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The Cast of Character

The Cast of Character
Style in Greek Literature

In this book, Nancy Worman investigates the development and evolution of ideas about style in archaic and classical literature through a study of representations of Odysseus and Helen.

January 2003
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288 pages | 6 x 9 |

Well before Aristotle's Rhetoric elucidated the elements of verbal style that give writing its persuasive power, Greek poets and prose authors understood the importance of style in creating compelling characters to engage an audience. And because their works were composed in predominantly oral settings, their sense of style included not only the characters' manner of speaking, but also their appearance and deportment. From Homeric epic to classical tragedy and oratory, verbal and visual cues work hand-in-hand to create distinctive styles for literary characters.

In this book, Nancy Worman investigates the development and evolution of ideas about style in archaic and classical literature through a study of representations of Odysseus and Helen. She demonstrates that, as liars and imitators, pleasing storytellers, and adept users of costume, these two figures are especially skillful manipulators of style. In tracing the way literary representations of them changed through time—from Homer's positive portrayal of their subtle self-presentations to the sharply polarized portrayals of these same subtleties in classical tragedy and oratory—Worman also uncovers a nascent awareness among the Greek writers that style may be used not only to persuade but also to distract and deceive.


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  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • 1. Kosmos and the Typical Casts of Character
  • 2. Oral Performance, Speech Types, and Typical Styles in Homer
  • 3. Visible Types and Visualizing Styles in Archaic Poetry
  • 4. Verbal Masquerade and Visual Impact in Tragedy
  • 5. Manipulating the Senses in Rhetorical Set Pieces
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Nancy Worman is Assistant Professor of Classics at Barnard College, Columbia University.


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[UT Press note: Due to browser limitations, Greek examples were omitted from this online excerpt; they are present in the printed book.]

In Patricia Highsmith's claustrophobic and morally ambiguous novel The Talented Mr. Ripley, the eponymous antihero faces a situation in which he has to appear before the same policemen as two different people. In his second interview with them he must play himself rather than the dashing and entitled young man whom he had been impersonating. His solution to this dilemma is a simple one: instead of wearing a literal disguise, he alters his tone of voice, his posture and general deportment, the quality of his clothes, and his speaking style. Except for the addition of a pair of glasses and a slight darkening of his hair color, he is still the same person, as far as the concrete aspects of his physical appearance are concerned. But because he so successfully acts the part of his own timid and insignificant self, the policemen do not even think to compare him to the elegantly casual man they had interviewed the first time around.

Tom Ripley has altered what I shall refer to as his visible type or "cast" of character. These are the elements that make up one's typical style, the physical and linguistic mannerisms that mark a speaker as a type conforming to a set of socially familiar categories. Important to the apprehension of type are those visible elements that a speaker engages at the moment of selfperformance, when he most wants to convince another that he is a particular kind of person. The eyewitness experience of the performer is essential to the audience's conviction that he is a certain type: the policemen must see Ripley speak a certain way and watch the droop in his ill-clothed shoulders that finishes his own brief and deferential sentences or, conversely, the languid gesture of a beringed hand that punctuates the phrases of the wealthy man he impersonates. The playwright John Guare may have been aware of the similarities that Paul "Poitier" bore to Ripley when he brought to the stage the graceful impersonator of Six Degrees of Separation. Paul learns to charm upper-class couples into taking him in by altering his speaking style, deportment, and dress to resemble their own. The female protagonist of Wilkie Collins' novel No Name indulges in more concrete physical disguises to gain her ends, as befits her richly layered Victorian character. Nevertheless, her successful deceptions depend just as much on changes in vocal tone, posture, and speaking style, techniques she perfected while working as a small-time actress.

Numerous examples of such misleading strategies exist in modern literature, of course. I hope merely to suggest the scope and significance of the ideas explored in this book by recalling a few familiar modern characters whose manipulations of effect depend largely on changes in typical styles rather than on concrete disguises. These characters show how weighty an impact such seemingly ephemeral elements as facial expression, vocal timbre, vocabulary choice, or style of dress can have on the reception of the speaker. The techniques that this book analyzes developed in an ancient setting, the performative nature of which lent even more importance to the visible type the speaker appears to be than modern literary settings might be expected to do.

In the predominantly oral culture of ancient Greece, the character of the individual was conceived of as a visible entity, something that could be assessed from witnessing his public actions, daily deportment, and manner of speaking. In fifth-century Athens the centrality of oral arenas to the democratic city-state, including the theater, the courts, and the Assembly, insured that this increasingly literate culture nevertheless continued to be largely oriented around oral practices. This singular circumstance gave rise to a perception among the writers of the period of the overarching differences between oral and written styles and a concern about the dangerously compelling effects of both. During the political upheavals that marked the end of the fifth century in Athens, this contested linguistic territory fostered suspicions that the grand, visualizing style associated with oral performance and the overly precise, polished style associated with written composition could each have their detrimental effects on audiences.

As Cicero, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Demetrius, and Aristotle before them demonstrate in detail, verbal style—the form and arrangement of words—plays an influential role in persuasive and appealing composition. These writers also acknowledge (Aristotle reluctantly) that the speaker's physical appearance, deportment, and the character he projects also contribute to the force of his arguments, all of which may in some sense be understood as aspects of style. Just how this works begs the question of what style is and how conceptions of style may have changed from antiquity to the present. I am concerned here with elucidating earlier ideas about style that made a serious contribution to later stylistic concepts. The philosophically oriented thinking of Plato and Aristotle did much to obscure these ideas, during the rise of rhetoric as a field of study.

This book explores the beginnings of an awareness of style in archaic and classical Greek literature and assesses the tendency of poets and early prose writers to treat verbal techniques and visual effects as interrelated. It centers around a number of famous depictions of Helen and Odysseus, two figures who uniquely focus ideas about the impact of the visibly persuasive character type and the impressive oral style. Like Tom Ripley, both figures also reveal the potentially distracting or misleading effects of such versatile self-performers and thus of style itself.

Style As A Social Performance

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has argued that one cannot understand social practices without understanding the relationship between how the body is socialized and the use of language. For Bourdieu, this linguistic usage is predominantly physical, since it is the body that engages certain verbal habits, themselves learned through socialization. Style, from this perspective, comprises the interaction between word usage and bodily deportment, as both are molded and regulated by class and gender. Bourdieu terms this interaction bodily hexis, the ancient Greek word for habit or typical state of being. In Aristotle, hexeis designate the dispositions that are formed over time by habitual action and that constitute different character types. For Bourdieu, bodily hexis itself is molded by the set of entrenched beliefs and attitudes (the habitus) that delineates the given social group. As Bourdieu puts it, hexis is "political mythology realized, em-bodied, turned into a permanent disposition, a durable way of standing, speaking, walking, and thereby of feeling and thinking." Thus the verbal style of the individual cannot be apprehended apart from its physical enactment. This is itself a product of inculcation—the result of a bodily memory whose visible manifestations (re)produce attitudes and beliefs molded over generations. Bourdieu further points out that these stylistic schemes are value-laden; an honorable type comports himself in a particularly honorable manner, from the steady, regulated way he eats his meals to the firm, rhythmic way he speaks in public.

In the second volume of his history of sexuality, Michel Foucault emphasizes that a stylized and visually oriented attitude toward behavior informed the ancient Greek understanding of character type and ethics. Foucault argues that the Greek writers of the classical period display a concern with regimen rather than injunction, aiming at the regulation of pleasures according to what is judged to be suitable behavior in relation to such type markers as age, health, and status of the individual. For the Greek citizen, Foucault argues, the principles that govern such regulation are based on ideas about proportion and timing, a pervasive emphasis on fitting measure that he terms "a stylization of attitudes and an aesthetics of existence.'' The corollary associations (which Foucault does not pursue) between Greek ideas about character and the physical regimens that he terms "techniques of the self" contribute to an awareness of style as an interconnected patterning of verbal conduct, deportment, and daily activity, that is, as the visible organization of character type.

Judith Butler has argued for a similar understanding of self-presentation as stylized, most prominently in her elaborations of the "performative" nature of gender identification. Butler's notion of "corporeal style"—consisting of the inflections, deportment, and dress that signal participation in particular social categories—clearly parallels Bourdieu's ideas about bodily hexis. Butler's emphasis on identity as a social performance rather than a natural phenomenon accords with the work of such anthropologists as Michael Herzfeld, who has studied the performance of gender identity in modern Greek communities as a "poetics of social interaction.'' Herzfeld focuses on a social semiotics similar in general outlook to those of Bourdieu and Butler, in which the self is performed by engaging the tropes particular to a given identity category.

Performance theory in general has influenced thought about ancient social institutions, as well as studies of the body in antiquity. The methodological perspective that informs this "cultural poetics" tends to embrace both signifying practices in daily life and those schematized by artistic media, a blurring of distinctions that can be problematic for the analysis of literary semiosis. Nevertheless, the recognition that character is formulated by means of the visible engagement in a stylistics of identity supports an approach more useful for addressing how style operates in oral settings.

Indeed, all these scholars' observations about self-presentation as a social, regularized, embodied, and therefore visible phenomenon uniquely suit the public, performative context in which ancient ideas about style developed. Rather than focusing on the individual, as a modern phrase like "personal style" implies, the ancient concepts of style were elaborated with a focus on visible behavior within the community, on the categories of character type that organized this behavior, and on the kinds of speech that suited different types in different settings. Thus all styles of self-presentation would have been assessed in relation to normative notions of the fit between character type and typical setting: what was suitable for the bedroom, for example, would not be so for the dinner table. Similarly, the locutions suited to the warrior would not be those suited to the concubine or to the keeper of pigs.

These are value-laden, hierarchized distinctions; and whatever power a given speech possesses is conferred from outside, in effect, that is, from the way in which the speech successfully engages in discourses already acknowledged as authoritative (e.g., locutions typical to priests or warriors). Bourdieu himself emphasizes that the scepter (skêptron) of the ancient Greek kings is a visible emblem of linguistic habitus. Handed from speaker to speaker in archaic assemblies, the skeptron thereby confers on successive warriors the authoritative status necessary to public persuasion. We might compare the example that the literary theorist Kenneth Burke makes of Thomas Carlyle, when discussing the distinctive features of an individual's self-presentation. Burke terms these features "stylistic identifications" and quotes Carlyle on the similarly emblematic nature of clothing: "Has not your Red hanging-individual a horsehair wig, squirrel-skins, and a plush gown; whereby all mortals know that he is a JUDGE?—Society, which the more I think of it astonishes me the more, is founded upon Cloth." In his lectures on rhetoric, Aristotle remarks in blander fashion, "It is necessary to consider what indicates an old man as a red cloak does a young man, for the same clothing does not suit [prepei] both.''

Most earlier Greek poets and prose writers judged a speaker's ability primarily on the manner in which he told his story, including his presentation of himself as a particular type, from the formation of his words to the drape of his cloak. Ancient ideas about the visibility of style and character type make use of a physically based scheme that opposes (in general terms) heroic to deformed or degraded statures. In archaic and classical poetry and prose, terms like kosmos, tropos, and schêma most often trace this kind of bodily geometry, triangulating speaking style, visible actions, and deportment, which together can either genuinely indicate a person's type or prove a false indicator of that type. Deportment and stature may betray birth, as Ion notes of Creusa in Euripides' eponymous play. Fancy talk and a nice outfit may, on the other hand, prettily conceal wrong-doing, the trick with which Hecuba charges Helen in the Trojan Women. The tropos or "turn" of a man may denote his visible manner, his verbal style, or even his dress, while a word like ("shape") points most insistently to the disposition of the body and its visible actions, as Simon Goldhill has recently noted. Kosmos is a term that early in archaic poetry suggests the crucial balancing of all these elements in the projection of a winning style. It most centrally denotes a pleasing integration of parts, a fitting adornment that one can see both literally and in the mind's eye.

The word kosmos thus embraces the elements that make up what I am referring to (quite untechnically) as the "cast" of character: the interactions among dress, deportment, and verbal strategies that in the act of selfpresentation crystallize as one's typical style. This is the style a person assumes in the moment of performing as a recognized type, where witnesses to her self-enactment can actually visually assess who she is (or who she purports to be). A typical style in this context is thus not so much an individual, unique manner of engaging that projects who one really" is. Rather, since ancient notions of character type are much more schematic and performative, one's typical style is just that—typical, conforming to accepted behavioral patterns and recognizable categories of type. Thus Odysseus' typical style in Homeric depiction adheres to the conventional cast of the versatile, clever type, versions of which he engages very convincingly, even when he is not playing himself.

This "typical style," then, is the combination of socially categorized verbal and visual habits that Bourdieu calls bodily hexis. The Greek word tupos eventually came to mean speaking style among the rhetoricians, but its earlier uses embrace broader notions of things visibly familiar, recognizable, or of the same general character. Similarly, Greek terms central to rhetorical theory such as prepon (suitability) and eikos (probability) reveal a concern with regularized patterns of visible type, the roots of which are much older than the treatises in which these concepts figure prominently. Modern scholars have recognized the importance of these concepts to Greek rhetorical theory, probability for its usefulness in forensic arguments about factual details, and suitability for its centrality to stylistic issues. But they have not noticed that both depend precisely on a schematized awareness of social habits and are associated with visibility. What a person is likely to do or what it is fitting that he do can only be assessed by means of witnessing that he is a particular type (i.e., of a given status, stature, disposition) in a particular setting. Notions of probability and suitability thus engage the audience's understanding of typical characters and their likely behavior. Probability itself depends on suitability, and suitability, again, pertains primarily to style, to the deportment, dress, and language that make one recognizable as a given type. Any exploration of notions of style in ancient Greece should thus embrace this broader understanding of its purview.

Style Before Aristotle

Most previous discussions of ancient conceptions of style address the subject from a much narrower perspective than that outlined above, in part because of assumptions about when the awareness of stylistic effect first developed. Although some recent studies of the origins of Greek rhetoric do consider fifth-century discussions, the few scholars who address stylistic issues most often treat as introductory any material that predates the fourth century. Their analyses begin in earnest with Aristotle's recommendations in the Rhetoric for formulating a persuasive style, which means that his treatment of the topic largely determines how it is defined. Consequently, discussions are usually restricted to style in prose writing, which is regarded as coming into Greek consciousness with the advent of rhetorical theory. Scholars therefore either ignore earlier conceptions of stylistic type or treat them as not rigorously defined enough to be helpful.

This way of setting the parameters for the study of style in writing is certainly defensible. A number of studies of early rhetorical theory as a technical discipline have included cogent analyses of the development of prose style. The scope of such studies often depends, however, on the largely uncontested thesis that unless the ancient sources have a technical word for a category of inquiry, no awareness of the topic can be usefully identified and explored.30 Yet most important discussions of the origins of rhetoric, while they frequently engage in this kind of debate, nevertheless look to earlier periods for evidence of an awareness of rhetorical concepts. If scholars agree that it is useful to consider archaic and classical literature before Plato in analyzing the development of rhetorical theory, then surely the same can be argued for stylistic theory before Aristotle. Acknowledging the importance of earlier depictions of persuasive strategies has occasionally led to the recognition of how this material might bear on topics like style. Indeed, Richard Enos has gone so far as to suggest that earlier ideas about language centered around distinctions of style. To my knowledge, however, only Neil O'Sullivan's consideration of Aristophanic conceptions of style has significantly broadened the chronological parameters of the discussion.

Sensitivity to stylistic effect can be identified as far back as Homer, along with an attention to persuasive techniques more generally. Dramatic, oratorical, and historical texts reveal a heightened awareness of the impact of style in the late fifth century, which may indeed be influenced by the advent of prose writing. Yet most instances of this awareness revolve around reaction to an individual's style of delivery in oral performance. They thus center on the apprehension of the speaker's adherence to a typical character profile, which usually includes such visual details as dress and deportment. Earlier treatments of oral performance that are no longer extant may well have addressed the topic of style from this broader perspective. As commentators on ancient rhetoric and literary criticism always note, handbooks existed in the fifth century that offered instruction in oratorical technique. None of these have survived, but it is likely that they contained set speeches (i.e., speeches on set themes, about and/or in the voice of paradigmatic mythohistorical figures). They may also have included analyses of different styles of composition and delivery. There is further evidence that such lesser-known intellectual figures as Polus and Antisthenes wrote books on style or "types" (charaktêres) of speakers; both were said to be students of the sophist Gorgias, the famous proponent of an elaborate oral style.

It thus appears that before Aristotle defined style as verbal embellishment in prose writing and sought to ignore elements of oral performance, ideas about style did include the visual aspects of a speaker's type. These ideas centered around the eyewitnessing of speakers and were inseparable from an understanding of character as importantly visible and performative. Beginning a discussion of ancient ideas about style with Aristotle would seem to distort the picture quite seriously. As some scholars have recognized in relation to other aspects of rhetorical theory, this narrower focus minimizes the influence of ideas developed during the period in which prose was being invented and the transition from a predominantly oral attitude toward language was underway.

Indeed, the later discussions themselves show evidence of this influence. Aristotle and Isocrates both closely connect verbal style (lexis) and delivery (hupokrisis) (Arist. Rhet. 1403b-1404a; Isoc. 5.25-27). This suggests, as Thomas Cole has noted, that they could explain what effect lexis should have in a text only by an analogy to that of hupokrisis in performance. The association of lexis and hupokrisis reveals an understanding of style as somehow bound up in the spoken word, as an oral technique, which Aristotle is attempting to revise for use in the written text. One might even suspect that Aristotle, with his analytical and readerly orientation to his subject matter, was reacting against these more oral and visually oriented conceptions of style. In his view, such visual elements—which he relegates rather tellingly to a "vulgar" (Rhet. 1404a35) category borrowed from theater (hupokrisis)—possess an illegitimate impact in the performance or persuasive setting because of the "corruption" of the audience (Rhet. 1403b35, 1404a8). He notes, however, that the actor Theodorus and the dramatist Euripides both offer useful indications of how to cover up the fact that one is suiting one's speech to subject and audience (Rhet. 1404b20-26).

This suspicion of oral performance informs much of what Aristotle has to say about style and character type. It had, moreover, a weighty effect on subsequent theory and scholars' attempts to analyze that theory. Adhering to narrower definitions of style may reflect accurately (if uncritically) Aristotle's own parameters. Yet even analyses of Aristotle's ideas, as well as those of later rhetorical theorists, could usefully pay more attention to the interaction of style and character type, and the importance of appearing to be a certain kind of person in the persuasive setting. Aristotle's vexing and often elliptical treatment of the speaker's self-presentation in the Rhetoric, for example, repeatedly skirts the issue of delivery and stops just short of an admission that character and style are mutually determining.

This circumspect treatment of the topic echoes an awareness that Plato sought to raise regarding the pleasures of speech performance. In the Gorgias, for example, Socrates argues that tragedy aims at pleasure and that, stripped of its music and meter, tragic poetry is essentially public oratory (502b-d). This awareness of the distractingly pleasurable (and therefore potentially dangerous) power of oral performance unquestionably predated both Plato and Aristotle. Thucydides and the tragic poets themselves express concern that a crowd-pleasing, sweet-speaking, attractive character might sway an audience to commit unscrupulous and immoral acts.

In fifth-century Athens ideas about style did not, then, develop in a morally neutral and uncharged setting. Rather, they surfaced coincident with a growing realization among elites of how much power any sophist or demagogue might accumulate by the display of a winning style in public settings. This style made use of conventional notions of type to forge a speaking style and visible character that would seem familiar and therefore persuasive to citizens. In an oral culture like that of the archaic period and later in a "performance culture" like Athens, the attributes of a person that one could literally witness in his deportment, speech habits, and significant actions would have loomed larger than more abstract conceptions of his character.

Style in Literary Representation

Most of the oral settings that this study analyses are embedded in literary narratives and are products of a mythohistorical tradition.These literary depictions anticipate many distinctions drawn in later technical discussions, but they do not necessarily adhere to narrower understandings of stylistic type. In his book on Greek prose style, Kenneth Dover makes a useful distinction between lexical style and what he calls "style at the level of invention." This involves broader choices about approach and presentation in written composition than those that could be strictly categorized as lexical. It thus includes elements important to an analysis of style in literary settings that predate Aristotle. A poet or prose writer may depict a character's style by giving him certain figures of speech and phrasing, but his style may also be indicated by certain types of arguments, structuring devices, and techniques of characterization such as slander or, conversely, self-praise. In earlier literature, speeches often borrow effects from ritual contexts, such as the cadences of prayer (or curse) or the elegaic lyricism of lamentation.These portrayals of a character's speaking style sometimes also include visual details such as facial expression, gesture, or dress.

Because these verbal and visual cues contribute importantly to the reception of the speaker by the audience internal to the narrative, addressing them should bring us closer to capturing the wide range of stylistic effects in predominantly oral settings. Indeed, it should not be surprising that most of the literary depictions considered here utilize broader, more fluid, and more emblematic categories of stylistic type than those of the fourth-century theorists and later writers. Since this study looks beyond discussions that isolate style as an area of inquiry as such, it is not restricted to or even primarily concerned with vocabulary that seems technical in any narrow sense. Instead, it explores in detail the vocabulary and imagery that poets and prose writers employ in representing verbal and visual elements in speech performance. More precisely, this book considers how internal narrators and characters in performed texts make use of and react to style: what strategies they undertake to insure their good reception; how they characterize what they are doing; when they call attention to this process; and what conclusions about moral worth or status they draw from it.

This is, moreover, an essentially literary study. Although it makes use of concepts from sociological and performance theory, for the most part it emphasizes representations rather than reality and understands literature as a refraction (rather than a reflection) of lived life. Its discussions trace the semiotic patterns in literary depictions that pertain to ideas about style and character type and elucidate the ways these depictions arrange significant objects and verbal imagery around the apprehension of style in oral performance. From this perspective, Helen is less a character with a history and "lifelike" personality then a trope for the sensory impact of style, while Odysseus signifies the authorial function in the suitable alternation of stylistic types. In addition, the literary representations on which I focus embed attitudes toward actual performers in settings that highlight schematic differences among types. Homologies are thus repeatedly suggested between the author-performers and those characters in their compositions who serve some sort of authorial function, whether as an active formulator or an object of discourse. In the classical period, such homologies evolved into the use of Homeric characters in particular as types emblematic of different oratorical styles. This highly literate schema would suggest that even the performances of historical figures were assessed in relation to the tropes of oral composition and that whatever constituted the real" features of those performances were organized by the tradition in relation to ideas about visuality and persuasive style.

I am thus less concerned with such historical details than with the uses that poets and prose writers make of those figures who stand in for ideas about style. Some of these uses offer little evidence of the actual styles of performers but instead highlight the visual patterns that structure ancient thinking about style and moral type. Nevertheless, because these oral performances are depicted as social phenomena, and thus are organized by social habits and hierarchies, Bourdieu's observations (and to a lesser extent those of Butler and Foucault) offer helpful guidelines for assessing the semiotic patterns that organize the literary representations. The literary imagery clearly treats everyday life as structured by such public performances and embraces larger ideas about self-presentation, about the body as a visible map of social status and about speech as an instrument of power.

The Relevance of Helen and Odysseus

One of the central paradoxes of style in the ancient setting is that those figures who are depicted as speaking against type, as combining types, or as using types as disguises best crystallize ideas about the interaction of style and character in the speaker's self-presentation. Any transgressions of type or setting that the speaker might commit often result in suspicious or negative reactions from the interlocutor or internal audience. Thus the ways in which gender and class categories contribute to molding typical styles come into focus at these moments of transgression. It is then that a speaker effectively reveals the mechanics of stylized self-performance by combining conventional locutions or alternating familiar stances, which the audience may apprehend as a mismatch between speaker and type. This itself may lead to a recognization that style is mutable and therefore not to be trusted as an accurate measure of moral or social status, let alone identity.

In earlier literature this emphasis on visual assessment did not necessarily entail a general devaluation of visible details as distracting or deceitful, although certain female characters in archaic poetry do suggest the dangers that may lie in being distracted by bodily adornment. Especially in Homer, heroes for the most part look as they are: they wear their forceful types like their armor, as a set of visually identifiable attributes. Thus it is the unusual mismatch between how one presents oneself and who one is that arouses concern about typical style as a distracting or misleading cloak for one's character. Changeable and attractive types such as Helen and Odysseus embody this concern. It is only in the literature of the late fifth century, however, that any widespread anxiety can be detected among Athenian writers about the ramifications of the potential for appearances to be deceptive. Before then, internal audiences react to the visual and verbal mannerisms of a speaker's self-presentation as clearly affecting the meaning of his speech, but with only the rare acknowledgment that this style may have been assumed for the occasion.

In Greek literature, the figures of Odysseus and Helen increasingly serve to focus anxiety about the potential for distraction or outright deception inherent in this visually oriented means of identifying a speaker as a particular type. I am not proposing that the depictions of these two figures in Greek poetry and prose comprise all that is said about style in any of these periods. This is not true by any means. But their depictions include some of the most essential clues to the development of ideas about style and visible type. They also demonstrate forcefully the connection of these ideas in fifth-century Athens to a concern that the versatile character may also "dress up" in some way and thus dissemble as to his true type to win his (possibly immoral) way.

These depictions of Helen and Odysseus thus provide the most useful indicators of how ancient writers thought about visible style and character for a paradoxical reason: the motivations and sometimes even the identities of both tend to be obscure, diffficult to pin down, changeable, and contradictory. They are liars and imitators, effective storytellers, and adept users of costume. Perhaps precisely because the sophist Gorgias and his students champion them, for the dramatic poets, Helen and Odysseus embody doubts about how speaking style, dress, and deportment may distract from the true or precise recounting of events. These doubts arise from the nascent awareness that style itself may be similarly changeable, detachable from the individual like the persona, the "cast" of character type. In the fifth century some of this awareness was most likely the result of exposure to sophistic ideas about effective speaking. Both the idea that virtue (aretê) could be taught and the practice of arguing on both sides of an issue encouraged an understanding of a speaker's character as malleable and manufactured rather than inherent or natural. The dramatists for the most part seem to have agreed with the suspicion nursed by many members of the educated elite that sophistic training made dangerously versatile leaders out of citizens with strong speaking abilities and weak morals. They most often depict both Helen and Odysseus as smooth-talking purveyors of evil-doing (kokourgia,Tro. 966-968) and profligate behavior (panourgia,Phil. 407-409). Responses of the internal audiences to them register discomfort at the possibility that a fine speaking style may mask an inner disorder, that the beautiful (kalos) style may be no more than the special craft of a base (kokos) speaker.

These familiar details are not offered not as a prelude to tracing the histories of Helen and Odysseus; this has been analyzed in depth by scholars. I am interested only in those details of their narratives that indicate archaic and classical attitudes toward style. Roland Barthes' distinction between character and figure may help to clarify this focus. According to Barthes, a character is a combination of semes with a proper name (or an "I") and an evolution in narrative time. A figure, in contrast, is an atemporal, impersonal entity composed of symbolic relationships. The signature feature of Helen's figure is a beauty both dangerous and immortal, but she is also depicted as the embodiment of something equally threatening and attractive: an enchanting style of self-presentation. Depictions of her character do not merely show her engaging in this typical style; more importantly, she is emblematic of it. The details of her figure thus indicate a visualizing scheme, a metonymic emblem that points to certain conceptions of style. She eventually comes to signify the sensory impact of style and more particularly the visually enchanting, elaborate style typical of the grand sophistic display. Similarly, in Homer and later writers Odysseus' figure crystallizes the recognition that one's visibly identifiable character may be detachable from who one really is. The speaker adept at donning physical disguises and dissembling verbal styles may thereby appear preeminently suitable to whatever audience he faces. Because this versatile suitability is the central rhetorical feature that Odysseus embodies, I address only those details of his narrative that highlight this aspect of his figure.

The Organization of the Book

Chapter 1, "Kosmos and the Typical Casts of Character," outlines the central set of associations that shapes ideas about style and character type in the archaic and classical periods. The chapter first reviews the ancient vocabulary that helps to delineate style as a "cast" of character in these periods. Three terms receive the most attention: kosmos, which embraces the kind of visualized ordering of parts that style entails; êthos, a common word for character that sometimes has moral implications; and charaktêr, which I argue denotes more emphatically the visible cast of type demarcated in public self-presentation.

Chapter 2, "Oral Performance, Speech Types, and Typical Styles in Homer," looks to Homeric epic for information about how the orality of early Greek literature helped to shape an understanding of the linguistic aspects of bodily hexis in the persuasive setting. I analyze how Homer presents Helen and Odysseus as adept controllers of sense impressions, and thus as shapers of what their audiences actually see. Homer's portraits of these characters in oral performance thus establish some early parameters for the assessment of stylistic concerns such as likeness and suitability, as well as for the way these elements might contribute to misleading an audience regarding one's motivations or one's type.

Chapter 3, "Visible Types and Visualizing Styles in Archaic Poetry," considers more extensively how the visible elements of oral performance affect the audience's reaction to the speaker. I first address broader concepts about bodily ornament and moral type and then narrow the inquiry to consider how Homer associates Helen and Odysseus with modes of costuming and disguise that parallel their elusive speaking styles. Because the archaic poets tend to associate stylistic effect especially with the visual delights of the female body, this chapter also considers how poets' depictions of the dangerous pleasures of feminine beauty ultimately contributes to an understanding of style as similarly suspect.

If the archaic poets align style with sensory delights, and especially with the titillation of the eye, writers of tragedy focus on the moral difflculties that attend the effective performance of the versatile character. In chapter 4, "Verbal Masquerade and Visual Impact in Tragedy," I examine why dramatists tend to represent Helen and Odysseus as arousing moral recoil in their interlocutors. Because of their use of dissembling and changeable selfpresentations, their very appearance on stage initiates questions about the accuracy of the visual apprehension of type. In drama this concern takes on an added metatheatrical significance, since this is the genre of spectacle and enactment, where the audience can actually witness the performance of type.

The rhetorical theorists treat Helen as a figure emblematic of sensual verbal appeal and Odysseus as an adept manipulator of audience perception. The fictional speeches that the sophist Gorgias and his students composed to illustrate certain aspects of their argumentative techniques continue the archaic attention to sensory impact. Chapter 5, "Manipulating the Senses in Rhetorical Set Pieces," explores the ways in which the figures of Helen and Odysseus are used to highlight the effects that showy, versatile speakers have on sense perception. This quasi-physical impact strongly influences what visible type that speaker appears to be.

A brief conclusion indicates the importance of the imagery analyzed in the book for later rhetorical theory.



“This is an original, richly evocative analysis of the meanings of Odysseus and Helen across several periods and genres of Greek literary history.... The book is meticulously and persuasively argued throughout.”
Laura McClure, author of Spoken Like a Woman: Speech and Gender in Athenian Drama


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