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Gorgias (in Greek Γοργἰας, circa 483-376 BC) Centuries: 6th century BC - 5th century BC - 4th century BC Decades: 530s BC 520s BC 510s BC 500s BC 490s BC - 480s BC - 470s BC 460s BC 450s BC 440s BC 430s BC Years: 488 BC 487 BC 486 BC 485 BC 484 BC - 483 BC - 482 BC 481 BC... Centuries: 5th century BC - 4th century BC - 3rd century BC Decades: 420s BC 410s BC 400s BC 390s BC 380s BC - 370s BC - 360s BC 350s BC 340s BC 330s BC 320s BC 381 BC 380 BC 379 BC - 378 BC - 377 BC - 376 BC - 375 BC 374 BC 373...

Contents


Introduction


Due to his ushering in of rhetorical innovations involving structure and ornamentation and his introduction of paradoxologia – the idea of paradoxical thought and paradoxical expression – Gorgias of Leontini has been labeled the ‘father of sophistry’ (Wardy 6). Gorgias is also known for contributing to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose. Sophism was originally a term for the techniques taught by a highly respected group of philosophy and rhetoric teachers in ancient Greece. ... Meanings for the term include: Attic (always capitalised) is an adjective for something or someone coming from Attica or Athens. ...


Gorgias’ surviving rhetorical works (Encomium of Helen, Defense of Palamedes, On Non-Existence, and Epitaphios) exist in the form of rhetorical exercises that were used to teach his pupils 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, Gorgias’ Epitaphios is thought to be only a small fragment of what used to be a significantly larger funeral oration, and On Non-Existence appears in summary form. 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 speech has a 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).


Much debate over both the nature and value of rhetoric begins with Gorgias. Plato’s dialogue entitled Gorgias presents a counter-argument to Gorgias’ embrace of rhetoric, its elegant form, and performative nature (Wardy 2). Statue of a philosopher, presumably Plato, in Delphi. ...


Biography


Gorgias originated from Leontini, a Greek colony in Sicily, and what is often called the home of Greek rhetoric. Very little is known of his life before he emigrated to Athens in 427 BCE as an ambassador to ask Athenian protection against the threat of Syracusan aggressors (Leitch, et al 29). It is known, however, that Gorgias had a father named Charmantides and two siblings – a brother named Herodicus and a sister who dedicated a statue to Gorgias in Delphi (McComiskey 6-7). Once in Athens, Gorgias’ impressive oratorical style was said to have brought many of the leading politicians and intellectuals under his influence (Wardy 6). Settling in Athens, Gorgias made an impressive living by practicing oratory and teaching rhetoric to students, including Pericles, Critias and Isocrates. He also spoke at Panhellenic festivals becoming well-known in Olympia and Delphi. His existing works include the Encomium of Helen, the Defense of Palamedes, On Non-Existence (or On Nature), and Epitaphios (McComiskey 32). Gorgias is reputed to have lived to be over one hundred years old. He died at Larissa in Thessaly in 376 BCE. Leontini (mod. ... Sicily (Sicilia in Italian) is an autonomous region of Italy and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, with an area of 25,700 sq. ... Jump to: navigation, search The Acropolis in central Athens, one of the most important landmarks in world history. ... The amphitheater, seen from above Delphi (Chech Δελφοί - Delphoi) is an archaeological site and a modern town in Greece. ... Nudle, British Museum, London Pericles (ca. ... Critias, 460-403 BC, was the uncle of Plato, leading member of the Thirty Tyrants, and one of the most violent. ... Isocrates (436–338 BC), Greek rhetorician. ... Olympia is an ancient city in Greece, in antiquity site of the Olympic Games. ... Larissa (Greek: Λάρισα, Lárisa) is the capital city of the Thessaly periphery of Greece, and capital of the Larissa Prefecture. ... Thessaly (Θεσσαλια; modern Greek Thessalía; see also List of traditional Greek place names) is one of the 13 peripheries of Greece, and is further sub-divided into 4 prefectures. ...


Rhetorical Works

Encomium of Helen

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 in his Rhetoric (forensic, deliberative, and epideictic), the Encomium can be classified as an epideictic speech, expressing praise for Helen of Troy and ridding her of the blame she faced for leaving Sparta with Paris (Wardy 26). Jump to: navigation, search Aristotle, marble copy of bronze by Lysippos. ... Helen was the wife of Menelaus and reputed to be the most beautiful woman in the world, and her abduction by Paris brought about the Trojan War. ...


Helen – the proverbial “Helen of Troy” – exemplified both sexual passion and tremendous beauty for the Greeks. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, the Queen of Sparta, and her beauty was the direct cause of the decade long Trojan War between Greece and Troy. The war began after the goddesses Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite 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. 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. Jump to: navigation, search Statue of Zeus Phidias created the 12-m (40-ft) tall statue of Zeus at Olympia about 435 BC. The statue was perhaps the most famous sculpture in ancient Greece, imagined here in a 16th-century engraving. ... The Trojan War was a war waged, according to legend, against the city of Troy in Asia Minor by the armies of the Achaeans, following the kidnapping (or elopement) of Helen of Sparta by Paris of Troy. ... Walls of the excavated city of Troy (Turkey) This article is about the city of Troy / Ilion as described in the works of Homer, and the location of an ancient city associated with it. ... In the Olympian pantheon of classical Greek Mythology, Hêra (Greek or ) was the wife and sister of Zeus. ... Jump to: navigation, search Athena from the east pediment of the Afea temple in Aegina After a sculpture of Athena at the Louvre. ... Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love and beauty. ... Menelaus (also transliterated as Meneláos), in Greek mythology, was a king of Sparta and son of Atreus and Aerope. ...


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 to 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 was 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 it was speech that 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 body with the effect of drugs.


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.


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 who, in Greek mythology, is credited with the invention of the alphabet, written laws, numbers, armor, and measures and weights (McComiskey 47). In Greek mythology, Palamedes was the son of Nauplius and Clymene. ... Jump to: navigation, search Greek mythology comprises the collected narratives of Greek gods, goddesses, heroes, and heroines, originally created and spread within an oral-poetic tradition. ...


In the speech Palamedes defends himself against the charge of treason. In Greek mythology, Odysseus – in order to avoid going to Troy with Agamemnon and Menelaus to bring Helen back to Sparta – pretended to have gone mad and began sowing the fields with salt. Palamedes got Odysseus to disclose this information by throwing his son Telemachus 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). Jump to: navigation, search Odysseus and the Sirens. ... The so-called Mask of Agamemnon. Discovered by Heinrich Schliemann in 1876 at Mycenae. ... Jump to: navigation, search Sparta (Greek Σπάρτη) was a city in ancient Greece, whose territory included, in Classical times, all Laconia and Messenia, and which was the most powerful state of the Peloponnesus. ... Telemachus and Mentor Telemachus departing from Nestor, painting by Henry Howard (1769–1847) Telemachus (also transliterated as Telemachos or Telémakhos; literally, far-away fighter) is a figure in Greek mythology, the son of Odysseus and Penelope. ...


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 them 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. For discussion of topoi in literary theory, see literary topos. ...


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).


On Non-Existence (or On Nature)

The original On Non-Existence was lost and today we only have two sketches of it. The first is preserved by the philosopher Sextus Empiricus in Against the Professors and the other by the anonymous author of De Melissus, Xenophane, Gorgia. Each work, however, excludes material that is discussed in the other, which suggests that each version may represent intermediary sources (Consigny 4). Gorgias’ On Non-Existence does not present a theory of rhetoric; rather it provides a general theory of the ways human beings encourage others to take action by means of logos (McComiskey 38). Sextus Empiricus (writing some time in the 2nd and 3rd centuries AD), was a physician and philosopher, and probably lived in Alexandria and Athens. ...


On Non-Existence is a philosophical discussion of existence, truth, knowledge and communication (Consigny 37), and it is here that Gorgias outlines his nihilistic and solipsistic philosophy of existence, whereby he makes a tripartite claim that appears as follows: 1) Nothing exists. 2) Even if something exists, it cannot be known. 3) If it could be known, it could not be communicated (Jarratt 53). But he does not completely deny the possibility of communication altogether; rather it is logos that is communicated to others (Jarratt 55), because those things that the human mind can know, believe, and communicate are merely mental representations created by logos. But the relationship between logos and reality presents a problem because logos, existing only within the realm of human speech and thought, is different from the reality it represents (Walker 27). The further implications of this argument are that, because human beings are only able to think about things and cannot think the actual things themselves, as soon as something real is identified by a human it no longer exists in reality (McComiskey 24). Gods death or nonexistence is a quintessential nihilistic concern. ...


With the aim of establishing a “technê of logos” and defending it as a justifiable item of study, Gorgias shows that realities impact the human soul less than had been thought by pre-Socratic theorists (McComiskey 35).


Epitaphios (or Athenian Funeral Oration)

This text is considered to be an important contribution to the genre of epitaphios. During the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, 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 fifth century propagandist rhetoric in imperial Athens and is the basis for Plato’s parody, Menexenus (Consigny 2). The Menexenus is a Socratic dialogue of Plato, traditionally included in the seventh tetralogy along with the Greater and Lesser Hippias and the Ion. ...


Critics


Plato 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 Plato distinguishes between philosophy and rhetoric, 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). Jump to: navigation, search Philosophy is a discipline or field of study involving the investigation, analysis, and development of ideas at a general, abstract, or fundamental level. ... Jump to: navigation, search Rhetoric (from Greek ρήτωρ, rhêtôr, orator) is one of the three original liberal arts or trivium (the other members are dialectic and grammar) in Western culture. ...


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, describes philosophy as a type of seduction, but he does not deny philosophy entirely, giving some respect to philosophers (Consigny 37). The Eleatics were a school of pre-Socratic philosophers at Elea, a Greek colony in Lucania, Italy. ... Parmenides of Elea (5th century BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the Southern coast of Italy. ...


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


Aristotle also criticizes Gorgias, labeling him as 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).


External link

  • Encomium on Helen (engl. translation)

This article incorporates text from the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, which is in the public domain. Supporters contend that the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica (1911) represents the sum of human knowledge at the beginning of the 20th century; indeed, it was advertised as such. ... The public domain comprises the body of all creative works and other knowledge—writing, artwork, music, science, inventions, and others—in which no person or organization has any proprietary interest. ...




This article is part of The Presocratic Philosophers series
Thales | Anaximander | Anaximenes of Miletus | Pythagoras | Philolaus | Archytas | Empedocles | Heraclitus | Parmenides | Zeno of Elea | Melissus of Samos | Xenophanes | Anaxagoras | Leucippus | Democritus | Protagoras | Gorgias | Prodicus | Hippias | Pherecydes

The Pre-Socratic philosophers were active before Socrates, who exerted tremendous influence on later thought. ... Jump to: navigation, search Thales (in Greek: Θαλης) of Miletus (ca. ... Anaximander (Greek: Αναξίμανδρος) (610 BC/609–c. ... Anaximenes (in Greek: Άναξιμένης) of Miletus (585 BC - 525 BC) was a Greek philosopher from the latter half of the 6th century, probably a younger contemporary of Anaximander, whose pupil or friend he is said to have been. ... Jump to: navigation, search This topic is considered a necessary subject on Wikipedia, and there is a high-priority on its being cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... Philolaus (circa 480 BC – circa 405 BC) was a Greek mathematician and philosopher. ... Archytas (428 BC - 347 BC), was a Greek philosopher, mathematician, astronomer, statesman, strategist and commander-in-chief. ... Empedocles of Agrigentum Empedocles (c. ... Heraclitus of Ephesus (Greek Herakleitos) (about 535 - 475 BC), known as The Obscure, was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher from Ephesus in Asia Minor. ... Parmenides of Elea (5th century BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher born in Elea, a Greek city on the Southern coast of Italy. ... Zeno of Elea should not be confused with Zeno of Citium. ... Melissus of Samos, Greek philosopher of the Eleatic School, was born probably not later than 470 BC. According to Diogenes Laërtius, ix. ... Xenophanes of Colophon (570 BC - 480 BC) was a Greek philosopher, poet, and social and religious critic. ... Jump to: navigation, search This article needs to be cleaned up to conform to a higher standard of quality. ... This article is about the philosopher. ... Bust of Democritus Democritus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher (born at Abdera in Thrace around 460 BC; died in 370 BC). ... Protagoras (in Greek Πρωταγόρας) was born around 481 BC in Abdera in Ancient Greece. ... Prodicus of Ceos (Πρόδικος Pródikos, born c. ... Hippias can also refer to a son of Pisistratus and a tyrant of Athens. ... Pherecydes of Syros (in Greek: Φερεχύδης) was a Greek thinker from the island of Siros, Magna Graecia of the 6th century BC. Pherecydes authored the Heptamychia, one of the first attested prose works in Greek literature, which formed an important bridge between mythic and pre-Socratic though. ...

References


Consigny, Scott. Gorgias: Sophist and Artist. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 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.


Jarratt, Susan C. Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 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.


Plato. Gorgias. Trans. Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press, 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.


  Results from FactBites:
 
Gorgias [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy] (2325 words)
Gorgias argues that Helen succumbed either to (a) physical force (Paris' abduction), (b) love (eros), or (c) verbal persuasion (logos), and in any instance, she cannot be blamed for her actions.
In the dialogue Gorgias, Plato (through his mentor Socrates) expresses his contempt for sophistical rhetoric; all rhetoric is "a phantom of a branch of statesmanship (463d)...a kind of flattery...that is contemptible," because its aim is simply pleasure rather than the welfare of the public.
Gorgias is portrayed as a man with an ambivalent attitude towards truth, a relativist, who boldly asserts that it does not matter if one truly has knowledge of any given subject, only that he is perceived by others to have knowledge, and that "[r]hetoric is the only area of expertise you need to learn.
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