Sophist, pre-Socratic philosopher and rhetorician native of Leontini (Lentini), considered home of the Spartan rhetoric. Along with Protagoras, he forms the first generation of Sophists and like other Sophists he was an itinerant, practicing in various cities and giving public exhibitions of his skill at the great Pan-Hellenic centers of Olympia and Delphi, charging fees for his instruction and performances – special feature was to invite questions from the audience and give impromptu replies.
At the age of sixty, Gorgias was sent to Athens by his fellow-citizens at the head of an embassy to ask for Athenian protection against the aggression of Syracuse. 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. His chief claim to recognition resides in the fact that he transplanted rhetoric from his native Sicily to Attica, and contributed to the diffusion of the Attic dialect as the language of literary prose.
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. Gorgias’s philosophy is that nothing at all exists, that even if existence exists, it is inapprehensible to humans, and finally, even if existence is apprehensible, it certainly cannot be communicated.
Gorgias’ writings are a combination of rhetoric and performance. 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.
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. Gorgias’ legendary powers of persuasion would suggest that he had a somewhat preternatural influence over his audience and their emotions.
1. Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gorgias
2. Encyclopedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Gorgias-of-Leontini