The Ancient Library

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On this page: Gorgias – Gorgo or Gorgons



Gorglas. (1) A Greek sophist and rhetorician, a native of Leontini in Sicily. In 427 b.c., 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 emolument from a large number of disciples. He survived Socrates, who died in 399, and ended his days at Larissa in Thessaly in his hundredth year.

His philosophy was a nihilistic system, which he summed up in three propositions: (a) nothing exists ; (6) if anything existed, it could not be known; (c) did anything exist, and could it be known, it could not be communicated. He declined to assume the name of Sophist, preferring that of I j rhetorician. He professed to teach not ! ; virtue, but the art of persuasion ; in other words, to give his disciples such absolute readiness in speaking, that they should be able to convince their hearers independently I of any knowledge of the subject. He did I not found his instruction on any definite I rhetorical system, but gave his pupils standard passages of literature to learn by art and imitate, practising them in the application of rhetorical figures. He ap- j peared in person, on various occasions, at Delphi, Olympia, and Athens, with model speeches which he afterwards published. It must not be forgotten that it was Gorgias who transplanted rhetoric to Greece, its proper soil, and who helped to diffuse the Attic dialect as the literary language of prose. Two highly rhetorical exercises, the genuineness of which is doubtful, have come down to us under his name,—the Encomium of Helen, and the Defence of Pdlumedes against the charge of high treason brought against him by Odysseus. ] (2) A Greek rhetorician of the second i half of the 1st 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 Rutllius Lupus. (/SffRuTiLiDS lupus.) Gorgo (Gorgons). Homer makes mention of the terrible head of the Gorgon, a for­ midable monster. This head is a terror in Hades, and in the aegis or breastplate of Zeus. Hesiod speaks of three Gorgons; Sthgno (the mighty), Euryale (the wide-

wandering), and MSdusa (the queen). They are the daughters of the aged sea-god Phorcys'and Keto, and sisters of the Graiae (see graiae). They dwell ou the farthest shore of Ocean, in the neighbourhood of Night and of the Hesperides. They are awful beings, with hair and girdles of snakes, whose look turns the beholder to stone. They are also often represented with golden wings, brazen claws, and enormous teeth. Medusa is mortal, but the other two immortal. When Perseus cuts off Medusa's head, Chrysaor and the winged horse Pegasus, with whom she was with child by Poseidon, spring forth from the streaming blood. The head was given by Perseus to Athene, who set it in her shield. Heracles received a lock of the hair from Athene as a present. When en­deavouring to persuade Cephalus of Tegea to take part in his expedition against Hipp5c5on of Sparta, the king represented that he feared an attack from his enemies the Argives in Heracles' absence. Heracles accordingly gave to StSrBpe, the daughter of Cephalus, the lock of Medusa's hair in a brazen urn, bidding her, in case the enemy approached, to avert her head and hold it three times over the walls, for the mere aspect of it would turn the enemy to flight. In consequence of the belief in this power of the Gorgon's head, or GorgOneidn, to paralyse and terrify an enemy, the Greeks carved images of it in its most terrifying forms, not only on armour of all sorts,


(Anttfmm a! terra-cotta, found S.B. of Parthenon. 1836,

published in colours by Ross, Arch. Aufs. I vii.)

especially shields and breastplates, but also on walls and gates (see fig. 1). Thus, on the south wall of the Athenian Acropolis, a large gilded Gorgoneion was set on an cngis [Pausanias, i 21 § 4]. In the popular belief the Gorgon's head was also a means of pro­tection against all enchantment, whether of word or act, and we thus find it through-

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