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Gorgias on Magic

Michael Fournier

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft, Volume 8, Number 2, Winter 2013, pp.

119-131 (Article)

Published by University of Pennsylvania Press

DOI: 10.1353/mrw.2013.0029

For additional information about this article

Access provided by University Of Southern California (3 Apr 2014 16:11 GMT)

Gorgias on Magic
Dalhousie University

Although the Greek idea of magic is notoriously difficult to define,1 it is

common in accounts of the history of rhetoric to find the term magical
used to describe the power of speech in Gorgiass Encomium of Helen.2 Gorgias
is well known for acknowledging the similarities between his own art, the
art of speech (logos),3 and magic.4 And while Gorgias does invoke mageia and

1. On the difficulties of emic definitions of magic, see: H. S. Versnel, Some

Reflections on the Relationship Magic-Religion, Numen 38 (1991): 17797; Rad-
cliffe G. Edmonds III, Extra-Ordinary People: Mystai and Magoi, Magicians and
Orphics in the Derveni Papyrus, Classical Philology 103 (2008): 1619; Kyle A. Fra-
ser, The Contested Boundaries of Magic and Religion in Late Pagan Monothe-
ism, Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft 4 (2009): 13151; Robert Fowler, Greek Magic,
Greek Religion, in Oxford Readings in Greek Religion, ed. Richard Buxton (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2000) 31743. A very instructive overview of various diffi-
culties is found in Sarah Iles Johnston et al., Panel Discussion: Magic in the Ancient
World by Fritz Graf, Numen 46 (1999): 291325.
2. For just one example, see George Alexander Kennedy, Classical Rhetoric and Its
Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times (Chapel Hill: The Univer-
sity of North Carolina Press, 1999), 35.
3. The term rhetorike is not used in the Helen. On the invention of the term,
see Edward Schiappa, Did Plato Coin Rhetorike? The American Journal of Philology
111 (1990): 45770.
4. The best introduction to this account is found in Jacqueline de Romilly, Magic
and Rhetoric in Ancient Greece (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975). Gorgias
also identifies poetry with magic. See Roberto Velardi, Parola poetica e canto magico
nella teora gorgiana del discorso, AION 12 (1990): 15165. On the subsequent
tradition, see William A. Covino, Magic and/as Rhetoric: Outlines of a History of
Phantasy, Journal of Advanced Composition 12 (1992): 34958, and John O. Ward,
Magic and Rhetoric from Antiquity to the Renaissance: Some Ruminations, Rhet-
orica 6 (1988): 57118. On connection between magic and rhetoric in Plato, see
Andre Motte, A propos de la magie chez Platon: Lantithese sophiste-philosophe
vue sous langle de la pharmacie et de la sorcellerie, in La Magie, actes du colloque
international de Montpellier, 2527 mars 1999, ed. A. Moreau and J.-C. Turpin (Mont-
pellier: Publications de la recherche, 2000), 26792.

Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft (Winter 2013)

Copyright 2013 University of Pennsylvania Press. All rights reserved.

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goeteia in his discussion of logos (indeed, his is the earliest attested use of the
term mageia5), he does not suggest that logos is magical. On the contrary, it
is mageia and goeteia that derive their power from logos. Thus, for Gorgias,
magic is logical.
In order to understand what the nature of this power is that logos contri-
butes to mageia and goeteia, I argue that it is necessary to provide a reading of
the Helen, in particular an account of the four causes, which points to an
new interpretation of logos. Although most accounts of the Helen do not take
seriously Gorgiass association of logos and the divine,6 my view is that for
Gorgias in the Helen, logos is, like Helen herself, both human and divine.7
While Plato stipulates to the relation between rhetoric and magic established
by Gorgias, they are for him anything but divine. He understands the com-
mon feature of both to be mere deception (apate), and for Plato the sorcerer
and the sophist do nothing more than manipulate images.8 Gorgias also makes
apate essential to magic and sorcery, but I argue that he attributes this power
to a divine element in logos.
The notion of a human/divine composite is found in the central section
of Helen, in the discussion of the power of logos. However, Gorgias did not
invent it: Homer and Hesiod present the magic of speech as just this sort

5. Derek Collins, Magic, in The Oxford Handbook of Hellenic Studies, ed. George
Boys-Stones, Barbara Graziosi, and Phiroze Vasunia (Oxford: Oxford University
Press, 2009), 54151; Jan N. Bremmer, The Birth of the Term Magic, Zeitschrift
fur Papyrologie und Epigraphik 126 (1999): 112.
6. For the closest thing to an exception, see Arthur W. H. Adkins, Form and
Content in Gorgias Helen and Palamedes: Rhetoric, Philosophy, Inconsistency and
Invalid Argument in Some Greek Thinkers, in Essays in Greek Philosophy, volume
two, ed. John P. Anton and Anthony Preus (Albany: State University of New York
Press, 1983).
7. The nature of divinity here has much in common with that found in the Preso-
cratics, the Hippocratic authors and Aristotle. See R. J. Hankinson, Magic, Religion
and Science: Divine and Human in the Hippocratic Corpus, Apeiron 31 (1998):
134. On the similarities between certain magical views on divinity and those of
Plato and the Hippocratic authors, see Derek Collins, Nature, Cause, and Agency
in Greek Magic, Transactions of the American Philological Association (1974) 133
(2003): 1749.
8. The discussions of the mimetic art of poetry (e.g., Republic 398ac and 596d)
are always closely connected with the deceptions of the sorcerer (413ac and 584ab).
Of course, Socrates himself is compared to a sorcerer in the Meno (80ab), and the
dialogues contain other suggestions about Socratess magical power. See Michelle
Gellrich, Socratic Magic: Enchantment, Irony, and Persuasion in Platos Dialogues,
The Classical World 87 (1994): 275307, and Elizabeth Belfiore, Elenchus, Epode, and
Magic: Socrates as Silenus, Phoenix 34 (1980): 12837.

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Fournier  Gorgias on Magic 121

of composition. As Pucci argues, the power of the Muses is almost magical,

and the inspired song of the Muses does not lose any of its magic power in
passing through the mouth of the poet. The magic of poetry is precisely
due to this human administration of the divine.9 Indeed, Hesiod suggests
a similar deceptive potential in logos: the Muses know how to say (legein)
many falsehoods (pseudea) as though they were true (etumoisin) (Theogony 27).
Homer makes much of the absolute difference between men and gods:
humans die; the gods are deathless (athanatoi). He also presents what is from
our perspective the almost endless ambiguity of the human and the divine.
Divine epiphanies are frequent,10 and humans are frequently said to appear
divine. Such ambiguities about the difference between human and divine in
Homer suggest that, in some sense, some things are both. A specific example
is found in the Homeric presentation of magic.
When Odysseus, having been shipwrecked and washed up on the shores
of the Phaiakians, encounters King Alkinouss daughter, Nausikaa, he asks if
she is a goddess or a mortal (theos nu tis e brotos essi [Od. 6.149]). Then,
after Odysseus has not only bathed and oiled himself, but has had his appear-
ance further enhanced by Athena,11 Nausikaa comments that he now looks
like a god (nun de theoisin eoike [Od. 6.243]). Odysseuss initial uncertainty
could be explained by the fact that all of the Phaiakians seem somewhat
divine. After all, he has just washed up on Scheria after his time with the
nymph Kalypso, and there are similarities between the islands of Scheria and
Ogygia, the most prominent being the sort of golden age proximity to the
gods (the Phaiakians are hoi anchitheoi [Od. 535], near the gods or even
dwelling with them). Similarly, Nausikaas impression of Odysseuss divin-
ity is produced by Athena. However, the phrase goddess or mortal must
also be read with reference to Odysseuss earlier experiences with Circe. As
Odysseus recounts when he sings his own song to the Phaiakians, during
their wanderings, he and his men had encountered a witch named Circe.
Upon first hearing her song they were compelled to ask whether the singer
was a goddess or woman (e theos ee gune [Od. 10.228 and 10.255]). She is
in fact divine (perhaps most clearly stated at Od. 10.573), but also a terrible
goddess who uses a human voice (deine theos audeessa [Od. 10.136]).12 After

9. Pietro Pucci, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins
University Press, 1977), 29.
10. B. C. Dietrich, Divine Epiphanies in Homer, Numen 30 (1983): 5379.
11. He looks taller and his long curls are like hyacinth blossoms (huakinthinoi anthei
homoias [Od. 6.231])
12. John Heath, The Talking Greeks: Speech, Animals, and the Other in Homer,
Aeschylus, and Plato (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 54.

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122 Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft  Winter 2013

she had turned his men into swine using drugs (pharmaka), she found herself
unable to do the same to Odysseus. She suspected that he was no mere
human. Indeed, Odysseus was able to resist not because of his own mortal
power but because Hermes had given him a magic herb, which the gods call
molu (Od. 10.305).13 As Hermes explained, even picking the molu would be
dangerous for men. For the gods all lies in their power (theoi de te panta
dunantai [Od. 10.306]); it does not harm them. Hermes revealed to Odysseus
the name and the nature (phusin) of the apotropaic drug, and instructed him
in its use.
In Circe we see two sides of magic: speech and drugs (pharmaka).14 Her
speech is ambiguous: it is a human voice (audeeis), but comes from a goddess.
Homer describes both Circe and Kalypso as goddesses who used the speech
of mortals (theos audeessa). The drugs are similarly ambiguous: Circes and
Hermess pharmaka are both combinations of natural and divine elements.15
The idea that magic is some composite of human and divine elements is not
novel. As Collins notes, In literature and myth, for example, the common
trope of divinities giving magical aids to mortals . . . seems to acknowledge
that magic has both a natural and a divine origin.16 Not only does Hermes
give Odysseus the powerful apotropaic molu, but in Pindars Pythian 4, Aph-
rodite provides Jason with the means to perform love magic on Medea. There
are even examples of the gods using magic: in the Metamorphoses Ovids Min-
erva uses Hecates herb (Hecateidos herbae [Met. 6.139]) to transform Arachne
into a spider.17
Circe and her sister Medea are witches avant la lettre. Both employ drugs
(pharmaka), but also use spells. The ambiguities concerning magic found in

13. An example of a word that belongs to the language of the gods. For a discus-
sion of divine words in Homer, see Heath, The Talking Greeks, 5657.
14. On these two sides of Circe and other ambiguities in Homers presentation,
see Michael Martin, La magie dans lantiquite (Paris: Elipses, 2012), 12021. Beguiling
and enchanting speech and song are also used by Calypso and the Sirens. Drugs are
used by Helen (Od. 4.2193). Both effect forgetfulness.
15. Homeric verses themselves contain not only divinely inspired tales, but some
of the language of the gods. See note 12 above. The Homeric verses both contain
references to healing words, and the medicinal use of magic, but are also later used
as magical remedies. See Collins, Magic, 54151 and his article The Magic of
Homeric Verses, Classical Philology 103 (2008): 21136.
16. Collins, Nature, Cause, and Agency, 28. What is striking is that this notion
is suggested in Helen. It stands (or at least seems to stand) in stark contrast to the
presentation of an autonomous, human logos in part three of his ONB.
17. In addition, Hecataeus (also known as aconite) was spawned by saliva of Cerb-
erus, and is thus a natural/divine composite of sorts.

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Fournier  Gorgias on Magic 123

Homer are developed in a number of ways by the subsequent tradition.

Euhemerists like Diodorus give rationalized accounts of Medeas pharmaka
(Diodorus Siculus, book 4.45),18 and Pliny dismisses magic as a fraudulent
craft constructed from the legitimate traditions of medicine, religion, and
astrology (Natural History 30.120). Even the subsequent literary tradition
observes a stricter distinction between the human and the divine. Apollonius
Argonautica depicts a Medea who practices witchcraft (pharmassein) under the
instruction of Hecate (Argonautica 3.478).19 Gorgias is usually viewed as being
part of the rationalizing, skeptical tradition. The notion of logos outlined in
his On What-Is-Not, or On Nature (also commonly referred to as On Not
Being, and so hereafter abbreviated ONB) is conditioned by his radical separa-
tion of our thinking from being. There, logos seems omnipotent because of
its complete independence from being. However, I argue that what Gorgias
does in the Helen is to give an account of the older view, one that holds
together in a kind of unity aspects of humanity and divinity. This account
explains not only the power, but also the strange appearance, of logos (and
thereby magic) as the result of its being sometimes human, sometimes divine.
Gorgiass remarks on magic are brief and obscure. After his equally brief
and provocative treatment of poetry, which he defines as speech in verse
(logon echonta metron), he turns from one point to another to treat incanta-

Religious songs (entheoi epoidai) through words are bearers of pleasure, banishers of
sorrow, for mingling with the thought of the soul their power charms, persuades, and
transforms it by witchcraft (goeteiai). Two arts of witchcraft (goeteias) and magic
(mageias) can be identified: those producing errors of the soul (psuches hamartemata)
and those producing deceptions of judgment (doxes apatemata) (Helen B11.10).20

18. According to Diodorus and his euhemerizing source, Medea was instructed in
the use of pharmaka by her mortal mother, Hecate, who, through a series of trial and
error experiments (i.e., killing strangers who happened by with poisons), had made
great discoveries (including aconite) and acquired a vast knowledge of pharmaka.
Medea made even greater progress and her knowledge of pharmaka surpassed
19. See also Ovid, Metamorphoses 7.16479, on Medeas (self-acknowledged) sub-
ordination to Hecate. The human in these presentations is clearly a technician, and
the power and agency is clearly divine.
20. That Gorgias does not simply condemn apate is suggested not only by the
account of logos in the Helen, but also by the later report found in Plutarch, which
ascribes virtue to both the power and the reception of the power of deception: Trag-
edy flourished and was published abroad, becoming a marvelous audition and specta-
cle of men of that time, and providing by its plots and experiences a form of deception
(apaten), as Gorgias says, in which the deceiver is more honest (dikaioteros) than the

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124 Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft  Winter 2013

Logos is inherently ambiguous because it is indeterminate. Deception itself is

neutral, but the result can be just or unjust. I argue that the power of
magic, too, is indeterminate precisely because it does not simply share in the
determinations human or divine, but displays aspects of both. This is at
least what, for his specific rhetorical purposes, he wishes to convey to the
reader of the Helen. We cannot ascribe this view too directly to Gorgias;
however, I would suggest that he is presenting it to a readership familiar with
certain currents in Greek thought, with the purpose of elevating logos to the
same level of causation as the other three aitiai he enumerates.
In the Helen Gorgias enumerates the reasons (aitias) for which Helens
voyage to Troy probably took place (B11.5):

She did what she did either (i) by the caprices of Chance (Tuches), the counsels of the
gods (theon), and the decrees of Fate (Anankes), or (ii) ravished by force (Biai), or (iii)
persuaded by words (logois), or (iv) captivated by love. (B11.6)21

Some scholars suggest that Gorgias supposed the list to be exhaustive,22 but
most note that Gorgias seems to silently exclude certain possible causes.23
Gorgias in fact provides the model of an exhaustive argument in ONB.

That nothing is he argues in the following way: if anything is, either [A] what-is
is or [B] what-is-not is, or [C] both what-is and what-is-not are. But neither is what
is, as he will show; nor is what-is-not, as he will establish; nor are both what-is and
what-is-not, as he will explain; therefore there is not anything. (B3.66)

non-deceiver, and the deceived is wiser (sophoteros) than the non-deceived. The
deceiver is more honest because he has accomplished what he promised; the deceived
wiser because one who is not unfeeling is easily charmed by the pleasure of words
(Plutarch On the Fame of the Athenians 394c [B23]).
21. All texts and translations of ONB and Helen are from Daniel W. Graham, The
Texts of Early Greek Philosophy: The Complete Fragments and Selected Testimonies of the
Major Presocratics, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).
22. R. J. Hankinson, Cause and Explanation in Ancient Greek Thought (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 2001), 23; Juan Pablo Bermudez Rey, Gorgias on the
Normativity of Language, 34th Ancient Philosophy Workshop, Washington Uni-
versity, St. Louis, March 2011; Robert Wardy, The Birth of Rhetoric: Gorgias, Plato and
their successors (London: Routledge, 1996).
23. Scott Consigny, Gorgias: Sophist and Artist (Columbia: University of South
Carolina Press, 2001), 187; G. E. R. Lloyd, Magic, Reason and Experience: Studies
in the Origin and Development of Greek Science (Cambridge: Cambridge Univer-
sity Press, 1979), 83; James I. Porter, The Seductions of Gorgias, Classical Antiquity,
12 (1993): 274; cf. Adkins, Form and Content, 117.

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Fournier  Gorgias on Magic 125

It is often noted that Gorgias uses similar arguments in ONB, Helen, and the
Defense of Palamedes, in particular the disjunctive analysis.24 He is also, to
say the least, fond of antithesis.25 These come together in the ONB,26 and, as
I will argue, also in Helen. On the coincidence of antithesis and disjunctive
analysis in ONB, Caston notes:

The [ONBs] most characteristic feature is its almost obsessive use of argument by
elimination, beginning with an exhaustive enumeration of logical alternatives. . . .
We are assured of the truth of the initial disjunctions, since the alternatives are contra-
dictory and therefore exhaustive.

I argue that, in the Helen, the terms of the antithesis divine/human are
arranged in a way that resembles the presentation of the contraries what-is
and what-is-not in the first part of ONB.27 The result is that the four aitiai
are indeed exhaustive because they present all of the logical possibilities for
the arrangement of the two terms.
Gorgias begins the Helen with a pair of opposites (enantia), kosmos / akosmia
(B11.1), and adds to these praise and blame, honor and dishonor, and a
number of others. However, the primary opposition, the one which is mani-
fest in and underlies the four causes, is the pair human and divine. The
opposition appears first in the description of Helens birth and family:

For it is evident that her mother was Leda, and her father was actually a god (genome-
nou theou), Zeus, though he was said to be a mortal (legomenou de thnetou), Tyndareus,
of whom the one was proved because of being (to einai), the other was disproved
because of claiming (to phanai) (B11.3).

24. A. A. Long, Methods of Argument in Gorgias, Palamedes, in The Sophistic

Movement, ed. F. Solmsen (Athens: Greek Philosophical Association, 1984); D. G.
Spatharas, Patterns of Argumentation in Gorgias, Mnemosyne 54 (2001): 393408;
Scott Consigny, Gorgias: Sophist and Artist (Columbia: University of South Carolina
Press, 2001).
25. Janika Pall, Form, Style and Syntax: Towards a Statistical Analysis of Greek Prose
Rhythm: On the Example of Helens Encomium by Gorgias (University of Tartu: Uni-
versity of Tartu Press, 2007).
26. Victor Caston, Gorgias on Thought and Its Objects, in Presocratic Philosophy,
eds. Victor Caston and Daniel Graham (London: Ashgate, 2002), 209.
27. On the debate about what the is is in ONB, cf. G. B. Kerferd, Gorgias on
Nature or That Which Is Not, Phronesis 1 (1955): 325; Edward Schiappa, The
Beginnings of Rhetorical Theory in Classical Greece (New Haven: Yale University Press,

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126 Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft  Winter 2013

The pair Tyndareus and Zeus (Tundareo kai Dios) is at the center of the
dispute, and so also are god and mortal and to be and to say.28 Gorgiass
position is that Helen was the daughter of Leda and Zeus, and therefore was,
in a sense, both human and divine.29 It was because of this that she possessed
a godlike beauty (isotheon kallos) (B11.4). The opposition between human
and divine is reiterated in, and is in fact the necessary condition of, the first
argument. If the gods were the cause of Helens voyage to Troy, she is not
responsible, as the gods are by nature stronger, and humans, weaker. The
necessity of the cause is reflected in the necessity Gorgias ascribes to the
conclusion: Helen must be absolved (apoluteon) of dishonor.
The second argument makes clear that If she was violently ravished (biai
herpasthe), and lawlessly violated (anomos ebiasthe) and unjustly assaulted (adikos
hubristhe) . . . it is right (dikaion) to pity her and to abhor him (B11.7). While
the first cause was purely divine, and characterized by necessity, the second
is purely human, and characterized by force (bia).30 I say purely human
in the sense of what belongs to humans in their distinction from gods. The
characterization of bia as violent, lawless, and unjust recalls Hesiods charac-
terization of shepherds (symbolic of humankind31) as nothing but bellies
(gasteres oion) (Theogony 26).32 As Stoddard argues, The brutal directness with
which the Muses pronounce Hesiod inferior to themselves on the basis of
these physiological reasons indicates that the real distinction being drawn
here is that between gods and men.33 Force is human, and what is more it

28. Most translators separate Tyndareus and Zeus, who are conjoined in the
Greek. An exception is D. M. MacDowell, Gorgias: Encomium of Helen (Bristol: Bris-
tol Classical Press, 1982). To be and to say may be an allusion to Parmenidess
poem, and thus an evocation of the difference between truth and opinion.
29. John Poulakos, who identifies Helen with rhetoric, does not take seriously
this reference to Helens twofold nature, which should, according to his argument,
also be rhetorics composite nature. Gorgias Encomium to Helen and the Defense of
Rhetoric, Rhetorica 1 (1983): 116. Her divine nature is in fact connected to her
magical skill: cf. Odyssey 4.21939.
30. Gorgias does speak of divine bia in the first argument. My argument is simply
that Gorgias would not characterize the divine this way, and he uses bia because he is
measuring the human against the divine, and needs some ground for the comparison.
In addition, the second cause must implicitly exclude divine bia, else it would imme-
diately be subsumed by the first cause.
31. Kathryn Stoddard, The Narrative Voice in the Theogony of Hesiod (Leiden: Brill,
2004), 77; cf. Robert Lamberton, Hesiod (Yale: Yale University Press, 1988), 90 ff.
32. The references to past, present, and future (B11.5 and B11.11) also recall
the divine / human divide in Theogony, 32 as well as Homer, Iliad 1.70, describing
Kalkass divine vision.
33. Stoddard, The Narrative Voice, 75.

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is by its very nature unjust force. The inevitability of injustice in human

action recalls an Aeschylean view (cf. Agamemnon). The necessity of the first
cause, free from injustice, is followed by the justice in (not the necessity of )
pitying Helen.
The dichotomy between cosmic or divine justice and human injustice
might be usefully illuminated by a comparison with a certain interpretation
of Anaximander. In a much discussed fragment we have this account of
Anaximanders to apeiron:

From what things existing objects come to be, into them too does their destruction
take place, according to what must be: for they give recompense (diken) and pay
restitution to each other for their injustice (adikias) according to the ordering of time,
expressing it in these rather poetic terms. (A9, B1)

Reale asserts that Anaximander considered his principle as divine, because

it is immortal and incorruptible.34 It is then this divine principle to which
all the contraries that make up the world are opposed in their injustice.35
B11.814 deals with logos, and I will return to it after dealing briefly with
the fourth cause. At B11.19 Gorgias argues that there is a cause that has both
a divine and a human form. Although he dwells on various aspects of sight
(opsis), he concludes:

If Love is a god with the godlike power of the gods, how can a lesser being
refuse and resist him? But if love is a human sickness (anthropinon nosema) and error of
soul, it should not be blamed as a wrong but recognized as a misfortune. (B11.19)

This twofold causation is consistent with, though to be distinguished from,

certain contemporary Hippocratic notions. As Collins notes, For at least
some of the Hippocratics . . . there was no radical discontinuity between
mechanical and divine causes of bodily ailments.36 The difference is that

34. Giovanni Reale, A History of Ancient Philosophy, vol. 1 From the Origins to Socra-
tes, ed. and trans. from the fourth Italian edition by John R. Catan (Albany: State
University of New York, 1987), 40.
35. Thus Reale concludes that it is clear that not only the alternating condition
of the contraries is an injustice, but also the rising of the contraries themselves, for
each contrary that arises immediately sets itself up against the other. That is why the
world arises with the separation of the contraries in what is seen as the primary injus-
tice that will be expiated with the death of the world itself according to a determined
period of time (ibid., 41).
36. Collins, Nature, Cause, and Agency, 26.

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128 Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft  Winter 2013

Gorgias presents the god Eros and human love-sickness as two parts of a
disjunction. He is not suggesting that both causes are (or need be) present,
and thus would not conclude, with the author of the Hippocratic work On
the Sacred Disease,37 that diseases are all divine and all human (alla panta theia
kai panta anthropina).38 However, as I will argue, the possibility of something
all divine and all human has a place in Helen.
With causes 1, 2, and 4 we have three of the possible combinations of the
two terms, human and divine:

1. a cause that is divine (tyche / theos / ananke)

2. a cause that is human (bia)
4. a cause either divine or human (Eros or eros)

The final possibility to which these point if the four are to be considered
exhaustive of the two terms is both human and divine. This is the nature
of logos in the Helen.39 The strange appearance of logos is not the result of the
fact that all four causes are convergent to the point of identity.40 The dis-
tinction between ananke and bia persists, and logos is distinct from both while
preserving aspects of, and giving looks reminiscent of, each. At B11.8 Gor-
gias asserts that logos is a great potentate (dunastes), and it achieves the
most godlike (theiotata) results. In the hopelessly corrupt41 section B11.12,
Gorgias seems to equate logos and bia, but he does so in terms of a comparison:
if Helen came persuaded by logos, what prevents us from thinking she did so
as unwillingly as if she was ravished by force (hosper ei biai herpasthe)? He
goes on to note that logos does not indeed have the form of necessity (anan-
kes eidos), but does have its power (dunamin). Gorgias suggests similarities
between logos and bia and also between logos and ananke, but he does not
collapse them into each other. Logos has the power of ananke, but unlike
ananke, is not always just. At the same time logos is as persuasive as bia, but
with the potential for justice absent from, and in a way impossible for, bia.

37. A text that Derek Collins has identified as the proper background to the dis-
cussion of purifications and pharmaka in Helen. Cf. Nature, Cause, and Agency,
38. Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease, trans. W. H. S. Jones (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1952).
39. Among the Presocratics a similar notion is found in Heraclitus, whose logos is
a principle beyond all contrariety, including that of human/divine.
40. James I. Porter, The Seductions of Gorgias, Classical Antiquity, 12 (1993):
41. Adkins, Form and Content, 112.

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There is another related ambiguity found in the analogy between the rela-
tion of logos to soul and drugs (pharmaka) to the body at B11.14. Here Gorgias
makes clear that logos has the power to help or harm. Thus, the art of speech
is like the art of medicine, insofar as the Hippocratic physician must know
how, by distinguishing the seasons for individual things, he may assign to one
thing nutriment and growth, and to another diminution and harm (The
Sacred Disease 21.1020).42 Gorgias suggests that in logos and pharmaka there
is something like Platos distinction between the psychic and the somatic
pharmakeia.43 Logos affects the soul the way drugs affect the body.44 The techne
of magic shares in this indeterminate power of logos, and for this reason
magic has a reputation for ambiguity, having the power to help and to harm.
As the Hippocratic author argues, the techne of medicine involves both
human and divine elements.

This disease [epilepsy] styled sacred comes from the same causes as others, from things
that come to and go from the body, from cold, sun, and from the changing restlessness
of winds. These things are divine (tauta desti theia). So there is no need to put the
disease in a special class and to consider it more divine (theioteron) than the others;
they are all divine and all human (panta theia kai panta anthropina). (The Sacred Disease

As John Scarborough notes, Homeric imagery (certainly echoed in Emped-

ocles) suggests how drugs are composed from elements of divinity.46 Pucci
also notes the association of logos with medicine and healing in both Homer

42. Hippocrates, On the Sacred Disease.

43. Motte, A propos de la magie chez Platon, 27477.
44. Of course, for Gorgias this does not involve a distinction of coporeal from
incorporeal, as speech works by means of the tiniest and most invisible bodies
(smikrotatoi somati kai aphanestatoi) (B11.8).
45. For a very fine account of the notion of divinity in the Hippocratics, see R. J.
Hankinson, Magic, Religion and Science: Divine and Human in the Hippocratic
Corpus, Apeiron 31 (1998): 134. Hankinson provides an essential corrective to
interpreters who downplay all references to divinity in the Hippocratic corpus as well
as to those who overestimate the importance of the divine in Hippocratic medicine.
There is here a similarity with the late ancient phenomenon of theurgy, in which
union with the gods is achieved through rituals involving seemingly natural elements,
but which in fact possessed elements of divinity. See Gregory Shaw, Theurgy: Ritu-
als of Unification in the Neoplatonism of Iamblichus, Traditio 41 (1985): 128.
46. The Pharmacology of Sacred Plants, Herbs, and Roots, Magika Hiera, ed.
Christopher A. Faraone and Dirk Obbink (New York: Oxford University Press,
1991), 142.

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130 Magic, Ritual, and Witchcraft  Winter 2013

and Hesiod.47 Thus, according to the Gorgianic idea of magic, the reason
magic appears both mechanical and divine is that it is.48 If logos is human and
divine, then the Gorgianic ideas of mageia and goeteia are technai that involve
elements and materials that are at once human and divine.
Contemporary scholars tend to speak of Gorgiass logos as human, secular,
and rational.49 As a result, the power of logos manifest in mageia and goeteia
demystifies magic. De Romilly draws the distinction very clearly: Sacred
magic was mysterious; Gorgias magic is technical. He wants to emulate the
power of the magician by a scientific analysis of language and of its influence.
He is the theoretician of the magic spell of words.50 She concludes that he
was deliberately shifting magic into something rational.51 However, that
there are technai of mageia and goeteia does not imply a rationalizing of magic
or other logical arts52 (poetry, religious incantations, cosmology, public
speaking, philosophy), since for Gorgias, a techne is not incompatible with
divine inspiration.53 Certainly, the art of prophecy in Gorgiass own time
united the language of techne with the divine, as in Aeschylus Agamemnon,
whose first choral ode refers to the arts of the seer Kalchas (technai de Kalchan-
tos) (249). There is also a sense in which techne itself is associated with the
gods, as the gifts of Prometheus or Athena.
Thus, Gorgias does not, with Plato, stand at the beginning of a tradition
that associates rhetoric with magic, but in fact completely assimilates magic to
rhetoric, reducing both to deception accomplished by manipulating images.
Platos portrait of Gorgias in the dialogue that bears his name is full of artistic
subtlety, but one feature that is caricatured is the great sophists attachment
to a form of traditionalism. For Gorgias, it is self-evident that rhetoric serves

47. Pucci, Hesiod and the Language of Poetry, 45.

48. On the mechanical and magical, cf. Pierre Hadot, Le voile dIsisEssai sur
lhistoire de lidee de nature (Paris: Gallimard, 2004), 150.
49. Schiappa, The Beginnings of Rhetorical Theory, 12627; Friedrich Solmsen, Intel-
lectual Experiments of the Greek Enlightenment (Princeton: Princeton University Press,
1975), 5.
50. De Romilly, Magic and Rhetoric, 16.
51. De Romilly, Magic and Rhetoric, 20. Wardy, The Birth of Rhetoric, 163, n. 40,
argues that De Romilly goes too far when she connects this techne with fifth-century
medicine and science.
52. Cf. Jacqueline de Romilly, Gorgias et le pouvoir de la poesie, The Journal of
Hellenic Studies 93 (1973): 15562; Marie-Pierre Noel, Le persuasion et le sacre chez
Gorgias, BAGB (1989): 13951.
53. D. M. MacDowell, Gorgias: Encomium of Helen (Bristol: Bristol Classical Press,
1982), 37.

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Fournier  Gorgias on Magic 131

the good, although he is repeatedly unable to show how the two are con-
nected. He clearly wishes to ascribe a divine potency to rhetoric. In fact,
when Socrates ironically suggests that the power of rhetoric (dunamis . . .
rhetorikes) is supernatural (daimonia), Gorgias enthusiastically agrees (Gorgias
456ab). When, however, Polus and then Callicles defend rhetoric, there is
nothing at all ennobling about it. They have no scruples about abandoning
traditional views of the good and making brutal rhetorical force serve private
ends. Nevertheless, Gorgiass conviction that there is something divine about
logos helps to explain why, in the Helen, part of Gorgiass amusement (paig-
nion) derived from his attempt to elevate logos to the level of the gods, rather
than to drag magic down to earth.

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