Origins & Early History of Rhetoric (T/Th)


  • Quiz #1 on Tuesday (mix of today's discussion and reading for Tuesday)
  • Moved Thought Essay #1 due date to 9/18 (will go over guidelines next Tuesday)


  • Discuss the origins stories of rhetoric and the rise of Athenian democracy
  • Introduce the sophists


  • Empedocles
  • Corax & Tiseus


  • Known for his mastery of poetic style, influence of divine inspiration
  • Involved a lot repetition
  • Gorgias' teacher

Corax & Tisius

  • Some argue they're the same person or both not even real
  • Reverse probability argument:
  • Ex. A small man was accused of attacking a big man—they could argue that its not probable cus they’re smaller
  • Ex. A bigger man was accused of attacking a small man—they could argue that its not probable cus everyone would know they did it


  • There was a balance of power of the mob and power of the elites
  • LAWS = kings -> social agreement
  • Athenian trial = two speeches, hundreds of voting jurors, timekeeping judge
  • Agora



  • equality(iso) in the Agora
  • Fundamental preset in democracy
  • Every property owning male should be able to speak on a topic
  • A form of opportunity, not everyone was expected to speak

Can you think of a space where we have an equal opportunity to speak or voice our opinion nowadays?


  • equality before the law
  • The law should equally treat people
  • It’s hard to say that this was actually enforced

Do the current laws or legislations we have in place treat people equally?


  • free speech; fearless speech (Translate from Latin- licentia- license) the license to speak
  • Taken by free citizens to speak the truth even if they were to get in trouble
  • An important value for Ancient Greeks

Is free speech ever really free? no consequences?


How might have the shift from aristocracy to democracy influenced the rise of rhetoric? (hint: think of the agora)


  • Sophists: Wise men
  • Taught techne (art) of logos (word)
  • Most were foreigners
  • Traveled and taught for pay
  • "Made the weaker argument appear stronger"
  • taught rhetoric as techne, logophraphers, demonstration speehces


  • Taught the rules of public speaking


  • wrote speeches and sold it
  • wrote speeches for litigants (those who needed to speak in politics or the Agora)


  • people are expected to learn by example

Sophists & Truth

Does the following statement indicate someone w/ a Truth or truth perspective on religion: “There are many different religions in the world and many ways to get to know them. Yes, it is not fair for Christians to be able to say that they have the best religion …”


  • From Sicily
  • Don't have a lot of his work, but we do have couple like the Encomium of Helen
  • Teacher and orator
  • Position on arate: he did not claim to teach it, each should learn on their own


  • EPISTEMOLOGY (Study of knowledge)
  • Ex. Christians -> GOD; Evidence-> Bible
  • What is it and where does it come from for Gorgias?
  • A skeptic
  • Truth vs truth (ex. Is stealing always bad?)


  • Logos has magical power
  • Many have a tendency to focus on his wordplay and poeticism
  • Repetition, Alliteration, Antithesis (Ex. Many are called, but few are chosen.)
  • Apagoge- n. An indirect argument which proves a thing by showing the impossibility or absurdity of the contrary.
It was Gorgias who founded the art of impromptu oratory. He would make a public appearance in the theater in Athens and say boldly to anyone, 'Propose me a theme.' He was the first to issue such a challenge, by which he virtually boasted that he had all knowledge at his fingertips and could speak on any subject that might be proposed, trusting simply to the 'inspiration of the moment' (kairos). (Philostratus 482)
  • Kairos- the opportune moment
  • Ex. 9/11 & the Patriot Act


  • Pleads Helen's case that she should not be blamed
  • Four possible reasons why she left w/ Paris: by the gods, by physical force, by love, or by speech (logos)

Fate of the gods?

"...for god's predetermination cannot be hindered by human premeditation. For it is the nature of things, not for the strong to be hindered by the weak, but for the weaker to be ruled and drawn by the stronger, and for the stronger to lead and the weaker to follow. God is a stronger force than man in might and in wit and in other ways. If then one must place blame on Fate and on a god, one must free Helen from disgrace" (Encomium)

By physical force?

But if she was raped by violence and illegally assaulted and unjustly insulted, it is clear that the raper, as the insulter, did the wronging, and the raped, as the insulted, did the suffering (Encomium)

Moved by love?

if love is a god, with the divine power of the gods, how could a weaker person refuse and reject him? But if love is a human sickness and a mental weakness, it must not be blamed as mistake, but claimed as misfortune (Encomium)

Power of logos?

Speech is a powerful master and achieves the most divine feats with the smallest and least evident body. It can stop fear, relieve pain, create joy, and increase pity (Encomium)

Was his point really to plead Helen's case?

Just as different drugs draw forth different humors from the body – some putting a stop to disease, others to life – so too with words: some cause pain, others joy, some strike fear, some stir the audience to boldness, some benumb and bewitch the soul with evil persuasion (Encomium)


  • First well known sophist
  • Most known for the statement—man is the measure of all things
  • Dissoi-logoi—the idea of contradictory substances, contradictory statements can be made out of anything, can make an argument for both sides
  • Supposedly banished and died fleeing the city because he said there might not be Gods
every logos or argument can be met with an antilogos or counterargument

Would "gravity is real" be an argument? How about "the earth is round"?

An argument prevails only when “it has been tested by and had withstood the attacks of the opposing side(s)."



  • impossibility of finding absolute truth
  • agreed on the appealing to doxa (common belief)


  • Protagorias – rhetoric is similar to a debate, you have to examine both sides of argument (dissoi logoi)
  • Gorgias— discourse is one-sided. Speaker and audience. Unilateral transaction. (Helen and the power of the word)


  • Logographer
  • Seen as a rival to Plato at the time
  • Didn’t see himself a sophist (Wrote Against The Sophists)
  • Many people tend to lump him with the Sophists (aka the book)
  • Does not claim to teach arate
  • Emphasizes high moral character - Don't just defend any idea, defend what leads you to truth
  • Wanted to unite Greece- Rhetoric was key to this unity and key part of education
  • Philosophy not connected to the world is useless


  • Some scholars think that Gorgias is the best example of rhetorical model, some think Isocrates


  • Both thinks that language directs thought (ruler or director of thought)
  • Both are concerned with finding agreement (political issues)


  • You can defend any idea vs don't defend any idea
  • Gorgias explains logos as dynastes (ruler lord master)
  • Isocrates explains logos as hegemon (leader guide prince)

What is the difference between a ruler versus a leader?

Thought Essay #1 Guidelines


Thoughts on Gorgias, Protagoras, Isocrates?


Continuing Theme

Does rhetoric lead us to T/truth or does it keep us away from T/truth?

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