Greek Oratory: Tradition and Originality

By Stephen A. Usher | Go to book overview

APPENDIX B

GORGIAS PALAMEDES

While strictly outside the scope of the main discussion because it is a model defence of a mythical hero, this piece deserves brief examination if only for the fame of its supposed author.1 It may be assumed that the choice of defendant was designed to give Gorgias a testing case in which to display his powers. Palamedes was accused of betraying the Greek camp before Troy to King Priam for gold. Though in most versions of the myth it is admitted that the main evidence (a letter 'planted' under his bed) was manufactured by his enemy Odysseus, his proverbial cleverness made him a formidable defendant. Gorgias therefore begins with simple tragic and Homeric themes: the idea that dishonour is more to be feared than death (1), and the contrast between force and justice (2) (cf. [ Aesch.] PV). Thus he skilfully creates the august if unreal atmosphere of a Homeric court. But his model speech must also be of practical use to its audience. The subject he has chosen restricts its scope. There is none for the exercise of narrative skill, since Palamedes' case is based on the premiss that he has done nothing (5, 23). The prooemium (1-5) therefore has to prepare the ground directly for the proof. He has to predispose the jury to believe him rather than his opponent. He does this by asking why Odysseus has accused him. The suggested reasons--his φθόνος, κακοτεχνία, or πανουργία (3)--lead to an aporia: how can an innocent man defend himself against an unscrupulous one? (4) With two swift strokes he has blackened the accuser's character and gained the jury's sympathy. They will now agree with him that amorality is a more potent weapon for someone bent on crime than cleverness. Finally (5), he states the heads under which he proposes to argue his defence--lack of opportunity, lack of motivation. The prooemium thus contains the following topics which orators used and rhetoricians prescribed: statement of the issue, opponent's motivation, complaint of the speaker's disadvantage, summary of proposed division.

Lack of Opportunity (6-12) is introduced with characteristically Gorgianic reference to λόγος (cf. Helen8), though here it is a medium of

____________________
1
Its published form in the Attic dialect raises the same authorial or editorial problems as the same author's Helen.

-360-

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