All for One or One for All?
Every decision a person makes is connected in some way to personal desires. A person can face many choices, but all options fall into simple categories: for the good of self, for the good of another, or for the good of all involved. No matter which type, the decision maker always considers personal outcomes when choosing. Examples of this exist throughout the centuries from the ancient Greeks through modern history. The first category, “for the good of self,” includes those decisions made with no regard for others and with only consideration for one’s own personal agenda. An example, central to the story of Helen, of how one’s choices can be defined by purely selfish desires is Helen’s daughter Hermione. In the novel The Private Life of Helen of Troy, John Erskine portrays a Hermione embittered by the abandonment of her mother and father, whose examples seem to have taught her to look out for herself only. She repeatedly rejects advice if it does not match her own personal agenda. An illustration of her selfishness is her rejection of Helen’s suggestion that Hermione could love anyone beyond Orestes (137) and her spreading of the lie that Helen waited out the Trojan War in Egypt so she wouldn't be embarrassed of her mother’s reputation (50). When Helen wishes to reconcile with her daughter, Hermione leaps at the chance to have her mother’s support of her own decisions, and is rewarded for her rash selfishness with a husband besotted with Helen (289-294). A second example of complete selfishness in Greece at this time can be found in the Greek gods, particularly Aphrodite. From the moment Paris bestowed upon her the prize of the golden apple, Aphrodite made her own personal passions clear. The goddess of love desired affection between Helen and Paris, even after Helen felt her love for Menelaus and her first family return (Homer, 3.162-3.166). Aphrodite cared for no one but herself, as shown when her pet Helen attempted to make herself free of the goddess and Aphrodite threatened death for both Greeks and Trojans if her will was not followed. A choice, even when it appears selfless, always has a measure of self-interest to it. Even though a person has the capacity to consider others they will always keep their own self-interest in mind. For example, Talthybius, the Greek messenger in Euripides’ play Women of Troy, was present during the Trojan princess Cassandra’s exclamation that Menelaus’s brother Agamemnon would die because of her (29). Talthybius chooses not to reveal such a prophecy, because he believes Cassandra is insane. His silence could also be connected to a fear of punishment for an inability to control the princess, linking selfless motivations with selfish trepidation. Examples of the category where we see the good of another connected to the good of the self also exist in Erskine’s novel. Helen’s first husband Menelaus is told that his daughter’s husband Orestes has met Helen and wishes to do so again (274, 277). Menelaus realizes what is happening to his son-in-law: he is falling under Helen’s (unintentional) charm and only Menelaus sees the affect his wife is having on the disgraced prince (277). Orestes has committed matricide to avenge his father’s murder, and Menelaus originally intends to shun his son-in-law, but he does not wish to lose his daughter. Instead of turning his back on Orestes, the king uses the unexpected situation to his own benefit. He is willing to forgive Orestes and try to save him from the enchantment Helen causes, because it is a means of making sure Hermione will come home again. Menelaus’s decision to forgive Orestes may not at first appear to be a selfish decision, but it is indeed an example of a man’s ability to consider another as well as himself. Despite appearances that choices are made for others only, a decision maker considers his own gain as well as that of all involved. For example,...
Bibliography: Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. Trans. R.W. Browne. London: G. Bell and Sons, Ltd, 1914. Print. Aristotle set forth his description of ethics, which according to him was the basis for all decisions in life.
Dickens, Charles. A Tale of Two Cities. New York: Vintage Classics, 1990. Print. Dickens examines the questions of life and love in this story set in the middle of the French Revolution.
Erskine, John. The Private Life of Helen of Troy. New York: The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1925. Print. Erskine compiles bits of the myths and stories about Helen of Troy into one story, detailing her family and personal affairs.
Euripides. Helen. Trans. Kenneth McLeish. London: Absolute Press, 1995. Print. Euripides’ tale of Helen is unique in its portrayal of the queen and what she was really doing during the Trojan War.
---. Women of Troy. Trans. Kenneth McLeish. London: Absolute Press, 1995. Print. Euripides showcases the women of Troy after the war has been lost.
Foley, Helene P
Foley, Helene P. Reflections of Women in Antiquity. New York: Gordon and Breach, Science Publishers, Inc., 1981. Print. This anthology of essays examines the position of women in ancient Greece and Rome both on stage and in everyday life.
Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Anchor Books, 1974. Print. Homer details the majority of the Trojan War in this first epic.
---. The Odyssey. Trans. Albert Cook. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1967. Print. This story of Odysseus’s return home after the Trojan War is Homer’s follow-up to the Iliad.
Hughes, Bettany. Helen of Troy. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.
“When Good King Arthur ruled this Land”. Lost Lyrics, History, & Origins of Old Nursery Rhymes. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 November, 2012. . This nursery rhyme tells of the good Arthur did (or didn’t do) for his subjects as well as for himself and his court.
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