GORGIAS (/ˈɡɔːrdʒiəs/ ; Greek : Γοργίας Ancient Greek:
; c. 485 – c. 380 BC ) was a Greek sophist , Siceliote ,
pre-Socratic philosopher and rhetorician who was a native of Leontini
His chief claim to recognition is that he transplanted rhetoric from
* 1 Life * 2 Nihilism * 3 Rhetorical innovation * 4 On the Non-Existent
* 5 Rhetorical works
* 5.1 Encomium of Helen * 5.2 Defense of Palamedes * 5.3 Epitaphios (or the Athenian funeral oration)
* 6 Critics * 7 See also * 8 References
* 9 Sources
* 9.1 Primary sources * 9.2 Secondary sources
* 10 External links
Gorgias originated from
Leontini , a Greek colony in
He was already about sixty when in 427 BC 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 . 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
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
Gorgias has been labelled "The Nihilist" because some scholars have interpreted his thesis on "the non-existent" to be an argument against the existence of anything that is straightforwardly endorsed by Gorgias himself. Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated. It is associated with pessimism and a radical skepticism that condemns existence.
Gorgias presented his nihilist arguments in On Non-Existence; however, the original text is no longer extant. We only know his arguments through commentary by Sextus Empiricus and Pseudo-Aristotle ’s De Melisso, Xenophane, Gorgia. Ostensibly Gorgias developed three sequential arguments: first, that nothing exists; second, that even if existence exists, it is inapprehensible to humans; and third, that even if existence is apprehensible, it certainly cannot be communicated or interpreted to one’s neighbors.
That being said, there is consensus in late 20th century and early 21st century scholarship that the label 'nihilist' is misleading, in part because if his argument were genuinely meant to support nihilism it would be self-undermining. The argument, of course, is itself something, and has pretensions to communicate knowledge, in conflict with its explicit pronouncement that there is nothing and that it can't be known or communicated. Gisela Striker argues: "I find it hard to believe that anyone should ever have thought that Gorgias seriously advocated the view that nothing is and that he was, therefore, a 'nihilist.' Similarly Caston states: " Gorgias would have to be not merely disconsolate, but quite dull-witted, to have missed the conflict between his presentation and its content" Finally, Wardy says, "This sadly mistaken reading overlooks the most obvious consequence of Gorgias' paradoxologia (παραδοξολογία): his message refutes itself, and in consequence, so far from constituting a theory of logos, it confronts us with a picture of what language cannot be, with what it cannot be assumed to aspire to be." Gigon and Newiger make similar points.
Gorgias ushered in rhetorical innovations involving structure and ornamentation, and the introduced 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 Greek dialect as the language of literary prose. Gorgias was the first orator known to develop and teach a "distinctive style of speaking" (Matsen, Rollinson and Sousa, 33).
Gorgias’ extant rhetorical works—
Encomium of Helen (Ἑλένης
ἐγκώμιον), Defense of Palamedes (Ὑπέρ
Παλαμήδους ἀπολογία), On Non-Existence (Περὶ
τοῦ μὴ ὄντος ἢ Περὶ φύσεως), and Epitaphios
(Επιτάφιος) —come to us via a work entitled Technai
(Τέχναι), 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 (technē ) 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
Gorgias’ writings are intended to be both rhetorical (persuasive) 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). The Encomium "argues for the totalizing power of language."
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).
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 the same as virtue in a statesman. His believed that rhetoric, the art of persuasion, was the king of all sciences, since he saw it as a techné with which one could persuade an audience toward 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
ON THE NON-EXISTENT
Gorgias is the author of a lost work : On Nature or the Non-Existent (also On Non-Existence). 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 in Against the Professors and the other by the anonymous author of On Melissus, Xenophanes, and Gorgias . 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:
* Nothing exists; * Even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and * Even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can't be communicated to others. * Even if it can be communicated, it cannot be understood.
The argument has largely been seen as an ironic refutation of
"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 (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
Encomium of Helen is considered to be a good example of
epideictic 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
Helen – the proverbial "Helen of Troy" – exemplified both sexual
passion and tremendous beauty for the Greeks. She was the daughter of
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 ), the joining of contrasting ideas (antithesis ), 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 of the "rhetorical craft itself, and a demonstration of its power over us," (Gumpert, 73). According to Van Hook, The Encomium of Helen abounds in "amplification and brevity, a rhythm making prose akin to poetry, bold metaphors and poetic or unusual epithets" (122).
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
In the speech Palamedes defends himself against the charge of
treason. In Greek mythology,
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
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 THE 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 (Consigny 2).
Gorgias, whose On Non-Existence is taken to be critical of the
Eleatic tradition and its founder
* ^ "Gorgias" entry in
Collins English Dictionary
* 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.
* Plato. Gorgias. Trans. Robin Waterfield.
Oxford University Press
* Consigny, Scott. Gorgias: Sophist and Artist. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press , 2001. * Gumpert, Matthew. Grafting Helen: the Abduction of the Classical Past. Wisconsin: University of Wisconsin Press, 2001. * 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 ;background:none transparent;border:none;-moz-box-shadow:none;-webkit-box-shadow:none;box-shadow:none;">v
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