Billeder på siden



HE" Protagoras," like several of the dialogues of Plato,

is put into the mouth of Socrates, who describes a conversation which had taken place between himself and the great Sophist at the house of Callias-" the man who had spent more upon the Sophists than all the rest of the world," and in which the learned Hippias and the grammarian Prodicus had also shared, as well as Alcibiades and Critias, both of whom said a few words-in the presence of a distinguished company consisting of disciples of Protagoras and of leading Athenians belonging to the Socratic circle. The dialogue commences with a request on the part of Hippocrates that Socrates would introduce him to the celebrated teacher. He has come before the dawn had risen to testify his zeal. Socrates moderates his excitement and advises him to find out " what Protagoras will make of him," before he becomes his pupil.

They go together to the house of Callias; and Socrates, after explaining the purpose of their visit to Protagoras, asks the question "What he will make of Hippocrates?" Protagoras answers, "That he will make him a better and a wiser man." “But in what will he be better?"-Socrates desires to have a more precise answer. Protagoras replies, "That he will teach him prudence in affairs private and public; in short, the science or knowledge of human life."

This, as Socrates admits, is a noble profession: but he is doubtful-or rather would have been, if Protagoras had not assured him of it-whether such knowledge can be taught. And this for two reasons: (1) Because the Athenian people, who recognize in their assemblies the distinction between the skilled and the unskilled, do not recognize any distinction between the trained politician and the untrained; (2) Because the wisest and best Athenian citizens do not teach their sons political virtue. Will Protagoras explain this anomaly to him?

Protagoras explains his views in the form of an apologue, in

which, after Prometheus had given men the arts, Zeus is represented as sending Hermes to them, bearing with him Justice and Reverence. These are not, like the arts, to be imparted to a few only, but all men are to be partakers of them. Therefore the Athenian people are right in distinguishing between the skilled and unskilled in the arts, and not between skilled and unskilled politicians. (1) For all men have the political virtues to a certain degree, and whether they have them or not are obliged to say that they have them. A man would be thought a madman who professed an art which he did not know; and he would be equally thought a madman if he did not profess a virtue which he had not. (2) And that the political virtues can be taught and acquired, in the opinion of the Athenians, is proved by the fact that they punish evil-doers, with a view to prevention, of course-mere retribution is for beasts, and not for men. (3) Another proof of this is the education of youth, which begins almost as soon as they can speak, and is continued by the State when they pass out of the control of their parents. (4) Nor is there any inconsistency in wise and good fathers having foolish and worthless sons; for (a) in the first place the young do not learn of their fathers only, but of all the citizens; and (b) this is partly a matter of chance and of natural gifts: the sons of a great statesman are not necessarily great statesmen any more than the sons of a good artist are necessarily good artists. (5) The error of Socrates lies in supposing that there are no teachers, when all men are teachers. Only a few, like Protagoras himself, are somewhat better than others.

Socrates is highly delighted, and quite satisfied with this explanation of Protagoras. But he has still a doubt lingering in his mind. Protagoras has spoken of the virtues : are they many, or one? are they parts of a whole, or different names of the same thing? Protagoras replies that they are parts, like the parts of a face, which have their several functions, and no one part is like any other part. This admission, which has been somewhat hastily made, is now taken up and cross-examined by Socra


"Is justice just, and is holiness holy? And are justice and holiness opposed to one another?"-" Then justice is unholy." Protagoras would rather say that justice is different from holiness, and yet in a certain point of view nearly the same. He does not, however, escape in this way from the cunning of

Socrates, who entangles him into an admission that everything has but one opposite. Folly, for example, is opposed to wisdom; and folly is also opposed to temperance; and therefore temperance and wisdom are the same. And holiness has been already admitted to be nearly the same as justice. Temperance, therefore, has now to be compared with justice.

Protagoras, whose temper begins to get a little ruffled at the process to which he has been subjected, is aware that he will soon be compelled by the dialectics of Socrates to admit that the temperate is the just. He therefore defends himself with his favorite weapon; that is to say, he makes a long speech not much to the point, which elicits the applause of the audience.

Here occurs a sort of interlude, which commences with a declaration on the part of Socrates that he cannot follow a long speech, and therefore he must beg Protagoras to speak shorter. As Protagoras declines to accommodate him, he rises to depart, but is detained by Callias, who thinks him unreasonable in not allowing Protagoras the liberty which he takes himself of speaking as he likes. But Alcibiades answers that the two cases are not parallel. For Socrates admits his inability to speak long; will Protagoras in like manner acknowledge his inability to speak short?

Counsels of moderation are urged, first in a few words by Critias, and then by Prodicus in balanced and sententious language: and Hippias proposes an umpire. But who is to be the umpire? rejoins Socrates; he would rather suggest as a compromise that Protagoras shall ask, and he will answer. To this Protagoras yields a reluctant assent.

Protagoras selects as the thesis of his questions a poem of Simonides of Ceos, in which he professes to find a contradiction. First the poet says

"Hard it is to become good,"

and then reproaches Pittacus for having said, "Hard is it to be good." How is this to be reconciled? Socrates, who is familiar with the poem, is embarrassed at first, and invokes the aid of Prodicus the Cean, who must come to the help of his countryman, but apparently only with the intention of flattering him into absurdities. First a distinction is drawn between (eivai) "to be," and (yevéolai) "to become ": to become good is difficult; to be good is easy. Then the word "difficult" or


« ForrigeFortsæt »