About the Texts

Encomium of Helen Venus and Adonis When Harry Met Sally
Phaedrus Love Poetry The Rules I and II
The Art of Courtly Love Casablanca Modern Short Stories

A late 19th Century painting of Helen of Troy by Evelyn de Morgan.

Gorgias, Encomium of Helen (ca. 414 BCE)

An encomium is a speech of praise, thus the Encomium of Helen is praise of the beautiful woman who is traditionally blamed for the Trojan War (ca. 1000 B.C.E). Christopher Marlowe deemed Helen "The Face that Launched a thousand Ships" B 5.1.93-5). She was the wife of Menelaus, the king of Sparta before her abduction at the hands of Paris, a Trojan prince. The Greeks united to destroy the city of Troy in order to return Helen to her husband. Redeeming Helen from blame is thus a rhetorical challenge for Gorgias (ca. 483-376 B.C.E), a sophist who traveled from city to city teaching rhetoric.

The Sophists were philosophers who believed that true knowledge could be accessible to humans through language alone (Bizzell 22). The X-Files-type doctrine that argues "the truth is out there" had no place in Sophistic philosophy; the sophists weren't concerned with the TRUTH as such, but rather, "how a person could be persuaded that he or she had learned the truth" (22). Their doctrine of kairos, the relationship between truth and circimstances, makes a lot of sense; our understanding of the truth is always mediated by the circumstances of our experiences, and we can only attain provisional knowledge at best.

By this logic, Helen is guilty or not guilty based upon how the rhetorician might present the circumstances of her case. Gorgias focuses on "the totalizing power of language" (38). Rather than a forceable physical abduction, Gorgias characterizes the kidnapping of Helen as a linguistic onslaught by which Helen is persuaded to leave her husband and country. Gorgias argues that language is like magic or drugs; the individual listener has little power over it. As one editor puts it, Gorgias' Helen has been "more thouroughly violated by speech than she would have been by forcible rape" (39).

Gorgias' speech is important for this class as it is shows that persuasion and love have been linked from at the inception of ancient Rhetoric. Furthermore, Gorgias' own style was said to have aroused intense sensual pleasure in his listeners. If Gorgias' has such a command over his listeners by way of language, how is he any different from the seducing abductor Paris?

The picture above is titled Helen of Troy. It was painted in 1895 by Evelyn de Morgan.

An ancient coin featuring a chariot drawn by four horses.

Plato, Phaedrus (ca. 370 BCE)

Phaedrus is a Platonic dialogue between the young Phaedrus and Socrates. This is a dialogue that begins with two speeches about love and eventually leads to a discussion about rhetoric. Again we see how Love and rhetoric are inextriably linked in the earliests of texts. Phaedrus begins with two speeches about the natures of the lover and the non-lover. Socrates then recants his speech and delivers a third speech in which he depicts love as a kind of madness and the soul as a chariot driven by two horses. One horse obeys the charioteer, the other is unruly (this is an image that Freud will later adapt to illustrate the id, ego, and superego). After Socrates' second speech, he and his companion discuss rhetoric and writing. This text lays the foundation for our course, as many of the ideas in Phaedrus are major themes that surface in all other texts. One central concept in the text is the binary of reason versus passion. Check out the study questions for the exam over Phaedrus here.

The cover of a 1674 text called Love's School.

Andreas, The Art of Courtly Love (12th Century)

This book was written in the twelfth century by Andreas Capellanus for Marie de Champagne, then ruler of the court of Champagne. This text had wide influence during the Middle Ages and was translated into many languages. Structurally, ACL is made up of the Author's preface, and three books. The Author's Preface reveals that he is writing the text in response to a request to a friend named Walter who wants to learn how lovers may keep love unharmed, and how non-lovers may keep their hearts clear of the darts of Venus. Book One is an "Introduction to the Treatise on Love," Book Two is called How Love May Be Retained," and Book Three is curiously titled "The Rejection of Love." Each book is divided into several chapters, and each chapter contains a specific lesson. Each lesson is conveyed by way of instructions from our author, but these instructions can come in a variety of forms, including anecdotes about exemplary lovers, or about the consequences of not adhering to the rules of Courtly Love.

Courtly love, or "fin'amors" was a code "for governing or expressing relations among the sexes" (Shoaf, xxii), usually those of the noble classes who lived in and around the great courts of Europe. By way of this code, "'fine or refined love" renders virtuous those who love, ennobling them, by making them naturally abhor vice and pursue rectitude" (xxii). Thus the primary motive for courtly love was moral excellence, and the obtainment of one's love object was secondary, and in some cases, even undesirable. As in Plato's Phaedrus, then, we have the conception of love as something that makes us strive to be better people.

Among other things, this text is a conduct manual for lovers. While Phaedrus offers readers vivid descriptions of the lover, beloved, and the soul, The Art of Courtly Love lays down a set of customs and manners for lovers to follow. Love is, like rhetoric, an ART. Just as we can follow Socrates instructions for speech-making, we can follow Andreas' instructions for speaking to our beloveds. What do we make of the fact that human beings have the impulse to lay down rules about love––even as we argue that there can't be any? How many of these rules from 12th century France apply to 21st century America?

The picture above is the cover of a 1674 text called Love's School. It was written and published in England roughly 500 years after Andreas' text, thus illustrating the profound influence of Andreas in early modernity.

This is a painting called Odysseus and the Sirens, painted in 1891 by
John William Waterhouse. It depicts a scene from Homer's Odyssey
in which Odysseus endures the beautiful singing of the sirens,
who attempt to seduce Odysseus into abandoning his journey homeward to
Ithaca. In Homer's text, the sirens are depicted as ugly,
harpy-like creatures who are singing to bring the hero to his
death. In this painting, however, the sirens are beautiful women
whose appearance is as enticing as their song.

Various Authors, Love Poetry (to 1900)

We'll be reading many love poems written prior to 1900 during Unit 2, The Oldest Pick-Up Lines in the Book. While these poems are challenging due to their style and language, they are wonderful examples of the instruction, depiction, and seduction rhetoric of love. Rather than focus on their status as great works of poetry, we'll be looking at these poems as the popular culture of the past. In Literature courses, poems are texts to be read and deciphered by way of their intricate rhyme schemes and fantastic literary tropes. But in our class, they are simply pick-up lines and complaints, above all, arguments above love and lovers.

We'll be starting with four "Carpe Diem" poems. These are poems written between the 16th and 18th century, by both men and women. Each poem is a variation on the ancient Horatian theme of "seize the day." Add love to this theme, and you get some really bad pick-up lines that argue something along the lines of "You should date me today, or else you'll regret it tomorrow when you're old and ugly." As you might suspect, the kinds of ploys these authors use are quite similar to some of the lover's arguments in Andreas' Art of Courtly Love. The dire consequences of not loving are frequently used as a threat to the resistant beloved, whose responses are usually more rhetorically sophisticated and witty as they reject the lover's advances.

We'll be reading numerous love poems written between 1550 and 1900 in Great Love Poems .

The illustration above is a painting titled Odysseus and the Sirens(1891) by John William Waterhouse. It depicts a scene from Homer's Odyssey in which Odysseus endures the beautiful singing of the sirens, sung to seduce Odysseus into abandoning his journey homeward to Ithaca. In Homer's text, the sirens are depicted as ugly, harpy-like creatures who are singing to bring the hero to his death. In this painting, however, the sirens are beautiful women whose appearance is as enticing as their song.

A 17th century painting of
Venus and Adonis, painted around 1610 by Peter
Paul Reubens. Like Shakespeare's poem, it shows the resistance of
the beloved Adonis.

Shakespeare, Venus and Adonis (1592)

This text is a long poem relating the famous mythical affair between the immortal goddess of love Venus and the mortal youth Adonis. Unlike many of the love poems we will have read, this poem depicts the woman as the aggressor. The initially indifferent Adonis would rather go hunting than dally with the goddess! This poem is action-packed, full of violence, sex (well, almost), love, and death. We'll be focusing on this text as seduction rhetoric as we'll look at the ploys Venus uses to persuade Adonis to love her. Additionally, we'll take note of the actions that take place in the scenes Shakespeare sets up. And these actions don't always involve our title characters, either; while Venus literally puts Adonis between a rock and a hard place, Adonis' steed goes exploring. In short, like the charioteer in Plato's Phaedrus, we'll have to keep an eye on the horses in this text!

The illustration aboveis entitled Venus and Adonis, painted around 1610 by Peter Paul Reubens. Like Shakespeare's poem, it shows the resistance of the beloved Adonis. Other depictions by Lemoyne (1729) and Veronese (1584), respectively:

Venus and Adonis painted by Lemoyne around 1729Venus and Adonis painted by Veronese around 1584


Casablanca (1942)

A fan website for the film describes it as follows: "Adventure, an exotic locale, a memorable song, a beautiful heroine, a masculine hero, and an evil villain. CASABLANCA has it all." Few films have reached the status of Casablanca in contemporary American culture. Set during the policitical upheaval of the second world war, Casablanca is the story of ordinary people in love under extraordinary circumstances. The film underscores the difficult choices lovers have to make in what Umberto Eco has called an "orgy of sacrificial archetypes." Rick, Ilsa, and Victor form the gut-wrenching love triangle so enjoyable for audiences of the past and present. And then there's the humorous yet curious Captain Renault, who claims, "If I were a woman, I'd be in love with Rick." The beginning of a beautiful friendship indeed...

The Cover of the 1995 Book, The Rules

Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider's The Rules (1995) and The Rules II (1997)

This book claims to contain "Time-tested Secrets for capturing the Heart of Mr. Right." It was a #1 New York Times Bestseller after its publication in 1995. It spawned a sequal, The Rules II, as well as a parody written by men. This text is controversial at best, and incredibly offensive at worst. Though written as many as nine hundred years after The Art of Courtly Love, it seems to be offering similar advice to its readers. The Rules will "bring out the best in you and in the men you date," insist Shneider and Fenn. Yet the real goal of The Rules is "marriage, in the shortest time possible, to a man who loves you," something all women want. Or do they? Well, not according to The Rules anyway! Implicit in this text is that all women want marriage, and that all women can love only men. This text was widely successful with respect to sales and exposure. Its authors were on popular television shows such as The Oprah Winfrey Show and Politically Incorrect. Why the success? What is it about this kind of rhetoric that makes it so seductive for consumers? And do the rules really work?

A still shot of the most famous scene in the 1989 Film, When Harry Met Sally

When Harry Met Sally (1989)

This film raises a complex question: Can men and women ever just be friends? Both arguing about and illustrating this question are Harry Burns and Sally Albright, whose acquaintence spans from the late 1970's to the late eighties. This film was extremely successful at the box office and helped boost the careers of stars Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan (as well as its writer and director, Nora Ephron and Rob Reiner, respectively). The film advances many ideas about love that have become household concepts now, such as the "high maintenance" girlfriend and the "transitional person." Additionally, this film comments both directly and indirectly on Casablanca. Would Sally have stayed with Rick in Casablanca? Would she have instead gone with Victor to become the first lady of Czechoslovakia? How is Harry and Sally's friendship different from "the beautiful friendship" alluded to at the end of Casablanca? How does WHMS rewrite and modernize Casablanca?

The picture above features probably the most famous scene from the film, a scene "borrowed" by a major advertising campaign in the 90's for hair products.

Max Shulman, "Love is a Fallacy" (1951)

Raymond Carver, "What we Talk about when we Talk about Love" (1988)

Margaret Atwood, "Happy Endings" (1989)

These are three modern short stories that broach several aspects of the modern experience of being in love. Love and rhetoric literally intersect in Shulman's story, "Love is a Fallacy," as a college student attemtps to seduce the heart of the "marvy" Polly Espy. Raymond Carver allows us to witness what people really talk about when they talk about love in an intimate gathering of friends and lovers. Margaret Atwood's "Happy Endings" is a satirical look of how love works in a choose-your-own-adventure/Cosmopolitan Magazine quiz-like manner.

Works Cited

Bizzell, Patricia and Bruce Herzberg, eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. Boston: St. Martins, 1990.

Capellanus, Andreas. The Art of Courtly Love. Trans. John Jay Parry. New York: W.W Norton & Company, Inc. 1941.

Eco, Umberto. "Casablanca, or The Cliches Are Having a Ball."Signs of Life in the U.S.A.: Readings on Popular Culture for Writers. Eds. Sonia Maasik and Jack Solomon. Boston: Bedford Books, 1994.

Marlowe, Christopher. Doctor Faustus. Ed. David Bevington and Eric Rasmussen. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1995.

Fenn, Ellen and Sherrie Schneider. The Rules: Time-tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right. New York: Warner Books, 1995.

Shoaf, R.A., Ed. "Introduction" Troilus and Criseyde. Geoffrey Chaucer. Colleagues Press. 1989.

VSR. Vincent's Casablanca Homepage. http://www.users.aol.com/VRV1/index.html. January 10, 2000.