Isocrates. Isocrates with an English Translation in three volumes, by Larue Van Hook, Ph.D., LL.D. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1945-1968.

In this their private hope all, it is true, save one man, were disappointed, yet in the general opinion which all had formed concerning her no one was mistaken. For not much later when strife arose among the goddesses for the prize of beauty, and Alexander[*](i.e., Paris.), son of Priam, was appointed judge and when Hera offered him sovereignty over all Asia, Athena victory in war,

and Aphrodite Helen as his wife, finding himself unable to make a distinction regarding the charms of their persons, but overwhelmed by the sight of the goddesses, Alexander, compelled to make a choice of their proffered gifts, chose living with Helen before all else. In so doing he did not look to its pleasures—although even this is thought by the wise to be preferable to many things, but nevertheless it was not this he strove for—

but because he was eager to become a son of Zeus by marriage, considering this a much greater and more glorious honor than sovereignty over Asia, and thinking that while great dominions and sovereignties fall at times even to quite ordinary men, no man would ever in all time to come be considered worthy of such a woman; and furthermore, that he could leave no more glorious heritage to his children than by seeing to it that they should be descendants of Zeus, not only on their father's side, but also on their mother's.

For he knew that while other blessings bestowed by Fortune soon change hands, nobility of birth abides forever with the same possessors; therefore he foresaw that this choice would be to the advantage of all his race, whereas the other gifts would be enjoyed for the duration of his own life only.

No sensible person surely could find fault with this reasoning, but some, who have not taken into consideration the antecedent events but look at the sequel alone, have before now reviled Alexander; but the folly of these accusers is easily discerned by all from the calumnies they have uttered.

Are they not in a ridiculous state of mind if they think their own judgement is more competent than that which the gods chose as best[*](i.e., Alexander's.)? For surely they did not select any ordinary arbiter to decide a dispute about an issue that had got them into so fierce a quarrel, but obviously they were as anxious to select the most competent judge as they were concerned about the matter itself.

There is need, moreover, to consider his real worth and to judge him, not by the resentment of those who were defeated for the prize, but by the reasons which caused the goddesses unanimously to choose his judgement. For nothing prevents even innocent persons from being ill-treated by the stronger, but only a mortal man of greatly superior intelligence could have received such honor as to become a judge of immortals.

I am astonished that anyone should think that Alexander was ill-advised in choosing to live with Helen, for whom many demigods were willing to die. Would he not have been a fool if, knowing that the deities themselves were contending for the prize of beauty, he had himself scorned beauty, and had failed to regard as the greatest of gifts that for the possession of which he saw even those goddesses most earnestly striving?

What man would have rejected marriage with Helen, at whose abduction the Greeks were as incensed as if all Greece had been laid waste, while the barbarians were as filled with pride as if they had conquered us all? It is clear how each party felt about the matter; for although there had been many causes of contention between them before, none of these disturbed their peace, whereas for her they waged so great a war, not only the greatest of all wars in the violence of its passions, but also in the duration of the struggle and in the extent of the preparations the greatest of all time.

And although the Trojans might have rid themselves of the misfortunes which encompassed them by surrendering Helen, and the Greeks might have lived in peace for all time by being indifferent to her fate, neither so wished; on the contrary, the Trojans allowed their cities to be laid waste and their land to be ravaged, so as to avoid yielding Helen to the Greeks, and the Greeks chose rather, remaining in a foreign land to grow old there and never to see their own again, than, leaving her behind, to return to their fatherland.

And they were not acting in this way as eager champions of Alexander or of Menelaus; nay, the Trojans were upholding the cause of Asia, the Greeks of Europe, in the belief that the land in which Helen in person resided would be the more favored of Fortune.

So great a passion for the hardships of that expedition and for participation in it took possession not only of the Greeks and the barbarians, but also of the gods, that they did not dissuade even their own children from joining in the struggles around Troy[*](Cf. Isoc. 12.81.); Zeus, though foreseeing the fate of Sarpedon[*](Sarpedon, son of Zeus and Laodameia, prominent in the Iliad, was killed by Patroclus; Memnon and Cycnus were slain by Achilles.),and Eos that of Memnon, and Poseidon that of Cycnus, and Thetis that of Achilles, nevertheless they all urged them on and sent them forth,

thinking it more honorable for them to die fighting for the daughter of Zeus than to live without having taken part in the perils undergone on her account. And why should we be astonished that the gods felt thus concerning their children? For they themselves engaged in a far greater and more terrible struggle than when they fought the Giants; for against those enemies they had fought a battle in concert, but for Helen they fought a war against one another.

With good reason in truth they came to this decision, and I, for my part, am justified in employing extravagant language in speaking of Helen; for beauty she possessed in the highest degree, and beauty is of all things the most venerated, the most precious, and the most divine. And it is easy to determine its power; for while many things which do not have any attributes of courage, wisdom, or justice will be seen to be more highly valued than any one of these attributes, yet of those things which lack beauty we shall find not one that is beloved; on the contrary, all are despised, except in so far as they possess in some degree this outward form, beauty, and it is for this reason that virtue is most highly esteemed, because it is the most beautiful of ways of living.

And we may learn how superior beauty is to all other things by observing how we ourselves are affected by each of them severally. For in regard to the other things which we need, we only wish to possess them and our heart's desire is set on nothing further than this; for beautiful things, however, we have an inborn passion whose strength of desire corresponds to the superiority of the thing sought.

And while we are jealous of those who excel us in intelligence or in anything else, unless they win us over by daily benefactions and compel us to be fond of them, yet at first sight we become well-disposed toward those who possess beauty, and to these alone as to the gods we do not fail in our homage;

on the contrary, we submit more willingly to be the slaves of such than to rule all others, and we are more grateful to them when they impose many tasks upon us than to those who demand nothing at all. We revile those who fall under the power of anything other than beauty and call them flatterers, but those who are subservient to beauty we regard as lovers of beauty and lovers of service.

So strong are our feelings of reverence and solicitude for such a quality, that we hold in greater dishonour those of its possessors who have trafficked in it and ill-used their own youth than those who do violence to the persons of others; whereas those who guard their youthful beauty as a holy shrine, inaccessible to the base, are honored by us for all time equally with those who have benefited the city as a whole.

But why need I waste time in citing the opinions of men? Nay, Zeus, lord of all, reveals his power in all else, but deigns to approach beauty in humble guise. For in the likeness of Amphitryon he came to Alcmena, and as a shower of gold he united with Danae, and in the guise of a swan he took refuge in the bosom of Nemesis, and again in this form he espoused Leda; ever with artifice manifestly, and not with violence, does he pursue beauty in women.

And so much greater honor is paid to beauty among the gods than among us that they pardon their own wives when they are vanquished by it; and one could cite many instances of goddesses who succumbed to mortal beauty, and no one of these sought to keep the fact concealed as if it involved disgrace; on the contrary, they desired their adventures to be celebrated in song as glorious deeds rather than to be hushed in silence. The greatest proof of my statements is this: we shall find that more mortals have been made immortal because of their beauty than for all other excellences.