Ever since Plato, the Sophists have been seen as teaching “the art of persuasion”, particularly the art (or skill) of persuasive speaking in the lawcourts and the assembly on which success in life depended. I argue that this view is mistaken. Although Gorgias describes logos as working to persuade Helen, he does not present persuasion as the goal of his own work, nor does any other Sophist see persuasion as the primary aim of his logoi. Most sophistic discourse was composed in the form of antilogies (pairs of opposed logoi), in which category I include works like Helen where the other side - the poetic tradition Gorgias explicitly cites as his opponent - is implicitly present. The purpose of these works is primarily to display skill in intellectual argument, as well as to give pleasure. Persuasion may be a goal of some sophistic works, but it is not their primary goal; and teaching the art of persuasion was not a major concern of the Sophists.

This content is only available via PDF.