less than 1 minute read

The Sophists

Sophistic Speeches

Sophistic speeches were famous in antiquity for their rhetorical style and their moral and philosophical content. Prodicus' "Hercules at the Crossroads," (see Xenophon, Memorabilia, II.i.21–34) depicts a young Hercules at the brink of manhood choosing between a life of virtue and one of vice. Though the life of vice appears easy at first and the life of virtue difficult, virtue is said to produce genuine happiness (eudaimonia), while vice produces shame and distress.

Another important speech is the "Great Speech" of Protagoras in Plato's dialogue by that name (302c–328d), which details the process of moral education from childhood through adulthood and celebrates the virtues of justice (dikê) and respect for others (aidôs) as prerequisites for civil life. In a different vein are the speeches of Gorgias, which showcase the power of certain rhetorical techniques to defend positions of dubious morality and truth. Thus his "Encomium of Helen" and his "Defense of Palamedes" make two classical villains appear blameless, while his speech "On the Non-Existent," argues that nothing exists, that even if it exists it is inapprehensible to man, and that even if it is apprehensible, it cannot be expressed.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Adam Smith Biography to Spectroscopic binaryThe Sophists - Sophistic Speeches, Pedagogy, Doctrines, Historiography, Bibliography