Gorgias of Leontinoi

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Gorgias von Leontinoi ( ancient Greek Γοργίας Gorgías ; * between 490 and 485 BC in Leontinoi ; † probably no earlier than 396 BC) was a Greek rhetorician , rhetoric teacher and philosopher . He was already counted among the sophists in ancient times , but this classification, which depends on the definition of the term sophistry, is controversial in research.

Gorgias was best known as a speaker and teacher of rhetoric. For his main philosophical work, the titles About the nonexistent and About nature have been handed down. Here he represents a radical skepticism , perhaps only meant as a parody , according to which nothing exists and nothing can be known. The tradition is bad; most of the works of Gorgias have been lost. The speeches in praise of Helena and defense for Palamedes have been preserved in full .

The Platonic dialogue Gorgias is known , in which Gorgias appears as a conversation partner of Socrates.


Gorgias' father was called Charmantides, his brother was a doctor and was called Herodicus. He remained unmarried and traveled a lot. On his travels, which took him to Athens , Olympia , Boeotia , Argos and Larisa , among others , he was not only an envoy in his hometown, but also gave public speeches and gave private lessons. Especially with his lessons he made large sums of money; In Pausanias' travelogue written in the 2nd century, he tells of a golden statue of Gorgias that he saw in Delphi and that Gorgias paid for himself. In 427 BC Gorgias spoke as leader of a legation before the assembled citizens of Athens in the Ekklesia to ask in the name of Leontinois for war support against Syracuse . His speech is said to have aroused admiration.

Gorgias is said to have been influenced by the rhetorician Teisias from Syracuse and by Empedocles . Like the latter, Gorgias is said to have worn purple robes in a priestly fashion. A pupil of Gorgias was probably Isocrates , on whose grave tablet a scene was depicted in which Gorgias teaches him about an astronomical model of the spheres. Also Polos Acragas deemed to be his student.

Gorgias was already referred to as a sophist in antiquity, and Flavius ​​Philostratos even regarded it as the father of sophistic art. However, in Plato he does not appear as a sophist, but is only called the teacher of virtue ( aretḗ ), others simply refer to him as a speaker ( rhḗtōr ). Hence those researchers who take the term sophist narrowly do not regard him as a sophist. The majority, however, consider him a major exponent of sophistry.


Of the numerous writings of Gorgias, we know the title, fragments of the content or the complete content of eleven. Two speeches are completely preserved: the eulogy for Helena and the defense speech for Palamedes. The eleven scriptures are:


  • About the nonexistent or about nature ( Perì tou mḕ óntos ḕ Perì phýseōs ). Fragments of this work with two different titles have come down to us in two ancient reports, the sources of which are unknown. The original wording of Gorgias' writing is probably not reproduced in either report. The writing was probably created between 444 BC. BC and 441 BC Chr.
  • Craft ( Téchnē ). The existence of this script is not certain, but it is widely believed. What is meant is the speaker's manual equipment.
  • Glossary of terms ( onomastikón ). Nothing is known about this work, except that Iulius Pollux mentions it in his own Onomasticon in the preface to the 9th book.
  • An early work on optics . The existence of this writing is assumed based on the content of some fragments.


  • Funeral speech ( Epitáphios ). The talk is probably between 427 BC. BC and 423 BC BC originated. Since it was presumably only Athenian citizens who were allowed to publicly deliver the annual funeral oration for the fallen Athenians, it has been assumed that it is a model speech. One of the quotations received calls for the unity of the Greeks against the so-called barbarians (all non-Greeks). What Gorgias praises in the dead has been transferred to Gorgias' supposed educational program. Buzzwords are godlike efficiency, what is appropriate, what is required where it is required, what is useful, what is appropriate and longing. There are also echoes of the opposition, advocated by many sophists, between the original nature and the law of the state, of what is appropriate to the situation and of the primacy of the useful over the law.
  • Olympic speech ( Olympikòs lógos ). Gorgias gave this non-datable speech during the Olympic Games . Again it was about the unity of the Greeks against the barbarians, Gorgias also praised the organizers (i.e. sponsors) of the festival meetings.
  • Talk at the Pythian games in Delphi ( Pythikòs lógos ). This speech, of which nothing has survived, was given by Gorgias during the second great Panhellenic Games after the Olympic Games , the Pythian Games .
  • Eulogy for the inhabitants of Elis ( Enkṓmion es Ēleíous ). Only the first sentence of this speech is known: "Elis, a happy city."
  • Eulogy for Achilles ( Achilléōs enkṓmion ). It is not certain whether this speech actually existed.
  • Eulogy for Helena ( Enkṓmion eis Ēleíous ). This speech, which is now generally regarded as genuine and which has come down to us in two different manuscripts, was probably written by Gorgias in the late 5th century BC. Written in BC. Her goal is to show that Helena followed Paris to Troy innocently. Possibly it is a rhetorical exercise script.
  • Defense for Palamedes ( Ypèr Palamḗdous ). The speech, which is completely preserved in a manuscript, is supposed to defend Palamedes against his opponent Odysseus , for which Gorgias uses various rhetorical techniques and logical proofs (such as the apagogical proof).


Epistemology and Ontology

The most important contribution of the Gorgias to philosophy is the work About the non-existent or About nature , which was probably directed against the views of the beings of Melissus and Parmenides . Gorgias represents epistemological and ontological positions there. Its three main assumptions are: first, that neither being nor non-being exists; second, that if being does exist, it cannot be known to man; thirdly, that if it is recognizable, this knowledge cannot be communicated to other people. The writing has been interpreted very differently. Thus Gorgias was seen as a representative of a radical skepticism or nihilism , according to which nothing exists and which excludes the possibility of knowledge at all. Other researchers see in the radical theses of Gorgias only a criticism of the Eleatic assumption of an absolute being, which does not exclude that sensory perceptions are possible. Still others cannot seriously represent a complete nihilism and see in Scripture a rhetorical parody of philosophy or individual philosophers.

In his Dialogue Menon , Plato briefly deals with Gorgias' theory of perception, which, according to Plato, adopts the assumptions of Empedocles . Gorgias and Empedocles assumed firstly outflows ( aporroaí ) that emanate from everything that is (from the object to be perceived), the forms ( schḗmata ), and secondly, pores ( póroi ) through which the outflows enter the perceiving subject. The outflowing forms must not be too big or too small, but must fit exactly into the pores. So different shapes fit into different sense organs. Some are perceived with the eyes, others with the ears and nose.


It is believed that Gorgias gave both theoretical and practical rhetoric lessons. He made a decisive contribution to the development of a rhetorical art prose by calling for a poetic expression within certain limits and the use of certain stylistic ornaments (“Georgian figures”) in order to increase the effect of the speech.

For the art prose he established formal rules: For sentences that should correspond, he demanded identical content and form (i.e. the same number of syllables), exactly corresponding parallel parts of the sentence ( isocolon ), which if possible in opposing relation (as an antithesis) to stand by each other. For the end of a sentence or section, he asked for certain rhythms that arise from the same sound output ( homoioteleuton ). In addition, the ends of sentences (as clauses) should be designed rhythmically.

As was customary with the sophists, he used paradoxical phrases and subtle arguments in his argument. With this new type of rhetoric, he was very well received and became a celebrated role model. In addition to pomp and ceremonial speeches (including the funeral speech on the Athenians who fell in the Peloponnesian War ), he wrote sample declamations for teaching purposes.

Editions and translations

  • Thomas Buchheim (ed.): Gorgias von Leontinoi: speeches, fragments and testimony. 2nd edition, Meiner, Hamburg 2012, ISBN 978-3-7873-2278-7 (text, translation and commentary)
  • Francesco Donadi (ed.): Gorgias: Helenae encomium. Petrus Bembus: Gorgiae Leontini in Helenam laudatio. De Gruyter, Berlin 2016, ISBN 978-3-11-031635-3 (critical edition)
  • Gustav Adolf Seeck (ed.): The Greek literature in text and representation. Volume 2: Classical Period I. Reclam, Stuttgart 1986, ISBN 3-15-008062-2 , pp. 358–371 ( Praise of Helena , Greek text and German translation)


Overview representations


  • Bruce MacComiskey: Gorgias and the new sophistic rhetoric , Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale (Illinois) 2002, ISBN 0-8093-2397-4
  • Giuseppe Mazzara: Gorgia. La retorica del verosimile , Academia-Verlag, St. Augustin 1999, ISBN 3-89665-057-2
  • Stefania Giombini: Gorgia epidittico. Commento filosofico all '"Encomio di Elena", all' "Apologia di Palamede", all '"Epitaffio" . Aguaplano, Passignano sul Trasimeno 2012, ISBN 978-88-97738-12-1

Web links


  1. Pausanias , description of Greece 6,17,7 = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratics 82A7.
  2. Plato, Gorgias 448b and 456b.
  3. Isokrates , Antidoseos speech 156 = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratics 82A18.
  4. Pausanias, Description of Greece 10.18.7 = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratic 82A7. Cicero , De oratore 3,32,129 = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratics 82A7 as well as Athenaios , Pliny the Elder and Valerius Maximus also report slightly differently . Cf. Thomas Pekáry : Phidias in Rome. Contributions to the late antique understanding of art , Wiesbaden 2007, p. 101f.
  5. Diodoros 12.53 = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratics 82A4.
  6. ^ Pseudo-Plutarch , Vitae decem oratorum X, 838d = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratics 82A17.
  7. Flavius ​​Philostratos, Vitae sophistarum 1,9,1 = Diels / Kranz, fragments of the pre-Socratics 82A1.
  8. ^ Plato, Meno 95c.
  9. George B. Kerferd, Hellmut Flashar: Gorgias from Leontinoi . In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 2/1, Schwabe, Basel 1998, pp. 44–51.
  10. See also George B. Kerferd, Hellmut Flashar: Gorgias from Leontinoi . In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 2/1, Basel 1998, pp. 44–51, here: 45–48.
  11. Pseudo-Aristotle , De Melisso Xenophane Gorgia 979a-980b and Sextus Empiricus , Adversus mathematicos 7,65-7,87.
  12. George B. Kerferd, Hellmut Flashar: Gorgias from Leontinoi . In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 2/1, Basel 1998, pp. 44–51, here: 50 f.
  13. Plato, Menon 76c-76e = Diels / Kranz, Fragments of the Pre-Socratics 82A7.
  14. George B. Kerferd, Hellmut Flashar: Gorgias from Leontinoi . In: Hellmut Flashar (ed.): Outline of the history of philosophy. The philosophy of antiquity , Volume 2/1, Basel 1998, pp. 44–51, here: 48.