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How was Sophism portrayed in contemporary Greek literature?

In the fifth century the Sophists were widely distrusted, probably due to the fact that their teaching of rhetoric and philosophy was mostly available only to the wealthiest members of society, and the fact that Sophistic ideas, with their moral relativism, were radical, new, and striking. The Sophists were associated with a particular style of writing, which was characterised by heavy use of flowery rhetorical techniques and a tendency to break apart seemingly simple concepts. For instance, Antigone, in the eponymous tragedy, distinguishes between the laws of the gods below and those of the gods above - this would have been understood by the play's original audience to be a 'Sophistic' act. Sophocles treats both Antigone and Creon with a mixture of positive and negative characterisation, but likening Antigone to the Sophists probably made her appear less trustworthy to contemporary audiences. When Thucydides gives an account of Pericles' funeral oration, he has him speak with typical Sophistic rhetoric, and this (as well as the juxtaposition of the oration with the plague in Athens, which comes about as a result of Pericles' policy of moving the citizens of Attica into Athens) serves to imply that his leadership is misguided. Essentially, there appears to have been a very real stereotype for the way Sophists spoke and argued, and this was readily used by the authors of contemporary literature to colour their characters. 

 

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