Gorgias

by

Plato

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Gorgias can help.

Gorgias Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Plato's Gorgias. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Plato

Plato is one of the most important philosophers who ever lived, and his thought has influenced the entire subsequent Western philosophical tradition. He was born Aristocles into an aristocratic Greek family, along with two brothers and a sister. The young Aristocles was said to have been given his nickname, Plato, by his wrestling coach (platon means “broad” in Greek). According to tradition, in his youth, Plato wanted to become a playwright—but in his late teens or early twenties, he heard Socrates teaching in the marketplace and decided to devote his life to philosophy. Plato continued to study under Socrates until the age of 28, in 399 B.C.E, when the older philosopher was tried and executed for impiety. After this, Plato spent time traveling around the Mediterranean before settling down in Athens to write and establish his Academy, the predecessor of the modern university; Aristotle became his most famous student. The Academy persisted until 86 B.C.E. Plato also invented the dialogue, a literary form which depicts a conversation between one or more characters with the goal of solving a problem or uncovering a profound truth. Some of Plato’s most famous dialogues (he wrote more than 20) include EuthyphroApologyCritoMenoPhaedoThe Symposium, and the Republic. Plato died at the age of 81.
Get the entire Gorgias LitChart as a printable PDF.
Gorgias PDF

Historical Context of Gorgias

In Plato’s day, oratory, or rhetoric, was becoming popular in elite Athenian circles—both listening to speeches and training in specialized schools (such as Isocrates’s school of rhetoric, founded shortly before Plato’s own Academy). The sophists, itinerant teachers of rhetoric (like Gorgias), claimed to be able to impart a comprehensive body of knowledge—a claim which Plato (through the character of Socrates) noticeably resists throughout the dialogues, especially Phaedrus and Gorgias. The historical Gorgias was a Sicilian-born sophist who lived from c. 483–375 B.C.E. Despite Plato’s contempt for Gorgias’s methods, Gorgias’s highly ornamented and paradoxical style had a strong influence on classical Greek rhetoric. Finally, Plato’s own influence as a philosopher made both an immediate and ongoing cultural impact—his most famous Academy student, Aristotle, became the tutor of the young Alexander the Great, and Plato’s writings launched the academic discipline of philosophy from antiquity onward.

Other Books Related to Gorgias

Another dialogue in which Plato addresses the subject of rhetoric—arguing that it must be concerned both with truth and with the nature of the soul—is Phaedrus, likely written a bit later in Plato’s career. The Republic, his most famous work, develops Plato’s ideas about politics and the ideal city-state, which are touched on toward the end of Gorgias. Aristotle, who studied under Plato at his Academy, built off of Plato’s views on speech in his treatise On Rhetoric, perhaps the most important work on the art of persuasion up to modern times. Plato cites Homer’s Odyssey, one of the foundational works of Greek literature, in his account of the judgment of souls.
Key Facts about Gorgias
  • Full Title: Gorgias
  • When Written: c. 380 B.C.E.
  • Where Written: Athens, Greece
  • Literary Period: Classical Greek
  • Genre: Socratic dialogue
  • Setting: 5th-century B.C.E. Athens, Greece
  • Antagonist: Orators; Politicians

Extra Credit for Gorgias

Gorgias the Philosopher. The historical Gorgias was one of the founding sophists, or “wise men,” who traveled around the Hellenic world delivering oratory and providing oratorical instruction for a fee. Though Gorgias voiced criticisms of philosophy much as Plato criticized rhetoric, Gorgias authored philosophical writings himself, notably On Non-Existence, which considers the nature of being and the limits of knowledge.

Ancient Artifact. Though ancient papyrus fragments survive, the oldest surviving full manuscript which contains Gorgias—a Greek volume catalogued as the “Clarke Plato”—was commissioned by a Cappadocian bishop in 895 C.E. It is now housed in Oxford’s Bodleian Library.