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The Greek Sophists (Penguin Classics) Paperback – October 28, 2003

4.0 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

JOHN DILLON is now Regius Professor of Greek at Trinity College, Dublin.

TANIA GERGEL is a lecturer in Ancient Greek Philosophy in the Department of Classics at King's College, London.
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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (October 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140436898
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140436891
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.1 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #300,914 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
To start off, it's important to note that I alight this work closely with a comparable Penguin Classics work: "The Presocratic Philosophers." Like that work (by another author), this work gathers fragmentary testimony from a variety of ancient sources to piece together the lives and doctrines of various sophistic figures.

From my perspective, this work suceeds as well as the Presocratic work: it is readable, thorough in its coverage of characters, and features many extant Sophist fragments in full (Gorgia's Economium of Helen was a personal favorite). Although this work is by two editors, the work is seamless and unified.

This book is lacking one Sophist: Isocrates. Despite attempts to justify this action, I feel that editors have created an incomplete volume by excluding this thinker.
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Format: Paperback
Rhetoric, morality, fees
As J. Dillon explains in his excellent introduction, sophist teaching was `all about rhetoric, the all-conquering power of persuasion speech'.
Why was (and is) rhetoric so important? Because Athens became a democracy and the ambitious and the prominent citizens had to sway the crowds in the assembly (now on TV).
Rhetoric has nothing to do with morality (`it is not the teachers who are bad, but rather those who use it incorrectly'). Of course, sophists expressed their own views on mankind, religion, social issues or politics. Some were political ambassadors of their home country. Others played crucial roles in political upheavals and deadly conflicts.
Another constant in their lives were the truly enormous fees they asked for their teachings.

Individual assessments
Protagoras of Abdera was a relativist: `Man is the measure of all things.' or, `The soul is nothing apart from the senses.' and, `Concerning the gods, I am not in a position to know that they exist or not.'

Gorgias of Leontini was a pure rhetorician, searching verbal power through metaphors, figurative language, repetitions and apostrophes. His `Encomium of Helen' and `Defense of Palamedes' are superb texts.

Prodicus of Ceos was a proto-Wittgenstein, emphasizing the correct use of language and words. He could be the inventor of the theory `that men deified all things that are of benefit for our life.'

Hippias of Elis was a proto-Freud, stressing the antinomy between nature (individualism) and convention (culture, laws).

Antiphon was another proto-Freud: `the advantages prescribed by laws are shackles upon nature.' He was also a staunch anti-democrat who masterminded the oligarchy of the 'Four Hundred'.
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This is really a two star book with sterling qualities.

You expect different. But the arguments aren't frankly as brilliant as the sophists must have been.

Why not try to create your own arguments instead?

This book focuses on historical realism, and does 'feel like a book' sort of.

What it's missing is brilliance. If that's what you really need, there are better options. Like the Oxford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (or many others). Some businessmen are worse, for no good reason.
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