Everyone Lies about Helen

Gorgias, Defense of Helen 1-2

“Kosmos for a city is a good-population; for a body it is beauty; for a soul, wisdom. For a deed, excellence; and for a word, truth. The opposition of these things would be akosmia. It is right, on the one hand, to honor a man and a woman and a deed and a city and a deed worthy of praise with praise and to lay reproach on the unworthy. For it is equally mistaken and ignorant to rebuke the praiseworthy and praise things worthy of rebuke.

It is thus necessary for the same man to speak truly and refute those who reproach Helen, a woman about whom the belief from what the poets say and the fame of her name are univocal and single-minded, that memory of sufferings. I want, by giving some reckoning in speech, to relieve her of being badly spoken, and, once I demonstrate and show that those who reproach her are liars, to protect the truth from ignorance”

(1) Κόσμος πόλει μὲν εὐανδρία, σώματι δὲ κάλλος, ψυχῆι δὲ σοφία, πράγματι δὲ ἀρετή, λόγωι δὲ ἀλήθεια· τὰ δὲ ἐναντία τούτων ἀκοσμία. ἄνδρα δὲ καὶ γυναῖκα καὶ λόγον καὶ ἔργον καὶ πόλιν καὶ πρᾶγμα χρὴ τὸ μὲν ἄξιον ἐπαίνου ἐπαίνωι τιμᾶν, τῶι δὲ ἀναξίωι μῶμον ἐπιτιθέναι· ἴση γὰρ ἁμαρτία καὶ ἀμαθία μέμφεσθαί τε τὰ ἐπαινετὰ καὶ ἐπαινεῖν τὰ μωμητά.

(2) τοῦ δ’ αὐτοῦ ἀνδρὸς λέξαι τε τὸ δέον ὀρθῶς καὶ ἐλέγξαι *** τοὺς μεμφομένους ῾Ελένην, γυναῖκα περὶ ἧς ὁμόφωνος καὶ ὁμόψυχος γέγονεν ἥ τε τῶν ποιητῶν ἀκουσάντων πίστις ἥ τε τοῦ ὀνόματος φήμη, ὃ τῶν συμφορῶν μνήμη γέγονεν. ἐγὼ δὲ βούλομαι λογισμόν τινα τῶι λόγωι δοὺς τὴν μὲν κακῶς ἀκούουσαν παῦσαι τῆς αἰτίας, τοὺς δὲ μεμφομένους ψευδομένους ἐπιδείξας καὶ δείξας τἀληθὲς [ἢ] παῦσαι τῆς ἀμαθίας.

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Two Fragments from Plutarch Pertaining to Political Rhetoric

Plutarch, Fr. 186 (Isidorus of Pelusium, Letters, ii. 42)

“According to Plutarch, real Atticism is a clear and straight-forward style—for, he says, their politicians spoke in this way. Gorgias of Leonini first inserted that disease into public speeches, by polishing them with elevated language and poetic devices and muddying up their clarity. This very sickness—Plutarch says—afflicted even the wondrous Plato.”

Πλουτάρχῳ δὲ δοκεῖ τὸ σαφὲς καὶ λιτὸν γνήσιον εἶναι Ἀττικισμόν· οὕτω γάρ, φησίν, ἐλάλησαν οἱ ῥήτορες. Γοργίας δ᾿ ὁ Λεοντῖνος πρῶτος τὴν νόσον ταύτην εἰς τοὺς πολιτικοὺς λόγους εἰσήγαγε τὸ ὑψηλὸν καὶ τροπικὸν ἀσπασάμενος καὶ τῇ σαφηνείᾳ λυμηνάμενος. ἥψατό τε, φησίν, ἡ νόσος αὕτη καὶ τοῦ θαυμαστοῦ Πλάτωνος.

Fr. 197 (Prolegomenon in Hermogenis περὶ στάσεων Appendices)

Ἐκ τῶν Πλουτάρχου εἰς τὸν Πλάτωνος Γοργίαν·

From Plutarch’s Commentary on Plato’s Gorgias

The field of rhetoric according to Gorgias: Rhetoric is the art which has power over speeches—it is an instrument of public persuasion in political speeches about any idea which is targeted, it is about belief and not about teaching. [Gorgias] says that its particular concern [should be] just and unjust matters, noble and ignoble, beautiful and shameful affairs.”

Ὅρος ῥητορικῆς κατὰ Γοργιάν· ῥητορική ἐστι τέχνη περὶ λόγους τὸ κῦρος ἔχουσα, πειθοῦς δημιουργὸς ἐν πολιτικοῖς λόγοις περὶ παντὸς τοῦ προτεθέντος πιστευτικῆς καὶ οὐ διδασκαλικῆς· εἶναι δὲ αὐτῆς τὴν πραγματείαν ἰδίαν μάλιστα περὶ δίκαια καὶ ἄδικα ἀγαθά τε καὶ κακὰ καλά τε καὶ αἰσχρά.

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The Funereal Birth of Gorgias the Epirote

I am proud my self-restraint for not posting this anecdote on Mother’s Day

Valerius Maximus, Wondrous Deeds and Sayings 1.8 ext2

 “The origin of Gorgias of Epiros*, a famous man, was also miraculous. He fell out of his mother’s womb during her funeral and the pallbearers were forced to stop by his surprising wail. This offered his country a new spectacle, a baby finding light and a cradle almost from his mother’s own grave—she gave birth although she was dead at the same time he was prepared for a funeral before he was born!”

Gorgiae quoque Epirotae, fortis et clari viri, origo admirabilis <fuit>, quod in funere matris suae utero elapsus inopinato vagitu suo lectum ferentes consistere coegit novumque spectaculum patriae praebuit, tantum non ex ipso genetricis rogo lucem et cunas adsecutus: eodem enim momento temporis altera iam fato functa peperit, alter ante elatus quam natus est.

This is not Gorgias of Leontini, the rhetorician and Pre-socratic Philosopher. This Gorgias of Epirus is primarily famous for the anecdote you just read.

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Roman relief showing a birthing scene. Tomb of a Midwife (Tomb 100), Isola Sacra Ostia Photo credit: magistrahf on Flickr

Ancient Death Scenes: Gorgias on Sleep and His Brother (Aelian, Varia Historiia 2.30)

“When Gorgias of Leontini was at the end of his life and, extremely old, he was over taken by a certain weakness, he stretched out in his bed slipping off to sleep. When one of his attendants who was looking over him asked how he was doing, Gorgias replied “Sleep is now starting to hand me over to his brother.””

Γοργίας ὁ Λεοντῖνος ἐπὶ τέρματι ὢν τοῦ βίου καὶ γεγηρακὼς εὖ μάλα ὑπό τινος ἀσθενείας καταληφθείς, κατ’ ὀλίγον ἐς ὕπνον ὑπολισθάνων ἔκειτο. ἐπεὶ δέ τις αὐτὸν παρῆλθε τῶν ἐπιτηδείων ἐπισκοπούμενος καὶ ἤρετο ὅ τι πράττοι, ὁ Γοργίας ἀπεκρίνατο ‘ἤδη με ὁ ὕπνος ἄρχεται παρακατατίθεσθαι τἀδελφῷ.’

Gorgias of Leontini was an orator who lived nearly one hundred years. In Greek myth, Sleep (Hypnos) and Death (Thanatos) are brothers. Here’s the Euphronios Krater that shows the pair carrying off the mortally wounded Sarpedon.


Gorgias: Orators and Frogs

“He said that orators are like frogs: these croak in the water, while those croak at the waterclock.”

τοὺς ῥήτορας ἔφη ὁμοίους εἶναι τοῖς βατράχοις· τοὺς μὲν γὰρ ἐν ὕδατι κελαδεῖν, τοὺς δὲ πρὸς κλεψύδραν.

-Fragment from the Gnomologium Vaticanum, 743.n.167

Drinking Songs, 890 ( schol. Plato Gorg. 451e)


“The best thing for a mortal man is to be healthy

And second, to be pretty.

Third, is to be wealthy without deceit.

And fourth is to be young with friends.”


ὑγιαίνειν μὲν ἄριστον ἀνδρὶ θνητῶ̣

δεύτερον δὲ καλὸμ φυὰν γενέσθαι

τὸ τρίτον δὲ πλουτεῖν ἀδόλως

καὶ τέταρτον ἡβᾶν μετὰ τῶν φίλων

Plato, Gorgias 452e

 “The businessman will seem to make money for someone besides himself, for you, the man adept at speaking and persuading the masses.”


ὁ δὲ χρηματιστὴς οὗτος ἄλλῳ ἀναφανήσεται χρηματιζόμενος καὶ οὐχ αὑτῷ, ἀλλὰ σοὶ τῷ δυναμένῳ λέγειν καὶ πείθειν τὰ πλήθη.


So Plato has Gorgias say. (A man who (fatefully) persuaded the Athenians to take some interest in Sicily.)

Gorgias, Defense of Helen 1


“Kosmos is: a city well-peopled, a body’s beauty, a soul’s wisdom, virtue for a deed and the truth of a word.”

(1) Κόσμος πόλει μὲν εὐανδρία, σώματι δὲ κάλλος, ψυχῆι δὲ

σοφία, πράγματι δὲ ἀρετή, λόγωι δὲ ἀλήθεια·


“Kosmos is: a city well-peopled, a body’s beauty, a soul’s wisdom, virtue for a deed and the truth of a word.”


Yes, defense of that Helen.


Gorgias of Leontini, gorgeous with words.


(He shows up in Plato’s dialogue named for him: The full text)