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A Greek sophist and rhetorician, known as “the Nihilist,” a native of Leontini in Sicily. In B.C. 427, when already advanced in years, he came to Athens on an embassy from his native city, to implore aid against the Syracusans. The finished style of his speaking excited general admiration. He was successful in the object of his mission, and immediately returned home; but he soon came back to Athens, which he made his headquarters, travelling through Greece, like the other sophists, and winning much popularity and profit from a large number of disciples. He survived Socrates, who died in 399, and ended his days at Larissa in Thessaly in his hundred and fifth year.

His philosophy was a nihilistic system, which is summed up in three propositions: (a) Nothing exists; (b) If anything existed, it could not be known; (c) If anything did exist, and could be known, it could not be communicated. He declined to assume the name of sophist, preferring that of rhetorician. He professed not to teach virtue, but the art of persnasion; in other words, to give his disciples such absolute readiness in speaking, that they should be able to convince their hearers independently of any knowledge of the subject. He did not found his instruction on any definite rhetorical system, but gave his pupils standard passages of literature to learn by heart and imitate, practising them in the application of rhetorical figures. He appeared in person, on various occasions, at Delphi, Olympia, and Athens, with model speeches which he afterwards published. It must be remembered that it was Gorgias who transplanted rhetoric to Greece, and who helped to diffuse the Attic dialect as the literary language of prose. There remain two works ascribed to him, but not genuine—the so-called Apology of Palamedes, and the Encomium on Helen. See the article by Baumstark in the Rheinisches Museum for 1860, pp. 624-626; and Blass, Attische Beredsamkeit, pp. 44-72.


A Greek rhetorician of the second half of the first century B.C. He was tutor to the younger Cicero, and was the author of a treatise on the figures of speech, which is in part preserved in a Latin paraphrase by Rutilius Lupus. See Rutilius Lupus.

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