It has long been stated that, in Isocrates' Helen, there seems to be an open contradiction between the author's harsh criticism of logoi paradoxoi and the simple fact that his own encomia of Helen and Busiris appear to be specimens of that very genre. Traditionally, this contradiction has been explained by Isocrates' need to distanciate his own work from that of his predecessors.
This paper undertakes a different approach. Isocrates' criticism of paradoxographic literature is based upon observations about what is and what is not allowed in moral epideictic discourse. Isocrates' specific instructions about proper and improper moral argumentation can function as hermeneutical tool to analyze Helen and Busiris. Only in Helen does he observe the rules of argumentation formulated in that very discourse. In Busiris, however, Isocrates adopts the typical modes of argumentation in paradoxographic literature as represented in the works of Gorgias or Polycrates. In consequence, his arguments in Busiris prove to be unconvincing when measured by his own standards formulated in the proemium of both Helen and Busiris. Consequently, the discourse ends in an apology of these arguments which is, once again, defective. In his corresponding discourses Helen and Busiris, Isocrates implictly demonstrates the moral and technical defects inherent in paradoxical discourse. He explicitly reflects these defects in the proemia and epilogues of both speeches. Helen and Busiris should, therefore, be understood as Isocrates' manifesto for moral discourse as opposed to paradoxographic showpieces.
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