Gorgias/Gorgias List of Abstracts

Updated September 10, 2021

Livio Rossetti (invited speaker)

The Very Recent Rediscovery of Gorgias / La Recentissima Riscoverta di Gorgia

It is impressive to note that the work of Gorgias was and remained a sort of unfathomable mystery until around 1980. The circumstance is indeed incredible, but it is a bare fact. In the period beforehand we should certainly acknowledge the generous contribution of Mario Untersteiner (1954) as a laudable attempt to tear through the “veil of Maya” that concealed Gorgias’ ideas. It was not he, however, who lifted the veil. Not surprisingly, in 1981, George Kerferd dared to declare, with commendable intellectual honesty, that “The interpretation of what Gorgias is saying is difficult, and we are certainly not yet even in sight of an agreed understanding of its overall significance, let alone its detailed arguments” (1981, 93). And it was true, except that the first fissures in this veil of Maya would appear shortly thereafter, starting with his Palamedes. An article by Long in 1984, one by Tordesillas in 1990 and a more ‘humble’ dissertation by Francesconi (1990) paved the way to identify Gorgias’ genial claim that “I would not have been able to betray Greeks even if I had the intention to do so,” arguing in detail for this impossibility, and then arguing immediately afterward that “I could not have wanted to betray them even if I had had the opportunity to do so”. This way, a dizzying logos amarturos (a plea non supported by eyewitnesses), where reasons capable of convincing despite the supposed absence of any proof were given, surfaces and attains indeed a truly argumentative vertigo. Already with this passage, the traditional contrast between Gorgias the consummate rhetorician (of whom Calboli spoke as late as 1986) and Gorgias the philosopher, on which Kerferd, in particular, insisted, was on the verge of dissolution once scholars were able to focus not on how sophisticated sentences were structured but on how comprehensive and complex arguments were mounted. Since then, Gorgias scholarship has experienced spectacular advances, culminating in recent speculation about the role played by him (with his Peri tou mē ontos) in revealing a seriously distorted image of Parmenides’ teaching.

È impressionante constatare che l’opera di Gorgia ha costituito ed è rimasto una sorta di mistero insondabile fin verso il 1980. La circostanza ha anzi dell’incredibile, eppure, per il periodo anteriore si può certo ricordare il generoso contributo di Mario Untersteiner (1954) come un lodevole tentativo di squarciare il ‘velo di Maya’ che occultava quelle proposte culturali. Ma non fu lui a sollevare il velo. Non a caso, proprio nel 1981, George Kerferd accettò di dichiarare, con encomiabile onestà intellettuale, che “The interpretation of what Gorgias is saying is difficult, and we are certainly not yet even i sight of a an agreed understanding of its overall significance, let alone its detailed arguments” (1981, 93). Ed era vero, solo che i primi cedimenti del velo di Maya ebbero luogo poco dopo, incominciando dal Palamede. Un articolo di Long del 1984, uno di Tordesillas del 1990 e una più ‘umile’ tesi di laurea di Francesconi (1990) hanno permesso di mettere a fuoco l’idea geniale consistente nell’addurre che “non sarei stato in grado di tradire i greci quand’anche avessi avuto l’intenzione di farlo” argomentando in dettaglio tale impossibilità e, subito dopo, nell’argomentare che “non posso aver voluto tradire quand’anche avessi avuto la possibilità di farlo”, fino a costruire un logos amarturos vertiginoso nella costruzione di ragionamenti in grado di passare per convincenti malgrado, appunto, la vertigine costituita dalla supposta assenza di qualsiasi prova. Già con questo passaggio, la contrapposizione tra il Gorgia retore consumato su cui si era fra l’altro esercitato il Calboli (1986) e il Gorgia filosofo su cui insistette in modo particolare Kerferd, fu sul punto di saltare perché non si parla più di costruzione della frase (il gorgiazein) ma di ideazione di un edificio argomentativo, anzi di più edifici. Dopodiché la storia degli studi ha conosciuto avanzamenti piuttosto spettacolari, culminati nelle recenti congetture concernenti il ruolo svolto proprio da Gorgia (con il Peri tou mē ontos) nell’accreditare un’immagine seriamente distorta dell’insegnamento di Parmenide.

Amin Ebrahimi Afrouzi

Gorgias’ Rhetoric and Rhetoric of the Gorgias

Plato’s Gorgias is often read as a war against Gorgias’ craft or rhetoric. In this paper, I will argue that instead, Plato’s dialogue appropriates rhetoric against “Gorgias,” the character named after Gorgias. This happens by a reversal of presuppositions and argumentative strategies of the dialogue’s characters. Although as characters, “Socrates” propounds philosophy and “Gorgias” rhetoric, paradoxically, the former adopts a rhetorical view (one resembling that of the real Gorgias) and the latter a Socratic one (one that resembles the view the character “Socrates” often takes in other dialogues). The argument between the two characters—hence, between philosophy and rhetoric—of course does not come to a decisive resolution. This results in a surprising plot twist: if we pick “Socrates”—hence philosophy—as the winner, we will observe that he defeats “Gorgias” by rhetorical talking points. It turns out therefore that we should perhaps take rhetoric as the true winner. If, however, we pick “Gorgias”—hence rhetoric—as the winner, he defeats “Socrates” by Socratic talking points. Then it turns out that we should perhaps take philosophy as the true winner. The culmination of a high-stake argument into this sort of paradox, which suggests that neither answer is truer than the other, is moreover a prime example of rhetoric, at least in Plato’s textbook. This too may be simply an intentional parody of Gorgias. Alternatively, it could signal that for Plato, the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric is subtler than a good-bad dichotomy.

Robert J. Barnes

Gorgias on Speech and the Soul

I shall argue that Gorgias’s account of speech in the Encomium of Helen is a reaction to Presocratic theories of language. Unlike his predecessors, who betray a strong interest in referential theories of language, Gorgias offers an image of how speech might function non-referentially by moving the mind of the listener directly. His picture of λόγος blends together contemporary discourse concerning materialistic theories of nature and human anatomy with the traditional language of spells and magical enchantment which goes back at least to Homer. Gorgias is able to go beyond the Presocratic notions of linguistic reference and to bind together the old notions of magic with the new waves of scientific discourse by utilizing the concept of ψυχή which, in Gorgias’s time, was increasingly regarded as the primary locus not only of life but also both sensation and cognition. In this paper, I begin by showing that Gorgias’s account of non-referential speech in the Helen is anticipated in his On Not Being. There, he argues for the impossibility of human communication by reducing the Eleatic referential theory of language ad absurdum. As he claims, speech cannot possibly refer to anything other than itself because it is neither visible nor audible (sic) nor anything like the things to which it refers. In an important passage (Sext. Emp. Math. 7.85-6), Gorgias seems to acknowledge that if communication were in fact possible, speech would have to be perceived by an organ quite different from the sense organs – one which perceives speech and not just sights and sounds. Thus, the missing ingredient of earlier language theories is ψυχή which, in Gorgias’s Helen, is shown to be capable of receiving not only sights and sounds, but, crucially, the invisible current of speech as well.

Sofia Carreno Camacho

Self-persuasion in the Gorgias

Throughout this paper I will address the role of self-persuasion in Plato’s Gorgias. For this purpose, I will understand self-persuasion as both the act of becoming persuaded by one’s own means and the state of being persuaded as a result from the self-persuasive act.  I will first outline the conception of Ancient, and specifically Socratic, philosophy as a way of life and spiritual exercise as proposed by Pierre Hadot. This conception will lead me to discuss the extent to which self-persuasion is at play in the elenchus carried out in the Gorgias as understood by Hadot. The main passage to be discussed is the claim in 506d that all things, including the soul, have a condition of being arranged by an order and a well-organized soul is moderate and, therefore, good. This passage will allow me to conclude that, given the orderly nature of soul, each individual has in herself the potential of the virtuous actions that directly result from the elenctic maxims, and the elenchus only serves as a means for examinees to exploit this potential via the knowledge of themselves, for nothing can become an elenctic maxim without coming from the examinee’s own soul. Along with this claim, I will hold the passages 474a 500a, and 501d-505c to be evidence that through the elenchus a sincere commitment on the part of the examinee to abide to the elenctic moral maxims is reached. These two conclusions will finally allow a characterization of the Socratic mode of persuasion which will be contrasted with Gorgias’ own mode of persuasion characterized at the beginning of the dialogue.

Federico Casella

Speaking with Images: The Rhetoric of Metaphors and Similes in Empedocles and Gorgias

In order to expose his theories, Empedocles borrowed various terms both from Homeric poems (known to all Greeks) and from everyday (especially ‘rural’) life, creating numerous metaphors and similes (DK31B2; 23; 46; 66; 79; 84; 100; 126). Consequently, these images were very clear, but they had also the effect of astonishing the public due to their oracular tones: indeed, they unveiled many cosmic laws, before then totally unknown. I argue that Empedocles followed a precise strategy: his particular metaphors were meant to better capture the attention of his public, easily explain certain theories, and support his claim to be an infallible sage, capable of revealing divine knowledge, albeit with ‘mortal’ words (DK31B9). Another Sicilian ‘intellectual’, Gorgias, made use of numerous metaphors and similes (e.g. DK82B5a; 8; 11.8,14; 11a.1,4,6,15; 16). As is well known, he theorized the ‘power of words’: they can force people to behave even against their own will (DK82B11.8-14). In addition, sight is capable of influencing one’s judgment (DK82B11.15-19). Therefore, he was aware that his orations could easily sway his audience thanks also to his visual metaphors, which embody such ‘power’ and ‘influence’: he could thus efficiently persuade other people and, as a result, praise himself as a perfect rhetorician. In my opinion, a possible debt towards Empedocles can be recognized: indeed, according to some testimonies Gorgias listened to many of Empedocles’ speeches (or he was even his pupil). Finally, in the light of the importance of visual metaphors for Gorgias (and Empedocles), I will analyze one of the possible reasons why in the Sophist Plato considered knowledge possessed by rhetoricians and Sophists eidola and mimemata (visual “replications” – Sph. 234b5-c7) and in the Gorgias an eidolon of politics (a mere “image” – Grg. 463d1): it is knowledge of appearances, representations, images above all because it largely employs metaphors and similes (with sensible beings) – not science of ideas – as a means to argue.

Stamatia Dova

Aggressive Contrafactuals in Gorgias’ Defense of Palamedes

The purpose of this paper is to examine the argument from implausibility as it is constructed through conditional sentences and especially contrary-to-fact conditions in Gorgias’ Defense of Palamedes (D 25). Through close readings of all relevant passages, this analysis intends to illustrate how Gorgias has the defendant employ a series of powerful hypotheses in order to destabilize his accuser’s argument. By establishing a conjectural reality, in which Odysseus prosecutes him with the honorable intention of protecting Hellas from treason (3), Palamedes embarks on a masterful attack against the case for the prosecution. This attack is carried out by a second present contrary-to-fact condition, according to which Odysseus acts out of mere maliciousness, thereby seriously compromising his credibility. The two opening contrafactuals introduce the binary kratistoskakistos, “most excellent”-“most wicked,” as a set of possible characterizations for Odysseus and are followed by two past contrary-to-fact conditions (5), which serve as the basis for Palamedes’ argument from inability. By demonstrating that he had neither the will nor the power to commit treason, the defendant aims to bring forth the disposition of the case through additional simple (21) and mixed conditions (26). All of these conditional sentences expose the self-contradictory nature of Odysseus’ accusations, thus pronouncing him a liar. Fully aligned with Odysseus’ reputation in post-Homeric epic traditions, this conclusion casts Palamedes as the victim of injustice caused by manipulative rhetoric, a depiction also adopted in Plato’s Apology of Socrates (41b2). Yet Gorgias’ Palamedes proves as shrewd as his accuser in respect to forensic oratory, leaving us to imagine what would have happened, if he were as innocent as he claims to be.

Jurgen Gatt

Moral Outrage in Palamedes and 5th Century  Rhetoric

In his defence speech, Palamedes confesses to being struck by ekplexis at Odysseus’ speech (Gorg. Pal. 4). This term has often been interpreted as the psychological effect of deceptive speech which, in his Helen, appears tied to the Gorgianic doctrine of persuasion. Another interpretation, however, is afforded to us by similar confessions in a number of near-contemporary texts. In Antiphon’s first speech, then, the prosecutor also confesses amazement (Antiph. 1.5) at his half-brother’s behaviour – namely his defence of his mother – and, in particular, his atypical ‘definition’ of piety. In the Hippocratictreatise On the Sacred Disease, the author compares his opponent’s practices to overtly miraculous ‘spells’ (Hippocr. Sac. Dis. 4 [Jones]) – such as bringing down the moon – and, once again, takes issue with his opponents’ conception of piety and the divine. Lastly, in Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates also appears to be dumbstruck when he learns that a son is taking his own father to court for murder (Pl. Euthyphr. 4a11). Moreover, Socrates takes this opportunity to embark on an elenchus focusing on the definition of ‘piety’ on the assumption that Euthyphro atypical actions implies must know what piety truly is. In each of these cases, then, moral outrage is provoked not so much by speech, but by a ‘litigant’s’ behaviour: namely their audacity at prosecuting or defending some person or divinity in a way contrary to convention. Furthermore, in each case the litigant’s actions are interpreted as a pretence to knowing more than one actually knows, and as a sign of a fundamental error with respect to some important moral concept, most notably piety. The clear confluence of these texts shows that expressing moral indignation at one’s opponent’s legal actions was a standard trope in 5th century rhetoric. It also connects further Gorgias to the 5th century rationalistic analysis of human behaviour which also underpins the Socratic Nemo Sponte Peccat.

Tushar Irani

Gorgias and Plato on the Possibility of Democratic Rhetoric

According to an inscription found on an early fourth-century statue base at Olympia, “no one of mortals before discovered a finer art (τέχνην) than Gorgias to exercise the soul in contests of virtue.” The reference of course is to the art of rhetoric: an art subjected to withering criticism in Plato’s Gorgias. Famously, Plato has Socrates argue in this dialogue that rhetoric is no art at all (462b–c). But that is during his exchange with Polus. In his discussion with Gorgias, Socrates explores the potential value of this art: what good does it do? And in response to this question, interestingly, Plato has Gorgias provide two answers: “It [rhetoric] is [1] the cause of freedom (ἐλευθερίας) for humankind itself (αὐτοῖς τοῖς ἀνθρώποις) and at the same time (ἅμα) it is [2] for each person (ἑκάστῳ) the cause of rule over others (ἄλλων ἄρχειν) in one’s own city” (452d). For the rest of his exchange with Socrates, Gorgias promotes the second of these two goods: the ability that rhetoric provides an individual to exercise power over others (ἄλλων ἄρχειν). And as the dialogue continues, this is the same good that Polus and then Callicles have in mind as they, too, seek to advocate the life of rhetoric. However, the first part of Gorgias’ answer at 452d – that rhetoric is productive of a certain freedom (ἐλευθερία) for human beings – falls by the wayside. In this paper, through an examination of Gorgias’ and Plato’s writings on this topic, particularly the Encomium of Helen and the Gorgias, I’ll argue that while the prospect does not appear to have held much interest for Gorgias historically, Plato in various dialogues seems to hold out the possibility of a democratic rhetoric that serves the public good by advancing a form of civic freedom.

Yosef Z. (Yossie) Liebersohn

Gorgias the Sophist and the Birth of Rhetoric

Renewed interest in ancient rhetoric and its sources has produced many arguments over the origins of rhetoric in which the Gorgias plays a major part; the present paper, by offering a new insight into the nature of the conversation between Socrates and Gorgias, suggests a new approach to the whole debate. The present account suggests placing Gorgias and his fellow teachers of rhetoric at an intermediate stage between de facto and de iure. These teachers considered themselves to be engaged in politics, and the term rhētorikē did not yet denote for them a fully independent field. It was, however, their own teaching of the subject that would soon lead to a new art. It is Socrates’ anachronistic task in the Gorgias, written after the process had gone a long way, to attempt to draw his interlocutors’ attention to this process which at the time was still under way, and to hint at the dangers in this process. 

Ethan Meanor

Gorgias and Nietzsche on Non-Being

In this study I argue that Nietzsche’s rejection of the concept of being has an important precursor in the thought of Gorgias of Leontini (c. 483-375 B.C.), particularly as expressed in the latter’s lost work On Non-Being or On Nature. Despite the striking similarities between many of their arguments, almost no scholarly attention has been paid to the affinity between Nietzsche and Gorgias. I show not only that they both reject the concept of being as incoherent, but that they further deny the capacity of concepts to adequately represent reality. I go on to consider the different ways in which Gorgias and Nietzsche respond to these conclusions: the former by renouncing philosophy because it can never arrive at the truth about being, the latter by attempting to conceive of philosophy as aiming not at the attainment of such a truth, but at the most comprehensive interpretation of reality that is possible within the limits of human thought. Based on these considerations, I advance the surprising conclusion that Gorgias would find himself quite at home in the context of modern, post-Kantian philosophy; and, on the other hand, that many of Nietzsche’s ideas that are considered quintessentially modern, or even “post-modern,” had already been articulated by Gorgias more than two millennia ago. This, I believe, should motivate us to question a number of common assumptions about the historical development of philosophy.

Mark Morelli

Plato’s Gorgias: Exposing the Spiritual Corruption of a Respectable Man

Plato’s Gorgias has puzzled commentators for a variety of reasons: the early disappearance of Gorgias after whom the dialogue is named and the dominant role of the aspiring politician Callicles; the eventual abandonment of the discussion of rhetoric with which the dialogue begins and its replacement by a discussion of human nature and the best life; the increasing volatility of the interlocutors; the radical final opposition which apparently cannot be bridged by rational argument; the absence of evidence of Callicles’ existence; and thedialogue’s unique structure – three conversations with three apparently quite different interlocutors. E. R. Dodds speculated that Socrates’ interlocutors, despite their apparent differences, represent one force, are spiritually akin, that each subsequent interlocutor is the “spiritual heir” of the preceding one, and that the dialogue progresses from the superficial to the fundamental. I shall propose that the three interlocutors are layers of the one personality, Gorgias, after whom the dialogue is therefore appropriately named, and that Plato is peeling away its layers, as one peels an onion, moving inward and ever deeper to reveal its corrupted spiritual core. Instead of regarding Polus and Callicles as “spiritual heirs” of Gorgias, it may be better to think of Gorgias and Polus as “spiritual descendants” of Callicles. On this view, Plato’s Gorgias exposes gradually the fundamentally aberrant core of Gorgias who, blissfully ignorant of his own corruption, stands in radical opposition to the Socratic personality and is also obliviously complicit in Socrates’ execution. Perhaps we find no historical traces of Callicles, not because he died young, a victim of his violent temperament, as some speculate, but because he’s actually a personification of the darkest depths of the historical Gorgias. On this view, then, as Olympiodorus implied in his commentary on the dialogue, Gorgias is, as it were, a puppet animated by the disordered soul of Callicles.

Allison Murphy

Two Ideals in Plato’s Gorgias

Callicles opens the final part of Plato’s Gorgias by delivering two speeches that seem to present different views of the good life. His initial “political” speech (482c-486c) praises those strong enough to break through the legal and social constraints that keep them from exercising their pleonexia. Provoked by Socrates’ questions, Callicles launches a second speech (491e-492c) that is ostensibly a clarification of the first but in fact shifts the focus to the maximal satisfaction of personal appetites. Plato’s apparent reduction of the tyrant to the hedonist has, not unreasonably, struck some as crude. Against the reductionist reading, I argue, first, that behind both of Callicles’ speeches is the same view of the idealized human life. According to this view, the perfectly good life is free of all limits, whether those be societal constraints or the demands of internal discipline. Second, I consider Socrates’s response, which deploys potent images, including that of a leaky jar, to capture the restless, insatiable, and generally amorphous nature of a life without limitations. I show that by urging Callicles to “choose the orderly life adequately supplied and satisfied with whatever it has at any time” (493c, Irwin), Socrates gestures at an ideal of ordered stability that stands in opposition to the ideal of constant, indistinguishable motions favored by Callicles. Finally, I consider how these two ideals structure the respective possibilities and limitations of the life of rhetoric and the life of philosophy.

Ewa Osek

Like the Danaids: the Sicilian or Italian Story in Plato’s Gorgias

Plato in the Gorgias (492e–494a), after introducing the two-line quotation from Euripides’ Phrixus (TrGF 833), proceeded to the story on two wine-jars, pithoi: the one leaking like the Danaids’ sieve and the other sound and full, and next he tried to interpret the story in the same allegorical vein as a Sicilian or Italian clever man whom he heard somewhere in the Magna Graecia. The subject of my paper will be tracing the Neoplatonic re-interpretation of the Platonic wine-jars. The related passages are found in Porphyry (De antro nympharum. 30, cf. De abstinentia 3.27.9), Iamblichus (Protrepticus 17), Olympiodorus (In Platonis Gorgiam commentaria 29-30), Michael Psellus (Opusc. 45, in Philosophica minora 1: 163-64), and the Platonic scholia (Greene 1938, 155-56). I will analyze them to show how the Neoplatonists reworked the Platonic story on the pithoi. As concerns the Sicilian clever man mentioned by Plato in the Gorgias (493a), the Neoplatonists commonly saw in him an Empedocles-like Pythagorean, whereas the modern scholarship links his teachings to the Orphic mysteries in Italy (Orphicorum fragmenta, OF 434ii and OF 668).

Anik Stanbury

The Role of στοχαστική in Plato’s Gorgias and in the Writings of Gorgias of Leontini

Socrates’ definition of rhetoric in Plato’s Gorgias includes a description of the rhetor as “ψυχῆς δὲ στοχαστικῆς”/“a soul skilled at guessing.” (463a) Within the context of dialectic, this is an aspersion, since guessing what the other person thinks is counter-productive to establishing mutual understanding.  Socrates repeatedly criticizes his partners in the dialogue for assuming they know what he thinks. This very criticism, however, highlights the need for ‘guessing’ in rhetoric, whether in speech or writing: rhetoricians, since they aim to communicate with groups and not single individuals, must address their audience without being able to ask each individual about their beliefs. Instead, the rhetor must come prepared with an ability to gauge the audience without direct and individual interaction—the rhetor must guess what the audience as a group will find plausibly true and desirable and use these as the foundation for a persuasive argument. This is certainly a special skill, and pragmatically a necessary one for the smooth functioning of any state, especially a democratic state which depends on common agreement.  Interestingly, however, the fragments of Gorgias’ works show that sometimes Gorgias circumvented the need for guessing by using logically exhaustive categorizations. In his Encomium of Helen Gorgias divides the reasons one might criticize Helen into logically exhaustive categories and addresses each possibility rather than guessing which reason his audience might find most compelling.  On the other hand, this logical approach is itself an assumption about the tastes and ideas of his audience:  ancient Greek audiences, it seems, were responsive to clever uses of logic as demonstrated in works such as On Nature. This essay explores the ways in which Gorgias’ writings subtlety engage with the process of guessing and then tentatively address the question of the fairness of Socrates’ description as applied to Gorgias’ rhetoric.

Rory O’Sullivan

Gorgias the Teacher

This paper compares Gorgias with Thucydides, whom, according to a consensus of ancient biographers and modern scholars, he influenced. It argues that Thucydides’s deepest debt to Gorgias is not stylistic but metaphysical: Thucydides shared Gorgias’s concept of (non-)Being as an ineffable, unknowable entity beyond the reach of logos. Logos, for both, is an innate human faculty of making sense of a senseless world. It begins with a discussion that compares the speeches of Nikias at the end of Book 7 of the History to the meta-rhetoric of the Encomium of Helen, moving to a more general discussion that addresses scholarly works such as Rossetti 2008, Pratt 2015, and Borchers 2016 in the case of Gorgias; Stahl 1966, Greenwood 2006 and Ponchon 2017 for Thucydides. Not only does this comparison illuminate the thought of both Gorgias and Thucydides, but in how it conceives their literary projects it points towards an alternative answer to Socrates’s question of what Gorgias taught. ‘Teacher,’ a word in Thucydides’s famous phrase that war is a Bíaios Didáskalos (3.82.2), need not only imply what Paulo Freire (1968) has called the ‘banking’ model of education, where the teacher passes knowledge to the student, but can suggest an intervention from the outside by which the teacher causes the student to become conscious of the conditions of their existence. Gorgias’s words are meant to strike the audience, like light shaken from metal, stunning them so that they cannot see reason; but, blind, they can see how reason is not made of reality.  

Enrico Piergiacomi

Gorgias’ Laughter. An Anti-Eleatic Strategy?

One of Gorgias’ teaching consists in the advice to win a rhetorical rivalry through antilogy. If the rival performs a serious discourse, it will be necessary to oppose a ridiculous answer. By converse, if he delivers a ridiculous speech, it is mandatory to oppose a serious one (82 B 19 DK = Aristotle, Rhetoric III 1419b: τὴν μὲν σπουδὴν διαφθείρειν τῶν ἐναντίων γέλωτι, τὸν δὲ γέλωτα σπουδῆι). This fragment has not yet attracted the full scholarly attention that it deserves. The goal of this paper consists in filling this gap and to understand not only its rhetorical use, but also its philosophical meaning. In particular, I would like to address two problems. On the one hand, what do the terms “seriousness” and “ridiculousness” actually indicate? Are they two references to style, or to content? My claim is that Gorgias may imply both. A ridiculous answer could be directed both against a rival who speaks of a serious topic, or in a serious fashion, and vice-versa. If the above point is convincing, the second problem consists in finding one or more Gorgias’ texts that could provide an example of this rhetorical strategy. My hypothesis is that one of the latter may be identified with the famous speech against Eleatism: the Περὶ τοῦ μὴ ὄντος ἢ Περὶ φύσεως (82 B 3 DK). Eleatic ontology may be a serious discourse that Gorgias wants to confute through laughter, more precisely with a discourse that is intentionally ridiculous and paradoxical, since it wants to demonstrate the absurd/comic thesis that nothing exist, nothing is known and nothing can be communicated. In this sense, rhetorical laughter may display a philosophical spirit. Gorgias laughs against the seriousness of Parmenides, in order to remove rationality and “aura” from it.

André Rehbinder

The bodily nature of logos in Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen

The famous definition of logos as a “powerful master”, δυνάστης μέγας, in the Encomium of Helen (§ 8) is followed by a relative sentence, where logos is presented as a “body:

ὁς σμικροτάτῳ σώματι καὶ ἀφανεστάτῳ θειότατα ἔργα ἀποτελεῖ (ibid.)

which, by the smallest and the most invisible body realizes the most divine actions.

This description of logos as a body doesn’t seem to be accidental: it can be linked to two other passages of the discourse. First, it echoes the evocation of the power of Helen’s beauty, which is described too as a relation between bodies:

ἑνὶ δὲ σώματι πολλὰ σώματα συνήγαγεν ἀνδρῶν (§ 4)

by a single body she assembled many bodies of men.

Second, it is coherent with the comparison of the action of logos to the action of drugs in the § 14. The purpose of my paper will be to scrutinize the implications of this association of logos with a body: on the one hand, it shows the importance that Gorgias gives to the stuff of language, which becomes an independent way of persuasion. On the second hand, the sophist seems to operate a reification of logos, against its vision as a mere intellectual or spiritual reality. I will try to relate this vision of logos to Gorgias’ psychology, and in particular to the definition of δόξα as an element independent of ψύχη and able to influence it. Finally, I will try to show the links of this vision with physical texts of presocratic philosophers.

Francois Renaud

From Poetry to Prose: Gorgias’ Defense of Rhetoric

Gorgias was one of the first theoreticians of artistic prose, in a period of Ancient Greece when poetry was far more prestigious. His theory of prose, usually neglected in studies of his theory of language, exerted a notable influence on Plato, Aristotle, and the rhetorical tradition. In the Encomium of Helen (§ 9), Gorgias characterizes all poetry as speech with metre (τὴν ποίησιν ἅπασαν καὶ νομίζω καὶ ὀνομάζω λόγον ἔχοντα μέτρον), and he implicitly argues that the emotional power of rhetorical speech on the soul (fear, pity, longing, etc.) is equal to that of poetic speech. What is exactly the relationship between μέτρον and ποίησις? Is meter a mere external ornament? If it is, can the underlying conception of speech (λόγος) do full justice to poetry’s specificity? Wherein lies the originality of Gorgias’ theory with respect to his predecessors and contemporaries, and why is this distinction, or more exactly rapprochement, between poetry and prose of historical and philosophical importance? I will consider the Sicilian context, especially Empedocles, the teacher of Gorgias, as well as the key positions, often contradictory, in Gorgias scholarship since the 19th century. I will first demonstrate that Gorgias’ definition of poetry includes not only tragedy, but also epic, notably Homer. I will then show that the defence of rhetoric implies a rivalry between prose and poetry, more specifically that the transfer of poetry’s means to oratory blurs the boundaries between poetry and prose, thereby leading to poetry’s demotion. To this end it will be useful to consider the reception of these decisive aspects of the Gorgianic theory in Plato’s Gorgias, Aristotle’s Poetics, and the rhetoric tradition, especially as concerns the relationship between sound and meaning, between means and purpose, in speech.

Ed Schiappa

Dating the origins of the word rhêtorikê: The latest debate and whether it matters

In 1990, an article titled “Did Plato Coin Rhêtorikê?” that made two claims. First: Plato’s Gorgias (from ca 387 BCE) is the earliest surviving instance of the word in Greek literature. Second: Plato is the likeliest suspect for having coined the word, given his documented penchant for coining similar words about verbal arts, including dialektikê, eristikê, and antilogikê.  A third claim, developed in subsequent articles, is that the dating of the word’s origin matters for reasons I shall revisit anon. There have been critiques of these claims, of course, but my sense is that they largely have stood the test of time and that most scholars are now cautious about using the term rhêtorikê when interpreting texts that antedate Gorgias.  In 2020, Maria Tanja Luzzatto challenged these claims in a lengthy essay titled “Did Gorgias Coin Rhêtorikê?: A Rereading of Plato’s Gorgias” (Lexis, 38.1: 183-224). L’s argument has two elements. The first is her primary thesis that Plato’s dialogue is a faithful representation of the historical Gorgias—at least to the extent that Gorgias’s use of the term rhêtorikê is not anachronistic and it is plausible for L to ask “Did Gorgias coin rhêtorikê?”  The second element is made up of a number of smaller arguments that respond to various points made in support of the general thesis that rhêtorikê does not appear to be a term in use prior to Plato. In this paper, I will reply to L’s primary thesis concerning Plato’s Gorgias. First, I argue that Plato’s dialogue is an unreliable guide to the history of the time, both in general and in particular in terms of the word rhêtorikê.  Evidence for L’s primary thesis, in other words, is insufficient to establish that Gorgias coined the term rhêtorikê or used it in the 5th century. Second, I contend that even if L is correct, the hermeneutic point of what I have called the origins-of-rhêtorikê thesis is intact and that the word’s popularization by Plato and Aristotle led to important changes in theorizing and teaching what we now call argument and rhetoric.

Mauro Serra

La violenza del logos: una lettura politica dell’Encomio di Elena di Gorgia

L’Encomio di Elena ruota, come è noto, intorno ad una tesi paradossale: la violenza dell’azione esercitata dal logos. Secondo Gorgia, infatti, la persuasione (peithō), piuttosto che differire dalla violenza (bia), ne costituisce una diversa manifestazione. Nonostante i numerosi tentativi compiuti dagli interpreti, questa tesi, con tutta la sua carica paradossale, non ha ancora trovato una spiegazione del tutto adeguata (ma cfr. Pratt 2015). Ciò perché, pur abitualmente considerato uno dei testi fondatori della tradizione retorica, l’Encomio di Elena non ha finora ricevuto un’interpretazione che ne evidenzi il singolare intreccio di retorica e politica. Sebbene si sia molto insistito sulla natura didattica dell’Encomio, ci si è infatti in genere limitati a considerare il testo gorgiano come uno dei primi manuali (technai) a partire dai quali la retorica si andò costituendo come disciplina. Se questo è da un certo punto di vista innegabile, cercherò, tuttavia, di mostrare che la lezione ricavabile dall’Encomio è certamente più ampia ed è una lezione politica, poiché il testo delinea un modello di ‘cittadinanza retorica’ (Kock-Villadsen 2012) su cui può essere ancora utile riflettere.  Al centro di questo modello c’è il riconoscimento del conflitto come nucleo inaggirabile della pratica discorsiva. Si tratta di una dimensione che Gorgia immagina relativa all’esercizio del logos in generale, ma che naturalmente trova in un contesto democratico la sua manifestazione più evidente. Con due importanti conseguenze. Da un lato, il tentativo di coniugare, rielaborando l’eredità dei ‘maestri di verità’ (Detienne 1977), efficacia e verità. Dall’altro il ruolo che, all’interno di questo modello teorico, viene riservato alla violenza (simbolica). Su questo punto la posizione di Gorgia si rivela, nella sua radicalità, sostanzialmente isolata anche rispetto alla successiva tradizione retorica. Per il sofista siciliano la violenza non coincide, infatti, con un uso, per quanto inevitabile, tuttavia deliberatamente ingannevole e strumentale del linguaggio, ma è in qualche misura intrinseca alla stessa pratica discorsiva, una volta che se ne sia colta adeguatamente la dimensione conflittuale. In questo modo, la lezione che Gorgia consegna ai suoi allievi va ben al di là della, in fondo scontata, autopromozione della propria competenza e contiene un invito, quanto mai attuale, a fornirsi degli strumenti adeguati per entrare nell’agone democratico.

Keren Shatalov

In Praise of Gorgias—antagonism and love in Plato’s Gorgias

Robert Metcalf has recently argued that in Gorgias Plato presents the competitive element of dialogue as essential to doing philosophy, and especially for the goal of personal transformation which Plato enshrines in the practice of philosophy.  In this essay I argue to the contrary that in Gorgias Plato emphasizes the importance not of competitiveness but of what Socrates in the dialogue calls love. I argue that Plato uses the dramatic elements of the dialogue to emphasize the harmful tendency of competitiveness, while also presenting an example of an exchange whose lack of agonism is vindicated by a better outcome for the speakers involved.  I will support this analysis of the drama of the dialogue by comparing Socrates’ remarks on love and their context within Gorgias to the philosopher’s love of the Good itself in Republic, as well as to the depiction of philosophical friendship in Phaedrus.  I find support in one line of interpretation of Republic and Phaedrus to argue that in Gorgias, too, Plato suggests that the philosopher’s love of philosophy, or of the Good, necessarily brings with it a genuine love of other persons, especially those with whom one engages in philosophical activity. Further, while in Republic and Phaedrus the discussion of love subsists in metaphor, Gorgias adds to our understanding by providing a depiction of how such philosophical love might be realized in the particular. 

Stephanos Stephanides

Political Equality in the Gorgias

The Gorgias contains much discussion on political equality. Socrates, in stark opposition to Callicles, flatly ascribes to the thesis that justice consists in equality. This is reinforced on both conventional and natural grounds: conventionally, the many uphold that justice is equality, while this is also ordained in nature. Since Plato uncharacteristically makes both Socrates and the many agree on this point, however, his own preferred position seems to be obfuscated. Simultaneously, the climax of the cosmological section of the dialogue at 508a-b ends with an explicit commitment to an equality of sorts, namely the geometrical (ἡ ἰσότης ἡ γεωμετρικὴ).

This paper argues that the championing of geometrical equality is not incongruous with the previous part of the dialogue. In fact, I will show that Socrates’ debate with Callicles has been carefully paving the way for precisely this type of equality all along. On the one hand, Socrates can agree with the many that justice is equality without also having to endorse democratic principles such as absolute equality for all. On the other, Socrates can also agree with Callicles that the people whose natural right it is to ‘have more’ ought indeed to be given more (esp. 490c6), with the proviso that geometrical equality safeguards against pleonexia by ensuring that each is only given what is due without encroaching on the demands of justice.

 Interestingly, the extreme Calliclean stance seems rooted in authentic Gorgianic doctrine. In the Encomium to Helen, we find a clear adherence to the view that it is just by nature for the weak to be governed by the strong (31-32). We therefore have good reason to believe that the Gorgias’ discussion of equality is part of a much wider re-evaluation of the concept in Greek thought in which Gorgias’ own view is not entirely exempt from critique.

Coleen Zoller

Taking Our Medicine: Reconciliation and Justice in Plato’s Gorgias

My paper will focus on Plato’s Gorgias, particularly its conception of the relationship between accountability and justice. In the dialogue in which Plato has Socrates confront Gorgias of Leontini, the care of the soul is presented via analogies with the crafts that care for the body. In this analogical scheme “justice” is portrayed as the soul taking its medicine (Grg. 464c). For Socrates, anyone who has committed injustice must submit to “justice” in order to return to the path of virtue via accountability (Grg. 474b). Is a vision of forgiveness imbued in Plato’s thinking about the importance unjust souls submitting themselves to justice? Almost no one has asked this question. Charles Griswold (2007) asserts that, for Plato, forgiveness is unnecessary and not worth admiring. Marshaling evidence from Gorgias 464c and 474b, I will argue that accountability is essential to justice in Plato’s ethical and political theories, even though Plato has Socrates announce it somewhat quietly. Griswold is correct that Plato does not demonstrate an explicit interest in forgiveness in his dialogues. Nonetheless, one of the key insights in Plato’s Gorgias is thatinjustice-doers must ask to be held accountable if they are to restore the health of their souls. And if we read Gorgias 464c and 474b in conjunction with Laws 862b-c, where Plato has the Athenian call for reconciliation in order to make friends out of enemies in the wake of injustice, it may help us better understand Plato’s vision of the relationship among accountability, virtue, justice, and peace. This set of passages from the Gorgias and Laws gives us a vision of restoring justice to unjust souls through corrective treatment; that is, asking to be held accountable becomes the basis for any potential forgiveness, reconciliation, friendship, and peace.

Panel: “Comedy, Dunamis, and The Comedy of Dunamis in Plato’s Gorgias

Shane Ewegen

“The Power of Comedy, the Comedy of Power: Δύναμις in Plato’s Gorgias.”

At the end of Plato’s Symposium, Socrates claims that the same person should know how to produce (ποιεῖν) both comedy and tragedy (223d). Extending on certain scholars’ insights into the affinity between Plato’s Gorgias and Euripides’ Antiope (Nightingale, Dodds, etc.), I will argue that Socrates himself is that man who knows how to produce both comedy and tragedy, and that throughout the Gorgias he tells a number of comedic and tragic stories meant to facilitate our understanding of both politics and philosophy. Taken most broadly, the Gorgias is a comic-tragedy that critiques a certain political and epistemological understanding of power (δύναμις), ultimately yielding a comic result where the traditionally powerful are shown to be weak, and the traditionally weak—that is, the philosophers—are shown to be powerful (though in a radically reconceived sense). I will ultimately argue that Socrates’s ability to produce both comedies and tragedies coincides with his function as one of the few people practicing true statesmanship (521d), and that such true statesmanship consists in being able to use both comedy and tragedy appropriately as tools of political critique and revision. 

Sonja Tanner

“The Power of Laughter in Gorgias of Leontini and Plato’s Gorgias

Gorgias of Leontini endorses the use of laughter and Plato’s Gorgias makes copious use of laughter and comedy, but they do so in ways within Plato’s dialogue that reveal a promising distinction between rhetoric and philosophy. I argue that the dunamis of laughter and comedy in Plato’s Gorgias should be measured in its impact on pathos, ethos, and logos. Far from simply “destroy[ing] an opponent’s seriousness with laughter” (Aristotle Rhetoric 1419b3-5), the dunamis of laughter in Plato’s Gorgias softens the dialogue’s tragic and bitter tone. Rather than merely turning laughter into a rhetorical jab against his agonistic opponents, Socrates turns laughter upon himself, as a means of philosophical introspection and invites the dialogue’s audience to do so as well. Appealing to Gorgias’ Encomium of Helen will show a precedent for this. Just as the Encomium’s rhetorical treatment of itself as a paignion breeches the fourth wall, so too does the metatheatrical use of comedy in Plato’s Gorgias. But unlike the Encomium, Socrates uses this to prompt an altogether novel form of logos.

Robert Metcalf

Dunamis in Agôn:  Gorgias of Leontini and Plato’s Gorgias

In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates admonishes his audience to practice a distinctively philosophical form of agôn—involving refutative argument [elenchos] with one’s opponent, as well as discursive contestation [diamachesthai] of the dêmos as a whole—as distinct from the rhetorical agôn practiced by Gorgias and his associates, which he condemns as nothing more than shameful pandering [kolakeia].  But why, we should ask, does Plato choose Gorgias of Leontini as a foil for Socrates’ provocative articulation of philosophy as a form of agôn? In certain ways Plato’s choice of Gorgias as foil is not surprising.  From what we can gather about Gorgias the historical figure, he was himself adept at agonistic self-display (e.g., exhibiting his ability to answer whatever he is asked in public gatherings), and his writings extol rhetorical ability as a kind of agonistic prowess comparable to that displayed in the Olympic games (cf. Gorgias fragment B8).  Furthermore, to an Athenian audience, Gorgias was associated with the great agôn of the Peloponnesian War—a historical episode that lurks always in the background of Plato’s Gorgias, as the dialogue alludes to it throughout while reflecting on the dangers of rhetoric as a form of agôn in logoi. However, to further understand Gorgias’ significance for Plato’s rethinking of agôn, this paper focuses attention on two key concepts from Gorgias’ speech, Praise of Helen, that are then appropriated and radically reinterpreted by Socrates in the Gorgias:  specifically, “power [dunamis]” and “opinion/seeming [doxa].”  The paper argues that Gorgias’ understanding of doxa as the measure of demonstrative discourse, and thus as the measure of rhetorical dunamis, is precisely what Plato’s Socrates seeks to undermine in order to set philosophy as agôn apart from the rhetorical agôn practiced by Gorgias, Polus and Callicles.  An examination of Gorgias’ writings alongside Plato’s Gorgias thus allows for a philosophical reinterpretation of the meaning of ‘dunamis’ within agôn.