Saturday, May 23, 2015

Punishing irony: Virgil's witness in Inferno 4

In Canto 4 of the Inferno, Dante turns to Virgil and asks him a veiled (coperto) question:
“Now tell me, master, tell me this alone,”
I said to him, wishing to be assured
Of that faith by which all doubt is overthrown,
“Have any gone from here and then secured
Salvation, by their own or Another’s fee?”*
Virgil replies:
And he, who understood my covert word,
Said, “This condition was still new to me
When I beheld a Mighty One appear,
Who was crowned with a sign of victory.
He took our first begetter’s shade from here,
With Abel, Noah, and Moses, who did show
The laws to man and how to hold them dear;
King David and Abraham of long ago;
Israel with his father and his seed,
And Rachel, for whose sake he labored so;
And many more, and made them blest indeed.
And I would have you know I can attest
That, before these, no human souls were freed.”*

This exchange is of interest for several reasons. For one, it's the witness of a lost soul to the harrowing of hell and liberation of a select few. Virgil, who had died about 50 years earlier than this event, attests first-hand to the act of a "Mighty One."
ci vidi venire un possente
The event became one of the articles of the Christian creed, but Virgil recounts it  in the words of an honorable Roman. Un possente is a generic term for anyone of power, and, while accurate as far as it goes, it is blank with regard to the unique identity of the Mighty One: the martyred Son of the God of Abraham, fresh from his trial and crucifixion.

Virgil speaks of what he sees. His natural light of human reason can and does report and support the faith Dante and all Christians practice, flowing from Scripture. What Virgil "sees" is veiled to him - the facts are reported, but their full and unique implications are not.

What we as readers find here is something I think Dante the poet does throughout his Comedìa-- a poetic enactment of the profound discontinuity between the light of reason, art and science on one hand, and revelation via the Book, on the other.

In a sense, what the moment does is reproduce Dante's reading of Virgil. In the moment that Virgil voices and demonstrates his authority as teacher, guide, prophet, poet and witness, we find a blindness, a falling short -- the irony of an inescapable ignorance. It is a punishing irony, consigning him to hopeless finality in a half-lit suspense of endless desire, and more ironic because in its helplessness (vis a vis Virgil), it helps Dante overcome doubt.

Dante dramatizes the reality that obtains in a world where human genius, nobility of spirit and incorrigible honor just are not enough. For Virgil and the rest of those in Limbo, what the mind and sense and soul can see, and what the imagination or inspiration can intimate, is merely the outward appearance of a unique event whose full import -- the breaking not of rocks alone, but of the rule of death -- remains "coperto." Another word for that might be "illegible."

We'll want to be on the lookout for further examples of this mode of poetic acting out in the Comedìa. With Revelation comes a shattering literacy.

*From an unpublished translation of the Inferno by Peter D'Epiro.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Invocations Infernal and Purgatorial

Prof. Giuseppe Mazzotta of Yale speaks of reading the Comedia "horizontally," that is, with attention to the interaction between similar moments across the three canticles.

If we look for example at the invocations that the poet employs in the three poems, suggestive differences among them can be noted. Each invocation addresses a distinct source of inspiration, from which other potentially significant differences flow in turn. The poem is telling us something about how it is to be read. The invocations of the three canticles can be found here.

The shortest invocation, in the Inferno, addresses the Muses as alto ingenio - this can mean high genius, but ingenium was an ancient Latin term for one's own innate character or nature. From there it extended to the idea of natural capacity, talent, or genius, evolving into a rich and complex sense (see, for example, here and here.)

Dante moves quickly to address mente -- a faculty that scrivesti ciò ch'io vidi -- wrote that which I saw -- hence a form of memory, of notation, faithful to the pilgrim's experience. The poetry of Inferno will be faithful to what the pilgrim saw and heard -- poetry in the mode of representation, mimesis, but thanks to alto ingenio, one that will show its nobilitate.

By contrast, the invocation of Purgatorio invokes the sante Muse, who are asked to let poetry, which is dead, rise again (risurga). This already is more than natural. What's on offer here is not merely recording, but transformative action:

And let here Calliope rise up for a while
and accompany my song with that strain
which smote the ears of the wretched magpies
so that they despaired of pardon.

Calliope, the Muse of Epic, is called upon in particular to rise up alquanto -- perhaps not just for a while, but to an extent, somewhat. Calliope is needed to smite the daughters of Pierus, a "crowd of foolish sisters" who, according to Ovid, were turned to magpies after inanely challenging and losing a competition with the Muses. To accomplish this, it seems, Calliope needs not rise to the highest level of style. That will be sought and needed in Paradiso.

The tale of the battle of songs, taken from Metamorphoses 5, stages the competition, and the contrast between the two performances couldn't be more marked. Calliope, singing of the Rape of Persephone, wins. The judge was Athena, and the daughters of Pierus turned into mimicking magpies.

The invocation of Purgatorio enlists the Muses in a struggle. This is poetry with an active purpose in this world, and it means business. Actually, it means unfinished business, as Purgatorio takes place in time, in the realm of human desire, engagement, choice. Unlike Inferno, things on this mountain are not settled by any means, nor are they fixed in stone. All is in motion. The Purgatorio is quite simply a poem of metamorphosis, like that whose tale of the magpies inspired its invocation.

We'll leave the invocation of the Paradiso for a later moment, for it again calls upon a different source, calling forth yet another mode -- other than pure mimesis or performance - to actualize itself.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Invocations for three canticles

Inferno 2. 7-9

O muse, O alto ingegno, or m'aiutate; 
O mente che scrivesti ciò ch'io vidi, 
qui si parrà la tua nobilitate.

O Muses, O lofty genius, aid me now!
O memory that noted what I saw,
here shall be shown thy worth!

Botticelli: Dante's Inferno

Purgatorio 1. 7-12
Ma qui la morta poesì resurga, 
o sante Muse, poi che vostro sono;
e qui Caliopè alquanto surga, 
seguitando il mio canto con quel suono 
di cui le Piche misere sentiro 
lo colpo tal, che disperar perdono.

But here let poetry rise again from the dead,
O holy Muses, since I am yours;
And let here Calliope rise up for a while
and accompany my song with that strain
which smote the ears of the wretched magpies
so that they despaired of pardon.

Botticelli: Mountain of Purgatory

Paradiso 1. 13-27

O buono Appollo, a l'ultimo lavoro
fammi del tuo valor sì fatto vaso,
come dimandi a dar l'amato alloro.
Infino a qui l'un giogo di Parnaso
assai mi fu; ma or con amendue
m'è uopo intrar ne l'aringo rimaso.
Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue
sì come quando Marsia traesti
de la vagina de le membra sue.
O divina virtù, se mi ti presti
tanto che l'ombra del beato regno
segnata nel mio capo io manifesti,
vedra'mi al piè del tuo diletto legno
venire, e coronarmi de le foglie
che la materia e tu mi farai degno.

O good Apollo, for this final task
Make of me such a vessel of your power
As you require for your beloved laurel.
Up to this point, one summit of Parnassus
Has served me well, but now I need them both,
Entering on the arena that remains.
Come into my breast and, there within me, breathe,
As once, on that occasion when you drew
Marsyas from the scabbard of his limbs.
O power divine, but grant me of yourself
So much that I may figure forth the shadow
Of the blest realm imprinted in my mind,
And you shall see me come to your chosen tree
And crown myself beneath it with those leaves
Of which my theme and you will make me worthy.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Inaugural letters: Inferno 3

Inferno 3 brings us to letters that inscribe the speaking threshold of hell. It foregrounds a curious fact: The first act of those taking up their abode here is the act of reading. What does it mean that the first non-eternal thing built by the Creator was a text?

Per me si va ne la citta` dolente,
   per me si va ne l'etterno dolore,
   per me si va tra la perduta gente.
Giustizia mosse il mio alto fattore:
   fecemi la divina podestate,
   la somma sapienza e 'l primo amore.
Dinanzi a me non fuor cose create
   se non etterne, e io etterno duro.
   Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate.

Queste parole di colore oscuro
  vid'io scritte al sommo d'una porta;
  per ch'io: "Maestro, il senso lor m'e` duro."

Ed elli a me, come persona accorta:
  "Qui si convien lasciare ogne sospetto;
  ogne vilta` convien che qui sia morta." 
                                             Inferno 3: 1-15

Gustave Dore

Among other resonances, the reading evokes, via its poetics as well as its dense, enigmatic statement, a moment in 2 Corinthians:
Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 
Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God. He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. 
Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts! 
12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. 14 But their minds were made dull,for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. 

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Tuscan doesn't measure up: Dante on his native dialect in the De Vulgari

Dante's De Vulgari Eloquentia is his treatise composed in Latin that defended the use of Italian in poetry and prose. In that time, writing for posterity in the spoken tongue of the living was not a self-evident thing to do, especially as regards works of literary aspiration.

The treatise was never completed - he originally envisioned four books, with the last to treat of comedy. We don't know why he dropped the project, but his sole mention of the comic comes in Book II.4, in contrast with the tragic mode:

By 'tragic' I mean the higher style, by 'comic' the lower, and by 'elegiac' that of the unhappy. If it seems appropriate to use the tragic style, then the illustrious vernacular must be employed, and so you will need to bind together a canzone. If, on the other hand, the comic style is called for, then sometimes the middle level of the vernacular can be used, and sometimes the lowly; and I shall explain the distinction in Book Four.
In an earlier section (Book I.13) we get a bit of the sardonic sensibility of the poet, writing about his own Tuscan dialect in the mouths of his fellow men:

After this, we come to the Tuscans, who, rendered senseless by some aberration of their own, seem to lay claim to the honour of possessing the illustrious vernacular. And it is not only the common people who lose their heads in this fashion, for we find that a number of famous men have believed as much: like Guittone d'Arezzo, who never even aimed at a vernacular worthy of the court, or Bonagiunta da Lucca, or Gallo of Pisa, or Mino Mocato of Siena, or Brunetto the Florentine, all of whose poetry, if there were space to study it closely here, we would find to be fitted not for a court but at best for a city council. Now, since the Tuscans are the most notorious victims of this mental intoxication, it seems both appropriate and useful to examine the vernaculars of the cities of Tuscany one by one, and thus to burst the bubble of their pride. When the Florentines speak, they say things like: 'Manichiamo, introcque che noi non facciamo altro' [Let's eat, since there's nothing else to do]. The Pisans: 'Bene andonno li fatti de Fiorensa per Pisa' [The business at Florence went well for Pisa]. The people of Lucca: 'Fo voto a Dio ke ingrassarra eie lo comuno de Lucca' [I swear to God, the city of Lucca is really in the pink]. The Sienese: 'Onche renegata avess'io Siena. Chée chesto?' [If only I'd left Siena for good! What's up now?]. The people of Arezzo: 'Vuo' tu venire ovelle?' [Do you want to go somewhere?]. I have no intention of dealing with Perugia, Orvieto, Viterbo, or Città di Castello, because of their inhabitants' affinity with the Romans and the people of Spoleto. However, though almost all Tuscans are steeped in their own foul jargon, there are a few, I feel, who have understood the excellence of the vernacular: these include Guido, Lapo, and one other, all from Florence, and Cino, from Pistoia, whom I place unworthily here at the end, moved by a consideration that is far from unworthy. Therefore, if we study the languages spoken in Tuscany, and if we think what kind of distinguished individuals have avoided the use of their own, there can be no doubt that the vernacular we seek is something other than that which the people of Tuscany can attain. If there is anyone who thinks that what I have just said about the Tuscans could not be applied to the Genoese, let him consider only that if, through forgetfulness, the people of Genoa lost the use of the letter z, they would either have to fall silent for ever or invent a new language for themselves. For z forms the greater part of their vernacular, and it is, of course, a letter that cannot be pronounced without considerable harshness.

Ultimately, Dante pointed to a form of Italian found in no specific city or province, but rather cultivated by the best authors in their poetry and prose:
This is the language used by the illustrious authors who have written vernacular poetry in Italy, whether they came from Sicily, Apulia, Tuscany Romagna, Lombardy, or either of the Marches. And since my intention, as I promised at the beginning of this work, is to teach a theory of the effective use of the vernacular, I have begun with this form of it, as being the most excellent;

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Dante discussion Tuesday, April 28th at NYU

Prof. Roseanne Martorella indicates that this presentation at NYU's Casa Italiana will be available via streaming this coming Tuesday. Try this link to find it at the time below.

APRIL 28, 2015
6:30 PM 


(Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014)
Edited and with an introduction by
Conclusion by Teodolinda Barolini
Maria Luisa Ardizzone, New York University
Teodolinda Barolini, Columbia University
Marcia Colish, Yale University
Moderator: Paola Ureni, City University of New York
Dante and Heterodoxy: The Temptations of 13th Century Radical Thought, edited and with an introduction by Maria Luisa Ardizzone, collects several studies devoted to discussing Dante’s work in the light of the intellectual debate that developed in thirteenth century Europe after the entrance of new Aristotelian learning and the diffusion of Greek-Arabic thought, in particular the Latin translations of works by Ibn Rushd (Averroes).

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Segue: Umberto Eco on comedy

From a Paris Review interview with the delightful Umberto Eco:
Compared to beauty and ugliness, comedy is terrifying. I’m not talking about laughter, mind you. No, there is an uncanny sentimentality of the comic, which is so complex that—I cannot quite explain it. And this, alas, is why I didn’t write the book.
. . . 
I think that comedy is the quintessential human reaction to the fear of death.
. . . 
In truth, what really happened with my desire to write a book on comedy was that I wrote The Name of the Rose instead. It was one of those cases in which, when you are unable to construct a theory, you narrate a story. And I believe that in The Name of the Rose, I did, in narrative form, flesh out a certain theory of the comic. The comic as a critical way of undercutting fanaticism. A diabolical shade of suspicion behind every proclamation of truth.

The whole interview is great fun, and offers a modern thoughtful man's perspective on things literary, medieval, and comic -- as we are on our way to Dante.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Two-mouthed play: the duality of the Philoctetes

προσαναγκάζειν τὸν Σωκράτη ὁμολογεῖν αὐτοὺς τοῦ αὐτοῦ ἀνδρὸς εἶναι κωμῳδίαν καὶ τραγῳδίαν ἐπίστασθαι ποιεῖν, καὶ τὸν τέχνῃ τραγῳδοποιὸν ὄντα καὶ κωμῳδοποιὸν εἶναι.
Socrates was compelling them to admit that the same man could have the knowledge required for writing comedy and tragedy—that the fully skilled tragedian could be a comedian as well. Plato, Symposium.

To some it seems impossible that I could still have something left to say about Sophocles' Philoctetes. A friend has delicately suggested that I should make an end. Let's end with the man who wrote it - a man whose work embodies a fusion of thought and feeling. As the late Eduardo Galeano wrote,
My language is a feel-thinking language, feeling and thinking at once, that is why it is a celebration of life, and at once it is a denunciation of everything that is not allowed in life to be real life, its plenitude.
Sophocles was about 88 when his Philoctetes was performed, winning first prize. It's an old man's play, a storehouse of an extraordinary life in 5th century Athens.

It's worth noticing that his abandoned character was neither a woman, a poor man, or someone of less than 100% Greek ethnicity. This is not a tale of racism, sexism or classism. Rather, it's a story about what the best are capable of doing to their peers under the intense pressures of life, war, and duty.

Never in dispute is the fact that Philoctetes was most cruelly used by the Atreides and by Odysseus at their bidding. His resulting suffering and alienation are explored in potent speeches. Nothing hides the sordidness of the case, nothing embellishes. The harsh natural world coupled with the mute neglect and indifference of his peers is voiced with the plenitude Galeano speaks of:
Birds my victims, tribes of bright-eyed wild creatures,
tenants of these hills, you need not flee from me or my house.
No more the strength of my hands, of my bow, is mine.
Come! It is a good time to glut yourselves freely on my discolored flesh . . .
                                                                        (Grene 1148-52)
 πταναὶ θῆραι χαροπῶν τ᾽ ἔθνη θηρῶνοὓς ὅδ᾽ ἔχει χῶρος οὐρεσιβώταςμηκέτ᾽ ἀπ᾽ αὐλίων φυγᾷ 1150πηδᾶτ᾽οὐ γὰρ ἔχω χεροῖν τὰν πρόσθεν βελέων ἀλκάν δύστανος ἐγὼ τανῦνἀλλ᾽ ἀνέδην δὲ χῶρος ἄρ᾽ οὐκέτι φοβητὸς οὐκέθ᾽ ὑμῖν1155ἕρπετενῦν καλὸν ἀντίφονον κορέσαι στόμα πρὸς χάριν ἐμᾶς σαρκὸς αἰόλας
But the thrust and climax of the play is not here. His suffering is rendered with naturalistic power, but this is one moment within a larger mythical encounter. (We noted the co-presence of both naturalism and mythic language early on in our reading of this play.)

Sophocles expands the tragic frame to bring in Odysseus, the man of occasion, the crafty illusionist, the resourceful man of words. Odysseus is comedic through and through; his skills are practical, group-oriented, businesslike. He is an agent sent to do a job -- he is there to ensure through winning words a happy end for all.

We miss part of the strange texture of the play if we do not relish the potential comedy of Odysseus. His self-referential denigration as the false Merchant would be delightful in the hands of the right actor. Twice in the play Odysseus runs offstage to avoid being shot by Philoctetes or pummeled by Neoptolemus. Depending on how this is performed, it can be a dramatic show of cowardly smarts, or a broader "feets-don't-fail-me-now" piece of farce typical of low characters in ancient Comedy.

Odysseus announces at the very start that he has a ruse; he seems confident of its ability to persuade Philoctetes to return to the war. At every point in the play, we are uncertain whether fateful events are unfolding of themselves, or we are audiences to a script authored and directed by Odysseus. The tension is structural: Tragedy's dignity, pathos, and claim to significance are never more at risk than when comedy threatens to puncture the spell.

. . . the fully skilled tragedian could be a comedian as well.
Sophocles appears to have fulfilled the high goal of Socrates: he has shown he knows how to produce both genres -- a double-mouthed play. Poised perfectly, the text turns endlessly around this duality, not unlike one of those ambiguous illusions that seem one moment to be one thing, and suddenly quite another thing altogether.

The heightened relation of the comedic and tragic in the Philoctetes differs from earlier works of this playwright. The text holds both masks in tension.

It might be fanciful to see a resemblance here to the tension Socrates speaks of in the Symposium with regard to Eros, but it's hard to resist. At the feast he tells Diotima's tale of the inevitable attraction of Poros and Penia, Resource (or, Contrivance) and Poverty, whose union produces Eros the archer. Poros and Penia are like figures in the tapestry of the Philoctetes: a man in isolation, lacking all, unloved, encounters an artful speaker seeking his seduction.

As Socrates puts it:
Eros is ever poor, and far from tender or beautiful as most suppose him: [203d] rather is he hard and parched, shoeless and homeless; on the bare ground always he lies with no bedding, and takes his rest on doorsteps and waysides in the open air. . .

Eros is . . .  always weaving some stratagem; desirous and competent of wisdom, throughout life ensuing the truth; a master of jugglery, witchcraft, [203e] and artful speech.
The rhetorical duel of the Philoctetes -- strangely akin to that which Socrates finds within Eros itself -- sets in motion the endgame of the Trojan war and mirrors its beginning. Odysseus woos Philoctetes and takes him off in his ship, much as Paris had seduced Helen. Fortunes are turning. Philoctetes' heel will be made whole, enabling him to wound Paris mortally in the heel. The saddest man on Earth has the Heraclean bow, and he's on his way to Troy.

Farewell, foothold of Lemnos embraced by two seas, [1465] and send me sailing fair to my heart's content there where mighty Fate and the intent of my friends carries me, and the all-taming god who has brought these things to pass.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Some plans for the fall

So we are considering setting Dante's Paradiso as our reading beginning in the fall. It's a formidable text, and anyone who intends to join in really should read, or recently (within a few years) have read both the Inferno and Purgatorio. Many will use Mandelbaum, but other translations will simply make our task more interesting.

Giuseppe Mazzotta
For those wishing to review and/or gather some recent academic views of Dante, there is Yale Prof. Giuseppe Mazzotta's intro to the Commedia online entitled Dante in Translation, free of charge.

The course consists of 24 lectures which can be downloaded in a variety of formats - everything from transcripts to videos. Click on an individual lecture to see the media options.

To help refresh our memory, we will read the first few cantos of the Inferno followed by a few of the Purgatorio.

Peter D'Epiro's excellent translation of Paradiso I which we looked at last time is here.

Dante and Beatrice speak to Piccarda and Constance (Par. 3)

Friday, April 17, 2015

The event of persuasion in Philoctetes

proof (πίστις) is a sort of demonstration (ἀπόδειξίς)

Let Rhetoric be defined as the faculty of discovering in the particular case what are the available means of persuasion.
                                               -- Aristotle, Rhetoric

To see the tension in the Philoctetes as a duel between the title character and Odysseus is to realize that the play is structured as a series of rhetorical performances.

Odysseus knows from the start that all Philoctetes has to do is spot him for a second and he'll be dead. One way to read the play is as a procession of ploys by Odysseus calculated to persuade the person least susceptible to his seductions. First, the hero sends Neoptolemus, then either sends or himself impersonates the false Merchant, and finally we -- and Philoctetes -- confront the apparition of Heracles on the rocks above Philoctetes' cave.

If one is persuaded that the play is about persuasion, then we can see that the master strategist's first few efforts aren't going so well. Neoptolemus has given Philoctetes back his bow but keeps trying to make him see the point of returning to Troy. The young man is quite eloquent in Grene's translation:
It is a glorious heightening of gain,
First, to come into hands that can heal you,
and then be judged pre-eminent among the Greeks,
winning the highest renown among them, taking
Troy that has cost infinity of tears. (1343-37)
 But it's not working:
Hateful life, why should I still be alive and seeing?
Why not be gone to the dark?
. . . 
Eyes of mine, that have seen all, can you endure
to see me living with my murderers,
the sons of Atreus? With cursed Odysseus?
It is not the sting of wrongs past
but what I must look for in wrongs to come. (1348-59)
The tension between the divine mission that Odysseus is trying to execute, the script he claims to derive from Zeus and the Fates on one hand, and the wretched Philoctetes' mortal suffering, pain, alienation and desire to end it all (reminiscent of Heracles' agony in Women of Trachis), has reached a breaking point.

Clearly, as two previous moments in the play, an intervention is necessary to keep the Mission on point. Each time before it's been Odysseus -- either in the guise of the Merchant, or as himself, disrupting Philoctetes' plan to return home with an apparently willing Neoptolemus -- who suddenly appears. So at this moment, we are, in fact, expecting Odysseus to appear. Lo and behold.

We can take a closer look at the speech of the apparition at another time. It certainly bears features of an Odyssean ruse. But to be clear: the argument here is not that the play categorically resolves as a ruse, rather that it is about persuasion. To be persuaded is to be convinced that something is the case, as Aristotle says, early in the Rhetoric:
It is obvious, therefore, that a system arranged according to the rules of art is only concerned with proofs (πίστεις); that proof (πίστις) is a sort of demonstration (ἀπόδειξίς),10 since we are most strongly convinced when we suppose anything to have been demonstrated;
ἐπεὶ δὲ φανερόνἐστιν ὅτι μὲν ἔντεχνος μέθοδος περὶ τὰς πίστεις ἐστίν, δὲ πίστις ἀπόδειξίς τις τότε γὰρ πιστεύομεν μάλιστα ὅταν ἀποδεδεῖχθαι ὑπολάβωμεν)

But the Rhetoric itself walks a fine, vanishing line as it works to make clear how much like scientific proof (Dialectic, ἀπόδειξίς) the art of Rhetoric is, while always immediately asserting that though Rhetoric is like Dialectic, it is not the same. Here's the first thing Aristotle says in his book:

Rhetoric is a counterpart/1 of Dialectic; 
ῥητορική ἐστιν ἀντίστροφος τῇ διαλεκτικῇ:

The word translated as "counterpart" is ἀντίστροφος: "antistrophe." Rhetoric is the antistrophe to Dialectic's strophe, as if they were the symmetrical stanzas of a song or ode.

We can only in passing note that here, at the incipit of a book whose very subject and argumentative validity rests upon distinguishing science from art, truth from rhetorical trope, the author interestingly employs a figure of speech to express this difference. Rhetoric is to Dialectic as the pure stanzaic form of a song is to the form of another exactly symmetrical stanza of that song. At the moment when what's at stake is the ability to distinguish real truth from mere fiction and mimicry, we are told they relate as purely linguistic, literary patterns, which are strictly formal, and identical. This motif gets reiterated variously throughout the text, as when Aristotle says:

Truth and likeness to truth are discerned by one and the same faculty. (Rhetoric 1.1) 
τό τε γὰρ ἀληθὲς καὶ τὸ ὅμοιον τῷ ἀληθεῖ τῆς αὐτῆς ἐστι δυνάμεως ἰδεῖν

The act of appearing to prove and the fact of scientific proof are discerned by one and the same cognitive faculty. The matter of persuasion is, if nothing else, slippery.

We had come to a similar insight in the Philoctetes as we pondered the word σοφίζω, where, we noted, "the clear frame dividing mere crafty speech from truth is not so easy to locate."

For any Greek concerned with teaching and ordering the state, nothing could be more important than distinguishing between what makes one wise and what defrauds.

So here we are, at the final scene of this play about the tension between a persuader and an unwilling audience, a tension that raises questions about the very decidability of the act of discernment. If one can tell that something is true and another thing is false, then we have at least the basis for resolution. But if, as it seems, the text of Rhetoric itself is such that it unsettles borders between art and science, truth and fraud, fact and fiction, then it would suggest, as we noted some time ago, that we are dealing with a play that is on edge, as well as about edges. And here, the crux is whether we and Philoctetes are looking at a god come from above, or an actor -- say, Odysseus -- in Heracles drag. (We might wish to remember here that Hermes was Odysseus's great-grandfather.)

The notion that the deus ex machina in this play -- the only one Sophocles ever employed -- is in fact not a deus but a machina staged by Odysseus has been entertained by certain scholars (e.g. Webster, Roisman). The question posed by the text of Rhetoric -- or by the rhetorical mastermind Odysseus -- is not, however, whether the figure above the cave is a bogus representation or a noumenal presence. Rather, it is whether the event of persuasion allows one to resolve the question at all.

Just as we found it impossible to tell whether Neoptolemus is a willing conspirator or a boy whose honorable instincts are being used by the chess master Odysseus, the entire Philoctetes is poised on a knife's edge of two mutually destructive readings. This balance is classical. It is also the problem we inherited from the Greeks: when form has such fearful symmetry, how do we ease the unbearable tension within?