Gorgias - Defense of Palamedes

In the Defense of Palamedes Gorgias describes logos as a positive instrument for creating ethical arguments (McComiskey 38). The Defense, an oration that deals with issues of morality and political commitment (Consigny 38), defends Palamedes who, in Greek mythology, is credited with the invention of the alphabet, written laws, numbers, armor, and measures and weights (McComiskey 47).

In the speech Palamedes defends himself against the charge of treason. In Greek mythology, Odysseus – in order to avoid going to Troy with Agamemnon and Menelaus to bring Helen back to Sparta – pretended to have gone mad and began sowing the fields with salt. When Palamedes threw Odysseus' son, Telemachus, in front of the plow, Odysseus avoided him, demonstrating that he was sane. Odysseus, who never forgave Palamedes for making him reveal himself, later accused Palamedes of betraying the Greeks to the Trojans. Soon after, Palamedes was condemned and killed (Jarratt 58).

In this epideictic speech, like the Encomium, Gorgias is concerned with experimenting with how plausible arguments can cause conventional truths to be doubted (Jarratt 59). Throughout the text, Gorgias presents a method for composing logical (logos), ethical (ethos) and emotional (pathos) arguments from possibility, which are similar to those described by Aristotle in Rhetoric. These types of arguments about motive and capability presented in the Defense are later described by Aristotle as forensic topoi. Gorgias demonstrates that in order to prove that treason had been committed, a set of possible occurrences also need to be established. In the Defense these occurrences are as follows: communication between Palamedes and the enemy, exchange of a pledge in the form of hostages or money, and not being detected by guards or citizens. In his defense, Palamedes claims that a small sum of money would not have warranted such a large undertaking and reasons that a large sum of money, if indeed such a transaction had been made, would require the aid of many confederates in order for it to be transported. Palamedes reasons further that such an exchange could neither have occurred at night because the guards would be watching, nor in the day because everyone would be able to see. Palamedes continues, explaining that if the aforementioned conditions were, in fact, arranged then action would need to follow. Such action needed to take place either with or without confederates; however, if these confederates were free men then they were free to disclose any information they desired, but if they were slaves there was a risk of their voluntarily accusing to earn freedom, or accusing by force when tortured. Slaves, Palamedes says, are untrustworthy. Palamedes goes on to list a variety of possible motives, all of which he proves false.

Through the Defense Gorgias demonstrates that a motive requires an advantage such as status, wealth, honour, and security, and insists that Palamedes lacked a motive (McComiskey 47-49).

So as not to overwhelm you with Gorgias, I'll include just a bit of this very interesting speech, partly to illustrate proof by probability, which can be classed with the second of Aristotle's two main varieties of rhetorical proof (Rhetoric 1355b35-1356a20):

pisteis atekhnoi, literally "proofs not involving skill," i.e., involving no "valued-added" from the study of rhetoric. Aristotle means things like eye-witness testimony, torture, written contracts, etc. ("Just the facts.")
pisteis entekhnoi, literally "proofs involving skill," i.e, involving technical rhetoric's "value-added," as follows:
Proof based on the seeming character or reliability of the speaker, who therefore has to be careful about self-presentation.
Proof through manipulating the psychological state of the listener.
Demonstrative proof, i.e., the fact or appearance of a cogently reasoned case. That will include what Aristotle terms enthumemes, "rhetorical syllogisms," or logic premised on probabilities, not certainties.
I also want to illustrate the prominence of speech (logos) as a theme in Gorgias, even in this supposed defense speech, which we need to understand as an example of epideixis. Let me briefly summarize. This is a fictitious oration by the mythical hero, Palamedes, whom Odysseus has charged with treason, and whom we find defending himself in a kind of court martial. According to myth, Odysseus, Palamedes' great rival among the Greeks fighting at Troy, contrived a fake "message" to prove that his rival had been in contact with the enemy.

TEXT (trans. A. Scholtz)

[In his prooimion, or introductory section, Palamedes hints at Odysseus' corrupt motives for prosecuting him, and hints as well that, for the jury to allow thmeselves to be persuaded by Odysseus, would be to bring shame on themselves, a theme he returns to near the end of his speech. Palamedes also insinuates that to rescue himself from an accusion as perplexing as this would require the help of an unscrupulous sophist! Finally, he alludes to the two-pronged character of the arguments that he'll offer: that the thing itself would have been very diffcult for him to carry off, that he lacked sufficient motive.]

(7) I shall now proceed to my first point (logos), namely, that I cannot have done this thing. First of all, it would have been necessary for there to have been a start to the treason, and that start would have had to be speech (logos). For prior to doing anything we're going to do, words (logos) need first to be exchanged. But if a meeting [i.e., with the enemy] had happened, still, how could there have been words? In what way could a meeting happen unless that man [Priam, king of the Trojans] had sent a messenger to me, or I to him? For without someone to bear the message, no message in writing will have arrived. But in fact, speech (logos) itself proves the impossibility of this communication. Let's assume that he and I are with each other, but how does that play out? Who is with whom? I'll tell you: A Greek with a foreigner. But how does the one listen to the other? How does the other speak to the one? I'll tell you: No how! We won't be able to understand each other's language (logos). Is there, then, an interpreter? That means yet a third witness to this necessarily secret meeting. (8) Alright, let's grant that, too (though, of course, it didn't happen). Still, it would have been necessary for pledges to be exchanged by these co-conspirators. Pledges, then, but in what form? What kind of oath? Who would place his trust in me, "Mr. Traitor"? Suppose, then that hostages were exchanged. [Hostages often served as human collateral for international agreements.] Who as hostages? I could have volunteered my brother, as there'd have been no one else. As for the foreigner [Priam], one of his sons. That would indeed have produced a solid agreement. But if that had happened, it would have been obvious to everyone!

[Palamedes goes on to argue that, among other things, for him to sell out the Greeks would have been for him to sell out everything he cherished most: his freedom, his family, his country, etc. But he also accuses Odysseus of concocting charges based not on facts but appearances (doxa) and inconsistent argument (logos).]

[Approaching the end of his speech, Palamedes now offers advice to the jury.] (34) As for you, you must pay attention not to words but facts, nor find for the prosecution with too hasty a decision, nor think that a brief moment [i.e., the duration of this trial] makes for a wiser judge than lengthy reflection, nor reckon slander more credible than direct proof. For it falls on honorable men to take pains not to go wrong, and still more, not to create a hopeless situation out of what could have been set right. And it can be set right if people think before they act, but if they act before they think, it's hopeless. And that's how it is whenever men put a man on trial for his life, which is precisely what you are doing now.

(35) So if argument (logos) could make the truth crystal clear to those listening, then what has been said would make a verdict easy to render. But since such is not the case [since logos does not offer clear proof], you must take care to watch out for my safety. You must, that is, put off your decision as long as it takes for you to reach a verdict fair and true. For you risk basing your opinion [lit., "grasping doxa"] on the mere appearance of wrongdoing, the kind of verdict that defines a juror's reputation (doxa). And men of honor prefer death to a shameful reputation (doxa). The one ends life, the other renders it diseased.


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