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Who's Who Ancient Greece: The Philosophers

Gorgias of Leontini (484 - 377 BC)

Born in Leontini in Sicily, Gorgias died in Larissa, in Thessaly, on the Greek mainland. After Protagoras, he was the most important figure among the ancient Sophists, initiated into Eleaticism, rhetoric, and the philosophy of Empedoklis when he was young.

He came to Athens in 427 BC, heading a delegation from his home in Sicily to seek military aid against aggression by Syracuse. Their orations to the Athenians in the agora (marketplace) aroused tremendous admiration, and gained them the aid they sought, with Athens allied itself with Leontini.

Later he travelled widely in Greece, gaining fame wherever he went and was said to have acquired great wealth from practicing and teaching rhetoric. He wrote a philosophical treatise entitled 'On the non-existent' or 'On nature', in which he made three main statements: that nothing exists, that if something exists, it is not within the reach of human knowledge, and that even if knowledge is possible, it cannot be passed on. During the Peloponnesian War he used his great genius for rhetoric in speeches given before Panhellenic gatherings in such major sites as Delphi and Olympia, in which he tried to persade the Greeks to make peace among themselves. 'Victories against foreigners require festive hymns, against other Hellenes, lamentation', were his words.

He was the founder of Attic prose, which was regarded as a kind of prose very close to poetry, in that it utilized figures of speech to adorn itself, but discreetly, and in that it was rhythmic without however being set to fixed meters.