells how Helen, coupled with Deiphobos since the death of
Paris, came to the Wooden Horse on the final night of Troy and imitated the
voices of the hidden Greeks wives in an attempt to lure them out of hiding,
exposing their deception to the Trojans. Menelaus explains that only the
commonsense and authority of Odysseus prevented the Greek warriors from
abandoning their plan to attack the city (265-280). Froma Zeitlin observes:
that these two stories juxtaposed each offer the same
characterization of a clever Odysseus, but two different versions of
Helen. She is the mistress of many voices, the mistress of mimesis,
linked in both stories to secrecy, disguise, and deception (409).
The recounting of stories, sequenced as they are in the Odyssey, often leads
scholars to find that Helens truths differ from the absolute truth that comes from
14


Menelaus final story in which he relates to Telemachos how he and Helen
returned to Sparta.5 Menelaus tells how he captured Proteus, that he held the old
shape-shifter in a unremitting grip until exhausted Proteus surrendered his
knowledge of the route back to Greece. During this battle Menelaus also learns
from this prophetic old man of the sea that as husband of the semi-divine Helen
and as a warrior, he was entitled to eternal life spent upon the Elysian Fields (561-
570). Zeitlin however believes that Helen controls both truths; that of the stories
she relates and the seeming definitive truth Menelaus believes that he learned
(411). Menelaus accepts Proteus story, the assurance of his future life and
reputation, but Helen, with all her fluidity and control over truth leaves
Menelauscertainty, a precarious proposition. The chronology of the stories works
to signify the poets awareness that truth and reputation are unstable, imprecise,
and often corrupted in translation. The Helen of the Iliad and the Odyssey knows
that her story is one of future poetic enterprise, but within this knowledge is also
the understanding that the truth of poetic expression exists as a inconstant and
equivocal entity founded on seduction and persuasion.
Pietro Pucci distinguishes two symbiotic meanings in the Homeric word
for reputation, kleos. The principle meaning functions as the immortal fame of a
5 For the different discussions of this point see: Linda Clader, Helen: The Evolution From Divine
to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1976). 35, and Howard W. Clarke, The Art of the
Odyssey, (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1967) 34.
15


hero that issues from the authority of the Gods to the Muses, who in turn transmit
the heros fame to poets. Poets in turn diffuse this fame into the world. From this
transmission stems the second meaning of which kleos becomes mere report or
rumor and this repetition from Gods to Muses to poets to mortal world, allows
distortion and errors to occur. A tension exists between these two meaning since a
hero cannot acquire immortal fame without that fame spreading, but in the process
of dissemination, the elementary source of the fame (the Gods) becomes
increasingly distant and results in unavoidable alternations to the fame (163-86).
Having Helen narrate the reputation of the heroes and become the mistress of
many voices, the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey initiates this pattern wherein
Helens post-Homeric traditions is one consistently allied to a protean form of
poetic expression, insight, and a sense of play. Instead of representing a shattered,
incomplete character and one moreover the mark of Otherness upon her, the
Homeric poet propels Helens progress in the classical world toward one of
fluidity and multiplicity. Helens oscillating indeterminacy makes her exemplary
of Irigarays plurality of pleasures and promotes a sense of play and
competition among poets and story-tellers in the ancient world.
This sense of play and competition abounds in the several ancient sources
relating the wondrous story of the poet Stesichorus. Taking Helens story from the
epics of Homer, Stesichorus wrote a song commemorating Helens elopement
16


with Paris to Troy. The songso the story goes so enraged Helen that she
blinded the poet. As Plato recounts in Phaedrus:
For those who have sinned in matters of mythology there is
an ancient purification, unknown to Homer, but know to
Stesichorus. For when he was stricken with blindness for speaking
ill of Helen, he was not ignorant of the reason, but since he was
educated, he knew it and straightway he writes the poem: That
saying is not true; thou didnst not go within the well-oared ships,
nor didst thou come to the walls of Troy, and when he had written
all the poem, which is called the recantation, he saw again at once
(243a-b).
Professedly more knowledgeable than his predecessor, the blind Homer, Plato
believes that Stesichorus demonstrates the poetic ability to play with truth.6
Contemporary critics often find that the story of Stesichorus represents a
metaphor for the individual poets struggle against past poetical authority and a
poetic ambivalence toward their status at the periphery of the male sphere of the
world of deeds. Mihoko Suzuki finds:
the poet thus stands in an ambivalent relation to woman as both the
Other and the Same: although they strive to avoid occupying the
position of woman as Other, their desire to assert their difference
from the parental authority of previous male poets and their
apartness from political authority induce them to represent women,
no longer as the Other to be shunned and feared but identified with
the Same (17).
6 It is often a misconception that we know for certain that Stesichorus introduced the idea of a
phantom going to Troy in place of the real Helen. What knowledge we do have of Stesichorus
comes from a few fragments and a Hellenistic account that states he introduced a eidolon into the
17


Suzukis idea adheres to a standard feminist framework concerning the patriarchy
in narratives, but its logic has a fatal flaw. Ancient Greek narratives abound with
men blinded in exchange for the gift of story-telling or prophecy. The Odyssey
alone has two such characters, Deodocus and Teiresias. The Muse blinded
Deodocus in an exchange for his ability at story-telling (viii, 44, 62-63), while
Teiresias blindness signifies his prophetic abilities, even in the underworld (x,
492). Homer, so Plato implies, remained blind because of his ignorance at having
transgressed against Gods. Stesichorus recognizes his errors, renounces them and
gets his sight back. If one receives visionary sight in exchange for physical
blindness does this mean Stesichorus, after Helen restored his sight, no longer
experienced visionary sight? Obviously the ancients are unclear as to the formula
since they themselves were not speaking metaphorically, but rather expressing a
perception of synergy between poetic insight and divine inspiration.
Contemporary interpretation of Stesichorus story as only metaphor, and one that
appears to illustrate poetsdistaste for their poetic gifts, takes little account of
poetic arrogance, cunning, and that story-telling ultimately exists as a diversion, a
form of cognitive play.
Referring to poetic imagination, C.S. Lewis called the mythic effect
extra-literary and numinous rather than aesthetic and phenomenal (43-44).
Helen story. I think this fairly thin evidence in which to base a general conception of Greek
18


Lewis, writer and critic, understood that poetic imagination functioned at a level
beyond the concerns of the every day. Critical seriousness, such as striving to
unearth hidden meaning and discern the influence of the patriarchy, tends to
discount that the theoretical and didactic purposes of literature take a distinct
second to a good story, a good effect, a good rhyme that enthralls and seduces the
audience or reader. The present structure of critical appraisals is not unique in
forgetting or discounting the necessary quality of play and diversion at the heart
of story-telling. It is precisely this favoring of play and of pleasure over truth that
informs the practices of the Sophists and discredits them in the eyes of more
serious thinkers.
Plato, in speaking of Gorgias of Lentini, the most widely known and
successful Sophist of fifth century Greece, said that Gorgias only wished to
enslave his audience with the energy of persuasion. He called Gorgias amoral and
in commenting about his performance, stated that this stuff teaches you nothing
about the nature of things; you only leam how to fool people with subtleties and
equivocations. It is no better than tripping somebody or taking his chair away as
he is about to sit (Sophists 234c). In his aspersion upon sophistry and its inherent
amorality, Plato merely reaffirmed the fundamental thread of his theory, that all
poetry and performance seduce the individual with sensoiy perceptions that quell
metaphors.
19


the pursuit of true knowledge. Over the range of his dialogues, Plato makes clear
his distrust of sophistrys epistemology and by implication the practices of poetry
and story-telling. Zeitlin notes that the intellectual tradition of the West sees
women, generally, and the Sophists, specifically, as morally suspect and more
stimulated by the superficial, and representive of the personifications of deception
(1990, fii.92). Gorgias Encomium on Helen confirms Platos outrage, and the
historic suspicion of sophistic intention. As pervasive as these perceptions are,
what remains pertinent here, and a connection all too frequently ignored, is that
the very qualities inherent in sophistry associate themselves to poetic play and
proteanism.
Three propositions inform Gorgias philosophy: nothing exists; if anything
exists, it could not be known; if anything existed and were known, it could not be
communicated. His defense of Helen reflects this philosophy by establishing a
series of negations that do not acquit Helen but rather illustrate her lack of blame.
This tenuous distinction represents Gorgias intent to embellish, seduce, and play
with perception rather than present improbable and unknowable truth. As Gorgias
says at the beginning of his defense: I wish to write a speech that would be an
encomium of Helen, he contradicts past poets who universally condemned her.
Helen, Gorgias, asserts did go to Troy with Paris, and her motivations for going
rested in four possible scenarios of persuasion: from the gods, from violence,
20


words, or seduction and desire. Gorgias exonerates Helen because passion arising
from love or coercion, by the Gods or another individual, absolves one from ones
actions since these forces are extemal(12). Gorgias imports the arguments inferred
from the Iliad and the Odyssey as central themes in his defense of Helen. Even as
he repudiates the past poetical censure of Helen, he is at one and the same time
expanding on those very traditions he said were either not part of the poetic
tradition or else errors in that tradition. Gorgias incorporates into his encomium
even the tradition from Stesichorus. Again Gorgias introduces this tradition slyly,
not once referring to it explicitly but rather bringing into question Helens origins
and thus her status as being:
For it its clear that her mother was Leda, and her father was a god,
but allegedly a mortal. Tyndareus and Zeus of whom the one Zeus,
just because he was, appeared the father, and the other, Tyndareus
just because he was said to be[or just because he was], was
disproved to be the father; and the one was the most of men, and
the other the lord of all (276).7
The above quotations logic almost loses its equilibrium, poised as it is on the
precipice between rationality and rambling. Gorgias intentionally appears to use
this confusion, that never completely unravels, to allow the phantom of
Stesichorus to enter the argument. It is a slippery style that negates the known
Helen from stories and legends even as it describes and supports those Helens.
Gorgias Helen then, serendipitously contains all three of his propositions in that
21


Gorgias weaves all the many Helens from tradition into a non-being, unknowable
and elusive.
By never allowing a clear statement of Helens origins to stabilize, Gorgias
exacerbates the excessive series of poetic negations that begin in the Iliad. This
emphasizes the multifarious nature of Helen whose identities in the encomium
coexist without one displacing any of the others. Gorgias conflates the divergent
traditions of Helen because Helen and her story are not founded upon truth or
falsehood but rather on desire and persuasion. For Gorgias, one believes a story of
Helen because one desires to do so.
Gorgias Encomium of Helen privileges play over truth, desire over fact,
multiple identities over a single cohesive identity. It epitomizes the philosophy
that allies itself most closely to the practices of proteanism. In this Gorgias looks
forward to Irigarays theory of mimesis. Gorgias never allows his Helen to
become singular. In so doing he crushes the theoretical machinery of mimesis that
Plato sought to establish. Gorgias mimesis is essentially a freedom from the
exigencies of mimetic adherence to physical reality (Segal 106). It is not an
arbitrary matter that Gorgias decided to write about Helen. The complexities, the
protean qualities of Helen, Gorgias inherits from the epics and in Stesichorus,
offered him a shifting mosaic which aptly demonstrated the struggle between 7
7 Quote taken from James I. Porters brief translation of this passage.
22


freedom and the establishment of truth in narratives. Nancy Worman suggests that
Helens elusive form and personality represent Western concerns with
stabilizing the relationship between appearance and reality (152-153).Worman
sees Gorgias encomium as a study in which the persuasion of language
reinvents the field of vision to frustrate the Oedipal desire to know the end of the
story (199). In these various Greek texts I detect Irigarays construction of
mimesis, rather than the Opedial frustration that Worman sees. Male poets
understanding of the plurality of female as a thing irreducible leads them to
deploy the multiplicity without an attempt to reduce. In so doing poets and story-
tellers explore the epistemological concerns of sight and insight and freedom over
truth, while never allowing, nor seeking resolution. This is not to say that poets
and story-tellers disregard society or disassociate totally from its structure. But by
privileging freedom over truth, they destabilize perceptions and allow an
encounter between speculation and belief.
Such an encounter occurred in Athens during the fifth century BCE.
Drawn-out hostilities with Sparta ushered in a bellicose period when the state of
Athens sought to suppress internal and external resistance to its policies. Athens
attempting to coerce the neutral state of Melos to join the Athenian confederacy,
besieged the city in 416 BCE. Upon winning, the Athenians executed the entire
male population and enslaved all the women and children. A similar expedition to
23


Sicily in 413 BCE ended in failure and resulted in the death of thousands of
Athenian soldiers. Such unprovoked and ultimately unsuccessful events
compelled artists in Athens to create works that obtusely questioned the
prosecution of war and the rightness of Athenian authority.
Scholars frequently regard these two events as the political subtexts that
frame Euripides The Trojan Woman and The Helen. Others read the plays as
meditations about sex rather than war, about womans survival through their
assumption of sexual objectification. Differing from other scholars, Michael
Lloyd finds ample evidence of Euripides deploying many of the techniques that
sophists used to form their epistemology (83). Merit exists for all three styles of
critiquing these two plays but as concerns Helen and proteanism, Lloyds analysis
appears to demonstrate Euripides intent to explore the illusions encountered in
plays and those illusions encountered in the real world. Euripides took the Troy
story and most particularly the proteanism of Helen as the signifier to make
visible the invisible corruption of war, Helen and her varied traditions destabilize
Athenian belief in the rightness of their policies.
In the earlier play The Trojan Women, Euripides gives a seemingly
vitriolic view of Helen. On their way to slavery, the women of Troy directly
blame Helen for the war, its catastrophic consequences and the death of Hectors
24


young son, Asthyanax. Early in the play Cassandra contrasts Helens motivation
against those of Agamemnon:
For one womans sake these hunted Helen down and threw
thousands of lives away. Their generalclever manin the name of
a vile woman cut his darling down, gave up for a brother the
sweetness of children in his house, all to bring back that brothers
wife, a woman who went of her free will, not caught in constraint
of violence. (367-373)
Cassandra anticipates the seeming rational arguments of Hecuba that come later in
the agon. Cassandra compares Helens freedom to choose Paris over Menelaus
with the subsequent violence perpetrated by Agamemnon. For Cassandra, Helen is
vile because all she did arises from desire and selfishness while Agamemnons
violence arises from duty and obligation. He murders his daughter to appease the
Gods, and wars against Troy out of a duty for an oath made to his brother. This is
unlike Helens apparent decisions that appear founded on desire, lust, and vanity.
The dread and anger of the play deepens following Cassandra speech when an
Ode to Ganymeda introduces the agon. Its baleful lyrics detail the disparity
between Zeus cup bearers existence and the death of his former home, Troy
(799-859). The Chorus sings of the beauty that was once Troy, of how the city is
now fed to the flames, its people dead or enslaved, and how the Gods once loved
the city. The death throes of the city sung in the ode differ sharply from the
swaggering entrance of Menelaus who greets the sun and avows that he came to
25


Troy to kill the deceiver who seized his wife, not to regain a woman (867-871).
Hecuba, who disregards Menelaus bravado, finally warns him against looking
upon Helen since she captures men by her sight (890-894). A cool, rational
Hecuba then confronts Helen brought roughly onto the stage by guards. Helen
pleads with Menelaus to allow her to persuade him that in killing her he commits
an injustice. Hecuba joins Helen in this plea so that Menelaus will come to know
the full story of Helens crimes. Central to the debate between the two women is
the question of freedom of choice.
In her opening statement, Helen implicates Hecuba in the fall of Troy.
Helen contends that having given birth to Paris and unwilling to commit
infanticide after she experienced the visions of his destructive force, Hecuba
shares culpability. She also brings to her defense the specter of Aphrodite by
maintaining that the goddess, beguiled and beguiling Paris, compelled Helen to
leave home, husband, and child. Helen attests that in choosing Aphrodite, Paris
brought about the ire of Athena and Hera, and that Troy merely fell into the line
of fire over a contested apple. Helen affirms that after Paris died, no longer
entrapped by the desire of Aphrodite, she made several attempts to escape and that
Deiphobus took as her his wife against her will (914-965).
Hecuba counters Helens declaration of innocence because of divine
intervention by chiding her assertions that in a personal quarrel over beauty the
26


three goddesses brought down Troy. She reasons that Hera, Athena, and
Aphrodite were above such fights. Hecuba claims that this argument is solely a
ruse to hide Helens overwhelming sexual appetite inflamed by the sight of Paris.
She states that after the death of Paris, she time and time again, offered to help
Helen escape to the Greek camp, but that Helen, filled with the admiration of the
Trojans rejected Hecubas assistance (970-1028).
Examining the two womens polemics, scholars often find that Helens
speech is full of trivial and shallow arguments lacking in moral fiber when placed
in opposition to Hecubas reasoned and rational speech (Lloyd, 1992,105).
Scholars attuned to Hecubas ethical question of freedom of choice, see her easily
demolishing Helens contention of a lack of choice or beguildment by the Gods.
Cast as a moral tale The Trojan Women appears to scholars as a remonstration
against all that Helen represents as character and as emblematic of society. Helen
figures in critical appraisals as embodying all that Plato scornedstylish dress,
desire, and circular augments founded on verbal and visual persuasion over reason
and the pursuit of the truth. Following Plato, critics come to understand Hecuba as
the great philosopher of the play and Helen as only the dramatic resistance to
Hecubas truth. Such readings have Euripides morally rejecting the persuasion of
speech to move the masses. The problem with this manner of appraising the play
is that it makes simplistic and dogmatic the arguments which Euripides presents.
27


In fact, the agon raises far too many questions to make the matter one so easily
resolved. If Hecubas philosophic stance against Helen rests on the basis of ones
free will, then Helens initial statement that Hecuba is in part to blame for the war
both supports Hecubas arguments and mitigates Helens culpability.
Interestingly, Hecuba does not directly respond to this accusation, and it falls into
the play like an empty space, a caesura, that Hecuba cannot fill with logic, or
truth, juxtaposed as it is with Helen declaring that she saved the Greeks by her
beauty which made Paris choose her over domination of the Greeks (931-934).
At his entrance Menelaus vowed that he came to kill Helen immediately
(873-875). By the end of the play Menelaus, still professing agreement with
Hecuba that Helen should die for her crimes, has lost some of his bombast and
sends Helen to the ships to await her death in Argos (1048-1049). At this, the
assurance of Hecubas reasoned statements further disintegrates since in
relenting, Menelaus becomes prey to Helens persuasive speech and beauty.
According to tradition, Helen does not die for crimes against the Greeks but
returns home. Knowing that Helen returns does not mean that Euripides or the
audience either exonerates her or condemns her. As in Odyssey, two versions of
Helen play out within the play. Helen affirms that she tried to leave and calls to
witness the sentries at the gates of Troy. Hecuba counters this by saying that she
often urged Helen to leave. Two versions of Helen emerge in The Trojan Women
28


that decenter and skew the certainties of Helens crimes. The audience knows the
stories, but trapped within the frame of the plays narrative, Hecuba and Menelaus
cannot know the Gods intention or the varied traditions from legends and epics.
Helens protean status empowers her to slip from the play to the audience and
back to the play. The language of desire that Helen employs further intensifies her
proteanism in that she makes the necessity of desire the saving grace of Greece.
Hecuba forcibly condemns Helen for an insatiable appetite, but it is exactly the
means of her desire and the desire of others for her that Euripides compels the
audience to question the dynamics of power within and beyond the frame of the
play. In so doing, power becomes the dynamic of persuasion as opposed to it
being a dynamic of truth. Euripides in employing this structure to the play moves
the question of truth beyond the ruins of Tory to his contemporary world. In so
doing he echoes Thucydides understanding of political life in Athens.
Thucydides explained political life as politicians working seduction upon
the citizens. The good politician seduces the populace well and with compassion.
The bad or ill-spoken politician elicits passion and indifference from the
population (3.37-39). Euripides differs from Thucydides when asking in the play
The Trojan Women whether an individual ever detects the difference between
good and bad persuasion? Helen figures for Euripides as this question mark,
wherein the individual watching the play needs to become skeptical of Hecuba
29


and Helens arguments alike, just as an individual in society needs to weigh the
persuasive speech of politicians for balance and virtue, not for truth.
The Platonic dialogues incisively detected the disastrous effect that strong
and powerful language had upon an acephalous society, especially during a time
of war and strife. Yet, because the Platonists saw the war couched in philosophic
terms, they theorized that to rid the world of war required an end to the power of
seduction and persuasion. Euripides, as poet and story-teller, knows that it is
impossible to detach humans from seduction and persuasion. Like Thucydides and
Gorgias, he recognizes seduction and persuasion as double-faced, provoking
either good or evil. The Helen of The Trojan Women is the disguise which
Euripides uses to show that the society needs the idiom of play not to question the
ethics behind persuasion but rather to provide the means to its best use. In The
Trojan Women, Euripides declines to assign a clear agent of blame for the war
because he is not exploring culpability but rather the doubleness of persuasion. By
regarding Euripides Helen in The Trojan Women as merely a signifier of women
surviving war misses Euripides extraordinary skill as a poet, to detect from the
sidelines, the root problems of political authority and of Athens arrogant
policies.
Perhaps one of the fatal flaws of transgressing disciplines that critics so
often deploy in assessing literature is their use of language of one discipline to
30


wholly appraise another. Even Theodor Adorno, one of the preeminent advocates
of Critical Theory, knew this when he insisted upon the differences between
philosophy and literature: If one attempts to comprehend the writings of
philosophers as literature, then one has missed their truth content (9). Conversely
if one reads literature as truth then one misses the power and seduction of its
content. As Gary S. Meltzer demonstrates in The Helen, Euripides exploits the
inherent tension between the two meanings of kleos to insinuate with more
emphatic intensity the sinister side of persuasion and seduction (235-38).8 In The
Helen Euripides utilizes the motif of the eidolon to create the plot premise that the
real Helen did not runaway with Paris, never went to Troy, and consequently
cannot function as the causus belli of the war.9 The Prologue spoken by Helen
(the real one) situates the entire structure of the play as a self-conscious narrative
that summons in whole, the diverse and many-voiced traditions of her. According
to Helen, Hera created the eidolon as a means of preventing Aphrodite from
fulfilling her promise to Paris (27-36). Helen insists that Zeus permitted the
continuation of the deception so as to depopulate the overpopulated earth and to
increase the fame of Achilles (38-41).10 Helen finds that Zeus treatment of her
8 Meltzer broadly utilizes Puccis description of kleos to build upon his discussion of The Helen.
9 In the Iliad Apollo creates a temporary eidolon to allow the besieged Aeneas to escape
Diomedes. It is the one instance in which a god used this type of illusion in the epics. Helens
eidolon in the only case in classical literature with long-term functions.
10 Hesiod introduces this creation/ destruction story, but it does not appear to have ever played a
significant role in Helens tradition.
31


produces disparate outcomes.Though he maintains her virtue by transporting her
to the protection of the Egyptian king, Proteus, he also allows her name to become
attached to crimes of war, desertion of family, and adultery (46-48). Her extended
stay in Egypt also places her virtue in harms way when she relates that after the
death of the kindly King Proteus, she continuously endures the advances of his
son, Theoclyemus (50-51). Within the Prologue, Euripides continually allows
Helen to speculate about the credibility of myth and reputation. Helen retells the
story of her conception as the coupling of Leda and the Swan (Zeus), but calls into
dispute the integrity of the this story by reciting, in a more coherent manner, the
passage in Gorgias encomium (21). She even calls into dispute the question of
her beauty by suggesting that her beauty diminished by half when Hera created
the eidolon. The great beauty at Troy, the phantom beauty, the beauty that men
fought over, was never as beautiful as the whole beauty, the real beauty before the
war. Everything that Helen relates forms a series of negations that echo Gorgias
defense of her, and cleverly conjures the tradition of Helen in Homer and
Stesichorus. Euripides conflation of these traditions at the beginning of the play
creates an ironic backdrop by which he subverts heroic names to question their
association with reputation and immortality.
Typically in the epics a name acted as an individuals unique property,
denoting a heroic characters status and qualities. The personalities of Odysseus
32


and Achilles remain stable through-out various texts because of the belief that
names correspond to character. In The Helen, names lose their status as Euripides
challenges the metaphysics of presence implicit in the epics and makes his
characters names more vulnerable to dispersal, elusiveness, and error (236).11
Helen, whose character throughout all her traditions never presents a stable and
cohesive identity, becomes emblematic of the slippage between names as a means
to interrogate the stability of identity and principles. The beauty of Helen, perhaps
the one distinguishing feature of her reputation, loses its privilege by becoming
split between the two Helens. The primary meaning of kleos falters when
Euripides brings into question the legitimacy of gaining glory from war deeds for
which the Gods may or may not decide to confer immortal fame. After being
confronted by the truth of Helens reality every character asks Where is the glory
of Troy? If all the fighting and death occurred over a woman who was never
present at Troy and if her phantom double did not contain the full beauty of the
original, What than, was all the fighting about?
Even the real Helen becomes thwarted by that very beauty which defines
her when Menelaus fails to recognize her as the real thing (554-581). Helen,
attempting to explain to Menelaus the existence of two Helens, states that My
11 Meltzer employs this description of Euripides play, taking the idea from Jacques Derrida who
defined it to mean the imperative, powerful, systematic, and irrepressible desire for meaning
thinkable and possible outside all signifiers.
33


name could be in many places but not my body (588). It is her name and
therefore her reputation that enable the false projection of herself to become so
widely dispersed. Helen, who earlier advises against the evidence and persuasion
of the senses, must employ those very qualities of sense persuasion to compel
Menelaus to see her as the real Helen. Yet, Menelaus only comes to understand
the reality of the two Helens when he hears from a third party that the eidolon
disappeared into the clouds. The servant relating the disappearance of the
phantom claims that as it departed it cried out in a mocking tone: Helen heard
evil things said of her, who did nothing wrong (614). As Charles Segal states:
In a setting where war and Troy are called into question, an identity defined by
Troys fall is highly problematical (233). This statement of the problem is
exactly the conundrum that Euripides leaves unraveled at the end of the play.
Segals analysis shows that the eidolon functions in the play to undercut the
seeming exoneration of Helen since ones reputation seems inseparable from
ones person. The real Helen remained virtuous but the presence of the phantom
in the world is a non-being and non-event that the real Helen shall never
overcome.
At the end of the play when Helens brothers, the Discuri, enter, they
promise to name an island off the coast of Attic after her and pledge that upon her
death, she will become a goddess and the object of song and poetry (1643,1657-
34


75). This apparently restores Helens reputation but all the preceding suffering,
hardship, and pain simply to become an island or an object of song seems an
empty remuneration. Embedded in his challenge to the metaphysics of presence,
Euripides epitomizes the mimetic-play of which Irigaray speaks because he makes
Helen an object that is forever abducted but never fully captured (Bergren, 82).
35


CHAPTER 2
CECI NPAS UN PARTI QUE CECI NEST PAS UN DISCO
Helens tradition in Greek literature as it related to proteanism does not
extend into the Roman Republic and the early Empire. Vergils Aeneid,
continuing the Troy story, has at its heart the pleasure and support of Augustinian
rule. Helen, like all the characters in the Aeneid, operates with an underlying
compulsion to establish Rome.12 Also it is Greek literature that establishes the
proteanism of Helen, though not proteanism itself. Proteanism as a distinct
characteristic of literature is always at play in culture. What differs from era to era
is the degree to which proteanism dominated through a societys acceptance of
fluidity and mutability. Perhaps the main difference between the Aeneid and the
earlier Greek epics lies in the extent which social institutions superimpose their
structure upon story-telling. This is why the romances of the late Roman Empire
are of more interest to the qualities of proteanism and Helens fluid identity. At
this point (2nd and 3rd century CE) when the social institutions of the Roman
Empire were in a state of fluctuation and when the political and ideological
12 For a discussion of the difference between the Aeneid and the Homeric epics see Victor Poshel,
The Art of Vergil: Image and Symbol in the Aeneid. (Ann Arbor: Michigan State University,
1962), and Kenneth Quinn, Vergils Aeneid'. A Critical Description (London: Penguin Books,
36


mandates of the Aeneid no longer commanded authority, the fluidity and play of
these romances flourished. Philstatrus, best known for writing the miraculous tale
of Apollonius of Tyana to counteract the growing popularity of the Jesus story,
also wrote the protean Heroicus, a retelling of the Troy related through the
recounting of the first Greek solider to die at Troy, Protestilaus. In the Heroicus a
Phoenician merchant meets with a man who farms in the environs of Troy. The
farmer tells the merchant the story of the war as told by the shade of Protestilaus
who haunts the farmers fields.
According to the farmer, Protestilaus relates that Odysseus bribed Homer
to change the actual story of Troy so as to promote his reputation at the expense of
other warriors. The real story is that Paris went to Greece on a diplomatic mission
to return Priams sister Hesoine after the Greeks kidnapped her and gave her to
Telamon. He saw Helen on the island of Cytheria, kidnapped her and despoiled
the temple. The Greeks, angry, went to war with Troy. Battles ensued, Achilles
falls in love with the Trojan princess, Polyxena, when she comes with Priam to
ransom Hectors body. He promises to end the war in exchange for her hand. On
the wedding day the Trojans kill him as he waits for Polyxena. Odysseus kills
Palamedes; Antenor and Troilus work with the Greeks to destroy Troy. Priam
locks up Cassandra and plots in the death of Antenor and Troilus. At the end of
1968). It is interesting to note that these two texts, written almost forty years ago still retain a
37


the story, Antenor and Troilus along with Aeneas escape on ships while Troy
bums and the rest of the Trojan royal family, including Helen, are either enslaved
or die. Protesilaus ends his story by explaining that after Achilles died, he and
Helen eventually married and spent their immortal lives together on the island of
Leuke.13
It all sounds rather absurd and more like material for a grand Wagerian
opera as well as being somewhat at odds with ones ideas of what a writer of the
Roman court elite should be writing. Yet because of the flux within the empire
and its institutions, Philstratrus experiences a freedom to alter and change the
official story, twisting the characters from the Homeric tradition into new
identities. Dares the Phrygians History of the Destruction of Troy and Dictys the
Creatans Diary of the Trojan War follow Phiolostratrus account along similar
lines of plot and character, The new magical stories of Christian saints and Jesus
working as an oppositional force against Roman institutions inadvertently
empowered pagan writers from the second and third century, an era known as the
Second Sophistic period, to create narratives in which a good story took
precedence over seeming historical accuracy. Even with their rather extensive
poetic license these late Roman stories enable the proteanism of Helen to continue
erudition that keeps the writers ideas still fresh and current.
38


and became the literary fodder for Medieval interpretation of the Troy story and
Helens continued tradition in literature.
In his recent translation of Aristotles Poetics, Richard Janko states that in
ancient Greek the word mimesis encompassed a wide range of meanings including
copying, imitation, impersonation, and representation (220). Aristotle, differing
from Plato, took as his definition of mimesis that of representation and
resemblances. Aristotle defined poetry and poetic experience as a representation
of reality in contrast to Platos notion of false imitation. According to Aristotle an
individual learns from mimesis in poetry because of the intellectual process of
recognizing a representation as a representation. Aristotle saw this process
enabling an increased clarity of a general outline of the thing represented. The
resultant catharsis produced by a good poet contributed to the development of
virtue (xi-xv 56-58). Aristotles definition restored some of the beneficial qualities
of mimesis to poetry during the classical period, but Platos distrust of women, of
fluid personalities within poetry and without, had lasting effects and influence on
Western thought and the manner in which Western thought appraises literature.
As the classical world in the West transformed itself into the structures
and paradigms of medievalism, and the early modem period proteanism and 13
13 When discussing the Iliad with my students a general wish that comes from them is to see
Achilles and Helen running off together and getting married. This is an idea and desire I support.
Philstratms decision to marry them off seems a fitting and a universal wish fulfilled.
39


poetic deployment of Helen as proteanisms prime agent diverged and altered.
Reconciling the knowledge of paganism with the revealed knowledge of
Christianity required that a certain corruption or imprecision form around the
translation (both literal and in spirit) of classical thought to the Medieval West.
Aristotle lost to most of the West for centuries, Medieval thought concentrated
upon Platos construction of mimesis and its affinity to Christian doctrine. Homer
along with many other Greek narratives also being lost to the Medieval world
meant that much of the Troy story came down through the writings of Romans
such as Vergil, Phistratrus, Dares and Dictys.14 As a result Sophistrys implied
concept of mimesis as a form of assumption, came to be seem in the Medieval
West as an insidious link to evil.
St Augustine and later Aquinas defined this evil as literary non-being,
found in the mimetic, an absence or lack of soul. To oppose God meant opposing
the absolute good and the only reality. In essence, for one to oppose God meant
one existed within and part of unreality (64, 69). Hence, the development of
doctrine of privative evil stating that evil is real only phenomenally in that it has
effects but no essence (68). Augustine and Aquinas concept of privative evil
follows the spirit of Gorgias proposition of non-being, but defines it as
something malevolent and malignant. Following through with the doctrine as it
14 A 1,700 Mas Latina existed during the Middle Ages, but was mostly a translation of the Mads
40


relates to proteanism, society comes to understand an individual who assumes
many identities as existing only through appearances and having no essential core,
filled with protean evil. To assume many different identities means that an
individual lacks a stable essence. Therefore one becomes like Gorgias Helen, a
non-being. While continuing to exemplify proteanism, the fluid and varied Helen
became nuanced with evil and malfeasance.
Early Medieval mythographers define Helen as the depraved offspring of
power (Jupiter) coupled with injustice and contention (Leda) and spawning
scandal and discord. These mythographers designated Urania as Helens star. A
general belief was that Uranias surface was so hot that its rays melted bronze and
therefore was particularly dangerous to sailors. This association between Helen
and Urania echoed Helens passion with the ability to bum ships thus developing
as a metaphor for burning Troy (Haskins, 112). Later Medieval iconography
presents a more subtle depiction of Helens transformation to protean evil in that
Medieval artists, beginning in the 1100s usually depict a calm tranquil Helen
surrounded by chaos and disorder. As Arthur Lindley says: Vice as the prime
example of protean evil is depicted as always polymorphous, mimicking human
fellowship and having human form overlaid with animal elements, evil imitating
first five books and translated probably during the first century CE.
41


good (4-5). Helens tranquillity contrasted with the destruction encircling her
follows the depiction of vice as discussed by Lindley.
This does not mean that the West did not receive alternative perceptual
traditions. For example within Celtic society, the story-tellers orally related their
experiences as shape-shifting and becoming other identities. Celts acknowledged
three ways of knowing: observation, perception, and knowledge. The experience
of observation entails that the knower and the known remained separate entities.
Perceptual knowledge came through a blurring between the two entities that
enable a form of communing to emerge. Bards and seers alone acquired the final
way of knowing by assuming the identity of the others. Bards, as important and
central figures in Celtic society, gained their positions from being able to relate, in
a impressive fashion, their experiences at becoming other entities. In the Medieval
world, the convergence of indigenous patterns of story-telling, combined with
both the desire to retain a connection to the classical world and rejection of its
paganism causes a strange amalgamation to emerge in the Troy story and in the
character of Helen.
During the Twelfth century, the reintroduction of Troy as a story and as an
actual event played a central role in medieval narratives. These new stories have a
decidedly pro-Trojan, anti-Greek posture in part attributable to the continuation of
Roman institutions through the Church and its retention of Latin. Not until the late
42


Fourteenth century did Homer reenter fully in Western thought when Leontius,
Polatus, and Boccaccio made the first full translation from the Greek. Just as
significant, though, is the belief that Troy fell to engender the passing of power
and world dominance transferred to Rome and eventually to the Christian West
(157).
Benoit de Sainte-Maures Roman de Troie (Romance of Troy), written
during the middle decades of the Twelfth century, initiates this trend. Obtaining
most of his material from Dares and Dictys, Beniots account runs to some 30,000
lines. The story begins with the Argonaunts searching for the Golden Fleece. In
their searching, they besiege and sack Troy. Priam rebuilds but the Greeks kidnap
his sister Esiona. The Trojans send a punitive expedition to retrieve Esiona. The
Trojans take Helen, and the two factions go to war. In Beniots account the
Trojans only lose the war when the prince, Antenor plots with the Greeks to
invade the city. After the fall of Troy, the Greeks return and the poem ends with
the murder of Ulysses by his son Telegonus, child of Circe( Highet, 50-53).
Gilbert Highet notes that though medieval writers had access to Vergil, the
episodic quality, the emphasis on romance and the absence of Gods battling in
Dares and Dictys offered a far greater attraction to the Twelfth century mind than
did Vergils more classical treatment(54). Original to Benoits account is the
introduction of the love story between Troilus and Briesis. Beniots tale increased
43


the fashion for royal families and their subjects to trace their history back to a
hero from Troy. Medieval histories from the Twelfth century abound with
genealogical trees that trace families back to Troy. One such example of this is a
genealogical roll of the Kings of England, dating from the late Thirteenth Century.
It begins with Brutus, a Trojan Prince who escaped from Troy to become the
founder of Britain, and ends with Edward I. Within its illuminated text are
medallions in which episodes that include Helen are visually bracketed by
medallions showing war or destruction (Basewell and Taylor, 300-301). This text
contains a convergence of Helen and the Troy story as perceived by the Medieval
mind. The mythographies, the iconography, and the sense of protean evil causes a
cumulative effect upon Helen, wherein by the late Middle Ages she barely lingers
in Troy stories.
By the end of the Fourteenth century, Medieval authors combined the
characteristics of Briesie from Beniot and that of Helen to create the figure of
Cressida as the central female figure in their Troy narratives. Cressida becomes
the standard of inconstancy and indeterminacy in this new tradition that closely
allies itself with the characteristics of protean evil. In Chaucers Troilus and
Criseyde, Helen is like whipped cream, all froth and air, while Cressida moves
constantly from one desire to another, from one man to another. Chaucer, like
many medieval writers, seems unable to give the fleeting and indeterminate figure
44


of Helen a substance and mutability as did the Greeks. It is not so much that he
objectifies her as the negative Other, but that she is simply incapable of even
haunting his poetic landscape. If anything, Chaucers treatment of Helen is almost
like that of an alchemist, playing with base metals to engender events. She
becomes for Chaucer such a non-being that her presence in Troilus and Criseyda
is that of a catalyst without substance. Cressida, as a replacement figure for Helen,
lacks her fluidity and mutability since Cressida, conceived in the shadow of the
Middle Ages sense of evil cannot overcome her singularity.
As strong as the link between the assumption of different identities and
evil becomes in the Middle Ages there remained the impulse for story-tellers to
embrace the qualities of proteanism. Chaucer, while unable to beget a protean
Helen does create in his Canterbury Tales a liminal, if not protean figure, in the
character of the Pardoner. In the General Prologue, Chaucer states that the
Pardoner is either, a geldyng or mare (688-691). Scholars believe that Chaucers
reference of the Pardoner as being one or the other designates the Pardoner as
either being a eunuch or a homosexual.Using different description of the
Pardoners physicality various scholars have decided upon one of these options
they find that Chaucer provided. More important though than the status of the
Pardoners sexual status rest in the very ambiguity of that status. It is the
uncertainty, the instability of the Pardoners nature that associates him as
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representative of proteanism, that is protean evil. Chaucer correlates the various
items of clothing that the Pardoner wears and his bag of relics with the Middle
Ages, depiction of the devil as a wolf masked behind the figure of a sheep.15
Chaucer elaborates on the theme of the Pardoner as protean evil when the
Pardoner admits at the end of his tale that the bones he carries are those of sheep
(709-757). Superficially the Pardoner appears sincere since he exposes the deceit
of his bag. Like the flaying of the sheeps skin to expose the wolf inside, the
Pardoner appears to shed his mask of piety. Yet as Jane Chance points out, the
Pardoner manipulates his audience and thus remains a figure free from the
confines of sin and society (431). By exposing the relics as sheep bones he
appears contrite, but it is a repentance of that creates another identity for the
Pardoner as he mystifies his audience by exposing his falsehood as he continues
to sell his pardons. The Pardoners audience, the other pilgrims or the reader
never experiences a certainty over which identity is the true identity of the man.
He becomes a figure of no identity, a protean figure.
The continuation of protean impulses in the Middle Ages, especially that
sophistic sense that one believes a story because one desires to believe, endures
and strengthens during the Renaissance when the West began once again to
explore the nature and identity of humanity and human experience. Pico della
15 Malcolm Pittock discusses the Pardoners protean impulses in a similar fashion to Lindley. See,
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Miradola saw each person as a type of Proteus, with the capacity for
metamorphoses into anything that the individual desired. The entire premise of
Baldassare Castigliones The Book of The Courtier described the transfiguring
ability of the individual. The protean human which Pico and Castiglione described
and promoted required a sense of freedom, differing from the ideal of forming a
cohesive, singular, human identity. That sense of freedom and mutability, while
functioning on the periphery of Western thought during and after the Renaissance
allowed writers in varying degrees to continued their affinity with mimesis as
defined by Aristotle and later Irigaray.
Strangely enough it is the emergence of the novel in literature that appears
as the single most important factor contributing to both the marginalization of
protean characters and the objectification of women a factor that perhaps plays
into feminist critiques of literature. Applying Ronald Barthes theories of
narratives being forms of orgasmic free-play, many feminist critics understand
modem narratives as a striptease in which the male desire of seeing the sexual
organs of female is not unlike the desire to know the origin and end of the story
(1975,10).
Beginning in the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth centuries, the
writerthe story-teller no longer had the immediate contact with his audience as
The Pardoners Tale and the Quest for Death, in Essays in Criticism 24 (1974): 107-23
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in the past. This distance between writer and audience creates, out of necessity, an
artificial mise en scene wherein the writer must continually reassure the reader of
a shared intimacy to collaspe over the distance. Walter Benjamin noticed this
distance when in the Story-teller, he described the struggle that modem writers
face. Contrasting modem story-telling with an oral tradition, Benjamin discerned
that texts composed in isolation and consumed in private disengaged the story-
teller from the community of listeners and broke that essential transmission of
poetic imagination and experience (92). Benjamins apt analysis demonstrated the
difficulty that modem story-tellers and poets have in enticing the individual away
from the concerns of the ordinary world, when they themselves are not present.
To overcome these difficulties writers began to initiate a pattern whereby
characters become sharply detailed, where plotting is linear and character
motivation carefully and clearly elucidated. The writer of stories as it were
becomes like the eye of the camera which directs the eye of the viewer toward one
destination. Such focus shuts off that sense of freedom and play found in
proteanism. It compels the reader to know a character as a singular identity that
fits into a fully developed narrative.
Daniel Defoes Moll Flanders exists at the intersection of this transition.
Moll, as the narrator of her own story, relates her fortunes and misfortunes, but
never in a cohesive singular pattern. Moll narrates of pregnancies, children bom
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but never mentioned again. She relates her interaction with men and takes on
many identities throughout her long career. The reader experiences an awareness
of Moll not dissimilar to Helen. As like Helen though, one is never certain of
Molls form, physicality or true nature. She is always just out of reach of
becoming complete and objectified by us and Defoe.
With the novels of Samuel Richardson, who designs his novels around an
omniscient narrator, the reader becomes fully informed as to the nature and
character of the individuals who inhabit his narrative spaces. A secret exists at the
center of Fieldings Tom Jones, but Fieldings description of character and their
motivation present full portraits restricting his characters fluidity, freedom, and
diversity once seen in the story-telling tradition of previous eras. One need only
think of Fieldings introduction of Sophia, Toms love interest, to notice the
change brought about by the novel. Through his lengthy description, Sophia
becomes a solid individual, a radiant creature, all lustre and sparkle, with teeth
like ivory and a complexion more of the lily than of the rose (110). This woman
is complete, fully formed; we know her, but she lacks that enigmatic quality, that
elusiveness that is both seductive and persuasive.
Only with Richardsons contemporary, Laurence Sterne, does the novel
take a different route, one more allied to the sense of proteanism of which I speak
in connection with Helen. Sternes The Life and Opinions ofTristran Shandy
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(1760-1766) looks back on the fluidity and play of the ancient Greeks as it looks
forward to the metafictions of postmodernism. The characters who inhabit
Sternes novel do appear to be what Walter Bagehot called disparaging
unitelligibitities, in that at one moment in the novel, Sterne appears to itemize
all the qualities that comprise a certain character but in the next moment utterly
changed them (397,538). As Christopher Ricks says of Sternes writing and its
incongruity in the Eighteenth Century:
Sterne belongs to a world which was increasingly tempted
to look upon literature as an ultimate good, and he was writing in a
formthe novelwhich quite rightly thought that it was fitted to
accomplish in literary tasks in some ways more profound, more
true and more complete than any literature that had preceded it
(15).
By using visual descriptors, a black page to denote grief (233) and never settling
on perfect and complete character portraits, Steme appears to chafe at that
seriousness of purpose beginning to seep into literature and finding its apogee
during the Victorian era. No one character in Sternes book becomes objectified
because Steme never allows any of his characters to become singular, clearly
defined individuals. By surrendering to a camera like narrative, writers of novels
began to see their mission as having a greater purpose than simply telling a good
story. Ideological causes, hinted at previously, become central themes, singular
themes in novels from the Nineteenth century. One need only to think of the
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nature of the novels of Dickens or Zola to witness the diminishment of play and
proteanism in story-telling. As Charles Johnson writes in Being and Race: While
ideology may create a fascinating vision of the universe, and also fascinating
literary movements, it closes off the free investigation of phenomena (26).
Sterne, understanding that story-telling encompassed a sensuous commitment to
the imagination, knew that the act of story-telling made life more enjoyable and
endurable, not necessarily more truthful. Closing off the investigation of
phenomena is why the character of Helen, allied as she is with proteanism, most
often finds expression during the Twentieth century in poetry rather than in
novels.
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CHAPTER 3
CECITROMPE VERS
Perhaps one of the reasons that contemporary criticism so often relies upon the
paradigms of social sciences to appraise literature occurs because of a distance
between metaphor and assumption, between story-teller and audience as
recognized by Sterne. It is a distancing that enables the ideological concerns of the
one individual to intrude between the multifarious options of a story. In this the
priority of imagination diminishes in culture, replaced by science, technology, and
singularity, and where the degree of social concerned, social issues define the
quality of a writers story telling ability. In his study of William Butler Yeats
Dudley Young describes this struggle:
As the philosopher and the scientist take over a cultures
classification, the poets assertions become metaphorical; that is
they no longer proclaim identities between Man Nature but only
resemblances. For example, when the primitive Greek poets
says-An angry man is a roaring lion, this means that the man
actually becomes a lion, participates in the Form of leoninity. But
when the culture no longer looks to the poet for such definitions,
the statement can only mean that an angry man behaves in a
similar fashion to a roaring lion. To discover what anger really is
we look to the psychologist, and these days he tells us that it is a
drive-acceleration; and of course the psychologist is right (15-16).
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This taking over of poetics by science, psychology, and philosophy described by
Young does not necessarily affect the process of poetics but rather the perception
of poetics.
Narrative from the schools of Realism and Naturalism dance on the very
edge that separates the social order from play and proteanism. Patricia Waugh
defines Realism as a suppression of dialogic potentials by its insistence on
representation and its resistance to the illusion of mimesis (2). Much of the writing
from the Twentieth century contains the latent possibility of succumbing to the
social order and merely replicating its transitory concerns. Writers designated as
post-modern such as Italo Calvin, John Barth, John Fowles, and Susan Sontag
seem to distance their writing from the social order by deploying narrative
patterns which turn back upon themselves to explore the process of creation. The
dialogic potentials that Waugh finds in post-modern writing, however, seem
mostly closely allied to the qualities of proteanism. One need only examine the
self-reflective writing of Steme or the uses of Helen to notice the similarity.16
William Butler Yeats Leda and the Swan and HDs Helen in Egypt deploy and
subvert the various currents in poetics and criticism to express those qualities of
16 Waugh applies Mikhail Bakhtin theories to explore the dialogic potential. Bakhtins theories
also include a sense of parody by which story-tellers consciously use and undermine past literary
forms. In The French Lieutenant Woman, John Fowles employs such a parodying of Victorian
novels but he creates a protean dialogue by never allowing the reader to be sure of the outcome of
the story.
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proteanism in a critical world no longer giving poetics a principal position to
change and make human reality more pleasing and pleasurable.
An example of proteanism in modernist writing comes from Yeats poem
Leda and the Swan (1923). Yeats describes Ledas terror at her assault in a
detached almost reportage manner. Save for the terrified vague finger(5) no
emotion enters into the account. Zeus is indifferent, and Yeats establishes a
seeming causal link between the conception of Helen and the destruction of Troy,
the broken wall, the burning roof and tower/ And Agamemnon dead (9-11). One
of the more discussed aspects of Yeats poetic production lies in his constant and
consistent use of symbolic women as masks for women he finds unattainable in
the real world. Appraising Yeats love poetry, Jhan Ramazani believes that in
poem after poem one can trace his poetic heritage to a tradition in which erotic
loss produces aesthetic gain (69). Ramazani sees Yeats as the successor to
Petarch, Sidney, and Shakespeare. These poets wrote poems of women lost to
them not solely to document their erotic lives but also to give credence to their
status as poets (70). Under this logic, poets cannot become poets without loss. The
idea itself traces a line back to the exchange of sight for poetic ability in ancient
Greece. Just as important as this equation is to Yeats poetry, another factor plays
into the womenphantom or real who exist in his poetry. Underlying his thought
appears to be a sense that he cannot control women inside his poetic world nor
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without, in his daily experiences. Yeats unable to control the new woman of his
era exemplified by Maud Gonne, masks her in his poetry with a picture of
femininity that is out of time, resistant to change and passivity.17 He often
employs Helen as the mask for Maud or her sister Iseult Gonne. In the earlier
poem, No Second Troy (1908), Yeats calls Mauds beauty like a tightened
bow, a kind/That is not natural in an age like this (8-9), evoking the beauty and
sensuality of Maud while taking her out of time. Decades later in his poem,
Among School Children (1926), he still dreams of a Leadean body that
figures as the symbolic mediator between the poet and the present object of desire
(9). Helen seemingly appears in Yeats poems as the paradigmatic representation
of this mediation by allowing Yeats to retain his status as poet while explicating
his erotic desires. At one level, Helen serves to answer in the affirmative Yeats
question posed in The Tower, Does the imagination dwell the most/ Upon a
woman won or lost (197)?
With all things in Yeats poetry though, matters are far more intricate and
complex. Helen functions doubly as symbolic representation of erotic desire that
is absent and haunting and also as a non-presence that is full of power. Ending the
17 Ramazani in her article follows Simone de Beauvoir and Nina Auerbach in that Beauvoir found
that the patriarchy defined women as the negative Other and an omnipotent mother, this resulted
in an alliance between women and death. Auerbach extended this further by finding that womens
exclusion from the male social order was contained in literature and art by femininity becoming
the site of mens mythical and religious impulses.
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poem No Second Troy, and juxtaposed to Maud/Helens beauty, is the line,
Was there another Troy for her to bum (12)? Similarly in Leda and the Swan,
Yeats ends with the lines, Did she put on his knowledge with his power/Before
the indifferent beak could let her drop (14-15)? As H.P. Rickman writes, rarely,
and working against feminist precepts does one think of a rape victim taking
power from the rapists(156). Yeats, in leaving these final lines as questions,
appears to know that women, symbolic or real, are never fully grasped or able to
become the singular object of desire. Neither words nor metaphors alter womens
fluidity. To attempt to make singular or to control women means to diminish
ones own poetic power. The Helen contained in Leda and the Swan
exemplifies the Sophistic tradition wherein Helen is a non-presence whose power
arises from the very absence and plurality of her non-presence. She and Leda flow
together and combine to destroy Yeats attempt to make them singular even as
they appear to destroy. Yeats tradition and heritage travel back along a different
path from Petarch, Sidney, and Shakespeare and find greater affinity with the
tradition of proteanism. For Yeats and for the Greeks the knowledge taken from
Zeus is the power, desire, and seduction women contain to incite and create
human history. Even though Yeats demonstrates the protean qualities of Helen her
tradition in the Twentieth century finds it best example in the epic poem Helen in
Egypt, by HD.
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Written by a woman who purposely incorporates the varied traditions of
Helen for narrative content, HDs Helen in Egypt embodies both the inherent
proteanism in literature and the need for feminist criticism to move beyond
political and ideologically based critiques. Weaving the various stories from her
long tradition, Helen, as narrator, forms and revises the stories while remaining
through-out a figure of multiple identities and voices. Several critics proposed that
HD sought to write an alternative to the patriarchal version. Applying feminist
appraisals of gender codes to the literary form, Susan Stanford Friedman discusses
Helen in Egypt as an attempt to exploit the tension between female association
with the lyric form and male association with the epic: Essentially Friedman
believes that HD feminized the epic, to revise the patriarchal ideology pervasive
in literature(269). Rachel Blau Du Plessis similarly describes Helen in Egypt as a
woman writer serving her narrative from the values implicit in male epics and
converting these values into models that serve a womens purpose. These
interpretations are problematic. As Robert O Brian Hokanson writes, [these
approaches] close off the poems full range of meaning, just as reading only for
the poems plot obscures the significance of its formal features (332). The
structure of the poem, its interplay between prose and poetiy, Helens constant
and unresolved questions, and the intertwining of different traditions undermine a
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reading of Helen in Egypt as simply a poem that critiques and revises
phallogcentrism.
The poem, divided into three parts, Pallinode, Leuke, and Eidolon,
initiates the pattern H.D.s Helen takes to search for her true identity while
knowing that the search for the true story is always an erroneous endeavor. In
Pallinode, after meeting Achilles on the beach, Helen recollects the story of her
sister, Clytaemnestra. In the midst of this remembrance she stops herself and asks
has it ever happened/ or is it yet to come?/ do I myself invent/ this tale of my
sisters fate (69)? Helen, uncertain as to the truth of Clytaemnestras fate, seeks
to direct the cause of her own indeterminacy toward the actions committed by
Achilles. Achilles was the false bridegroom/ Achilles was the hero promised/...
to her/to me/promised to Iphigenia (80). Even as she levels blame at Achilles,
Helen recognizes that wandering as she does with a veil of forgetfulness the
mind cannot answer the numberless questions (85).
The uncertainty continues into the second section of the poem, Leuke,
when two of her lovers, Paris and Theseus tell their versions of her story. Paris
states that she died as Troy fell (131), that Achilles never desired or loved her
(143). When Helen comes to him, Theseus asks if she is a phantom (147). He
relates how he stole her away (148,150), how she left Paris and Achilles, and that
in returning to him they will forget and love together again (155-156). At one
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point in Leukes prose section, the narrator describes Helens emotional
experience as too great a suspense to endure (162). The interplay between prose
and poetry empowers HD to overcome the distance that separates the writer from
the community of listeners. HD becomes in the prose section of the poem a non-
present presence. This interplay also deflects any attempt at explaining the poem
in singular terms while it intervenes between reader and appraiser. The narrator
says that the questions in Helens story are intolerable. At the same time, HD
never attempts to resolve these questions. The interchange between prose and
poetry in this epic intensifies HDs use of multiple perspectives to expose the
illusions of unitary positions in narratives. This issue, central to HDs Helen in
Egypt, amplifies in vigor in the concluding section of Eidolon.
Du Plessis understands the concluding section of the poem as the
satisfaction of closure, as a reparenting process that provides an alternative to
the Oedipal crisis and romantic thralldom (17). Helens purported quest for
identity and singularity in the poems remains unsettled at the end when she says:
my mind goes on,/ spinning the infinite thread;/ surely I crossed the threshold,/
then why do I lie here and wonder,/ and try to unravel the tangle/ that no man can
ever un-knot (298)? Faced with the tangle of modernity and critical appraisals
seeped in ideology and the social orders understanding of science, mind, and
metaphor, HD refuses to make Helen a singular, heroic figure who merely mirrors
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the image of epic hero. Instead Helen for HD, remains a protean figure, full of the
plurality of femininity and the mutable in her voices and stories. HD ends Helen
in Egypt with images that arouse the passion of memory, of phantoms, and the
sea:
But what could Paris know of the sea,
its beats and long reverberation,
its booming and delicate echo,
its ripple that spells a charm
on the sand, the rock-lichen,
the sea-moss, the sand
only Achilles could break his heart
and the world for a token,
a memory forgotten(299-300)
Paris cannot know the sea: Achilles breaks his heart for a token and memory.
Unlike them, Helen, the phantom, the shape-shifter, the child of Proteus knows
the sea and knows that her plurality cannot become singular. She observes the
code of the heroes but does not succumb to it by way of memory or desire. Helen,
is just one child of Proteus, as are Homer, Gorgias, and HD, but the old man of
the sea has many more. Surrendering to the seduction of Proteus enables the
reader and critic to enter into the realm of play and to become different identities
and thus, to know the world. Helen through millennia exemplifies the role of
proteanism in literature and its affinity mimesis as assumption of identity. She
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though is not alone in this association, but only its most enduring representative.
An exploration of others though must wait for another time.
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THE CHILD OF PROTEUS HELEN OF TROY AND POETICS OF PROTEANISM by Claire C. Wright B.A. Metropolitan State College ofDenver A thesis submitted to the University of Colorado at Denver in partial fulfillment of the requirement for the degree of Master of Humanities 2001

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This thesis for the Master of Humanities degree by Claire C. Wright has been approved by

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Wright, Claire C. M.H. Humanities The Child of Proteus: Helen of Troy and the Poetics ofProteanism Thesis directed by Catherine Wiley, Associate Professor, English ABSTRACT Helen of Troy as character consistently moves through Western literature with an elusive and indeterminate nature. Her changing and mutable nature places her in opposition to such characters as Achilles and Odyseus, who remain stable throughout various texts. Critics often understand Helen's mutable nature as representative of the Other. This essay examines Helen though the concept of poetic proteanism that functions outside more traditional feminist interpretations. An initial exploration ofproteanism's relationship to sophistry and play is also discussed. This abstract accurately represents the content ofthe candidate's thesis. I recommend its publication iii

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DEDICATION I dedicate this thesis to my mother, M.J. Wright, who as teller of tales first introduced me to the playfulness ofthe story. Teller oftales, your hummingbird finally lighted ... for a time.

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CONTENTS CHAPTER l.CECIN'ESTPAS UNE THESE ........................................................ l 2.CECIN'ESTPAS UNPARTI QUE CECI N'EST PAS UN DISCO .......................................................... 36 3.CECI TROMPE VERS ....................................................................... 52 WORKS CITED ........................................................................................ 62 v

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CHAPTER 1 CECI N'EST PAS UNE THESE The Helen of Troy who moves diachronically from archaic and classical Greek literature to Twentieth century narratives invariably presents a veiled, mutable, and indeterminate nature. Effie Spentzou calls this indeterminacy Helen's "shivering fragmentariness that haunts the poetic landscape with a silent and enigmatic appearance" (301-302). Spentzou's essay on Helen and her tradition highlights the enigmatic qualities that encompass Helen as she travels through literary time while at the same time hinting at the perplexing and often contentious debate concerning the manner in which critics interpret the female in narratives. Within the maelstrom of this debate exists the essential question of how a narrative ought to be read. Does one place a narrative within a framework of interconnected approaches that crosses disciplines and purports to find new insights from old narratives? Does one instead follow along with anti theoreticians who aver that theoretical approaches and cross-disciplinary transgressions are a mistake because theories "create an illusion of choice between

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alternative methods of interpreting" (724, 742)?1 How this dispute plays out in an examination of the female in narratives, too often gives way to an acrimonious battle over the degree to which a narrative discloses its sexism and misogyny. In this, feminist interpretations of narratives, working against more traditional, alleged patriarchal readings, become what Nicole Loraux calls "the sterile opposition between feminism and misogyny"(62). Beginning in the late 1970s with the writings of critics such as Judith Fetterly, Alice Walker, Sandra M. Gilbert, and Susan Gubar, the past thirty years witnessed an explosion in feminist approaches to the reading ofnarratives.2 Mirroring the reemergence of a politicized woman's movement in industrial countries feminist writers sought to establish a close link between the patriarchal structure in society and the one they perceived in literature. The beneficial consequences ofthese critiques led to the opening of the canon to forgotten, mostly female writers. One need only think ofthe academic institutionalization of 1 Steven Knapp and Walter Benn Michaels were perhaps the most virulent anti-theoreticians in the preceding two decades when they wrote the article "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8 (1982): 722-750. Paul deMan however is perhaps the most articulate commentator on the dispute since he endeavors to reconcile the opponents on each side of the debate. See Resistance to Theory (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1986). Edward W. Said and William E. Cain extends Mann's ideas when they write of theoretical approaches to literature as being only effective when used within the boundaries of literature. See Said, The World, the Text, and the Critic (Cambridge, MA. :Harvard University Press, 1983, 241-42), and Cain, Crisis in Criticism: Theory, Literature, and Reform in English Studies (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1984). 2 See Fetterly, The Resisting Reader: A Feminist Approach to American Literature (Blomington: Indiana University Press, 1978); Gilbert and Gubar, The Mad Woman in the Attic: The Woman 2

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Louisa May Alcott and Zora Neale Hurston during the past three decades to recognize the momentous change brought to literary studies by these early politicized forays into feminist criticism. Yet in expanding the canon, feminist approaches to appraising literature also resulted in an incessant critique of narratives within a framework developed from the ideology of the women's movement. The primary concern of these appraisals was a desire to expose and subvert the patriarchy believed unearthed in narratives.3 One of the more notable effects of these appraisals was the general acceptance that narratives cannot escape the conditions of their production in a patriarchal society. Under the logic of this axiom then, narratives and the characters domiciled therein become merely reflective replicants of societal structures which mirror and support the standards of the patriarchy. While noting Helen's mutability, critics who apply a feminist approach to Helen take this to mean that Helen, like some ritualistically shattered ancient vessel of Otherness, only experiences a wholeness and completeness under the care and skillful restoration of the critic. These restoration projects weave the fragments of Helen into a web of connected paradigms and vocabularies coming Writer and the Nineteenth Century Imagination (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979); and Walker, In Search of Our Mother's Garden: Womanist Prose (New York: Harcourt-Brace, 1983). 3 Quoting Adrienne Rich, Judith Fetterley called her criticism, "an act of survival" to save women from identifying themselves as the enemy (viii). Fetterley's work embodies the politically grounded criticism which sees all females in narratives as objectified and all males locked into the hierarchy of male-centered society. 3

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from other disciplines and having more to do with the social order than with the specific nature and language ofliterature. Indeed, aspiring to reassemble a shattered Helen is not dissimilar to a music critic endeavoring to reconstruct allegedly missing notes from a caesuras in a Thelonious Monk composition. To date no music scholar has ever undertaken such a project, either with Monk's work or any other composer's, precisely because music scholars recognize that these very pauses and spaces constitute important factors to an entire composition. This is not to say that feminist approaches to literary criticism need to disregard the patriarchy when approaching literature. What is wanting is an approach which speaks directly to the specific nature and structure of literature--one more literary than political or ideological. The following essay seeks to explore the fragments ofHelen without reconstructing them. In so doing I postulate that Helen best exemplifies a distinct quality in literature that is protean. By protean I refer to that sense of poetic desire to transmit imagination into polygamous stories. To accomplish this transmission poets engage in a sense of seduction and play that operates outside the structure of society. Poets using proteanism also embrace a neglected form of mimesis, defined as the assumption of identity rather than imitation or representation. Proteanism, as a particular aspect of poetic experiences, disengages from the social order while perhaps being its most insightful observer and proteanism 4

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concerns itself little with expressing truth or presenting a riddle with one right answer. Proteanism, in this respect, finds affinities to sophistic epistemology, in that both privilege persuasion and pleasure over truth and instruction. One caveat to this essay is that it does not attempt an exhaustive study of each manifestation of Helen as she travels through literary time, but rather to employ Helen as an agent of proteanism. Is so doing I, at times, take brief, heuristic forays, tangents as it were, to further examine the nature and substance of proteanism. If Helen simply took a stable identity from narrative to narrative, then Helen's indeterminate and fluid nature might seem purely a case of individual poets employing Helen to serve a single purpose. But from the Iliad to HD' s Helen in Egypt, Helen's protean nature manifests itself within each narrative seeming to signify something at play that is foundational to literature and poetic expression. Helen's proteanism commences in the Iliad, where the Iliadic poet never allows Helen to become solely the object of men's desire or the paradigmatic representation of beauty. The fluidity continues through her history in literature and seems to defy recent opinions that the female in narratives never escapes the status of objectification. One proponent of this perspective is Teresa De Lauretis who argues that women in Western literature are always seen as the object of desire because: the hero, the mythic subject, is constructed as a human being and as male; he is the active principle of culture, the established of 5

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distinction, the creator of difference. Female is what is not susceptible to transformation, to life or death; she is an element of plot-space, a topos, a resistance matrix and matter (20). De Lauretis and other feminist critics, relying upon paradigms of literature modeled from society and the structure of the patriarchy, drive a character such as Helen into a deeper and more oppressive obscurity because they only admit to a singularity in literature that reflects the singularity of the patriarchy. De Lauretis' comment also does exactly what it seeks to avoid: the re-absorption of female into the male-dominated order characterized by a "power to reduce all other to the economy of the same" (Irigaray, 1985a, 74). De Lauretis' construction of the female is not that far removed from that of Plato. Plato asserts that the predisposition of women is one of secrecy and duplicity since they lack an inner strength (Laws 781 a-b). Plato tells us that poets and actors, like women, represent the trickery of mimesis in that they seek to imitate others because of a lack in their essential nature. A true man, an ideal man, for Plato is one that assumes one identity in both life and theater. Men who sought the good estimation of their peers needed to avoid assuming different identities and to endeavor to form a cohesive, stable, and enduring identity. Poets and actors, unable to achieve Plato's definition of an ideal man, become the tricksters of mimesis, of a fluid and false imitation of identities that brought into question their manliness (Republic, 71-107). Such a man, an inferior man, who is more like 6

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a woman assumes the status of a protean figure. This implies that women intrinsically are always protean, that is, unstable and inferior beings. Proteanism as a discredited form of mimesis became neglected since Plato states that poets imitate rather than assume identities and in this act of imitation, being like a women they are less than a man (288-316). In arguing that the female positioning in narratives operates always as an opposition to the subject, or male of a narrative, De Lauretis upholds Plato's conception of mimesis even as she appears to resist his claims. De Lauretis inadvertently sustaining Plato's theories does not extend observations of how women corrupt and subvert these perceptions. It is with Luce Irigaray's construction of mimesis and mimetic-play that such considerations are explored. Irigaray's theories indicate a certain affinity to proteanism. 1Jlls correspondence emerges when Irigaray discusses mimesis as a powerful tool by which women subvert, or even ignore the patriarchal structure. Irigaray sees that by entering into the very roles instituted by men, women 'jam the theoretical machinery," and suspend the pretension to the production of truth (199la, 126). Irigaray believes that females use mimesis to undermine the social order's privileging of the phallus and the idea that sciences, such as psychoanalysis, arise from unbiased research. The dominance in the world of a singular phallogocentric context foreordains that women must obscure and veil the plurality of pleasures 7

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and that they play with the image that men form of them. For Irigaray the encounter between the oneness ofphallogocentrism and feminine plurality brings about a crisis in the social order as the phallus "cannot assimilate nor reduce the plurality into itself' (1985a, 26, 28). I find that poets most often employ Helen at the intersection between the encounter and subsequent crisis of which Irigaray speaks. Male poets in their ability to assume identities come to recognize the plurality of female. Making use ofthis plurality, poets create characters (most often female) as signifiers of their ability to transmit poetic mutability to an audience or reader. Helen then functions as a character who empowers the poet to transcend the experience of the every day world of gender, politics, ideology, and transitory concerns for the experience of :free-play. John Huizinga, writing on the characteristic of play, observed that "play does not concern itself with obligations and duty but rather characterizes itself through a sense of freedom untouched by philosophic problems of determinism, an enchantment of secrecy, as in the use ofmasks and disguises, and a willing suspension or ordinary life, spatial reality and time" (8). Huizinga believed that when one is at play one steps out of common reality into a higher order which heightened experience and allowed the individual to transcend the normal and assume an identity more beautiful, sublime, or even dangerous" (9). Huizinga's definition of play reaches far back in time when story-tellers and their audiences 8

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surrendered common reality and suspended disbelief to engage in a shared experience of insight, desire, and the assumption of different identities. Huizinga points out that for one to enter into play means that one becomes more than the sum total of one's parts (1 0). Literature offers then, infinite potentials of experience and plurality, of differences and insight. Helen is just one example of the way poets use character and narrative as pathways that provide the means to enter into this play realm. In disregarding or discounting that sense of playfulness, contemporary criticism undermines those very qualities in poetic experience which make it such a vital element in human experience. Contemporary criticism is not unique in its resistance to a sense of play as a primary function of literature. The practice of Sophists, ofwhich I speak later, sparked Plato's ire in that they echo those qualities of play and mimesis as discussed by Irigaray and Huizinga. The essential difference between De Lauretis' construction of women's place in literature and the proteanism to which I refer is that in the real world women must disguise their plurality. In literature, in the play-world, the assumption of different identities makes visible that which the everyday order attempts to keep invisible. The intersection between theses two realms finds a fruitful interaction in ancient Greece when poets engage the character of Helen. 9

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One of the more perplexing aspects of Greek narratives lies in the overwhelming presence of central female figures in a society distrustful of women and even uncertain about their biological status. In exploring the narratives from the ancient Greeks within the structure of proteanism, one sees the poetic expression of plurality flowing through these narratives. In the Iliad and the Odyssey, so often read as masculine epics, the fleeting and mutable presence of Helen stands at the center of the story. Created by the Iliadic poet, Helen thwarts De Lauretis' definition of female and her intent to approach the status of female in literature as a singularity. The poet of the Iliad imbues Helen with a fluidity that moves betwixt and between the male and female spheres, between the object of desire and that which desires, between the mortal and immortal worlds. Early in Book Three, Hector chides Paris for abducting Helen and bringing war to the gates of Troy. Contrasting Paris with Helen, Hector calls Paris variously "evil," ''woman crazy," and a "coward" while Helen is the "fair woman," and "blossoming wife" of Menelaus (38-51). Hector seems to make clear that all responsibility for the war lies with Paris. At this point in the narration Helen appears as a trophy, like the rarest jewel, a prize for either Paris or Menelaus but not as a character endowed with the ability to transform or create difference. She is merely the object of desire. Later in the book though, the poet complicates Helen's position by having her take on the role ofnarrator.Helen 10

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coalesces at this point into both the narrator of the story, and its subject. Standing with Priam on the battlements of Troy, Helen creates the reputation of the heroes fighting below. Odysseus, Aias, and the other Greeks take form within Helen's descriptions (140-244). The Illiadic poet enhances Helen's indeterminacy by obscuring her figure from the sight of the other characters and hence from ours. She ascends the battlements in a "shimmering gown" and the elders of Troy see her beauty as "that terrible likeness to a goddess (141, 158)." This brief and elusive portrait frustrates the mind's eye as well as strengthening the uncertainty of her story that the poet builds in this book of the Iliad. Taking on the role of the narrator, Helen defies De Lauretis' claims by becoming the establisher of distinction. The reader sees the heroes fighting below through her eyes while at the same time she brings into question her own reputation and status in the story As Helen stands with Priam he contradicts Hector's earlier declaration that Paris began the war by abducting Helen. Calling to Helen, Priam says: "I am not blaming you: to me the gods are blameworthy who drove upon me this sorrowful war against the Achaians" (161-165). Helen though, speaking as the narrator, contradicts Hector and Priam alike by asserting her own culpability in the war and 4 In the iliad Helen's figure remains obscure and is always described as cloaked in a shimmering gown. Her beauty in Homer and later stories always is one that is never detailed or spoken of as having particular qualities. Like her status, Helen's beauty stays indeterminate. 11

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stating that she wishes herself dead and describes herself as a slut (171-180). The instability of blame which converges in this discussion between Helen and Priam only becomes more undecided toward the end of Book Three during Helen's confrontation with Aphrodite. After Aphrodite rescues Paris from his duel with Menelaus the goddess compels Helen to go to him. Helen, resisting both the goddess and Paris, derisively scorns Paris and ridicules Aphrodite for desiring a mortal. With the exception of Achilles, Helen alone recognizes the machination ofthe gods in the Iliad and implicates them in the war. She lays blame at the feet of Aphrodite, and in the argument that ensues between the two females, it is Paris described as "glistening with beauty and raiment" and as if "coming from dancing rather than battle" who functions as the object of desire (390-394). Aphrodite and Helen mirror the public battle underway for Helen, but remove it to the domestic realm where Paris becomes objectified and a trophy. At the end of this book, the question of blame becomes a triangulation, three potential points of culpability that never reach resolution. Helen, her physical delight and the truth of her motivation remain as elusive, fluid, and fleeting as to where exactly blame for the war resides. The fliadic poet's purposeful obfuscation of Helen's form figures as the physical analogy to the fluidity of blame. The fliad's Helen does not just embrace a doubleness but rather a multiplicity of potentials and possibilities 12

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which disallow a comprehensive grasp of her figure, motivation, or reputation. By remaining a physically obscure and impenetrable character Helen emphasizes the poet's dependence on the female to defamiliarize the sameness and singularity of social structures and to transmit the multifarious nature of poetic imagination to an audience. In the Odyssey the proteanism of Helen continues and deepens when once again manifold impressions of her character surface. In the Fourth Book the reunited Helen and Menelaus relate to Odysseus' son, Telemachos, two different versions of Helen's relationship to Odysseus. Helen's version recounts how she recognized Odysseus, disguised as a beggar within the city: I alone recognized him even in this form/and I questioned him, but he in his craftiness eluded me;/ but after I bathed him and anointed him with olive oil/ and put some clothing upon him, after I sworn a great oath/ not to disclose before the Trojans that is was Odysseus/until he had made his way back to the fast ships and shelters,/ then at last he told me all the purpose of the Achaians,/ and after striking many Trojans down with thin bronze/ edge, he went back to Argives and brought back much information./ The rest of the Trojan Women cried out shrill, but my heart/ was happy, my heart had changed by now and was for going back/ home again, and I grieved for the madness Aphrodite/ bestowed when she led me away from my own dear country/forsaking my own daughter, my bedchamber, and my husband(250-264). Within this speech the poet continually shifts Helen's position. At one moment she is a Trojan, but different from other Trojans; then she is a Greek, looking forward to going home. She returns once again to her argument that it was 13

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Aphrodite who lured her away, but complicates this argument by stating that she experienced a changed heart over the course often years. Helen's change of heart hangs like a lingering question mark within her story. Does the madness brought about by Aphrodite diminish Helen's culpability for the war? It seems so but her change of heart clause undercuts the divine intrusion permitting free will to enter the story as well. The poet has Helen take these sharp turns in the telling so as to create a mental puzzle that plays fate and free will against each other in a constant and entangled debate. Menelaus' speech which immediately follows Helen's supports and sustains this play puzzle. Menelaus tells how Helen, coupled with Deiphobos since the death of Paris, came to the Wooden Horse on the final night of Troy and imitated the voices of the hidden Greeks' wives in an attempt to lure them out of hiding, exposing their deception to the Trojans. Menelaus explains that only the commonsense and authority of Odysseus prevented the Greek warriors from abandoning their plan to attack the city (265-280). Froma Zeitlin observes: that these two stories juxtaposed each offer the same characterization of a clever Odysseus, but two different versions of Helen. She is the mistress of many voices, the mistress of mimesis, linked in both stories to secrecy, disguise, and deception (409). The recounting of stories, sequenced as they are in the Odyssey, often leads scholars to fmd that Helen's truths differ from the absolute truth that comes from 14

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Menelaus' final story in which he relates to Telemachos how he and Helen returned to Sparta. 5 Menelaus tells how he captured Proteus, that he held the old shape-shifter in a unremitting grip until exhausted Proteus surrendered his knowledge of the route back to Greece. During this battle Menelaus also learns from this prophetic old man of the sea that as husband of the semi-divine Helen and as a warrior, he was entitled to eternal life spent upon the Elysian Fields (561570). Zeitlin however believes that Helen controls both truths; that of the stories she relates and the seeming definitive truth Menelaus believes that he learned (411). Menelaus accepts Proteus' story, the assurance ofhis future life and reputation, but Helen, with all her fluidity and control over truth leaves Menelaus'certainty, a precarious proposition. The chronology ofthe stories works to signify the poet's awareness that truth and reputation are unstable, imprecise, and often corrupted in translation. The Helen of the fliad and the Odyssey knows that her story is one of future poetic enterprise, but within this knowledge is also the understanding that the truth of poetic expression exists as a inconstant and equivocal entity founded on seduction and persuasion. Pietro Pucci distinguishes two symbiotic meanings in the Homeric word for reputation, kleos. The principle meaning functions as the 'immortal fame" of a 5 For the different discussions of this point see: Linda Clader, Helen: The Evolution From Divine to Heroic in Greek Epic Tradition (Leiden: Brill, 1976). 35, and Howard W. Clarke, The Art of the Odyssey, (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice-Hall, 1967) 34. 15

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hero that issues from the authority of the Gods to the Muses, who in tum transmit the hero's fame to poets. Poets in tum diffuse this fame into the world. From this transmission stems the second meaning of which kleos becomes "mere report or rumor" and this repetition from Gods to Muses to poets to mortal world, allows distortion and errors to occur. A tension exists between these two meaning since a hero cannot acquire immortal fame without that fame spreading, but in the process of dissemination, the elementary source of the fame (the Gods) becomes increasingly distant and results in unavoidable alternations to the fame (163-86). Having Helen narrate the reputation of the heroes and become the mistress of many voices, the poet of the Iliad and Odyssey initiates this pattern wherein Helen's post-Homeric traditions is one consistently allied to a protean form of poetic expression, insight, and a sense of play. Instead of representing a shattered, incomplete character and one moreover the mark of Otherness upon her, the Homeric poet propels Helen's progress in the classical world toward one of fluidity and multiplicity. Helen's oscillating indeterminacy makes her exemplary oflrigaray's "plurality of pleasures" and promotes a sense of play and competition among poets and story-tellers in the ancient world. This sense of play and competition abounds in the several ancient sources relating the wondrous story of the poet Stesichorus. Taking Helen's story from the epics of Homer, Stesichorus wrote a song commemorating Helen's elopement 16

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with Paris to Troy. The song--so the story goes-so enraged Helen that she blinded the poet. As Plato recounts in Phaedrus: For those who have sinned in matters of mythology there is an ancient purification, unknown to Homer, but know to Stesichorus. For when he was stricken with blindness for speaking ill ofHelen, he was not ignorant of the reason, but since he was educated, he knew it and straightway he writes the poem: "That saying is not true; thou didnst not go within the well-oared ships, nor didst thou come to the walls of Troy," and when he had written all the poem, which is called the recantation, he saw again at once (243a-b). Professedly more knowledgeable than his predecessor, the blind Homer, Plato believes that Stesichorus demonstrates the poetic ability to play with truth. 6 Contemporary critics often find that the story of Stesichorus represents a metaphor for the individual poet's struggle against past poetical authority and a poetic ambivalence toward their status at the periphery of the male sphere of the world of deeds. Mihoko Suzuki fmds: the poet thus stands in an ambivalent relation to woman as both the Other and the Same: although they strive to avoid occupying the position of woman as Other, their desire to assert their difference from the parental authority of previous male poets and their apartness from political authority induce them to represent women, no longer as the Other to be shunned and feared but identified with the Same (17). 6 It is often a misconception that we know for certain that Stesichorus introduced the idea of a phantom going to Troy in place of the real Helen. What knowledge we do have of Stesichorus comes from a few fragments and a Hellenistic account that states he introduced a eidolon into the 17

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Suzuki's idea adheres to a standard feminist framework concerning the patriarchy in narratives, but its logic has a fatal flaw. Ancient Greek narratives abound with men blinded in exchange for the gift of story-telling or prophecy. The Odyssey alone has two such characters, Deodocus and Teiresias. The Muse blinded Deodocus in an exchange for his ability at story-telling (viii, 44, 62-63), while Teiresias' blindness signifies his prophetic abilities, even in the underworld (x, 492). Homer, so Plato implies, remained blind because of his ignorance at having transgressed against Gods. Stesichorus recognizes his errors, renounces them and gets his sight back. If one receives visionary sight in exchange for physical blindness does this mean Stesichorus, after Helen restored his sight, no longer experienced visionary sight? Obviously the ancients are unclear as to the formula since they themselves were not speaking metaphorically, but rather expressing a perception of synergy between poetic insight and divine inspiration. Contemporary interpretation of Stesichorus' story as only metaphor, and one that appears to illustrate poets' distaste for their poetic gifts, takes little account of poetic arrogance, cunning, and that story-telling ultimately exists as a diversion, a form of cognitive play. Referring to poetic imagination, C.S. Lewis called the mythic effect "extra-literary and numinous rather than aesthetic and phenomenal" ( 43-44). Helen story. I think this fairly thin evidence in which to base a general conception of Greek 18

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Lewis, writer and critic, understood that poetic imagination functioned at a level beyond the concerns of the every day.Critical seriousness, such as striving to unearth hidden meaning and discern the influence of the patriarchy, tends to discount that the theoretical and didactic purposes of literature take a distinct second to a good story, a good effect, a good rhyme that enthralls and seduces the audience or reader. The present structure of critical appraisals is not unique in forgetting or discounting the necessary quality of play and diversion at the heart of story-telling. It is precisely this favoring of play and of pleasure over truth that informs the practices of the Sophists and discredits them in the eyes of more 'serious" thinkers. Plato, in speaking ofGorgias ofLentini, the most widely known and successful Sophist of fifth century Greece, said that Gorgias only wished to enslave his audience with the energy of persuasion. He called Gorgias amoral and in commenting about his performance, stated that "this stuff teaches you nothing about the nature of things; you only learn how to fool people with subtleties and equivocations. It is no better than tripping somebody or taking his chair away as he is about to sit" (Sophists 234c ). In his aspersion upon sophistry and its inherent amorality, Plato merely reaffirmed the fundamental thread ofhis theory, that all poetry and performance seduce the individual with sensory perceptions that quell metaphors 19

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the pursuit of true knowledge. Over the range of his dialogues, Plato makes clear his distrust of sophistry's epistemology and by implication the practices of poetry and story-telling. Zeitlin notes that the intellectual tradition of the West sees women, generally, and the Sophists, specifically, as morally suspect and more stimulated by the superficial, and representive of the personifications of deception (1990, fn.92) Gorgias' Encomium on Helen confirms Plato's outrage, and the historic suspicion of sophistic intention. As pervasive as these perceptions are, what remains pertinent here, and a connection all too frequently ignored, is that the very qualities inherent in sophistry associate themselves to poetic play and proteanism. Three propositions inform Gorgias' philosophy: nothing exists; if anything exists, it could not be known; if anything existed and were known, it could not be communicated. His defense of Helen reflects this philosophy by establishing a series of negations that do not acquit Helen but rather illustrate her lack ofblame. This tenuous distinction represents Gorgias' intent to embellish, seduce, and play with perception rather than present improbable and unknowable truth. As Gorgias says at the beginning of his defense: "I wish to write a speech that would be an encomium of Helen," he contradicts past poets who universally condemned her. Helen, Gorgias, asserts did go to Troy with Paris, and her motivations for going rested in four possible scenarios of persuasion: from the gods, from violence, 20

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words, or seduction and desire. Gorgias exonerates Helen because passion arising from love or coercion, by the Gods or another individual, absolves one from one's actions since these forces are extemal(12). Gorgias imports the arguments inferred from the lliad and the Odyssey as central themes in his defense of Helen. Even as he repudiates the past poetical censure of Helen, he is at one and the same time expanding on those very traditions he said were either not part of the poetic tradition or else errors in that tradition. Gorgias incorporates into his encomium even the tradition from Stesichorus. Again Gorgias introduces this tradition slyly, not once referring to it explicitly but rather bringing into question Helen's origins and thus her status as being: For it its clear that her mother was Leda, and her father was a god, but allegedly a mortal. Tyndareus and Zeus of whom the one Zeus, just because he was, appeared the father, and the other, Tyndareus just because he was said to be[ or just because he was], was disproved to be the father; and the one was the most of men, and the other the lord of all (276).7 The above quotation's logic almost loses its equilibrium, poised as it is on the precipice between rationality and rambling. Gorgias intentionally appears to use this confusion, that never completely unravels, to allow the phantom of Stesichorus to enter the argument. It is a slippery style that negates the known Helen from stories and legends even as it describes and supports those Helens. Gorgias' Helen then, serendipitously contains all three ofhis propositions in that 21

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Gorgias weaves all the many Helens from tradition into a non-being, unknowable and elusive. By never allowing a clear statement of Helen's origins to stabilize, Gorgias exacerbates the excessive series of poetic negations that begin in the fliad. This emphasizes the multifarious nature of Helen whose identities in the encomium coexist without one displacing any of the others. Gorgias conflates the divergent traditions of Helen because Helen and her story are not founded upon truth or falsehood but rather on desire and persuasion. For Gorgias, one believes a story of Helen because one desires to do so. Gorgias' Encomium of Helen privileges play over truth, desire over fact, multiple identities over a single cohesive identity. It epitomizes the philosophy that allies itself most closely to the practices of proteanism. In this Gorgias looks forward to Irigaray's theory of mimesis. Gorgias never allows his Helen to become singular. In so doing he crushes the theoretical machinery of mimesis that Plato sought to establish. Gorgias' mimesis is essentially a "freedom from the exigencies of mimetic adherence to physical reality (Segal 1 06)." It is not an arbitrary matter that Gorgias decided to write about Helen. The complexities, the protean qualities ofHelen, Gorgias inherits from the epics and in Stesichorus, offered him a shifting mosaic which aptly demonstrated the struggle between 7 Quote taken from James I. Porter's brief translation of this passage. 22

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freedom and the establishment of truth in narratives. Nancy Worman suggests that Helen's elusive form and personality represent Western concerns with "stabilizing the relationship between appearance and reality" (152-153).Worman sees Gorgias' encomium as a study in which the "persuasion oflanguage reinvents the field of vision to frustrate the Oedipal desire to know the end of the story" (199). In these various Greek texts I detect lrigaray's construction of mimesis, rather than the Opedial frustration that Worman sees. Male poets' understanding of the plurality of female as a thing irreducible leads them to deploy the multiplicity without an attempt to reduce. In so doing poets and story tellers explore the epistemological concerns of sight and insight and freedom over truth, while never allowing, nor seeking resolution. This is not to say that poets and story-tellers disregard society or disassociate totally from its structure. But by privileging freedom over truth, they destabilize perceptions and allow an encounter between speculation and belief. Such an encounter occurred in Athens during the fifth century BCE. Drawn-out hostilities with Sparta ushered in a bellicose period when the state of Athens sought to suppress internal and external resistance to its policies. Athens attempting to coerce the neutral state ofMelos to join the Athenian confederacy, besieged the city in 416 BCE. Upon winning, the Athenians executed the entire male population and enslaved all the women and children. A similar expedition to 23

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Sicily in 413 BCE ended in failure and resulted in the death of thousands of Athenian soldiers. Such unprovoked and ultimately unsuccessful events compelled artists in Athens to create works that obtusely questioned the prosecution of war and the rightness of Athenian authority. Scholars frequently regard these two events as the political subtexts that frame Euripides' The Trojan Woman and The Helen. Others read the plays as meditations about sex rather than war, about woman's survival through their assumption of sexual objectification. Differing from other scholars, Michael Lloyd finds ample evidence of Euripides deploying many of the techniques that sophists used to form their epistemology (83). Merit exists for all three styles of critiquing these two plays but as concerns Helen and proteanism, Lloyd's analysis appears to demonstrate Euripides' intent to explore the illusions encountered in plays and those illusions encountered in the real world. Euripides took the Troy story and most particularly the proteanism of Helen as the signifier to make visible the invisible corruption of war, Helen and her varied traditions destabilize Athenian belief in the rightness of their policies. In the earlier play The Trojan Women, Euripides gives a seemingly vitriolic view of Helen. On their way to slavery, the women of Troy directly blame Helen for the war, its catastrophic consequences and the death ofHector's 24

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young son, Asthyanax. Early in the play Cassandra contrasts Helen's motivation against those of Agamemnon: For one woman's sake these hunted Helen down and threw thousands oflives away. Their general--clever man--in the name of a vile woman cut his darling down, gave up for a brother the sweetness of children in his house, all to bring back that brother's wife, a woman who went of her free will, not caught in constraint ofviolence. (367-373) Cassandra anticipates the seeming rational arguments of Hecuba that come later in the agon. Cassandra compares Helen's freedom to choose Paris over Menelaus with the subsequent violence perpetrated by Agamemnon. For Cassandra, Helen is vile because all she did arises from desire and selfishness while Agamemnon's violence arises from duty and obligation. He murders his daughter to appease the Gods, and wars against Troy out of a duty for an oath made to his brother. This is unlike Helen's apparent decisions that appear founded on desire, lust, and vanity. The dread and anger of the play deepens following Cassandra speech when an Ode to Ganymeda introduces the agon. Its baleful lyrics detail the disparity between Zeus' cup bearer's existence and the death ofhis former home, Troy (799-859). The Chorus sings of the beauty that was once Troy, of how the city is now fed to the flames, its people dead or enslaved, and how the Gods once loved the city. The death throes of the city sung in the ode differ sharply from the swaggering entrance of Menelaus who greets the sun and avows that he came to 25

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Troy to kill the deceiver who seized his wife, not to regain a woman (867-871). Hecuba, who disregards Menelaus' bravado, finally warns him against looking upon Helen since she captures men by her sight (890-894). A cool, rational Hecuba then confronts Helen brought roughly onto the stage by guards. Helen pleads with Menelaus to allow her to persuade him that in killing her he commits an injustice. Hecuba joins Helen in this plea so that Menelaus will come to know the full story of Helen's crimes. Central to the debate between the two women is the question of freedom of choice. In her opening statement, Helen implicates Hecuba in the fall of Troy. Helen contends that having given birth to Paris and unwilling to commit infanticide after she experienced the visions of his destructive force, Hecuba shares culpability. She also brings to her defense the specter of Aphrodite by maintaining that the goddess, beguiled and beguiling Paris, compelled Helen to leave home, husband, and child. Helen attests that in choosing Aphrodite, Paris brought about the ire of Athena and Hera, and that Troy merely fell into the line of frre over a contested apple. Helen affirms that after Paris died, no longer entrapped by the desire of Aphrodite, she made several attempts to escape and that Deiphobus took as her his wife against her will (914-965). Hecuba counters Helen's declaration of innocence because of divine intervention by chiding her assertions that in a personal quarrel over beauty the 26

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three goddesses brought down Troy. She reasons that Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite were above such fights. Hecuba claims that this argument is solely a ruse to hide Helen's overwhelming sexual appetite inflamed by the sight ofParis. She states that after the death of Paris, she time and time again, offered to help Helen escape to the Greek camp, but that Helen, filled with the admiration of the Trojans rejected Hecuba's assistance (970-1028). Examining the two women's polemics, scholars often find that Helen's speech is full of trivial and shallow arguments lacking in moral fiber when placed in opposition to Hecuba's reasoned and rational speech (Lloyd, 1992,105). Scholars attuned to Hecuba's ethical question of freedom of choice, see her easily demolishing Helen's contention of a lack of choice or beguildment by the Gods. Cast as a moral tale The Trojan Women appears to scholars as a remonstration against all that Helen represents as character and as emblematic of society. Helen figures in critical appraisals as embodying all that Plato scorned--stylish dress, desire, and circular augments founded on verbal and visual persuasion over reason and the pursuit ofthe truth. Following Plato, critics come to understand Hecuba as the great philosopher ofthe play and Helen as only the dramatic resistance to Hecuba's truth. Such readings have Euripides morally rejecting the persuasion of speech to move the masses. The problem with this manner of appraising the play is that it makes simplistic and dogmatic the arguments which Euripides presents. 27

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In fact, the agon raises far too many questions to make the matter one so easily resolved. If Hecuba's philosophic stance against Helen rests on the basis of one's free will, then Helen's initial statement that Hecuba is in part to blame for the war both supports Hecuba's arguments and mitigates Helen's culpability. Interestingly, Hecuba does not directly respond to this accusation, and it falls into the play like an empty space, a caesura, that Hecuba cannot fill with logic, or truth, juxtaposed as it is with Helen declaring that she saved the Greeks by her beauty which made Paris choose her over domination of the Greeks (931-934). At his entrance Menelaus vowed that he came to kill Helen immediately (873-875). By the end of the play Menelaus, still professing agreement with Hecuba that Helen should die for her crimes, has lost some of his bombast and sends Helen to the ships to await her death in Argos (1 048-1 049). At this, the assurance ofHecuba's reasoned statements further disintegrates since in relenting, Menelaus becomes prey to Helen's persuasive speech and beauty. According to tradition, Helen does not die for crimes against the Greeks but returns home. Knowing that Helen returns does not mean that Euripides or the audience either exonerates her or condemns her. As in Odyssey, two versions of Helen play out within the play. Helen affirms that she tried to leave and calls to witness the sentries at the gates ofTroy. Hecuba counters this by saying that she often urged Helen to leave. Two versions of Helen emerge in The Trojan Women 28

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that decenter and skew the certainties of Helen's crimes. The audience knows the stories, but trapped within the frame of the play's narrative, Hecuba and Menelaus cannot know the Gods' intention or the varied traditions from legends and epics. Helen's protean status empowers her to slip from the play to the audience and back to the play. The language of desire that Helen employs further intensifies her proteanism in that she makes the necessity of desire the saving grace of Greece. Hecuba forcibly condemns Helen for an insatiable appetite, but it is exactly the means of her desire and the desire of others for her that Euripides compels the audience to question the dynamics of power within and beyond the frame of the play. In so doing, power becomes the dynamic of persuasion as opposed to it being a dynamic of truth. Euripides in employing this structure to the play moves the question of truth beyond the ruins of Tory to his contemporary world. In so doing he echoes Thucydides' understanding of political life in Athens. Thucydides explained political life as politicians working seduction upon the citizens. The good politician seduces the populace well and with compassion. The bad or ill-spoken politician elicits passion and indifference from the population (3.37-39). Euripides differs from Thucydides when asking in the play The Trojan Women whether an individual ever detects the difference between good and bad persuasion? Helen figures for Euripides as this question mark, wherein the individual watching the play needs to become skeptical of Hecuba 29

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and Helen's arguments alike, just as an individual in society needs to weigh the persuasive speech of politicians for balance and virtue, not for truth. The Platonic dialogues incisively detected the disastrous effect that strong and powerful language had upon an acephalous society, especially during a time ofwar and strife. Yet, because the Platonists saw the war couched in philosophic terms, they theorized that to rid the world of war required an end to the power of seduction and persuasion. Euripides, as poet and story-teller, knows that it is impossible to detach humans from seduction and persuasion. Like Thucydides and Gorgias, he recognizes seduction and persuasion as double-faced, provoking either good or evil. The Helen of The Trojan Women is the disguise which Euripides uses to show that the society needs the idiom of play not to question the ethics behind persuasion but rather to provide the means to its best use. In The Trojan Women, Euripides declines to assign a clear agent of blame for the war because he is not exploring culpability but rather the doubleness of persuasion. By regarding Euripides' Helen in The Trojan Women as merely a signifier ofwomen surviving war misses Euripides' extraordinary skill as a poet, to detect from the sidelines, the root problems of political authority and of Athens' arrogant policies. Perhaps one ofthe fatal flaws oftransgressing disciplines that critics so often deploy in assessing literature is their use of language of one discipline to 30

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wholly appraise another. Even Theodor Adorno, one of the preeminent advocates of Critical Theory, knew this when he insisted upon the differences between philosophy and literature: "If one attempts to comprehend the writings of philosophers as literature, then one has missed their truth content" (9). Conversely if one reads literature as truth then one misses the power and seduction of its content. As Gary S. Meltzer demonstrates in The Helen, Euripides exploits the inherent tension between the two meanings of kleos to insinuate with more emphatic intensity the sinister side of persuasion and seduction (235-38).8 In The Helen Euripides utilizes the motif of the eidolon to create the plot premise that the "real" Helen did not runaway with Paris, never went to Troy, and consequently cannot function as the causus belli of the war.9 The Prologue spoken by Helen (the real one) situates the entire structure of the play as a self-conscious narrative that summons in whole, the diverse and many-voiced traditions of her. According to Helen, Hera created the eidolon as a means of preventing Aphrodite from fulfilling her promise to Paris (27-36). Helen insists that Zeus permitted the continuation of the deception so as to depopulate the overpopulated earth and to increase the fame of Achilles (38-41).10 Helen finds that Zeus' treatment of her 8 Meltzer broadly utilizes Pucci's description of kleos to build upon his discussion of The Helen. 9 In the iliad Apollo creates a temporary eidolon to allow the besieged Aeneas to escape Diomedes. It is the one instance in which a god used this type of illusion in the epics. Helen's eidolon in the only case in classical literature with long-term functions. 10 Hesiod introduces this creation/ destruction story, but it does not appear to have ever played a significant role in Helen's tradition. 31

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produces disparate outcomes. Though he maintains her virtue by transporting her to the protection of the Egyptian king, Proteus, he also allows her name to become attached to crimes ofwar, desertion of family, and adultery (46-48). Her extended stay in Egypt also places her virtue in harm's way when she relates that after the death of the kindly King Proteus, she continuously endures the advances ofhis son, Theoclyemus (50-51). Within the Prologue, Euripides continually allows Helen to speculate about the credibility of myth and reputation. Helen retells the story ofher conception as the coupling ofLeda and the Swan (Zeus), but calls into dispute the integrity of the this story by reciting, in a more coherent manner, the passage in Gorgias' encomium (21). She even calls into dispute the question of her beauty by suggesting that her beauty diminished by half when Hera created the eidolon. The great beauty at Troy, the phantom beauty, the beauty that men fought over, was never as beautiful as the whole beauty the real beauty before the war. Everything that Helen relates forms a series of negations that echo Gorgias defense ofher, and cleverly conjures the tradition of Helen in Homer and Stesichorus. Euripides' con:flation of these traditions at the beginning ofthe play creates an ironic backdrop by which he subverts heroic names to question their association with reputation and immortality. Typically in the epics a name acted as an individual's unique property, denoting a heroic character's status and qualities. The personalities of Odysseus 32

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and Achilles remain stable through-out various texts because of the belief that names correspond to character. In The Helen, names lose their status as Euripides "challenges the metaphysics of presence" implicit in the epics and makes his characters' names more vulnerable to dispersal, elusiveness, and error (236).11 Helen, whose character throughout all her traditions never presents a stable and cohesive identity, becomes emblematic ofthe slippage between names as a means to interrogate the stability of identity and principles. The beauty ofHelen, perhaps the one distinguishing feature of her reputation, loses its privilege by becoming split between the two Helens. The primary meaning of kleos falters when Euripides brings into question the legitimacy of gaining glory from war deeds for which the Gods may or may not decide to confer immortal fame. After being confronted by the truth of Helen's reality every character asks "Where is the glory of Troy?" If all the fighting and death occurred over a woman who was never present at Troy and if her phantom double did not contain the full beauty of the original, What than, was all the fighting about? Even the real Helen becomes thwarted by that very beauty which defines her when Menelaus fails to recognize her as the real thing (554-581). Helen, attempting to explain to Menelaus the existence of two Helens, states that "My 11 Meltzer employs this description of Euripides' play, taking the idea from Jacques Derrida who defmed it to mean the imperative, powerful systematic, and irrepressible desire for meaning thinkable and possible outside all signifiers. 33

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name could be in many places but not my body" (588). It is her name and therefore her reputation that enable the false projection ofherselfto become so widely dispersed. Helen, who earlier advises against the evidence and persuasion of the senses, must employ those very qualities of sense persuasion to compel Menelaus to see her as the real Helen. Yet, Menelaus only comes to understand the reality of the two Helen's when he hears from a third party that the eidolon disappeared into the clouds. The servant relating the disappearance of the phantom claims that as it departed it cried out in a mocking tone: "Helen heard evil things said ofher, who did nothing wrong" (614). As Charles Segal states: "In a setting where war and Troy are called into question, an identity defined by Troy's fall is highly problematical" (233). This statement of the problem is exactly the conundrum that Euripides leaves unraveled at the end ofthe play. Segal's analysis shows that the eidolon functions in the play to undercut the seeming exoneration ofHelen since one's reputation seems inseparable from one's person. The real Helen remained virtuous but the presence of the phantom in the world is a non-being and non-event that the real Helen shall never overcome. At the end of the play when Helen's brothers, the Discuri, enter, they promise to name an island off the coast of Attic after her and pledge that upon her death, she will become a goddess and the object of song and poetry (1643, 1657-34

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75). This apparently restores Helen's reputation but all the preceding suffering, hardship, and pain simply to become an island or an object of song seems an empty remuneration. Embedded in his challenge to the "metaphysics of presence," Euripides epitomizes the mimetic-play of which Irigaray speaks because he makes Helen an object that is "forever abducted but never fully captured" (Bergren, 82). 35

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CHAPTER2 CECI N'PAS UN P ARTI QUE CECI N'EST PAS UN DISCO Helen's tradition in Greek literature as it related to proteanism does not extend into the Roman Republic and the early Empire. Vergil's Aeneid, continuing the Troy story, has at its heart the pleasure and support of Augustinian rule. Helen, like all the characters in the Aeneid, operates with an underlying compulsion to establish Rome. 12 Also it is Greek literature that establishes the proteanism of Helen, though not proteanism itself. Proteanism as a distinct characteristic of literature is always at play in culture. What differs from era to era is the degree to which proteanism dominated through a society's acceptance of fluidity and mutability. Perhaps the main difference between the Aeneid and the earlier Greek epics lies in the extent which social institutions superimpose their structure upon story-telling. This is why the romances of the late Roman Empire are of more interest to the qualities ofproteanism and Helen's fluid identity. At this point (2nd and 3rd century CE) when the social institutions of the Roman Empire were in a state of fluctuation and when the political and ideological 12 For a discussion of the difference between the Aeneid and the Homeric epics see Victor Poshel, The Art ofVergil: Image and Symbol in the Aeneid. (Ann Arbor: Michigan State University, 1962), and Kenneth Quinn, Vergil's Aeneid: A Critical Description (London: Penguin Books, 36

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mandates of the Aeneid no longer commanded authority, the fluidity and play of these romances flourished. Philstatrus, best known for writing the miraculous tale of Apollonius ofTyana to counteract the growing popularity of the Jesus story, also wrote the protean Heroicus, a retelling of the Troy related through the recounting of the first Greek solider to die at Troy, Protestilaus. In the Heroicus a Phoenician merchant meets with a man who farms in the environs of Troy. The farmer tells the merchant the story of the war as told by the shade ofProtestilaus who haunts the farmer's fields. According to the farmer, Protestilaus relates that Odysseus bribed Homer to change the actual story of Troy so as to promote his reputation at the expense of other warriors. The real story is that Paris went to Greece on a diplomatic mission to return Priam's sister Hesoine after the Greeks kidnapped her and gave her to Telamon. He saw Helen on the island ofCytheria, kidnapped her and despoiled the temple. The Greeks, angry, went to war with Troy. Battles ensued, Achilles falls in love with the Trojan princess, Polyxena, when she comes with Priam to ransom Hector's body. He promises to end the war in exchange for her hand. On the wedding day the Trojans kill him as he waits for Polyxena. Odysseus kills Palamedes; Antenor and Troilus work with the Greeks to destroy Troy. Priam locks up Cassandra and plots in the death of Antenor and Troilus. At the end of 1968). It is interesting to note that these two texts, written almost forty years ago still retain a 37

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the story, Antenor and Troilus along with Aeneas escape on ships while Troy burns and the rest of the Trojan royal family, including Helen, are either enslaved or die. Protesilaus ends his story by explaining that after Achilles died, he and Helen eventually married and spent their immortal lives together on the island of Leuke.13 It all sounds rather absurd and more like material for a grand Wagerian opera as well as being somewhat at odds with one's ideas of what a writer of the Roman court elite should be writing. Yet because ofthe flux within the empire and its institutions, Philstratrus experiences a freedom to alter and change the official story, twisting the characters from the Homeric tradition into new identities. Dares the Phrygian's History of the Destruction of Troy and Dictys the Creatan's Diary of the Trojan War follow Phiolostratrus' account along similar lines of plot and character, The new magical stories of Christian saints and Jesus working as an oppositional force against Roman institutions inadvertently empowered pagan writers from the second and third century, an era known as the Second Sophistic period, to create narratives in which a good story took precedence over seeming historical accuracy. Even with their rather extensive poetic license these late Roman stories enable the proteanism ofHelen to continue erudition that keeps the writers ideas still fresh and current. 38

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and became the literary fodder for Medieval interpretation of the Troy story and Helen's continued tradition in literature. In his recent translation of Aristotle's Poetics, Richard Janko states that in ancient Greek the word mimesis encompassed a wide range of meanings including copying, imitation, impersonation, and representation (220). Aristotle, differing from Plato, took as his definition of mimesis that of representation and resemblances. Aristotle defined poetry and poetic experience as a representation of reality in contrast to Plato's notion of false imitation. According to Aristotle an individual learns from mimesis in poetry because ofthe intellectual process of recognizing a representation as a representation. Aristotle saw this process enabling an increased clarity of a general outline of the thing represented. The resultant catharsis produced by a good poet contributed to the development of virtue (xi-xv 56-58). Aristotle's definition restored some of the beneficial qualities of mimesis to poetry during the classical period, but Plato's distrust of women, of fluid personalities within poetry and without, had lasting effects and influence on Western thought and the manner in which Western thought appraises literature. As the classical world in the West transformed itself into the structures and paradigms of medievalism, and the early modem period proteanism and 13 When discussing the Iliad with my students a general wish that comes from them is to see Achilles and Helen running off together and getting married. This is an idea and desire I support. Philstratrus' decision to marry them off seems a fitting and a universal wish fulfilled. 39

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poetic deployment of Helen as proteanism's prime agent diverged and altered. Reconciling the knowledge of paganism with the revealed knowledge of Christianity required that a certain corruption or imprecision form around the translation (both literal and in spirit) of classical thought to the Medieval West. Aristotle lost to most of the West for centuries, Medieval thought concentrated upon Plato's construction of mimesis and its affinity to Christian doctrine. Homer along with many other Greek narratives also being lost to the Medieval world meant that much of the Troy story came down through the writings of Romans such as Vergil, Phistratrus, Dares and Dictys. 14 As a result Sophistry's implied concept of mimesis as a form of assumption, came to be seem in the Medieval West as an insidious link to evil. St Augustine and later Aquinas defined this evil as literary non-being, found in the mimetic, an absence or lack of soul. To oppose God meant opposing the absolute good and the only reality. In essence, for one to oppose God meant one existed within and part of unreality (64, 69). Hence, the development of doctrine of privative evil stating that evil is real only phenomenally in that it has effects but no essence (68). Augustine and Aquinas' concept of privative evil follows the spirit of Gorgias' proposition of non-being, but defmes it as something malevolent and malignant. Following through with the doctrine as it 14 A 1 700 Ilias Latina existed during the Middle Ages, but was mostly a translation of the Iliad's 40

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relates to proteanism, society comes to understand an individual who assumes many identities as existing only through appearances and having no essential core, filled with protean evil. To assume many different identities means that an individual lacks a stable essence. Therefore one becomes like Gorgias' Helen, a non-being While continuing to exemplify proteanism, the fluid and varied Helen became nuanced with evil and malfeasance. Early Medieval mythographers define Helen as the depraved offspring of power (Jupiter) coupled with injustice and contention (Leda) and spawning scandal and discord. These mythographers designated Urania as Helen's star. A general belief was that Urania's surface was so hot that its rays melted bronze and therefore was particularly dangerous to sailors. This association between Helen and Urania echoed Helen's passion with the ability to burn ships thus developing as a metaphor for burning Troy (Haskins, 112). Later Medieval iconography presents a more subtle depiction of Helen s transformation to protean evil in that Medieval artists, beginning in the 11 00s usually depict a calm tranquil Helen surrounded by chaos and disorder. As Arthur Lindley says: "Vice as the prime example of protean evil is depicted as always polymorphous, mimicking human fellowship and having human form overlaid with animal elements, evil imitating first five books and translated probably during the first century CE. 41

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good" (4-5). Helen's tranquillity contrasted with the destruction encircling her follows the depiction of vice as discussed by Lindley. This does not mean that the West did not receive alternative perceptual traditions. For example within Celtic society, the story-tellers orally related their experiences as shape-shifting and becoming other identities. Celts acknowledged three ways of knowing: observation, perception, and knowledge. The experience of observation entails that the knower and the known remained separate entities. Perceptual knowledge came through a blurring between the two entities that enable a form of communing to emerge. Bards and seers alone acquired the final way of knowing by assuming the identity of the others. Bards, as important and central figures in Celtic society, gained their positions from being able to relate, in a impressive fashion, their experiences at becoming other entities. In the Medieval world, the convergence of indigenous patterns of story-telling, combined with both the desire to retain a connection to the classical world and rejection of its paganism causes a strange amalgamation to emerge in the Troy story and in the character ofHelen. During the Twelfth century, the reintroduction of Troy as a story and as an actual event played a central role in medieval narratives. These new stories have a decidedly proTrojan, anti-Greek posture in part attributable to the continuation of Roman institutions through the Church and its retention of Latin. Not until the late 42

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Fourteenth century did Homer reenter fully in Western thought when Leontius, Polatus, and Boccaccio made the first full translation from the Greek. Just as significant, though, is the belief that Troy fell to engender the passing of power and world dominance transferred to Rome and eventually to the Christian West (157). Benoit de Sainte-Maure's Roman de Troie (Romance of Troy), written during the middle decades of the Twelfth century, initiates this trend. Obtaining most of his material from Dares and Dictys, Beniot's account runs to some 30,000 lines. The story begins with the Argonaunts searching for the Golden Fleece. In their searching, they besiege and sack Troy. Priam rebuilds but the Greeks kidnap his sister Esiona. The Trojans send a punitive expedition to retrieve Esiona. The Trojans take Helen, and the two factions go to war. In Beniot's account the Trojans only lose the war when the prince, Antenor plots with the Greeks to invade the city. After the fall of Troy, the Greeks return and the poem ends with the murder of Ulysses by his son Telegonus, child of Circe( Highet, 50-53). Gilbert Highet notes that though medieval writers had access to Vergil, the episodic quality, the emphasis on romance and the absence of Gods battling in Dares and Dictys offered a far greater attraction to the Twelfth century mind than did Vergil's more classical treatment(54). Original to Benoit's account is the introduction of the love story between Troilus and Briesis. Beniot's tale increased 43

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the fashion for royal families and their subjects to trace their history back to a hero from Troy. Medieval histories from the Twelfth century abound with genealogical trees that trace families back to Troy. One such example of this is a genealogical roll of the Kings of England, dating from the late Thirteenth century. It begins with Brutus, a Trojan Prince who escaped from Troy to become the founder ofBritain, and ends with Edward I. Within its illuminated text are medallions in which episodes that include Helen are visually bracketed by medallions showing war or destruction (Basewell and Taylor, 300-301). This text contains a convergence of Helen and the Troy story as perceived by the Medieval mind. The mythographies, the iconography, and the sense of protean evil causes a cumulative effect upon Helen, wherein by the late Middle Ages she barely lingers in Troy stories. By the end of the Fourteenth century, Medieval authors combined the characteristics ofBriesie from Beniot and that of Helen to create the figure of Cressida as the central female figure in their Troy narratives. Cressida becomes the standard of inconstancy and indeterminacy in this new tradition that closely allies itselfwith the characteristics of protean evil. In Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde, Helen is like whipped cream, all froth and air, while Cressida moves constantly from one desire to another, from one man to another. Chaucer, like many medieval writers, seems unable to give the fleeting and indeterminate figure 44

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of Helen a substance and mutability as did the Greeks. It is not so much that he objectifies her as the negative Other, but that she is simply incapable of even haunting his poetic landscape. If anything, Chaucer's treatment of Helen is almost like that of an alchemist, playing with base metals to engender events. She becomes for Chaucer such a non-being that her presence in Troilus and Criseyda is that of a catalyst without substance. Cressida, as a replacement figure for Helen, lacks her fluidity and mutability since Cressida, conceived in the shadow of the Middle Ages' sense of evil cannot overcome her singularity. As strong as the link between the assumption of different identities and evil becomes in the Middle Ages there remained the impulse for story-tellers to embrace the qualities ofproteanism.Chaucer, while unable to beget a protean Helen does create in his Canterbury Tales a liminal, if not protean figure, in the character of the Pardoner. In the General Prologue, Chaucer states that the Pardoner is either, "a geldyng or mare" (688-691). Scholars believe that Chaucer's reference of the Pardoner as being one or the other designates the Pardoner as either being a eunuch or a homosexual.Using different description of the Pardoner's physicality various scholars have decided upon one ofthese options they find that Chaucer provided. More important though than the status of the Pardoner's sexual status rest in the very ambiguity of that status. It is the uncertanity, the instability of the Pardoner's nature that associates him as 45

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representative of proteanism, that is protean evil. Chaucer correlates the various items of clothing that the Pardoner wears and his bag of relics with the Middle Ages, depiction ofthe devil as a wolfmasked behind the figure of a sheep.15 Chaucer elaborates on the theme of the Pardoner as protean evil when the Pardoner admits at the end of his tale that the bones he carries are those of sheep (709-757). Superficially the Pardoner appears sincere since he exposes the deceit ofhis bag. Like the flaying of the sheep's skin to expose the wolf inside, the Pardoner appears to shed his mask of piety. Yet as Jane Chance points out, the Pardoner manipulates his audience and thus remains a figure free from the confmes of sin and society ( 431 ). By exposing the relics as sheep bones he appears contrite, but it is a repentance of that creates another identity for the Pardoner as he mystifies his audience by exposing his falsehood as he continues to sell his pardons. The Pardoner's audience, the other pilgrims or the reader never experiences a certainty over which identity is the true identity of the man. He becomes a figure of no identity, a protean figure. The continuation of protean impulses in the Middle Ages, especially that sophistic sense that one believes a story because one desires to believe, endures and strengthens during the Renaissance when the West began once again to explore the nature and identity of humanity and human experience. Pico della 15 Malcolm Pittock discusses the Pardoner's protean impulses in a similar fashion to Lindley. See, 46

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Miradola saw each person as a type of Proteus, with the capacity for metamorphoses into anything that the individual desired. The entire premise of Baldassare Castiglione's The Book of The Courtier described the transfiguring ability ofthe individual. The protean human which Pico and Castiglione described and promoted required a sense of freedom differing from the ideal of forming a cohesive, singular, human identity That sense of freedom and mutability, while functioning on the periphery of Western thought during and after the Renaissance allowed writers in varying degrees to continued their affinity with mimesis as defined by Aristotle and later Irigaray. Strangely enough it is the emergence of the novel in literature that appears as the single most important factor contributing to both the marginalization of protean characters and the objectification of women-a factor that perhaps plays into feminist critiques ofliterature. Applying Ronald Barthes' theories of narratives being forms of orgasmic free-play, many feminist critics understand modem narratives as a striptease in which the male desire of seeing the sexual organs of female is not unlike the desire to know the origin and end of the story (1975,10). Beginning in the late Seventeenth and early Eighteenth centuries, the writer--the story-teller no longer had the immediate contact with his audience as "The Pardoner's Tale and the Quest for Death," in Essays in Criticism 24 (1974): 107-23 47

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in the past. This distance between writer and audience creates, out of necessity, an artificial mise en scene wherein the writer must continually reassure the reader of a shared intimacy to collaspe over the distance. Walter Benjamin noticed this distance when in the "Story-teller," he described the struggle that modem writers face. Contrasting modem story-telling with an oral tradition, Benjamin discerned that texts composed in isolation and consumed in private disengaged the story teller from the "community of listeners" and broke that essential transmission of poetic imagination and experience (92). Benjamin's apt analysis demonstrated the difficulty that modem story-tellers and poets have in enticing the individual away from the concerns of the ordinary world, when they themselves are not present. To overcome these difficulties writers began to initiate a pattern whereby characters become sharply detailed, where plotting is linear and character motivation carefully and clearly elucidated. The writer of stories as it were becomes like the eye of the camera which directs the eye of the viewer toward one destination. Such focus shuts offthat sense of freedom and play found in proteanism. It compels the reader to know a character as a singular identity that fits into a fully developed narrative. Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders exists at the intersection of this transition. Moll, as the narrator of her own story, relates her fortunes and misfortunes, but never in a cohesive singular pattern. Moll narrates of pregnancies, children born 48

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but never mentioned again. She relates her interaction with men and takes on many identities throughout her long career. The reader experiences an awareness of Moll not dissimilar to Helen. As like Helen though, one is never certain of Moll's form, physicality or true nature. She is always just out of reach of becoming complete and objectified by us and Defoe. With the novels of Samuel Richardson, who designs his novels around an omniscient narrator, the reader becomes fully informed as to the nature and character of the individuals who inhabit his narrative spaces. A secret exists at the center of Fielding s Tom Jones, but Fielding's description of character and their motivation present full portraits restricting his character's fluidity, freedom, and diversity once seen in the story-telling tradition of previous eras. One need only think of Fielding's introduction of Sophia, Tom's love interest, to notice the change brought about by the novel. Through his lengthy description, Sophia becomes a solid individual, a radiant creature, all lustre and sparkle, with teeth like ivory and a complexion more of"the lily than of the rose" (110). This woman is complete, fully formed; we know her, but she lacks that enigmatic quality, that elusiveness that is both seductive and persuasive. Only with Richardson's contemporary, Laurence Sterne, does the novel take a different route, one more allied to the sense of proteanism of which I speak in connection with Helen. Sterne's The Life and Opinions ofTristran Shandy 49

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(1760-1766) looks back on the fluidity and play ofthe ancient Greeks as it looks forward to the metafictions of postmodernism. The characters who inhabit Sterne's novel do appear to be what Walter Bagehot called disparaging "unitelligibitities," in that at one moment in the novel, Sterne appears to itemize all the qualities that comprise a certain character but in the next moment utterly changed them (397,538). As Christopher Ricks says of Sterne's writing and its incongruity in the Eighteenth Century: Sterne belongs to a world which was increasingly tempted to look upon literature as an ultimate good, and he was writing in a form--the novel--which quite rightly thought that it was fitted to accomplish in literary tasks in some ways more profound, more true and more complete than any literature that had preceded it (15). By using visual descriptors, a black page to denote grief (233) and never settling on perfect and complete character portraits, Sterne appears to chafe at that of purpose beginning to seep into literature and finding its apogee during the Victorian era. No one character in Sterne's book becomes objectified because Sterne never allows any of his characters to become singular, clearly defined individuals. By surrendering to a camera like narrative, writers of novels began to see their mission as having a greater purpose than simply telling a good story. Ideological causes, hinted at previously, become central themes, singular themes in novels from the Nineteenth century. One need only to think of the 50

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nature of the novels ofDickens or Zola to witness the diminishment of play and proteanism in story-telling. As Charles Johnson writes in Being and Race: "While ideology may create a fascinating vision of the universe, and also fascinating literary movements, it closes off the free investigation of phenomena" (26). Sterne, understanding that story-telling encompassed a sensuous commitment to the imagination, knew that the act of story-telling made life more enjoyable and endurable, not necessarily more truthful. Closing off the investigation of phenomena is why the character of Helen, allied as she is with proteanism, most often finds expression during the Twentieth century in poetry rather than in novels. 51

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CHAPTER3 CECI TROMPE VERS Perhaps one of the reasons that contemporary criticism so often relies upon the paradigms of social sciences to appraise literature occurs because of a distance between metaphor and assumption, between story-teller and audience as recognized by Sterne. It is a distancing that enables the ideological concerns ofthe one individual to intrude between the multifarious options of a story. In this the priority of imagination diminishes in culture, replaced by science, technology, and singularity, and where the degree of social concerned, social issues define the quality of a writer's story telling ability. In his study of William Butler Yeats' Dudley Young describes this struggle: As the philosopher and the scientist take over a culture's classification, the poet's assertions become metaphorical; that is they no longer proclaim identities between Man Nature but only resemblances. For example, when the primitive Greek poets An angry man is a roaring lion, this means that the man actually becomes a lion, participates in the Form ofleoninity. But when the culture no longer looks to the poet for such definitions, the statement can only mean that an angry man behaves in a similar fashion to a roaring lion. To discover what anger really is we look to the psychologist, and these days he tells us that it is a drive-acceleration; and of course the psychologist is right (15-16). 52

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This taking over of poetics by science, psychology, and philosophy described by Young does not necessarily affect the process of poetics but rather the perception of poetics. Narrative from the schools of Realism and Naturalism dance on the very edge that separates the social order from play and proteanism. Patricia Waugh defines Realism as a suppression of "dialogic potentials" by its insistence on representation and its resistance to the illusion of mimesis (2). Much of the writing from the Twentieth century contains the latent possibility of succumbing to the social order and merely replicating its transitory concerns. Writers designated as post-modem such as Italo Calvin, John Barth, John Fowles, and Susan Sontag seem to distance their writing from the social order by deploying narrative patterns which turn back upon themselves to explore the process of creation. The "dialogic potentials" that Waugh finds in post-modem writing, however, seem mostly closely allied to the qualities of proteanism. One need only examine the self-reflective writing of Sterne or the uses ofHelen to notice the similarity.16 William Butler Yeats' "Leda and the Swan" and HD' s Helen in Egypt deploy and subvert the various currents in poetics and criticism to express those qualities of 16 Waugh applies Mikhail Bakhtin theories to explore the dialogic potential. Bakhtin's theories also include a sense of parody by which story-tellers consciously use and undermine past literary forms. In The French Lieutenant Woman, John Fowles employs such a parodying of Victorian novels but he creates a protean dialogue by never allowing the reader to be sure of the outcome of the story. 53

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I proteanism in a critical world no longer giving poetics a principal position to change and make human reality more pleasing and pleasurable. An example ofproteanism in modernist writing comes from Yeats' poem "Leda and the Swan" (1923). Yeats describes Leda's terror at her assault in a detached almost reportage manner. Save for the "terrified vague finger"(5) no emotion enters into the account. Zeus is indifferent, and Yeats establishes a seeming causal link between the conception ofHelen and the destruction ofTroy, "the broken wall, the burning roof and tower/ And Agamemnon dead" (9-11 ). One of the more discussed aspects of Yeats' poetic production lies in his constant and consistent use of symbolic women as masks for women he fmds unattainable in the real world. Appraising Yeats' love poetry, Jhan Ramazani believes that in poem after poem one can trace his poetic heritage to a tradition in which erotic loss produces aesthetic gain (69). Ramazani sees Yeats as the successor to Petarch, Sidney, and Shakespeare. These poets wrote poems ofwomen lost to them not solely to document their erotic lives but also to give credence to their status as poets (70). Under this logic, poets cannot become poets without loss. The idea itself traces a line back to the exchange of sight for poetic ability in ancient Greece. Just as important as this equation is to Yeats' poetry, another factor plays into the women--phantom or real-who exist in his poetry. Underlying his thought appears to be a sense that he cannot control women inside his poetic world nor 54

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without, in his daily experiences. Yeats unable to control the "new woman" of his era exemplified by Maud Gonne, masks her in his poetry with a picture of femininity that is out oftime, resistant to change and passivity.17 He often employs Helen as the mask for Maud or her sister Iseult Gonne. In the earlier poem, ''No Second Troy" (1908), Yeats calls Maud's beauty "like a tightened bow, a kind/That is not natural in an age like this" (8-9), evoking the beauty and sensuality of Maud while taking her out oftime. Decades later in his poem, "Among School Children" (1926), he still dreams of a "Leadean body" that figures as the symbolic mediator between the poet and the present object of desire (9). Helen seemingly appears in Yeats' poems as the paradigmatic representation ofthis mediation by allowing Yeats to retain his status as poet while explicating his erotic desires. At one level, Helen serves to answer in the affirmative Yeats' question posed in The Tower," "Does the imagination dwell the most/ Upon a woman won or lost" (197)? With all things in Yeats' poetry though, matters are far more intricate and complex. Helen functions doubly as symbolic representation of erotic desire that is absent and haunting and also as a non-presence that is full of power. Ending the 17 Ramazani in her article follows Simone de Beauvoir and Nina Auerbach in that Beauvoir found that the patriarchy defmed women as the negative Other and an omnipotent mother. this resulted in an alliance between women and death. Auerbach extended this further by fmding that women's exclusion from the male social order was contained in literature and art by femininity becoming the site of men's mythical and religious impulses. 55

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poem ''No Second Troy," and juxtaposed to Maud/Helen's beauty, is the line, "Was there another Troy for her to bum" (12)? Similarly in "Leda and the Swan," Yeats ends with the lines, "Did she put on his knowledge with his power/Before the indifferent beak could let her drop" (14-15)? As H.P. Riclanan writes, "rarely, and working against feminist precepts does one think of a rape victim taking power from the rapists"(156). Yeats, in leaving these final lines as questions, appears to know that women, symbolic or real, are never fully grasped or able to become the singular object of desire. Neither words nor metaphors alter women's fluidity. To attempt to make singular or to control women means to diminish one's own poetic power. The Helen contained in "Leda and the Swan" exemplifies the Sophistic tradition wherein Helen is a non-presence whose power arises from the very absence and plurality of her non-presence. She and Leda flow together and combine to destroy Yeats' attempt to make them singular even as they appear to destroy. Yeats' tradition and heritage travel back along a different path from Petarch, Sidney, and Shakespeare and find greater affinity with the tradition ofproteanism. For Yeats and for the Greeks the knowledge taken from Zeus is the power, desire, and seduction women contain to incite and create human history. Even though Yeats demonstrates the protean qualities of Helen her tradition in the Twentieth century finds it best example in the epic poem Helen in Egypt, by HD. 56

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Written by a woman who purposely incorporates the varied traditions of Helen for narrative content, liD's Helen in Egypt embodies both the inherent proteanism in literature and the need for feminist criticism to move beyond political and ideologically based critiques Weaving the various stories from her long tradition, Helen, as narrator, forms and revises the stories while remaining through-out a figure of multiple identities and voices. Several critics proposed that HD sought to write an alternative to the patriarchal version. Applying feminist appraisals of gender codes to the literary form, Susan Stanford Friedman discusses Helen in Egypt as an attempt to exploit the tension between female association with the lyric form and male association with the epic: Essentially Friedman believes that HD "feminized the epic," to revise the patriarchal ideology pervasive in literature(269). Rachel Blau Du Plessis similarly describes Helen in Egypt as a woman writer serving her narrative from the values implicit in male epics and converting these values into models that serve a women's purpose. These interpretations are problematic. As Robert 0' Brian Hokanson writes, "[these approaches] close off the poem's full range of meaning, just as reading only for the poem's plot obscures the significance of its formal features" (332). The structure of the poem, its interplay between prose and poetry, Helen's constant and unresolved questions, and the intertwining of different traditions undermine a 57

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reading of Helen in Egypt as simply a poem that critiques and revises phallogcentrism. The poem, divided into three parts, Pallinode, Leuke, and Eidolon, initiates the pattern H.D.'s Helen takes to search for her true identity while knowing that the search for the true story is always an erroneous endeavor. In Pallinode, after meeting Achilles on the beach, Helen recollects the story of her sister, Clytaemnestra. In the midst of this remembrance she stops herself and asks 'has it ever happened/ or is it yet to come?/ do I myself invent/ this tale of my sister's fate" (69)? Helen, uncertain as to the truth ofClytaemnestra's fate, seeks to direct the cause of her own indeterminacy toward the actions committed by Achilles. "Achilles was the false bridegroom/ Achilles was the hero promised/ ... to her/to me/promised to Iphigenia" (80). Even as she levels blame at Achilles, Helen recognizes that wandering as she does with a veil of forgetfulness the "mind cannot answer the numberless questions" (85). The uncertainty continues into the second section of the poem, Leuke, when two of her lovers, Paris and Theseus tell their versions of her story. Paris states that she died as Troy fell (131), that Achilles never desired or loved her (143). When Helen comes to him, Theseus asks if she is a phantom (14 7). He relates how he stole her away (148,150), how she left Paris and Achilles, and that in returning to him they will forget and love together again (155-156). At one 58

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point in Leuke 's prose section, the narrator describes Helen's emotional experience as "too great a suspense to endure" (162). The interplay between prose and poetry empowers HD to overcome the distance that separates the writer from the community of listeners. HD becomes in the prose section of the poem a non present presence. This interplay also deflects any attempt at explaining the poem in singular terms while it intervenes between reader and appraiser. The narrator says that the questions in Helen's story are intolerable. At the same time, HD never attempts to resolve these questions. The interchange between prose and poetry in this epic intensifies HD's use of multiple perspectives to expose the illusions of unitary positions in narratives. This issue, central to HD's Helen in Egypt, amplifies in vigor in the concluding section of Eidolon. Du Plessis understands the concluding section of the poem as the "satisfaction of closure," as a "reparenting" process that provides an alternative to the "Oedipal crisis and romantic thralldom" (17). Helen's purported quest for identity and singularity in the poems remains unsettled at the end when she says: "my mind goes on,/ spinning the infinite thread;/ surely I crossed the threshold,/ then why do I lie here and wonder,/ and try to unravel the tangle/ that no man can ever un-knot" (298)? Faced with the tangle of modernity and critical appraisals seeped in ideology and the social order's understanding of science, mind, and metaphor, HD refuses to make Helen a singular, heroic figure who merely mirrors 59

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the image of epic hero. Instead Helen for HD, remains a protean figure, full of the plurality of femininity and the mutable in her voices and stories. HD ends Helen in Egypt with images that arouse the passion of memory, of phantoms, and the sea: But what could Paris know of the sea, its beats and long reverberation, its booming and delicate echo, its ripple that spells a charm on the sand, the rock-lichen, the sea-moss, the sand only Achilles could break his heart and the world for a token, a memory forgotten(299-300) Paris cannot know the sea: Achilles breaks his heart for a token and memory. Unlike them, Helen, the phantom, the shape-shifter, the child of Proteus knows the sea and knows that her plurality cannot become singular. She observes the code of the heroes but does not succumb to it by way of memory or desire. Helen, is just one child of Proteus, as are Homer, Gorgias, and HD, but the old man of the sea has many more. Surrendering to the seduction of Proteus enables the reader and critic to enter into the realm of play and to become different identities and thus, to know the world. Helen through millennia exemplifies the role of proteanism in literature and its affinity mimesis as assumption of identity. She 60

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though is not alone in this association, but only its most enduring representative. An exploration of others though must wait for another time. 61

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WORKS CITED Aristotle. 1987. The Poetics. Trans. Richard Janko. lndianapolis:Hackett Publishing Company. Aquinnas, Thomas. 1998. On Evil. Trans. John A. Ostele. South Bend: Nortra Dame University Press. Augustine. 1972. The Complete Writings ofSt.Augustine. Trans. John N. Finley,Jr. NewYork: Modem Library. Barthes, Roland. 1975. The Pleasure of the Text. New York: Hill and Wang Benjamin, Walter. 1979. Illuminations. Designed by. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books. Chance, Jane.1988. "Disfigured in they face": Chaucer's Pardoner and the Protean Shape-Shifter Fals-Semblant." Philological Quarterly v67, n1: 423-437. DuPlessis, Rachel Blau and Susan Standford Friedman, eds.1990. Signets: Reading H.D. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. De Lauretis, Teresa. 1987. Technologies of Gender: Essays on Theater, Film, and Fiction. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Euripides. 1958. The Trojan Women. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ____ 1961. The Helen. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Friedman, Susan Stanford.1990. Penelope's Web: Gender, Modernity, H.D. 'S Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. H.D. 1961. Helen in Egypt. New York: New Directions Book. 62

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Highet, Gilbert. 1949. The Classical Tradition: Greek and Roman Influences on Western Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Hokanson, Robert O'Brian.1992. "It is all a story?" qustioning revisions in H.D. 's Helen in Egypt." American Literature. v64, n2: 331-347. Homer. 1951. The Iliad. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ___ 1965. The Odyssey. Trans. Richmond Lattimore. New York: Harper and Collins. Huizinga, John.1955. Homo Ludens; A Study of the Play Element in Culture. Boston: Beacon Press. Johnson, Charles. 1990. On Being and Race. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Lindley, Arthur. 1989. "The Unbeing of the overracher: proteanism and the Marlovian hero" Mondern Language Review, 84: 36-42. Lloyd, Michael.1984. "The Helen Scene In Eurpides' Troades." Classical Quarterly, 34:303-13. ___ 1992. The Agon in Euripides. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Loraux, Nicole. 1987. Tragic Ways ofKilling a Woman. Trans. Anthony Forester. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Meltzer, Gary.1994 "Where is the Glory of Troy? Kleos in Euripides' Helen." Classical Antiquity 13:234-256. Philstratrus. 1992. Imagines Book I Trans. Arthur Fairbanks. Loeb Classic. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Plato. 1989. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. trans. Edith Hamilton. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ____ 1989. The Republic. Trans. Benjamin Jowett. New York: Modem Library. 63

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Porter, James 1.1993. "The Seductions ofGorgias." Classical Antiquity 12 :267300. Pucci, Pietro. 1980. "The Language of the Muses." Eds. Aycock and Klein. Classical Mythology in Twentieth-Century Thought and Literature. Lubbock: University of Texas Press. Riclanan, H.P.1994. "The Rape Contemporary Review.v265:156-161. Spentzou, Effie. (1996). "Helen of Troy and the Poetics of Innocence: From Ancient Fiction to Modem Metafiction." Classical and Modern Literature 8: 301-324. Suzuki, Mihoko. 1989. Metamorphoses of Helen: Authority, Difference, and the Epic. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Worman, Nancy.(1997) "The Body as Argument: Helen in Four Greeks Texts." Classical Antiquity 16 :151-204. Yeats, W.B. (1956). Collected Poems. Definitive ed. with authors final revisions. New York: Macmillam. Young, Dudley. (1975). Out of Ireland: A Reading ofYeat's Poetry. Cheshire: Carcanet Press. Zeitlin, Froma. 1996. Playing the Other: Gender and Society in Classical Greek Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 64