The Gorgias by Plato. - HTML preview

PLEASE NOTE: This is an HTML preview only and some elements such as links or page numbers may be incorrect.
Download the book in PDF, ePub, Kindle for a complete version.

Gorgias by Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable Document file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk. Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone associated with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.

Gorgias by Plato, trans. Benjamin Jowett, the Pennsylvania State University, Electronic Classics Series, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them.

Cover Design: Jim Manis

Copyright © 1999 The Pennsylvania State University The Pennsylvania State University is an equal opportunity university.

Platos Gorgias


dialogue on the Procrustean bed of a single idea. (Compare Introduction to the Phaedrus.) Two tendencies seem to have beset the interpreters of by Plato

Plato in this matter. First, they have endeavoured to hang the dialogues upon one another by the slightest threads; Translated by Benjamin Jowett

and have thus been led to opposite and contradictory assertions respecting their order and sequence. The mantle of Schleiermacher has descended upon his successors, who INTRODUCTION.

have applied his method with the most various results. The IN SEVERAL OF THE DIALOGUES of Plato, doubts have arisen value and use of the method has been hardly, if at all, ex-among his interpreters as to which of the various subjects amined either by him or them. Secondly, they have ex-discussed in them is the main thesis. The speakers have the tended almost indefinitely the scope of each separate dia-freedom of conversation; no severe rules of art restrict them, logue; in this way they think that they have escaped all diffi-and sometimes we are inclined to think, with one of the culties, not seeing that what they have gained in generality dramatis personae in the Theaetetus, that the digressions they have lost in truth and distinctness. Metaphysical con-have the greater interest. Yet in the most irregular of the ceptions easily pass into one another; and the simpler no-dialogues there is also a certain natural growth or unity; the tions of antiquity, which we can only realize by an effort, beginning is not forgotten at the end, and numerous allu-imperceptibly blend with the more familiar theories of sions and references are interspersed, which form the loose modern philosophers. An eye for proportion is needed (his connecting links of the whole. We must not neglect this own art of measuring) in the study of Plato, as well as of unity, but neither must we attempt to confine the Platonic other great artists. We may hardly admit that the moral 3

Platos Gorgias

antithesis of good and pleasure, or the intellectual antithesis the cover of rhetoric higher themes are introduced; the ar-of knowledge and opinion, being and appearance, are never gument expands into a general view of the good and evil of far off in a Platonic discussion. But because they are in the man. After making an ineffectual attempt to obtain a sound background, we should not bring them into the foreground, definition of his art from Gorgias, Socrates assumes the or expect to discern them equally in all the dialogues.

existence of a universal art of flattery or simulation having There may be some advantage in drawing out a little the several branches:this is the genus of which rhetoric is only main outlines of the building; but the use of this is limited, one, and not the highest species. To flattery is opposed the and may be easily exaggerated. We may give Plato too much true and noble art of life which he who possesses seeks system, and alter the natural form and connection of his always to impart to others, and which at last triumphs, if thoughts. Under the idea that his dialogues are finished not here, at any rate in another world. These two aspects of works of art, we may find a reason for everything, and lose life and knowledge appear to be the two leading ideas of the highest characteristic of art, which is simplicity. Most the dialogue. The true and the false in individuals and states, great works receive a new light from a new and original in the treatment of the soul as well as of the body, are con-mind. But whether these new lights are true or only sugges-ceived under the forms of true and false art. In the devel-tive, will depend on their agreement with the spirit of Plato, opment of this opposition there arise various other ques-and the amount of direct evidence which can be urged in tions, such as the two famous paradoxes of Socrates (para-support of them. When a theory is running away with us, doxes as they are to the world in general, ideals as they may criticism does a friendly office in counselling moderation, be more worthily called): (1) that to do is worse than to and recalling us to the indications of the text.

suffer evil; and (2) that when a man has done evil he had Like the Phaedrus, the Gorgias has puzzled students of better be punished than unpunished; to which may be added Plato by the appearance of two or more subjects. Under (3) a third Socratic paradox or ideal, that bad men do what 4

Platos Gorgias

they think best, but not what they desire, for the desire of his meaning to Polus, he must enlighten him upon the great all is towards the good. That pleasure is to be distinguished subject of shams or flatteries. When Polus finds his favourite from good is proved by the simultaneousness of pleasure art reduced to the level of cookery, he replies that at any and pain, and by the possibility of the bad having in certain rate rhetoricians, like despots, have great power. Socrates cases pleasures as great as those of the good, or even greater.

denies that they have any real power, and hence arise the Not merely rhetoricians, but poets, musicians, and other three paradoxes already mentioned. Although they are artists, the whole tribe of statesmen, past as well as present, strange to him, Polus is at last convinced of their truth; at are included in the class of flatterers. The true and false least, they seem to him to follow legitimately from the pre-finally appear before the judgment-seat of the gods below.

mises. Thus the second act of the dialogue closes. Then The dialogue naturally falls into three divisions, to which Callicles appears on the scene, at first maintaining that plea-the three characters of Gorgias, Polus, and Callicles respec-sure is good, and that might is right, and that law is nothing tively correspond; and the form and manner change with but the combination of the many weak against the few strong.

the stages of the argument. Socrates is deferential towards When he is confuted he withdraws from the argument, and Gorgias, playful and yet cutting in dealing with the youthful leaves Socrates to arrive at the conclusion by himself. The Polus, ironical and sarcastic in his encounter with Callicles.

conclusion is that there are two kinds of statesmanship, a In the first division the question is askedWhat is rheto-higher and a lowerthat which makes the people better, ric? To this there is no answer given, for Gorgias is soon and that which only flatters them, and he exhorts Callicles made to contradict himself by Socrates, and the argument to choose the higher. The dialogue terminates with a mythus is transferred to the hands of his disciple Polus, who rushes of a final judgment, in which there will be no more flattery to the defence of his master. The answer has at last to be or disguise, and no further use for the teaching of rhetoric.

given by Socrates himself, but before he can even explain The characters of the three interlocutors also correspond 5

Platos Gorgias

to the parts which are assigned to them. Gorgias is the Polus is an impetuous youth, a runaway colt, as Socrates great rhetorician, now advanced in years, who goes from describes him, who wanted originally to have taken the place city to city displaying his talents, and is celebrated through-of Gorgias under the pretext that the old man was tired, out Greece. Like all the Sophists in the dialogues of Plato, and now avails himself of the earliest opportunity to enter he is vain and boastful, yet he has also a certain dignity, the lists. He is said to be the author of a work on rhetoric, and is treated by Socrates with considerable respect. But and is again mentioned in the Phaedrus, as the inventor of he is no match for him in dialectics. Although he has been balanced or double forms of speech (compare Gorg.; teaching rhetoric all his life, he is still incapable of defin-Symp.). At first he is violent and ill-mannered, and is angry ing his own art. When his ideas begin to clear up, he is at seeing his master overthrown. But in the judicious hands unwilling to admit that rhetoric can be wholly separated of Socrates he is soon restored to good-humour, and com-from justice and injustice, and this lingering sentiment of pelled to assent to the required conclusion. Like Gorgias, morality, or regard for public opinion, enables Socrates he is overthrown because he compromises; he is unwilling to detect him in a contradiction. Like Protagoras, he is to say that to do is fairer or more honourable than to suffer described as of a generous nature; he expresses his ap-injustice. Though he is fascinated by the power of rhetoric, probation of Socrates manner of approaching a question; and dazzled by the splendour of success, he is not insen-he is quite one of Socrates sort, ready to be refuted as sible to higher arguments. Plato may have felt that there well as to refute, and very eager that Callicles and Socrates would be an incongruity in a youth maintaining the cause should have the game out. He knows by experience that of injustice against the world. He has never heard the other rhetoric exercises great influence over other men, but he side of the question, and he listens to the paradoxes, as is unable to explain the puzzle how rhetoric can teach they appear to him, of Socrates with evident astonishment.

everything and know nothing.

He can hardly understand the meaning of Archelaus being 6

Platos Gorgias

miserable, or of rhetoric being only useful in self-accusa-laws of the state only a violation of the order of nature, tion. When the argument with him has fairly run out, which intended that the stronger should govern the weaker Callicles, in whose house they are assembled, is introduced (compare Republic). Like other men of the world who are on the stage: he is with difficulty convinced that Socrates is of a speculative turn of mind, he generalizes the bad side of in earnest; for if these things are true, then, as he says with human nature, and has easily brought down his principles real emotion, the foundations of society are upside down.

to his practice. Philosophy and poetry alike supply him with In him another type of character is represented; he is nei-distinctions suited to his view of human life. He has a good ther sophist nor philosopher, but man of the world, and an will to Socrates, whose talents he evidently admires, while accomplished Athenian gentleman. He might be described he censures the puerile use which he makes of them. He in modern language as a cynic or materialist, a lover of power expresses a keen intellectual interest in the argument. Like and also of pleasure, and unscrupulous in his means of at-Anytus, again, he has a sympathy with other men of the taining both. There is no desire on his part to offer any world; the Athenian statesmen of a former generation, who compromise in the interests of morality; nor is any conces-showed no weakness and made no mistakes, such as sion made by him. Like Thrasymachus in the Republic, Miltiades, Themistocles, Pericles, are his favourites. His though he is not of the same weak and vulgar class, he con-ideal of human character is a man of great passions and sistently maintains that might is right. His great motive of great powers, which he has developed to the utmost, and action is political ambition; in this he is characteristically which he uses in his own enjoyment and in the government Greek. Like Anytus in the Meno, he is the enemy of the of others. Had Critias been the name instead of Callicles, Sophists; but favours the new art of rhetoric, which he re-about whom we know nothing from other sources, the opin-gards as an excellent weapon of attack and defence. He is a ions of the man would have seemed to reflect the history of despiser of mankind as he is of philosophy, and sees in the his life.