The Sophists

The Sophists were among the first teachers and theorists of rhetoric in Ancient Greece.

They made their living traveling from city to city, teaching the citizens the art of argumentation.

Having experienced a wide variety of local habits and customs during their travels, they saw truth as being relative in nature. They rejected any idea of objective truth or eternal values, favoring instead the position that “truth” was negotiated through language and determined by culture.

As a result, they were looked down upon by their now more famous contemporaries, Plato and Aristotle. This meant they would be regarded with similar contempt by students of philosophy during the many centuries to come.

However, recent decades have seen a renewed interest in the Sophistic movement. As Susan Jarratt, a respected researcher on this subject, notes, the Sophists anticipated the contemporary rhetorical theorists’ recognition of the gap between the sign and the signified, or the word and what it is supposed to mean.

Gorgias especially was ahead of his time in his understanding of language and reality.

I personally am a big fan of Gorgias, especially this famous quote of his: 

“Nothing exists; even if something exists, nothing can be known about it; and even if something can be known about it, knowledge about it can’t be communicated to others.” 


So what’s the point, then? Why even bother talking anymore? Should you just stop reading this now?


Well, I can’t say I actually know what Gorgias meant. 

But I’m not sure it’s meant to be taken 100% at face value.

And I think that’s the entire point. It is meant to inspire humility around our use of language. 

I don’t believe it’s wise to be a fanatic believer in any truth or dogma. Unlike Plato, I believe the world is too complex, too infinite to be limited to what we can say in words.

We can’t let ourselves get hooked on the belief that we are in possession of the only Truth, of the one Right way to think or be. It’s dangerous. This arrogance of thought is at the root of all zealotry and much of the world’s violence.

The point is not to reject all attempts at understanding, but to recognize them as just that: attempts, not absolutes.

Who is Thoth?

Known as the “Father of Alchemy,” Thoth is the Egyptian God of wisdom, writing, science, magic, art and judgement. Considered “the divine intermediary between spirit and matter,” he is also the God of the dead.

In the myth of Osiris, it was Thoth who gave Isis the words she used to resurrect him after she had gathered all the dismembered pieces of Osiris’ body.

According to Budge’s The Gods of the Egyptians, “The ancient Egyptians regarded Thoth as One, self-begotten, and self-produced.” It was said that he spoke the first Word of Creation; what he speaks, he creates. It was he who brought all the other Gods into existence.

According to some sources, Thoth was born at the beginning of time “from the lips of Ra” and was even known as the “god without a mother.” According to the Ancient History Encyclopedia, “Thoth is self-created at the beginning of time and, as an ibis, lays the cosmic egg which holds all of creation.”

Thoth was also known as “Lord of Ma’at”, “Lord of Divine Words”, “Revealer of the Hidden”, and “Lord of Rebirth.” Later, the Greeks would know him as Hermes Trismegistus.

He is credited with writing thousands of scrolls containing ancient wisdom and knowledge. Among these are:

  • The Book of Breathings — teaches spells and breathwork that can be used by humans to become like Gods.
  • The Book of the Dead — teaches how the departed can navigate the underworld to reach the afterlife.
  • The Book of Thoth — this text is said to have “revealed the true story of the creation of mankind and described an afterlife in the stars for those who followed his teachings” (Hauck).

From ‘The Laugh of the Medusa’

hc3a9lc3a8ne_cixous_par_claude_truong-ngoc_2011“And why don’t you write? Write! Writing is for you, you are for you; your body is yours, take it. I know why you haven’t written. (And why I didn’t write before the age of twenty-seven.) Because writing is at once too high, too great for you, it’s reserved for the great-that is for “great men”; and it’s “silly.”

Besides, you’ve written a little, but in secret. And it wasn’t good, because it was in secret, and because you punished yourself for writing, because you didn’t go all the way, or because you wrote, irresistibly, as when we would masturbate in secret, not to go further, but to attenuate the tension a bit, just enough to take the edge off. And then as soon as we come, we go and make ourselves feel guilty-so as to be forgiven; or to forget, to bury it until the next time.”

–Hélène Cixous

She is right, I have personally always felt that way. But now I’m the same age Cixous was when she started to write, and I’m finding I can’t escape it anymore. I’m encouraged by her words, urging me to finally take ownership of my body and my mind and my work.

Thanks,Hélène.

a small confession

My eyes are often open, but it is rare that they see.

This morning, I saw fear. I thought I didn’t know fear, that I somehow lived bravely. The outcomes in my experience weren’t consistent with that analysis, but I brushed it off. I’m not afraid, it was just that simple.

But maybe I couldn’t see my fear because I was swimming in it. I’ve been floating through life, suspended in a scared world, held up and held back by what I thought I didn’t want.

I have rejected even the acknowledgement of my own desires because I was afraid they could never be fulfilled. I haven’t tried, or even admitted I wanted to.

But I want to live with integrity now. I want to be honest about and with myself.

So I’ll share a dream of mine with you, one that I’ve held for decades now, since I was a child.

As a young girl, my world was filled with books. Like Borges, my heaven was a library (and it still is). When people would ask what I wanted to be when I grew up, I knew immediately: I wanted to be a writer.

I’ve pretended for years now that I don’t want that! Maybe it was right for others, but definitely not for me. Come on, didn’t I pretend I was an “epistemological nihilist”? What right I did I have to buy someone’s attention with counterfeit bills of “knowledge”?

Maybe there’s something to those ideas, I really don’t know. But I recognize today that the real reason was not disinterest, but fear.

And I’m still afraid, but I’m going to turn around and walk toward it.

Maybe I still don’t believe I have any Truth worth telling. But I would like to offer you a map, instead, a phenomenology of the territory inside I believe is my soul.

As I dream, images arise: a guiding star, a loving mirror, a bell that awakens. Objects of beauty and agents of change, I will keep you in mind with this first step forward.