“Why Gorgias of Leontini Traveled to Athens: A Study of Recent Epigraphical Evidence” —Richard Enos

In this article, Enos demonstrates why digging up primary evidence is necessary, useful, and even invaluable for the rhetorical tradition. Previously, historiographers in rhetoric thought Gorgias’ reasons for promoting rhetoric in Athens was purely intellectual in nature. After uncovering an inscription from recent acquisition of an epigraph, Enos has determined that Gorgias had political intentions as well. Furthermore, previously Sicily’s contribution to rhetoric in the Hellenic world had previously been ignored; with this new evidence, the rhetoric in Sicily’s history plays a more prominent role in the history of rhetoric and our understanding of rhetoric’s origins and growth are deepened.

In Sicily, rhetoric played an important role in the cultural arts, which flourished and thus provided the perfect environment for Sophists as gifted artists of eloquent expression to flourish as well. In Syracuse, which was under tyrannical rule, rhetoric “invented” as a political tool. Leontini, an ally of Athens who eventually waged war with Syracuse, and here rhetoric played a political role for overthrowing monarchial and tyrannical rule and replacing them with democracies, and once democracies were established, rhetoric played major role in controlling public opinion. Thus political factors, which intensified social and culture differences, provided an atmosphere in which rhetoric could flourish in Sicily. Rhetoric’s forensic and deliberative powers helped popularize rhetoric, but eventually rhetoric’s didactic and epideictic powers became popular in education and social celebrations as well. Therefore, although rhetoric once known as art, it soon became known as political tool.

A treaty discovered shows Leontini’s strong link with Athens. It is this treaty written by Gorgias that he carried to Athens and secured for Athens a democratic ally on Sicily. Previously, during this meeting and in his role as ambassador, Gorgias was credited for artistic and intellectual talents, but the new epigraphical evidence demonstrates Gorgias’ strong political power as well. Thus Enos says, then, that Plato’s contention with Gorgias (and rhetoric) was just not over rhetoric’s intellectual powers, but also rhetoric’s power as a political tool. Gorgias’ not only then securing joining of forces between to democrats, but also introduced potential of rhetoric as powerful tool in a democracy….

This article is structured nicely. Enos starts out with current scholarship regarding Sicily and Gorgias’ role in the popularization of rhetoric in Athens, explains its limitations and the reasons for and consequences of those limitations, and then articulates how his scholarship will address the gaps of knowledge resulting from the limited scholarship. In setting up argument in this way, he lets his readers know right away what conversation he is joining, what he hopes to contribute, and why his work is important. Enos also does a nice job of writing for those who may not be familiar with this area of scholarship. He updates unfamiliar readers on previously held assumptions and accepted “facts” and then slowly shows the “errors” with this thinking. I am uncertain as to how this article was received, but this article seems like an extremely important text in furthering our understanding of rhetoric’s origins.


1 Comment

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One response to ““Why Gorgias of Leontini Traveled to Athens: A Study of Recent Epigraphical Evidence” —Richard Enos

  1. lpagnew

    It’s interesting that you’ve taken note of features such as structure in your assessment of this article. These are the types of specific points we’ll focus on during the coming weeks in our assessment of the strategies writers use in making effective scholarly arguments.

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