Dialogues of Plato | Study Guide


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Dialogues of Plato | Gorgias | Summary



Callicles, Socrates, and Chaerephon are somewhere in Athens. Upon learning that the eminent orator and teacher of rhetoric Gorgias is staying with Callicles, Socrates asks if he would be willing to converse with them. "I wish," Socrates says, "to ask the man what the power of his art is, and what it is he professes and teaches."

Callicles says that Gorgias has just put on a performance, in which he solicited questions from the audience. Socrates wants to test whether Gorgias's claim of being able to answer any question put to him is true. Chaerephon asks Gorgias directly, and Gorgias offers to be tested, saying that no one has asked him anything new in a long time. Polus jumps in and demands that Chaerephon test him on Gorgias's behalf, instead. Gorgias, he says, must be tired after his "lengthy discourse."

After a brief period, Socrates turns to Gorgias. Polus has not answered the question put to him, namely, "what art Gorgias knew," but rather offered a eulogistic defense. Polus seems confused, and claims he said that Gorgias's art is "most noble." Socrates does not want to know "what sort Gorgias's art is, but what it is, and what one should call Gorgias."

Gorgias steps in and tells Socrates he is a rhetorician, "and a good one." Socrates is glad of the short answer and asks that they proceed accordingly, not by lengthy discourses. "Give me," Socrates requests, "an exhibition of your short-answer method, and long-answer style for later."


Socrates's request that Gorgias engage in dialectic—question and answer—would apparently set the conversation off on the usual path, where Socrates seeks a definition of an ethical term, and Gorgias provides an answer, which is then examined. This does not happen. The style of the dialogue, most notably Socrates's speeches, soon resembles the features of rhetoric.

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