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Intellectual Development And Sophists In 5th Century Greece Notes

Classics Notes > Greek Literature of the 5th Century BC Notes

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How do the authors you have read respond to intellectual developments in the fifth century? Who were the sophists, and what signs of their influence have you found? How do the authors on the syllabus make use of rhetoric?
During the fifth century there was much intellectual development in the Greek world affecting politics, culture and literature. Its influence was so strong and fundamental that even when an author isn't taking directly from any one particular source this new way of thinking can still be seen. Two particular aspects of this intellectual movement were sophism and rhetoric, which had their roots in the late sixth century but really flourished throughout the fifth; it is these ideas whose influence is most interesting to trace in two works in particular, the Histories of Herodotus and the Hippolytus of Euripides. The sophists were a group of professional teachers of rhetoric; they were the first men who demanded money for services of this sort but they claimed that such skills would best prepare a young man for the rigours of citizen life, especially in the democratic city of Athens whose politics revolved around public speaking. The word sophist often has a negative connotation, mainly because in Plato's work they are treated quite roughly as well as being the antagonists of Socrates which often meant their ideas were made to seem foolish and wrong. Aristophanes also mocked them in his play The Clouds, and claimed that their brand of rhetoric led to an abandonment of the traditional gods and a contempt for the law. He also said that they taught their students how to win even with the wrong argument with the aim of immorality and self-indulgence in mind. However there is no reason to put great weight on these negative stereotypes from antiquity especially since the sophists clearly had such an important and positive impact on the intellectual development of the Greek world. The heart of the fifth century sophistic argument was this quote, attributed to Protagoras, "Man is the measure of all things, of things that are as to how they are, and of things that are not as to how they are not." Plato said that this meant, "Each group of things is such to me as it appears to me, and is to you such as it appears to you." The example which was commonly given to support this is that honey is sweet to those it is sweet and bitter to those it is bitter. The sophistic work, dissoi logoi, has these same arguments concerning the bad, "incontinence in these matters is bad for the incontinent but good for those who sell things and make a profit. And again illness is bad for the sick but good for the doctors. And death is bad for those who die but good for the undertakers and gravediggers." It was with these diverging arguments, such as appear in the dissoi logoi, that Timon says the famous sophist Zeno used to silence his opponents by showing their positions were contradictory because the implied the negation of themselves; this form of anti-logic was the characterising feature of the whole sophistic period. For example the DL argues that the seemly and disgraceful is really the same thing because certain customs are seemly for one culture but disgraceful in another and furthermore some things are acceptable at certain times but similarly unacceptable at others. Another antithesis which was absolutely fundamental to the

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