The Dramatic Setting of the Gorgias

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The Dramatic Setting of the Gorgias

ABSTRACT: I analyse the dramatic setting of the Gorgias by contrasting it with that of the Protagoras. The two dialogues are closely related. In the Gorgias Socrates states that the rhetorician and the sophist are basically indistinguishable in everyday life. In both the Protagoras and the Gorgias, his confrontation with his interlocutors is metaphorically related to a descent to Hades. However, while the events in the Protagoras are narrated by Socrates himself, the Gorgias has readers face the unfolding events without mediation. The temporal and spatial framing of the Gorgias is indeterminate, while both aspects are described in detail in the Protagoras. I maintain that the magical passage from an indeterminate "outside" to an indeterminate "inside" in the Gorgias is significantly related to the characters' attitude towards the boundaries of each other's souls, which are constantly ignored or attacked. As a matter of fact, the dialogue presents a very impressive amount of anger and exchange of abuse, which never ceases until the end. I suggest that the temporal framing demonstrates that the beginning and the end of the dialogue are closely connected. Socrates unexpectedly arrives and refutes Gorgias by asking him unexpected questions. The last myth of judgment indicates that Gorgias' attitude is comparable to that of the mortals who lived during Kronos' age, while Socrates brings about a liberation from appearance which is analogous to the innovations brought about by Zeus.

The Gorgias has been often characterized by commentators as a remarkably bitter dialogue. After all, the dialogue presents a war between philosophy and rhetoric. Socrates is involved in three discussions of growing length and complexity with characters who, to various degrees, defend the power of rhetoric and the superiority of political life over philosophical life. It is a "fighting dialogue", as is also suggested by its incipit: "to war and battle."

One would expect Socrates to win against his non-philosophical interlocutors. However, this is not the case. The more the conversations proceed, the more they are infiltrated by anger and misunderstanding, the more one is under the impression that Socrates may well silence his interlocutors but he hardly persuades them. His last interlocutor, Callicles, not only is not persuaded by him, but at one point even refuses to talk to Socrates and leaves him with the choice between abandoning the discussion altogether and performing a monologue.

The myth of last judgment, which concludes the dialogue, is addressed to Callicles.

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