Socrates is the primary figure in the book. Socrates is a philosopher who walks around the city of Ancient Athens, engaging other citizens in conversation in an attempt to arrive at the truth about common and important questions. In Gorgias, his goal is to examine the pros, cons, and responsibility of rhetoric. He is inquisitive, patient, and well spirited. He stands on the side of truth and morality (which are discussed in other dialogues) and disdains using skilled oratory for any purpose other than investigating the truth. He is a man of learning and argues the case for being just in one's actions.
Gorgias is a high ranking sophist. A sophist is a professional orator and teacher, often paid to teach others how to use eloquent speech to persuade. Gorgias posits that anyone can ask him anything and he will have an answer. One of Gorgias’ main points is that the ability to persuade is highly important; sometimes a skilled orator can speak better about a subject than an expert in the field being discussed. An example discussed in the dialogue is: who can better persuade a sick patient that a painful medicine will save his or her life: the doctor or the orator? Gorgias also sees oratory as a way to riches. Towards the end of the discussion, Gorgias partially concedes to Socrates that it is shameful to use oratory to deceive.
Callicles is one of Gorgias’ students. His part in the dialogue comes toward the end. Callicles asserts that strength and force are what should rule and that the stronger deserve more than the weaker, rather than having a responsibility to help them. He seems to be a hedonist and an arrogant person, untethered from using rhetoric as a way to win over others even if that means lying. He is the antithesis of everything Socrates stands for.
Polus is also one of Gorgias' students. He is anxious to test his abilities and sees the ability to persuade as a way of achieving power in life. In the dialogue, he shows himself to be inexperienced and a bit blindsided. He has yet to learn about the consequences of having power, and seems to unquestioningly believe in the virtue of power, a "might is right" approach.
Chaerephon is a friend of Socrates who has a quick role in the book. From the dozen or so lines he has, we can form a brief picture that Chaerephon is a confident person who has been learning a bit of Socrates’ style of speaking. He is an amicable person who seems to be well-known and well liked. He leads off the dialogue before turning it over to Socrates.
Gorgias Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Gorgias is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.