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"Where Is the Glory of Troy?" "Kleos" in Euripides' "Helen"

Gary S. Meltzer
Classical Antiquity
Vol. 13, No. 2 (Oct., 1994), pp. 234-255
DOI: 10.2307/25011015
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/25011015
Page Count: 22
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"Where Is the Glory of Troy?" "Kleos" in Euripides' "Helen"
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Abstract

Near the end of Euripides' "Helen", Helen reportedly exhorts the Greek troops to rescue her Egyptian foes: "Where is the glory of Troy (to Troikon kleos)? Show it to these barbarians" (1603-1604). Helen's rallying cry serves as a point of departure for investigating the nature and status of kleos in a play which invites reframing her question: Where, indeed, is the glory of Troy if the report of Helen's abduction by Paris is untrue? The drama deconstructs the notion of a unitary, transcendent meaning of "kleos" by demonstrating the slippage between its two root-meanings in Homer as "immortal fame," legitimated by the gods, and as mere "report" or "rumor." A diminution of the status of the proper name runs in parallel with this slippage between the two senses of "kleos": the heroic name loses its privileged status as a stable, transparent sign of character and becomes instead a signifier vulnerable to dissemination (cf. Jacques Derrida, La dissémination [Paris, 1972]). As a vehicle of deception, Helen's phantom-twin becomes a figure for the polysemy of the signifier, both visual and linguistic. The phantom's substitution for Helen also highlights her symbolic role as a marker of men's (and gods') status in a competitive system of exchange. If the play presents Helen as a continual object of men's attempts to capture her in song as well as in war, it presents heroic kleos as an equally insecure possession, insofar as it is always contingent on the "report" of others. Indeed, Helen becomes a metaphor for the duplicity inherent in the mimetic process by which fame is transmitted. That "kleos" turns out to have been a dangerously deceptive signifier is a lesson of more than literary interest for the Athenians watching Euripides' "Helen" (412)-the forces of the Sicilian expedition had been annihilated only a year earlier.

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