485-380 BC

Gorgias was a 4th century BC Sicilian philosopher and rhetorician, known for his powers of persuasion. He was itinerant teacher who also performed publicly as an orator in major cities of Greece. He invited his audience to ask questions following his presentations, an unusual practice for his time.

Gorgias forwarded the use of Attic dialect as the preferred language of literary prose. As a sophist, he felt that it did not matter whether arguments were absurd or true, as long as they were well argued. He was known for defending absurd positions, for using parody and elaborate figures of speech, and for his theatrical presentations. He performed magical incantations which he felt would serve to heal the human psyche by controlling emotions. He attended to the poetic aspect of language, using rhyming and elaborate figures of speech, for example.

Georgias texts that have survived include: The encomium of Helen, On the negative, and the Defense of Palomides.

Plato, in his essay on Gorgias, comments on how Socrates opposed him because Gorgias failed to see the importance of truth.

Quotes from Plato’s essay on Gorgias (Plato, 1994):

The power of discourse stands in the same relation to the soul's organization as the pharmacopoeia does to the physiology of bodies. For just as different drugs draw off different humors from the body, and some put an end to disease and others to life, so too of discourses: some give pain, others delight, others terrify, others rouse the hearers to courage, and yet others by a certain vile persuasion drug and trick the soul.

Some who have seen dreadful things have lost their presence of mind in the present time; thus fear extinguishes and drives out understanding. And many fall into useless troubles and terrible diseases and incurable dementias; thus sight engraves in the mind images of things seen. And the frightening ones, many of them, remain; and those that remain are just like things said.

Writings about Gorgias


Consigny, Scott (2001). 'Gorgias: Sophist and artist. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Gorgias. Encomium of Helen. In Vincent B. Leitch, et al. (eds.) (2001) 'The Norton anthology of theory and criticism. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 30-33.

Jarratt, Susan C. (1991) Rereading the sophists: Classical rhetoric refigured. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Leitch, Vincent B., et al, (eds.) The Norton anthology of theory and criticism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2001.

McComiskey, Bruce (2001). Gorgias and the new sophistic rhetoric. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2001.

Plato. Gorgias (1994). Trans. Robin Waterfield. Oxford University Press.

Sprague, Rosamond Kent (2001). The older sophists. Hackett Publishing Company.

Walker, Jeffrey (2000). Rhetoric and poetics in antiquity. New York: Oxford University Press.

Wardy, Robert (1996). The birth of rhetoric: Gorgias, Plato and their successors. New York: Routledge.