Gorgias

Gorgias

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Greek
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 sophist, pre-socratic philosopher
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

ian, was a native of Leontini in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

. Along with Protagoras
Protagoras
Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with having invented the role of the professional sophist or teacher of virtue...

, he forms the first generation of Sophists
Sophism
Sophism in the modern definition is a specious argument used for deceiving someone. In ancient Greece, sophists were a category of teachers who specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric for the purpose of teaching aretê — excellence, or virtue — predominantly to young statesmen and...

. Several doxographers
Doxography
Doxography is a term used especially for the works of classical historians, describing the points of view of past philosophers and scientists. The term was coined by the German classical scholar Hermann Alexander Diels.- Classic Greek philosophy :...

 report that he was a pupil of Empedocles
Empedocles
Empedocles was a Greek pre-Socratic philosopher and a citizen of Agrigentum, a Greek city in Sicily. Empedocles' philosophy is best known for being the originator of the cosmogenic theory of the four Classical elements...

, although he would only have been a few years younger. "Like other Sophists he was an itinerant, practicing in various cities and giving public exhibitions of his skill at the great pan-Hellenic centers of Olympia and Delphi, and charged fees for his instruction and performances. A special feature of his displays was to invite miscellaneous questions from the audience and give impromptu replies."

His chief claim to recognition resides in the fact that he transplanted rhetoric from his native Sicily to Attica
Attica
Attica is a historical region of Greece, containing Athens, the current capital of Greece. The historical region is centered on the Attic peninsula, which projects into the Aegean Sea...

, and contributed to the diffusion of the Attic dialect
Attic Greek
Attic Greek is the prestige dialect of Ancient Greek that was spoken in Attica, which includes Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek, and is the standard form of the language studied in courses of "Ancient Greek". It is sometimes included in Ionic.- Origin and range...

 as the language of literary prose.

Life


Gorgias originated from Leontini, a Greek colony in Sicily
Sicily
Sicily is a region of Italy, and is the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. Along with the surrounding minor islands, it constitutes an autonomous region of Italy, the Regione Autonoma Siciliana Sicily has a rich and unique culture, especially with regard to the arts, music, literature,...

, and what is often called the home of Spartan rhetoric. It is known that Gorgias had a father named Charmander and two siblings – a brother named Herodicus and a sister who dedicated a statue to Gorgias in Delphi
Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

 (McComiskey 6-7).

He was already about sixty when in 427 he was sent to Athens by his fellow-citizens at the head of an embassy to ask for Athenian protection against the aggression of the Syracusans
Syracuse, Italy
Syracuse is a historic city in Sicily, the capital of the province of Syracuse. The city is notable for its rich Greek history, culture, amphitheatres, architecture, and as the birthplace of the preeminent mathematician and engineer Archimedes. This 2,700-year-old city played a key role in...

. He subsequently settled in Athens, probably due to the enormous popularity of his style of oratory and the profits made from his performances and rhetoric classes. According to Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, his students included Isocrates
Isocrates
Isocrates , an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. In his time, he was probably the most influential rhetorician in Greece and made many contributions to rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works....

. (Other students are named in later traditions; the Suda
Suda
The Suda or Souda is a massive 10th century Byzantine encyclopedia of the ancient Mediterranean world, formerly attributed to an author called Suidas. It is an encyclopedic lexicon, written in Greek, with 30,000 entries, many drawing from ancient sources that have since been lost, and often...

adds Pericles
Pericles
Pericles was a prominent and influential statesman, orator, and general of Athens during the city's Golden Age—specifically, the time between the Persian and Peloponnesian wars...

, Polus
Polus
Polus is the nickname Plato gave to an Ancient Greek Athenian philosophical figure who lived in the 5th century BCE. He was a pupil of the famous orator Gorgias, and teacher of rhetoric from the city of Acragas, Sicily....

, and Alcidamas
Alcidamas
Alcidamas, of Elaea, in Aeolis, Greek sophist and rhetorician, flourished in the 4th century BC.He was the pupil and successor of Gorgias and taught at Athens at the same time as Isocrates, whose rival and opponent he was...

, Diogenes Laërtius
Diogenes Laertius
Diogenes Laertius was a biographer of the Greek philosophers. Nothing is known about his life, but his surviving Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers is one of the principal surviving sources for the history of Greek philosophy.-Life:Nothing is definitively known about his life...

 mentions Antisthenes
Antisthenes
Antisthenes was a Greek philosopher and a pupil of Socrates. Antisthenes first learned rhetoric under Gorgias before becoming an ardent disciple of Socrates. He adopted and developed the ethical side of Socrates' teachings, advocating an ascetic life lived in accordance with virtue. Later writers...

, and according to Philostratus
Philostratus
Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus , , called "the Athenian", was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. He was born probably around 172, and is said by the Suda to have been living in the reign of emperor Philip the Arab . His death...

, "I understand that he attracted the attention of the most admired men, Critias
Critias
Critias , born in Athens, son of Callaeschrus, was an uncle of Plato, and a leading member of the Thirty Tyrants, and one of the most violent. He was an associate of Socrates, a fact that did not endear Socrates to the Athenian public. He was noted in his day for his tragedies, elegies and prose...

 and Alcibiades
Alcibiades
Alcibiades, son of Clinias, from the deme of Scambonidae , was a prominent Athenian statesman, orator, and general. He was the last famous member of his mother's aristocratic family, the Alcmaeonidae, which fell from prominence after the Peloponnesian War...

 who were young, and Thucydides
Thucydides
Thucydides was a Greek historian and author from Alimos. His History of the Peloponnesian War recounts the 5th century BC war between Sparta and Athens to the year 411 BC...

 and Pericles who were already old. Agathon
Agathon
Agathon was an Athenian tragic poet whose works, up to the present moment, have been lost. He is best known for his appearance in Plato's Symposium, which describes the banquet given to celebrate his obtaining a prize for his first tragedy at the Lenaia in . He is also a prominent character in...

 too, the tragic poet, whom Comedy regards as wise and eloquent, often Gorgianizes in his iambic verse").

Gorgias is reputed to have lived to be one hundred and eight
years old (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33). He won admiration for his ability to speak on any subject (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33). He accumulated considerable wealth; enough to commission a gold statue of himself for a public temple. After his Pythian Oration, the Greeks installed a solid gold statue of him in the temple of Apollo
Apollo
Apollo is one of the most important and complex of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology...

 at Delphi
Delphi
Delphi is both an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece on the south-western spur of Mount Parnassus in the valley of Phocis.In Greek mythology, Delphi was the site of the Delphic oracle, the most important oracle in the classical Greek world, and a major site for the worship of the god...

 (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33). He died at Larissa
Larissa
Larissa is the capital and biggest city of the Thessaly region of Greece and capital of the Larissa regional unit. It is a principal agricultural centre and a national transportation hub, linked by road and rail with the port of Volos, the city of Thessaloniki and Athens...

 in Thessaly
Thessaly
Thessaly is a traditional geographical region and an administrative region of Greece, comprising most of the ancient region of the same name. Before the Greek Dark Ages, Thessaly was known as Aeolia, and appears thus in Homer's Odyssey....

.

Rhetorical innovation



Gorgias ushered in rhetorical innovations involving structure and ornamentation and the introduction of paradoxologia – the idea of paradoxical thought and paradoxical expression. For these advancements, Gorgias has been labeled the ‘father of sophistry’ (Wardy 6). Gorgias is also known for contributing to the diffusion of the Attic dialect
Attic Greek
Attic Greek is the prestige dialect of Ancient Greek that was spoken in Attica, which includes Athens. Of the ancient dialects, it is the most similar to later Greek, and is the standard form of the language studied in courses of "Ancient Greek". It is sometimes included in Ionic.- Origin and range...

 as the language of literary prose. Gorgias was the first orator to develop and teach a "distinctive style of speaking," (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33).

Gorgias’ extant rhetorical works (Encomium of Helen, Defense of Palamedes, On Non-Existence, and Epitaphios) come to us via a work entitled Technai, a manual of rhetorical instruction, which may have consisted of models to be memorized and demonstrate various principles of rhetorical practice (Leitch, et al. 29). Although some scholars claim that each work presents opposing statements, the four texts can be read as interrelated contributions to the up-and-coming theory and art (technê) of rhetoric (McComiskey 32). Of Gorgias’ surviving works, only the Encomium and the Defense are believed to exist in their entirety. Meanwhile, there are his own speeches, rhetorical, political, or other. A number of these are referred to and quoted by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

, including a speech on Hellenic unity, a funeral oration for Athenians fallen in war, and a brief quotation from an Encomium on the Eleans. Apart from the speeches, there are paraphrases of the treatise "On Nature or the Non-Existent." These works are each part of the Diels-Kranz collection, and although academics consider this source reliable, many of the works included are fragmentary and corrupt. Questions have also been raised as to the authenticity and accuracy of the texts attributed to Gorgias (Consigny 4).

Gorgias’ writings are both rhetorical and performative. He goes to great lengths to exhibit his ability of making an absurd, argumentative position appear stronger. Consequently, each of his works defend positions that are unpopular, paradoxical and even absurd. The performative nature of Gorgias’ writings is exemplified by the way that he playfully approaches each argument with stylistic devices such as parody, artificial figuration and theatricality (Consigny 149). Gorgias’ style of argumentation can be described as poetics-minus-the-meter (poiêsis-minus-meter). Gorgias argues that persuasive words have power (dunamis) that is equivalent to that of the gods and as strong as physical force. In the Encomium, Gorgias likens the effect of speech on the soul to the effect of drugs on the body: “Just as different drugs draw forth different humors from the body – some putting a stop to disease, others to life – so too with words: some cause pain, others joy, some strike fear, some stir the audience to boldness, some benumb and bewitch the soul with evil persuasion” (Gorgias 32).

Gorgias also believed that his "magical incantations" would bring healing to the human psyche by controlling powerful emotions. He paid particular attention to the sounds of words, which, like poetry, could captivate audiences. His florid, rhyming style seemed to hypnotize his audiences (Herrick 42). Gorgias' legendary powers of persuasion would suggest that he had a somewhat preternatural influence over his audience and their emotions.

Unlike other Sophists, such as Protagoras, Gorgias did not profess to teach arete (excellence, or, virtue). He believed that there was no absolute form of arete, but that it was relative to each situation (for example, virtue in a slave was not virtue in a statesman) His thought was that rhetoric, the art of persuasion, was the king of all sciences, since it was capable of persuading any course of action. While rhetoric existed in the curriculum of every Sophist, Gorgias placed more prominence upon it than any of the others.

Much debate over both the nature and value of rhetoric begins with Gorgias. Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

’s dialogue entitled Gorgias presents a counter-argument to Gorgias’ embrace of rhetoric, its elegant form, and performative nature (Wardy 2). The dialog attempts to show that rhetoric does not meet the requirements to actually be considered a technê but is a somewhat dangerous "knack" to possess both for the orator and for his audience. This is because it gives the ignorant the power to seem more knowledgeable than an expert to a group.

On the Non-Existent


Gorgias is the author of a lost work
Lost work
A lost work is a document or literary work produced some time in the past of which no surviving copies are known to exist. Works may be lost to history either through the destruction of the original manuscript, or through the non-survival of any copies of the work. Deliberate destruction of works...

: On Nature or the Non-Existent. Rather than being one of his rhetorical works, it presented a theory of being that at the same time refuted and parodied the Eleatic thesis. The original text was lost and today there remain just two paraphrases of it. The first is preserved by the philosopher Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus
Sextus Empiricus , was a physician and philosopher, and has been variously reported to have lived in Alexandria, Rome, or Athens. His philosophical work is the most complete surviving account of ancient Greek and Roman skepticism....

 in Against the Professors and the other by the anonymous author of On Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias
On Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias
On Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias is a short work falsely attributed to Aristotle. The work was likely written during the 1st century AD. or later by a member of the peripatetic school.-References:...

. Each work, however, excludes material that is discussed in the other, which suggests that each version may represent intermediary sources (Consigny 4). It is clear, however, that the work developed a skeptical argument, which has been extracted from the sources and translated as below:
  1. Nothing exists;
  2. Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and
  3. Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others.
  4. Even if it can be communicated, there is no incentive to do so. (the correct translation is "Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.").


The argument has largely been seen as an ironic refutation of Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

' thesis on Being. Gorgias set out to prove that it is as easy to demonstrate that being is one, unchanging and timeless as it is to prove that being has no existence at all. Regardless of how it "has largely been seen" it seems clear that Gorgias was focused instead on the notion that true objectivity is impossible since the human mind can never be separated from its possessor. In his own way Gorgias outlined the fallacies and flaws associated with Continental Rationalism and British Empiricism that lead to their ultimate abandonment in favor of latter day Linguistic philosophers.

“How can anyone communicate the idea of color by means of words since the ear does not hear colors but only sounds?” This quote, written by the Sicilian philosopher Gorgias, was used to show his theory that ‘there is nothing’, ‘if there were anything no one would know it’, ‘and if anyone did know it, no one could communicate it’. This theory, thought of in the late 5th century BC, is still being contemplated by many philosophers throughout the world. This argument has led some to label Gorgias a nihilist
Nihilism
Nihilism is the philosophical doctrine suggesting the negation of one or more putatively meaningful aspects of life. Most commonly, nihilism is presented in the form of existential nihilism which argues that life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value...

 (one who believes nothing exists, or that the world is incomprehensible, and that the concept of truth is fictitious).
For the first main argument where Gorgias says, “there is no-thing”, he tries to persuade the reader that thought and existence are not the same. By claiming that if thought and existence truly were the same, then everything that anyone thought would suddenly exist. He also attempted to prove that words and sensations couldn’t be measured by the same standards, for even though words and sensations are both derived from the mind, they are essentially different. This is where his second idea comes into place.

Encomium of Helen



The Encomium of Helen is considered to be a good example of epideictic
Epideictic
The Epideictic oratory, also called ceremonial oratory, or praise-and-blame rhetoric, is one of the three branches, or "species" , of rhetoric as outlined in Aristotle's Rhetoric, to be used to praise or blame during ceremonies....

 oratory and was supposed to have been Gorgias' "show piece or demonstration piece," which was used to attract students (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33).In their writings, Gorgias and other sophists speculated "about the structure and function of language” as a framework for expressing the implications of action and the ways decisions about such actions were made” (Jarratt 103). And this is exactly the purpose of Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen. Of the three divisions of rhetoric discussed by Aristotle
Aristotle
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...

 in his Rhetoric (forensic, deliberative, and epideictic), the Encomium can be classified as an epideictic
Epideictic
The Epideictic oratory, also called ceremonial oratory, or praise-and-blame rhetoric, is one of the three branches, or "species" , of rhetoric as outlined in Aristotle's Rhetoric, to be used to praise or blame during ceremonies....

 speech, expressing praise for Helen of Troy and ridding her of the blame she faced for leaving Sparta with Paris (Wardy 26).

Helen – the proverbial “Helen of Troy” – exemplified both sexual passion and tremendous beauty for the Greeks. She was the daughter of Zeus
Zeus
In the ancient Greek religion, Zeus was the "Father of Gods and men" who ruled the Olympians of Mount Olympus as a father ruled the family. He was the god of sky and thunder in Greek mythology. His Roman counterpart is Jupiter and his Etruscan counterpart is Tinia.Zeus was the child of Cronus...

 and Leda, the Queen of Sparta, and her beauty was the direct cause of the decade long Trojan War
Trojan War
In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, the king of Sparta. The war is among the most important events in Greek mythology and was narrated in many works of Greek literature, including the Iliad...

 between Greece
Greece
Greece , officially the Hellenic Republic , and historically Hellas or the Republic of Greece in English, is a country in southeastern Europe....

 and Troy
Troy
Troy was a city, both factual and legendary, located in northwest Anatolia in what is now Turkey, southeast of the Dardanelles and beside Mount Ida...

. The war began after the goddesses Hera
Hera
Hera was the wife and one of three sisters of Zeus in the Olympian pantheon of Greek mythology and religion. Her chief function was as the goddess of women and marriage. Her counterpart in the religion of ancient Rome was Juno. The cow and the peacock were sacred to her...

, Athena
Athena
In Greek mythology, Athena, Athenê, or Athene , also referred to as Pallas Athena/Athene , is the goddess of wisdom, courage, inspiration, civilization, warfare, strength, strategy, the arts, crafts, justice, and skill. Minerva, Athena's Roman incarnation, embodies similar attributes. Athena is...

, and Aphrodite
Aphrodite
Aphrodite is the Greek goddess of love, beauty, pleasure, and procreation.Her Roman equivalent is the goddess .Historically, her cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia....

 asked Paris (a Trojan prince) to select who was the most beautiful of the three. Each goddess tried to influence Paris’ decision, but he ultimately chose Aphrodite who then promised Paris the most beautiful woman. Paris then traveled to Greece where he was greeted by Helen and her husband Menelaus
Menelaus
Menelaus may refer to;*Menelaus, one of the two most known Atrides, a king of Sparta and son of Atreus and Aerope*Menelaus on the Moon, named after Menelaus of Alexandria.*Menelaus , brother of Ptolemy I Soter...

. Under the influence of Aphrodite, Helen allowed Paris to persuade her to elope with him. Together they traveled to Troy, not only sparking the war, but also a popular and literary tradition of blaming Helen for her wrongdoing. It is this tradition which Gorgias confronts in the Encomium.

The Encomium opens with Gorgias explaining that “a man, woman, speech, deed, city or action that is worthy of praise should be honored with acclaim, but the unworthy should be branded with blame” (Gorgias 30). In the speech Gorgias discusses the possible reasons for Helen’s journey to Troy. He explains that Helen could have been persuaded in one of four ways: by the gods, by physical force, by love, or by speech (logos). If it were indeed the plan of the gods that caused Helen to depart for Troy, Gorgias argues that those who blame her should face blame themselves, “for a human’s anticipation cannot restrain a god’s inclination” (Gorgias 31). Gorgias explains that, by nature, the weak are ruled by the strong, and, since the gods are stronger than humans in all respects, Helen should be freed from her undesirable reputation. If, however, Helen was abducted by force, it is clear that the aggressor committed a crime. Thus, it should be he, not Helen, who should be blamed. And if Helen was persuaded by love, she should also be rid of ill repute because “if love is a god, with the divine power of the gods, how could a weaker person refuse and reject him? But if love is a human sickness and a mental weakness, it must not be blamed as mistake, but claimed as misfortune” (Gorgias 32). Finally, if speech persuaded Helen, Gorgias claims he can easily clear her of blame. Gorgias explains: “Speech is a powerful master and achieves the most divine feats with the smallest and least evident body. It can stop fear, relieve pain, create joy, and increase pity” (Gorgias 31). It is here that Gorgias compares the effect of speech on the mind with the effect of drugs on the body. He states that Helen has the power to "lead" many bodies in competition by using her body as a weapon (Gumpert, 74). This image of "bodies led and misled, brought together and led apart, is of paramount importance in Gorgias' speech," (Gumpert, 74).

The Encomium demonstrates Gorgias’ love of paradoxologia. The performative nature of the Encomium requires a reciprocal relationship between the performer and the audience, one which relies on the cooperation between the deceptive performer and the equally deceived audience (Wardy 36). Gorgias reveals this paradox in the final section of the Encomium where he writes: “I wished to write this speech for Helen’s encomium and my amusement” (Gorgias 33). Additionally, if one were to accept Gorgias’ argument for Helen’s exoneration, it would fly in the face of a whole literary tradition of blame directed towards Helen. This too is paradoxical. While Gorgias primarily used metaphors and paradox, he famously used "figures of speech, or schemata," (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa). This included balanced clauses (isocolon
Isocolon
Isocolon is a figure of speech in which parallelism is reinforced by members that are of the same length. A well-known example of this is Julius Caesar's "Veni, vidi, vici" , which also illustrates that a common form of isocolon is tricolon, or the use of three parallel members.It is derived from...

), the joining of contrasting ideas (antithesis
Antithesis
Antithesis is a counter-proposition and denotes a direct contrast to the original proposition...

), the structure of successive clauses (parison), and the repetition of word endings (homoeoteleuton) (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33). The Encomium shows Gorgias' interest in argumentation, as he makes his point by "systematically refuting a series of possible alternatives," (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33). It is an encomium
Encomium
Encomium is a Latin word deriving from the Classical Greek ἐγκώμιον meaning the praise of a person or thing. "Encomium" also refers to several distinct aspects of rhetoric:* A general category of oratory* A method within rhetorical pedagogy...

 of the "rhetorical craft itself, and a demonstration of its power over us," (Gumpert, 73).

Defense of Palamedes


In the Defense of Palamedes Gorgias describes logos as a positive instrument for creating ethical arguments (McComiskey 38). The Defense, an oration that deals with issues of morality and political commitment (Consigny 38), defends Palamedes
Palamedes
Palamedes could refer to:*Palamedes , the son of Nauplius in Greek mythology*Palamedes , a Saracen Knight of the Round Table in the Arthurian legend...

 who, in Greek mythology
Greek mythology
Greek mythology is the body of myths and legends belonging to the ancient Greeks, concerning their gods and heroes, the nature of the world, and the origins and significance of their own cult and ritual practices. They were a part of religion in ancient Greece...

, is credited with the invention of the alphabet, written laws, numbers, armor, and measures and weights (McComiskey 47).

In the speech Palamedes defends himself against the charge of treason. In Greek mythology, Odysseus
Odysseus
Odysseus or Ulysses was a legendary Greek king of Ithaca and the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey. Odysseus also plays a key role in Homer's Iliad and other works in the Epic Cycle....

 – in order to avoid going to Troy with Agamemnon
Agamemnon
In Greek mythology, Agamemnon was the son of King Atreus and Queen Aerope of Mycenae, the brother of Menelaus, the husband of Clytemnestra, and the father of Electra and Orestes. Mythical legends make him the king of Mycenae or Argos, thought to be different names for the same area...

 and Menelaus to bring Helen back to Sparta
Sparta
Sparta or Lacedaemon, was a prominent city-state in ancient Greece, situated on the banks of the River Eurotas in Laconia, in south-eastern Peloponnese. It emerged as a political entity around the 10th century BC, when the invading Dorians subjugated the local, non-Dorian population. From c...

 – pretended to have gone mad and began sowing the fields with salt. Palamedes got Odysseus to disclose this information by throwing his son Telemachus
Telemachus
Telemachus is a figure in Greek mythology, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and a central character in Homer's Odyssey. The first four books in particular focus on Telemachus' journeys in search of news about his father, who has been away at war...

 in front of the plow. Odysseus, who never forgave Palamedes for making him reveal himself, later accused Palamedes of working with the Trojans. Soon after, Palamedes was condemned and killed (Jarratt 58).

In this epideictic speech, like the Encomium, Gorgias is concerned with experimenting with how plausible arguments can cause conventional truths to be doubted (Jarratt 59). Throughout the text, Gorgias presents a method for composing logical (logos), ethical (ethos) and emotional (pathos) arguments from possibility, which are similar to those described by Aristotle in Rhetoric. These types of arguments about motive and capability presented in the Defense are later described by Aristotle as forensic topoi. Gorgias demonstrates that in order to prove that treason had been committed, a set of possible occurrences also need to be established. In the Defense these occurrences are as follows: communication between Palamedes and the enemy, exchange of a pledge in the form of hostages or money, and not being detected by guards or citizens. In his defense, Palamedes claims that a small sum of money would not have warranted such a large undertaking and reasons that a large sum of money, if indeed such a transaction had been made, would require the aid of many confederates in order for it to be transported. Palamedes reasons further that such an exchange could neither have occurred at night because the guards would be watching, nor in the day because everyone would be able to see. Palamedes continues, explaining that if the aforementioned conditions were, in fact, arranged then action would need to follow. Such action needed to take place either with or without confederates; however, if these confederates were free men then they were free to disclose any information they desired, but if they were slaves there was a risk of their voluntarily accusing to earn freedom, or accusing by force when tortured. Slaves, Palamedes says, are untrustworthy. Palamedes goes on to list a variety of possible motives, all of which he proves false.

Through the Defense Gorgias demonstrates that a motive requires an advantage such as status, wealth, honour, and security, and insists that Palamedes lacked a motive (McComiskey 47-49).

Epitaphios (or Athenian funeral oration)


This text is considered to be an important contribution to the genre of epitaphios. During the 5th and 4th centuries BC, such funeral orations were delivered by well-known orators during public burial ceremonies in Athens, whereby those who died in wars were honoured. Gorgias’ text provides a clever critique of 5th century propagandist rhetoric in imperial Athens and is the basis for Plato’s parody, Menexenus
Menexenus
The Menexenus is a Socratic dialogue of Plato, traditionally included in the seventh tetralogy along with the Greater and Lesser Hippias and the Ion. The characters are Socrates and Menexenus, who is not to be confused with Socrates' son Menexenus. The Menexenus of Plato's dialogue appears also...

(Consigny 2).

Critics


Plato
Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...

 is one of Gorgias’ greatest critics. Plato’s dislike for sophistic doctrines is well known, and it is in his eponymous dialogue that both Gorgias himself as well as his rhetorical beliefs are ridiculed (McComiskey 17).

In the Gorgias
Gorgias (dialogue)
Gorgias is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato around 380 BC. In this dialogue, Socrates seeks the true definition of rhetoric, attempting to pinpoint the essence of rhetoric and unveil the flaws of the sophistic oratory popular in Athens at this time...

, Plato distinguishes between philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

 and rhetoric
Rhetoric
Rhetoric is the art of discourse, an art that aims to improve the facility of speakers or writers who attempt to inform, persuade, or motivate particular audiences in specific situations. As a subject of formal study and a productive civic practice, rhetoric has played a central role in the Western...

, characterizing Gorgias as an orator who entertains his audience with his eloquent words and who believes that it is unnecessary to learn the truth about actual matters when one has discovered the art of persuasion (Consigny 36). In the dialogue, Gorgias responds to one of Socrates’ statements as follows: “Rhetoric is the only area of expertise you need to learn. You can ignore all the rest and still get the better of the professionals!” (Plato 24).

Plato is sure to make the distinction between playful oration and serious philosophy, arguing that Gorgias, despite his so-called philosophical work On Non-Existence, is not a true philosopher. Gorgias, whose On Non-Existence is taken to be critical of the Eleatic tradition and its founder Parmenides
Parmenides
Parmenides of Elea was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the southern coast of Italy. He was the founder of the Eleatic school of philosophy. The single known work of Parmenides is a poem, On Nature, which has survived only in fragmentary form. In this poem, Parmenides...

, describes philosophy as a type of seduction, but he does not deny philosophy entirely, giving some respect to philosophers (Consigny 37).

Plato answers Gorgias by reaffirming the Parmenidean ideal that being is the basic substance and reality of which all things are composed, insisting that philosophy is a dialectic distinct from and superior to rhetoric (Wardy 52).

Aristotle also criticizes Gorgias, labeling him a mere Sophist whose primary goal is to make money by appearing wise and clever, thus deceiving the public by means of misleading or sophistic arguments (Consigny 36).

Sources

  • Consigny, Scott. Gorgias: Sophist and Artist. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press
    University of South Carolina Press
    The University of South Carolina Press , founded in 1944, is a university press that is part of the University of South Carolina.-External links:*...

    , 2001.
  • Gorgias. “Encomium of Helen.” The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. Eds. Vincent B. Leitch, et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 30-33.
  • Gumpert, Matthew. Grafting Helen: the Abduction of the Classical Past. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. Print.
  • Jarratt, Susan C. Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press
    Southern Illinois University Press
    Southern Illinois University Press, founded in 1956, is a university press located in Carbondale, Illinois.The press publishes approximately 50 titles annually, among its more than 1,200 titles currently in print....

    , 1991.
  • Leitch, Vincent B., et al., eds. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.
  • McComiskey, Bruce. Gorgias and the New Sophistic Rhetoric. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.
  • Matsen, Patricia P., Philip Rollinson and Marion Sousa. Readings from Classical Rhetoric. Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1990. Print
  • Plato. Gorgias. Trans. Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press
    Oxford University Press is the largest university press in the world. It is a department of the University of Oxford and is governed by a group of 15 academics appointed by the Vice-Chancellor known as the Delegates of the Press. They are headed by the Secretary to the Delegates, who serves as...

    , 1994.
  • Walker, Jeffrey. Rhetoric and Poetics in Antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
  • Wardy, Robert. The Birth of Rhetoric: Gorgias, Plato and Their Successors. New York: Routledge, 1996.
  • Sprague, Rosamond Kent, The Older Sophists, Hackett Publishing Company(ISBN 0-87220-556-8).

External links