Few storylines are more familiar than that of the woman so beautiful that men cannot resist her and will stop short of nothing, even murder or treachery, to possess her. The most famous of these women is of course, Helen, with “the face that launched a thousand ships,” many of which came back empty after the Trojan War. Reviled by antiquity for her role in that war which caused the death of so many of Greece's finest men, Helen was also condemned for her adulterous—and sometimes seen as all-too-willing—relationship with her abductor, Paris. Euripides, however, in his play, Helen, picks up the apologetic version of her tale from Stesichoros' “Palinode to Helen” and claims that she in fact never went to Troy, but was spirited away to Egypt where she remained chaste and secure. This rendering of her story protects Helen's metaphorical/mythological status from Paris and a public opinion that would try to reduce her to a physical object. The princess Alatiel, however, in II, 7 of Boccaccio's Decameron, has no such defense, and despite, or perhaps because of her physical experience of love with nine different men, she fails to become a candidate for metaphor. The death and destruction in these stories is not, then, caused by the incomparable beauty of these two women, but by their struggle to maintain or attain a higher ontological order.
[...] Alatiel become the nameless and selfless partner of pornographic fantasy who makes no emotional demands on her mates and frees them of all moral responsibility for their desires.” Other critics, such as Giuseppe Mazzotta, have seen in Alatiel's silence a commodification that is supported by the fact that her journey is an approximation of medieval trade routes. She even begins the story as a pawn in a transaction between her father and the King of Algarve. Millicent Marcus agrees that is a mercantile commodity, transferred from port to port and literally consumed by her various possessors,” but Mazzotta argues that: She can never really be possessed: all the efforts to own her are ironically twisted: it is her beauty that possesses and haunts the men; a derelict object, she gives value to them; she must be kept hidden, but like gold, everyone is compelled to show her; even her silence seems to mock the sense of mastery of those who possess language. This mercantile view is supported by the text itself, especially in the episode of the two young shipmen in the service of Marato: discovering that they were both in love with the same woman, they talked the matter over in secret and agreed to make the lady's conquest a mutual affair, as though love were capable of being shared out like merchandise or profits,” a side remark which seems to show Boccaccio's own voice coming through. [...]
[...] Stern. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press Robert Emmet Meagher, “Introduction,” Helen (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1986) xxiv. Euripides, Helen in The Bacchae and Other Plays, trans. Philip Vellacott (London: Penguin Books, 1973) 136. This view must have influenced Ovid and his irony when he later wrote of the supposed escapades of Zeus in his Metamorphoses. Ibid. Ibid. Philip Vellacott, “Introduction,” The Bacchae and Other Plays (London: Penguin Books, 1973) 28. Ibid. Euripides 142. Euripides 143. Euripides 155. Euripides 164-165. [...]
[...] Dombroski. London: Hodder and Stoughton Gale. Literature Resource Center. American Univ. of Paris Comp. Lab., Paris Mar < http://galenet.galegroup.com>. B.S. “Panfilos' Stories.” Decameron Web. Italian Studies department Brown University Mar < http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/ dweb/narrators/panfilo_s.shtml>. D.S. “Panfilo.” Decameron Web. Italian Studies department Brown University Mar < http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/ dweb/narrators/1panfilo.shtml>. Staples, Max Alexander. The Ideology of the Decameron. Lewiston: The Edwin Mellen Press Wallace, David. Giovanni Boccaccio: Decameron. Landmarks of World Literature. [...]
[...] Helen appeals to her, saying: Do not purchase the favour of tyranny, the gratitude of a wicked heart, by shaming your own piety You are a seer, and believe in divine providence: if now you pervert your father's purpose, and take your unjust brother's part, is it not shameful that you who know the secrets of Heaven both now and to come, should not know right from wrong? This divine gift of Theonoe puts her in the realm of the conceptual to which metaphor belongs, thereby freeing her from linguistic constraints and allowing her to lie/conceal the truth without affecting her purity since language is disconnected from meaning. [...]
[...] Paris believes that he possesses me: what he holds is nothing but an airy delusion.” With this declaration, Euripides abruptly changes the story from its expected course, and commonly accepted picture of Helen as a shallow, worthless creature, her name a term of abuse, her life the sole origin of a thousand crimes—this figure is a phantom; Helen herself—whatever her acts—is a different person in the poet's mind.” In doing so, shows the greatest war in ancient history as a disastrous error from beginning to end, all its crimes and agonies a purposeless performance, its heroes puppets, its achievements nothing.” Many critics correctly read Euripides' anti-war stance in this, but they ignore the larger statement the poet is making that the war is caused by Aphrodite's and Paris' reductionist stance that tries to turn Helen into a purely natural object. [...]
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