Gorgias was a renowned Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, rhetorician and orator, who was ranked among the prominent figures of the first generation of Sophists. Gorgias is accredited for the rhetorical evolution of Athens and Attica, through his innovative contributions, particularly his philosophical theories that have contributed to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose.
Gorgias was born in 483 B.C. in the Greek colony of Leontini, Sicily. His father, Charmantides, had two other children, a son named Herodicus and a daughter (unnamed). Gorgias received his early education under the tutelage of Empedocles. Gorgias’s impressive oratorical style excelled even that of his teacher, and soon his fame as a practicing oratory and notable teaching rhetoric began to spread. His students include Pericles, Critias, Menos, Isocrates and Aspasia among others. Gorgias was a remarkable speaker, and his lecturers at the Panhellenic festivals became renowned and celebrated in Olympia and Delphi. His florid, rhyming style left his audience mesmerized, and his performances and rhetoric lesson left a hypnotic effect on his listeners. His was lauded for his powers of reasoning and persuasion. In 427 B.C. Gorgias was sent on a diplomatic mission to Athens, to represent his citizens as their ambassador, and implore for Athenian protection from oppression at the hands of the brutal Syracusans. Gorgias, through his effective communication skills and remarkable speeches, managed to sway many of the leading intellectuals and politicians in harmony with his cause.
Gorgias has made remarkable literary contributions which have paved the way for rhetoric transplantation from his native Sicily to Athens and Attica. His works have also contributed to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose. He is accredited for the rhetorical developments of structure and ornamentation, and he is also acknowledged for introducing paradoxes and paradoxical expressions. His innovative contributions have earned him the title of “Father of Sophistry”. Gorgias’ existing works on rhetoric include “Encomium of Helen”, “the Defense of Palamedes”, “On Non-Existence” (or On Nature), and “Epitaphios”.
Unlike various other Sophists such as Protagoras, Gorgias did not approve of preaching morals or ‘arete’, for he believed that there was no absolute form of virtue, it was subjected to change based on every situation. Gorgias proclaimed that rhetoric was the king of all sciences, as it possessed the powers of persuasion to sway judgments over any particular course of action. However, eminent philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle disagreed with Gorgias over the power and capabilities of rhetoric.
Gorgias lived to be over one hundred year old. He died at Larissa in around 376 B.C. He had managed to hoard a great deal of wealth by the time of his death, and in his will, he commissioned a gold statue of himself, and donated it to a public temple.