Nomos and Helen

If money (nomisma), as we are taught in the _Politics_, is “spurious” as an object in itws own right, it is, on the other hand, essential as an instrument of exchange.  This last notion is revised in the _Nicomachean Ethics_, and in the conext of a discussion on social justice.  Aristotle asks at 5.5.17-20: what is it that holds the city together? and answers: the equitable exchange of disparate goods. That means, in essence, setting up equivalences between them: “all things that are exchanged must be somehow comparable. It is for this end that money had been introduced and… becomes… an intermediate[meson]; for it meaures all things.” (1133al5-20; trans. W.D.Ross 1941; bracketed term is mine).7  Money, which permits comparison, makes evaluation possible.  Exchange, then, is not entirely devorced from need, and thus money has its utility and its place in culture; money “has become by convention a sort of representative of demand; and this is why it has the name money [nomisma] – because it exists not bey nature but by law [nomos]” E. Laroche, in “Histoire de la racine nem- en grec ancien” notes that in the earlest instances of nemesis, conventionally defined as blame, the term is always used to make a “value judgment” (1949:93), in both an ethical and economic sense. Both are central to the act of assessment at the walls of Troy, as the elders gaze upon the face of Helen (3.156) ou nemesis Troas (“Surely there is no blame if Trojans…”). Helen is, indeed, a form of vomos [typo?], a powerful generator of equivalences, but ruthlessly pursued – like money – as a possession in her own right.  This is chrematistics, not oiknomia, at work, an economy of the metaphor.  Paraphrasing Aristotle, Marc Shell writes in The Economy of Literature, “To men such as Midas gold becomes everything, just as to some poets metaphor appears to be all” (1978:92).  Helen is the golden metaphor.

Helen as nemesis suggests the financial abuses described by Aristotle in the Politics: she provokes an economy fueled entirely by _desire_, as opposed to _demand_. And the face of Helen is, to use Aristotle’s definition of nomos, a “representative” of desire, as opposed to demand.  It is worthwhile recalling at this point the long history of mythic traditions linking Hlen to the figure of Nemesis.  Thus Fr. 8 of the Cypria asserts: “Nemesis gave her birth when she had been joined in love with Zeus … by harsh violence.”  Born in violence, brought in violence from Greece to Troy, making them distinct, defining them in relation to each other, drawing them into violent conflict and comparison, Helen is the archetypal intermediary of desire.(Grafting Helen: the abduction of the classical past By Matthew Gumpert 2001:61)


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