Volume 25, Issue 2, Spring 2021
The Compulsion of Bodies
Infection and Possession in Gorgias's Helen
This essay seeks to understand Gorgias’ reflections upon language and perception in the Encomium of Helen through the threefold vocabularies of medicine, enchantment, and oratory that were often taken together in the fifth century. I demonstrate that the two modes of sorcery to which Gorgias refers have to do with language and its effect on opinion, on the one hand, and perception and its effect upon one’s affective bearing, on the other. Both effects, I claim, are grasped through their forceful means of physically impressing and deforming the soul such that its reliance upon memory and habitual forms of dwelling in the world are subject to oblivion. Further, such conceptual and practical unmooring can be understood as forms of disease that rob an individual of her agency, either temporarily or permanently, and therefore reflect the problematic status of language in early democratic Greece.