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Archive for the ‘The Gorgias of Plato’ Category

Notes on the Gorgias of Plato

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 10, 2008

Words in italics are my notes.
Persons taking part in the Dialogue (followed by the abbreviation of their names):

Callicles –Cal
Socrates –Soc
Gorgias –Gor
Polus –Pol
Chaerephon –Char

#447 Introduction Socrates and Chaerephon have just come from the marketplace. They were apparently on their way to Callicles house but were delayed. The purpose of their going to the house was to here Gorgias speak. But Socrates, it appears, also wanted to question the famed rhetorician about his “art.” Apparently, not far from the house, perhaps just outside in the courtyard, they meet up with Callicles and his other guests and we learn that Socrates is late for the feast. But Gorgias is still in the house and so Socrates will get his wish and question him.

Cal. The wise man, as the proverb says, is late for a fray, but not for a feast.
Soc. And are we late for a feast?
Cal. Yes, and a delightful feast; for Gorgias has just been exhibiting to us many fine things.

The proverb which begins the dialogue will turn out to be highly ironic. The “feast” the wise Socrates and his companion are late for is a discourse by the famed Gorgias. Socrates will be invited to hear Gorgias in spite of his late arrival and the subsequent “feast” will become a “fray.”
Soc. It is not my fault, Callicles; our friend Chaerephon is to blame; for he would keep us loitering in the Agora (marketplace).
Char. Never mind, Socrates; the misfortune of which I have been the cause I will also repair; for Gorgias is a friend of mine, and I will make him give the exhibition again either now, or, if you prefer, at some other time.
Cal. What is the matter Chaerephon-does Socrates want to hear Gorgias?
Char. Yes, that was our intention in coming.
Cal. Come into my house, then, for Gorgias is staying with me, and he shall exhibit to you.
Soc. Very good, Callicles; but will he answer our questions? for I want to hear from him what is the nature of his art, and what it is which he professes and teaches; he may, as you, Chaerephon, suggest, defer the exhibition to some other time.

Cal. There is nothing like asking him Socrates; and indeed to answer questions is a part of his exhibition, for he was saying only just now, that anyone in my house might put any question to him, and that he would answer.

Soc How fortunate! will you ask him, Chaerephon-?
Char. What shall I ask him?
Soc. Ask him who he is.
Char. What do you mean?
Soc. I mean such a question as would elicit from him, if he had been a maker of shoes, the answer that he is a cobbler. Do you understand?
Char. I understand and will ask him…( At this point, the men enter the house of Callicles and meet Gorgias, along with a young disciple named Polus. It will be Polus and Chaerephon-recall he was a friend of Gorgias’-who sill take the brunt of Socrates intellectual beating).

Char. Tell me, Gorgias, is our friend Callicles right in saying that you undertake to answer any questions which you are asked?
Gor. Quite right, Chaerephon: I was saying as much only just now; and I may add that many years have elapsed since anyone has asked me a new one.
Char. Then you must be very ready, Gorgias.
Of that, Chaerephon, you can make trial (i.e., test me).

Pol. Yes, indeed, and if you like, Chaerephon, you may make trial of me also, for I think Gorgias, who has been talking for a long time, is tired.
Char. And do you, Polus, think that you can answer better than Gorgias?
Pol. What does is matter, if I answer well enough for you?
Char. Not at all:-and you shall answer if you like.
Pol. Ask-

Char. My question is this: If Gorgias had the skill of his brother Herodicus, what ought we to call him? Ought he not to have the name which is given to his brother?
Pol. Certainly.
Char. Then we should be right in calling him a physician?
Pol. Yes.
Char. And if he had the skil of Aristophon the son of Aglaophon, or of his brother Polygnotus, what ought we to call him?
Pol. Clearly, a painter.
Char. But now what shall we call him-what is the art in which he is skilled?
Pol. O Chaerephon, there are many arts among mankind which are experimental, and have their origin in experience, for experience makes the days of men to proceed according to art, and inexperience according to chance, and different persons in different ways are proficient in different arts, and the best persons in the best arts. And our friend Gorgias is one of the best, and in the art in which he is proficient is the noblest.

I find myself wondering if the name Polus isn’t related to the word politician, because he has just given a admirably evasive answer, using fine and balanced rhetoric, no doubt hoping his fine wordiness will cover the lack of an answer. But Socrates isn’t fooled, and he speaks up.

Soc. Polus has been taught how to make a capital speech, Gorgias; but he is not fulfilling the promise which he made to Chaerephon.
Gor. What do you mean, Socrates?
Soc. I mean that he has not exactly answered the question which he was asked.
Gor. Then why not ask him yourself?
Soc. But I would much rather ask you, if you are disposed to answer: for I see, from the few words which Polus has uttered, that he has attended more to the art which is called rhetoric than to dialectic.
Pol. What makes you say so, Socrates?
Soc. Because, Polus, when Chaerephon asked you what was the art which Gorgias knows, you praised it as if you were answering someone who found fault with it, but you never said what the art was.
Pol. Why, did I not say that it was the noblest of arts?
Soc. Yes, indeed, but that was no answer to the question: nobody asked what was the quality, but what was the nature, of the art, and by what name we were to describe Gorgias. And I would still beg you briefly and clearly, as you answered Chaerephon when he asked you at first, to say what this are is, and what we ought to call Gorgias: Or rather, Gorgias, let me turn to you, and ask the same question,-what are we to call you, and what is the are which you profess?
Gor. Rhetoric, Socrates, is my art.
Soc. Then I am to call you a Rhetorician?
Gor. Yes, Socrates, and a good one too, if you would call me that which, in Homeric language ‘I boast myself to be.’
Soc. I should wish to do so.
Gor. Then pray do.

Here the dialogue will enter a new phase as Socrates begins to question Gorgias. Gorgias, in admitting that his art is rhetoric, reminds us of Socrates lament that Polus was engaging in rhetoric rather than dialectic. Although Socrates treats Gorgias with a great deal of respect in the dialogue, we should see the drubbing of his disciple which will take place latter in the work, as a critique of Gorgias and his profession.

Posted in The Gorgias of Plato, Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

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