translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE: SOCRATES, who is the narrator of the
Dialogue to his Companion; HIPPOCRATES; ALCIBIADES; CRINAS;
PROTAGORAS, HIPPIAS, PRODICUS, Sophists; CALLIAS, a wealthy
Athenian. Scene: The House of Callias
Com. Where do you come from, Socrates? And yet I need hardly ask the
question, for I know that you have been in chase of the fair
Alcibiades. I saw the day before yesterday; and he had got a beard
like a man-and he is a man, as I may tell you in your ear. But I
thought that he was still very charming.
Soc. What of his beard? Are you not of Homer's opinion, who says
Youth is most charming when the beard first appears?
And that is now the charm of Alcibiades.
Com. Well, and how do matters proceed? Have you been visiting him,
and was he gracious to you?
Soc. Yes, I thought that he was very gracious; and especially
to-day, for I have just come from him, and he has been helping me in
an argument. But shall I tell you a strange thing? I paid no attention
to him, and several times I quite forgot that he was present.
Com. What is the meaning of this? Has anything happened between
you and him? For surely you cannot have discovered a fairer love
than he is; certainly not in this city of Athens.
Soc. Yes, much fairer.
Com. What do you mean-a citizen or a foreigner?
Soc. A foreigner.
Com. Of what country?
Soc. Of Abdera.
Com. And is this stranger really in your opinion a fairer love
than the son of Cleinias?
Soc. And is not the wiser always the fairer, sweet friend?
Com. But have you really met, Socrates, with some wise one?
Soc. Say rather, with the wisest of all living men, if you are
willing to accord that title to Protagoras.
Com. What! Is Protagoras in Athens?
Soc. Yes; he has been here two days.
Com. And do you just come from an interview with him?
Soc. Yes; and I have heard and said many things.
Com. Then, if you have no engagement, suppose that you sit down tell
me what passed, and my attendant here shall give up his place to you.
Soc. To be sure; and I shall be grateful to you for listening.
Com. Thank you, too, for telling us.
Soc. That is thank you twice over. Listen then : -
Last night, or rather very early this morning, Hippocrates, the
son of Apollodorus and the brother of Phason, gave a tremendous
thump with his staff at my door; some one opened to him, and he came
rushing in and bawled out: Socrates, are you awake or asleep?
I knew his voice, and said: Hippocrates, is that you? and do you
bring any news?
Good news, he said; nothing but good.
Delightful, I said; but what is the news? and why have you come
hither at this unearthly hour?
He drew nearer to me and said: Protagoras is come.
Yes, I replied; he came two days ago: have you only just heard of
Yes, by the gods, he said; but not until yesterday evening.
At the same time he felt for the truckle-bed, and sat down at my
feet, and then he said: Yesterday quite late in the evening, on my
return from Oenoe whither I had gone in pursuit of my runaway slave
Satyrus, as I meant to have told you, if some other matter had not
come in the way; -on my return, when we had done supper and were
about to retire to rest, my brother said to me: Protagoras is come.
I was going to you at once, and then I thought that the night was
far spent. But the moment sleep left me after my fatigue, I got up and
came hither direct.
I, who knew the very courageous madness of the man, said: What is
the matter? Has Protagoras robbed you of anything?
He replied, laughing: Yes, indeed he has, Socrates, of the wisdom
which he keeps from me.
But, surely, I said, if you give him money, and make friends with
him, he will make you as wise as he is himself.
Would to heaven, he replied, that this were the case! He might
take all that I have, and all that my friends have, if he pleased. But
that is why I have come to you now, in order that you may speak to him
on my behalf; for I am young, and also I have never seen nor heard
him; (when he visited Athens before I was but a child) and all men
praise him, Socrates; he is reputed to be the most accomplished of
speakers. There is no reason why we should not go to him at once,
and then we shall find him at home. He lodges, as I hear, with Callias
the son of Hipponicus: let us start.
I replied: Not yet, my good friend; the hour is too early. But let
us rise and take a turn in the court and wait about there until
daybreak; when the day breaks, then we will go. For Protagoras is
generally at home, and we shall be sure to find him; never fear.
Upon this we got up and walked about in the court, and I thought
that I would make trial of the strength of his resolution. So I
examined him and put questions to him. Tell me, Hippocrates, I said,
as you are going to Protagoras, and will be paying your money to
him, what is he to whom you are going? and what will he make of you?
If, for example, you had thought of going to Hippocrates of Cos, the
Asclepiad, and were about to give him your money, and some one had
said to you: You are paying money to your namesake Hippocrates,
Hippocrates; tell me, what is he that you give him money? how would
you have answered?
I should say, he replied, that I gave money to him as a physician.
And what will he make of you?
A physician, he said.
And if you were resolved to go to Polycleitus the Argive, or
Pheidias the Athenian, and were intending to give them money, and some
one had asked you: What are Polycleitus and Pheidias? and why do you
give them this money?-how would you have answered?
I should have answered, that they were statuaries .
And what will they make of you?
A statuary, of course.
Well now, I said, you and I are going to Protagoras, and we are
ready to pay him money on your behalf. If our own means are
sufficient, and we can gain him with these, we shall be only too glad;
but if not, then we are to spend the money of your friends as well.
Now suppose, that while we are thus enthusiastically pursuing our
object some one were to say to us: Tell me, Socrates, and you
Hippocrates, what is Protagoras, and why are you going to pay him
money, -how should we answer? I know that Pheidias is a sculptor, and
that Homer is a poet; but what appellation is given to Protagoras? how
is he designated?
They call him a Sophist, Socrates, he replied.
Then we are going to pay our money to him in the character of a
But suppose a person were to ask this further question: And how
about yourself? What will Protagoras make of you, if you go to see
He answered, with a blush upon his face (for the day was just
beginning to dawn, so that I could see him) : Unless this differs in
some way from the former instances, I suppose that he will make a
Sophist of me.
By the gods, I said, and are you not ashamed at having to appear
before the Hellenes in the character of a Sophist?
Indeed, Socrates, to confess the truth, I am.
But you should not assume, Hippocrates, that the instruction of
Protagoras is of this nature: may you not learn of him in the same way
that you learned the arts of the grammarian, musician, or trainer, not
with the view of making any of them a profession, but only as a part
of education, and because a private gentleman and freeman ought to
Just so, he said; and that, in my opinion, is a far truer account of
the teaching of Protagoras.
I said: I wonder whether you know what you are doing?
And what am I doing?
You are going to commit your soul to the care of a man whom you call
a Sophist. And yet I hardly think that you know what a Sophist is; and
if not, then you do not even know to whom you are committing your soul
and whether the thing to which you commit yourself be good or evil.
I certainly think that I do know, he replied.
Then tell me, what do you imagine that he is?
I take him to be one who knows wise things, he replied, as his
name implies .
And might you not, I said, affirm this of the painter and of the
carpenter also: Do not they, too, know wise things? But suppose a
person were to ask us: In what are the painters wise? We should
answer: In what relates to the making of likenesses, and similarly
of other things. And if he were further to ask: What is the wisdom
of the Sophist, and what is the manufacture over which he
presides?-how should we answer him?
How should we answer him, Socrates? What other answer could there be
but that he presides over the art which makes men eloquent?
Yes, I replied, that is very likely true, but not enough; for in the
answer a further question is involved: Of what does the Sophist make a
man talk eloquently? The player on the lyre may be supposed to make
a man talk eloquently about that which he makes him understand, that
is about playing the lyre. Is not that true?
Then about what does the Sophist make him eloquent? Must not he make
him eloquent in that which he understands?
Yes, that may be assumed.
And what is that which the Sophist knows and makes his disciple
Indeed, he said, I cannot tell.
Then I proceeded to say: Well, but are you aware of the danger which
you are incurring? If you were going to commit your body to some
one, who might do good or harm to it, would you not carefully consider
and ask the opinion of your friends and kindred, and deliberate many
days as to whether you should give him the care of your body? But when
the soul is in question, which you hold to be of far more value than
the body, and upon the good or evil of which depends the well-being of
your all, -about this never consulted either with your father or with
your brother or with any one of us who are your companions. But no
sooner does this foreigner appear, than you instantly commit your soul
to his keeping. In the evening, as you say, you hear of him, and in
the morning you go to him, never deliberating or taking the opinion of
any one as to whether you ought to intrust yourself to him or not; -you
have quite made up your mind that you will at all hazards be a pupil
of Protagoras, and are prepared to expend all the property of yourself
and of your friends in carrying out at any price this determination,
although, as you admit, you do not know him, and have never spoken
with him: and you call him a Sophist, but are manifestly ignorant of
what a Sophist is; and yet you are going to commit yourself to his
When he heard me say this, he replied: No other inference, Socrates,
can be drawn from your words .
I proceeded: Is not a Sophist, Hippocrates, one who deals
wholesale or retail in the food of the soul? To me that appears to
be his nature.
And what, Socrates, is the food of the soul?
Surely, I said, knowledge is the food of the soul; and we must
take care, my friend, that the Sophist does not deceive us when he
praises what he sells, like the dealers wholesale or retail who sell
the food of the body; for they praise indiscriminately all their
goods, without knowing what are really beneficial or hurtful:
neither do their customers know, with the exception of any trainer
or physician who may happen to buy of them. In like manner those who
carry about the wares of knowledge, and make the round of the
cities, and sell or retail them to any customer who is in want of
them, praise them all alike; though I should not wonder, my
friend, if many of them were really ignorant of their effect upon
the soul; and their customers equally ignorant, unless he who buys
of them happens to be a physician of the soul. If, therefore, you have
understanding of what is good and evil, you may safely buy knowledge
of Protagoras or of any one; but if not, then, my friend, pause, and
do not hazard your dearest interests at a game of chance. For there is
far greater peril in buying knowledge than in buying meat and drink:
the one you purchase of the wholesale or retail dealer, and carry them
away in other vessels, and before you receive them into the body as
food, you may deposit them at home and call in any experienced
friend who knows what is good to be eaten or drunken, and what not,
and how much, and when; and then the danger of purchasing them is
not so great. But you cannot buy the wares of knowledge and carry them
away in another vessel; when you have paid for them you must receive
them into the soul and go your way, either greatly harmed or greatly
benefited; and therefore we should deliberate and take counsel with
our elders; for we are still young-too young to determine such a
matter. And now let us go, as we were intending, and hear
Protagoras; and when we have heard what he has to say, we may take
counsel of others; for not only is Protagoras at the house of Callias,
but there is Hippias of Elis, and, if I am not mistaken, Prodicus of
Ceos, and several other wise men.
To this we agreed, and proceeded on our way until we reached the
vestibule of the house; and there we stopped in order to conclude a
discussion which had arisen between us as we were going along; and
we stood talking in the vestibule until we had finished and come to an
understanding. And I think that the doorkeeper, who was a eunuch,
and who was probably annoyed at the great inroad of the Sophists, must
have heard us talking. At any rate, when we knocked at the door, and
he opened and saw us, he grumbled: They are Sophists -he is not at
home; and instantly gave the door a hearty bang with both his hands.
Again we knocked, and he answered without opening: Did you not hear me
say that he is not at home, fellows? But, my friend, I said, you
need not be alarmed; for we are not Sophists, and we are not come to
see Callias, but we want to see Protagoras; and I must request you
to announce us. At last, after a good deal of difficulty, the man
was persuaded to open the door.
When we entered, we found Protagoras taking a walk in the
cloister; and next to him, on one side, were walking Callias, the
son of Hipponicus, and Paralus, the son of Pericles, who, by the
mother's side, is his half-brother, and Charmides, the son of Glaucon.
On the other side of him were Xanthippus, the other son of Pericles,
Philippides, the son of Philomelus; also Antimoerus of Mende, who of
all the disciples of Protagoras is the most famous, and intends to
make sophistry his profession. A train of listeners followed him;
the greater part of them appeared to be foreigners, whom Protagoras
had brought with him out of the various cities visited by him in his
journeys, he, like Orpheus, attracting them his voice, and they
following. I should mention also that there were some Athenians in the
company. Nothing delighted me more than the precision of their
movements: they never got into his way at all; but when he and those
who were with him turned back, then the band of listeners parted
regularly on either side; he was always in front, and they wheeled
round and took their places behind him in perfect order.
After him, as Homer says, "I lifted up my eyes and saw" Hippias
the Elean sitting in the opposite cloister on a chair of state, and
around him were seated on benches Eryximachus, the son of Acumenus,
and Phaedrus the Myrrhinusian, and Andron the son of Androtion, and
there were strangers whom he had brought with him from his native city
of Elis, and some others: they were putting to Hippias certain
physical and astronomical questions, and he, ex cathedra, was
determining their several questions to them, and discoursing of them.
Also, "my eyes beheld Tantalus"; for Prodicus the Cean was at
Athens: he had been lodged in a room which, in the days of Hipponicus,
was a storehouse; but, as the house was full, Callias had cleared this
out and made the room into a guest-chamber. Now Prodicus was still
in bed, wrapped up in sheepskins and bed-clothes, of which there
seemed to be a great heap; and there was sitting by him on the couches
near, Pausanias of the deme of Cerameis, and with Pausanias was a
youth quite young, who is certainly remarkable for his good looks,
and, if I am not mistaken, is also of a fair and gentle nature. I
thought that I heard him called Agathon, and my suspicion is that he
is the beloved of Pausanias. There was this youth, and also there were
the two Adeimantuses, one the son of Cepis, and the other of
Leucolophides, and some others. I was very anxious to hear what
Prodicus was saying, for he seems to me to be an all-wise and inspired
man; but I was not able to get into the inner circle, and his fine
deep voice made an echo in the room which rendered his words
No sooner had we entered than there followed us Alcibiades the
beautiful, as you say, and I believe you; and also Critias the son
of Callaeschrus .
On entering we stopped a little, in order to look about us, and then
walked up to Protagoras, and I said: Protagoras, my friend Hippocrates
and I have come to see you.
Do you wish, he said, to speak with me alone, or in the presence
of the company?
Whichever you please, I said; you shall determine when you have
heard the purpose of our visit.
And what is your purpose? he said.
I must explain, I said, that my friend Hippocrates is a native
Athenian; he is the son of Apollodorus, and of a great and
prosperous house, and he is himself in natural ability quite a match
for anybody of his own age. I believe that he aspires to political
eminence; and this he thinks that conversation with you is most likely
to procure for him. And now you can determine whether you would wish
to speak to him of your teaching alone or in the presence of the
Thank you, Socrates, for your consideration of me. For certainly a
stranger finding his way into great cities, and persuading the
flower of the youth in them to leave company of their kinsmen or any
other acquaintances, old or young, and live with him, under the idea
that they will be improved by his conversation, ought to be very
cautious; great jealousies are aroused by his proceedings, and he is
the subject of many enmities and conspiracies. Now the art of the
Sophist is, as I believe, of great antiquity; but in ancient times
those who practised it, fearing this odium, veiled and disguised
themselves under various names, some under that of poets, as Homer,
Hesiod, and Simonides, some, of hierophants and prophets, as Orpheus
and Musaeus, and some, as I observe, even under the name of
gymnastic-masters, like Iccus of Tarentum, or the more recently
celebrated Herodicus, now of Selymbria and formerly of Megara, who
is a first-rate Sophist. Your own Agathocles pretended to be a
musician, but was really an eminent Sophist; also Pythocleides the
Cean; and there were many others; and all of them, as I was saying,
adopted these arts as veils or disguises because they were afraid of
the odium which they would incur. But that is not my way, for I do not
believe that they effected their purpose, which was to deceive the
government, who were not blinded by them; and as to the people, they
have no understanding, and only repeat what their rulers are pleased
to tell them. Now to run away, and to be caught in running away, is
the very height of folly, and also greatly increases the
exasperation of mankind; for they regard him who runs away as a rogue,
in addition to any other objections which they have to him; and
therefore I take an entirely opposite course, and acknowledge myself
to be a Sophist and instructor of mankind; such an open
acknowledgement appears to me to be a better sort of caution than
concealment. Nor do I neglect other precautions, and therefore I hope,
as I may say, by the favour of heaven that no harm will come of the
acknowledgment that I am a Sophist. And I have been now many years
in the prof ession-f or all my years when added up are many: there is no
one here present of whom I might not be the father. Wherefore I should
much prefer conversing with you, if you want to speak with me, in
the presence of the company.
As I suspected that he would like to have a little display and
glorification in the presence of Prodicus and Hippias, and would
gladly show us to them in the light of his admirers, I said: But why
should we not summon Prodicus and Hippias and their friends to hear
Very good, he said.
Suppose, said Callias, that we hold a council in which you may sit
and discuss . -This was agreed upon, and great delight was felt at the
prospect of hearing wise men talk; we ourselves took the chairs and
benches, and arranged them by Hippias, where the other benches had
been already placed. Meanwhile Callias and Alcibiades got Prodicus out
of bed and brought in him and his companions.
When we were all seated, Protagoras said: Now that the company are
assembled, Socrates, tell me about the youngman of whom you were
just now speaking.
I replied: I will begin again at the same point, Protagoras, and
tell you once more the purport of my visit: this is my friend
Hippocrates, who is desirous of making your acquaintance; he would
like to know what will happen to him if he associates with you. I have
no more to say.
Protagoras answered: Young man, if you associate with me, on the
very first day you will return home a better man than you came, and
better on the second day than on the first, and better every day
than you were on the day before.
When I heard this, I said: Protagoras, I do not at all wonder at
hearing you say this; even at your age, and with all your wisdom, if
any one were to teach you what you did not know before, you would
become better no doubt: but please to answer in a different way-I will
explain how by an example. Let me suppose that Hippocrates, instead of
desiring your acquaintance, wished to become acquainted with the young
man Zeuxippus of Heraclea, who has lately been in Athens, and he had
come to him as he has come to you, and had heard him say, as he has
heard you say, that every day he would grow and become better if he
associated with him: and then suppose that he were to ask him, "In
what shall I become better, and in what shall I grow?"-Zeuxippus would
answer, "In painting." And suppose that he went to Orthagoras the
Theban, and heard him say the same thing, and asked him, "In what
shall I become better day by day?" he would reply, "In flute-playing."
Now I want you to make the same sort of answer to this young man and
to me, who am asking questions on his account. When you say that on
the first day on which he associates with you he will return home a
better man, and on every day will grow in like manner, -In what,
Protagoras, will he be better? and about what?
When Protagoras heard me say this, he replied: You ask questions
fairly, and I like to answer a question which is fairly put. If
Hippocrates comes to me he will not experience the sort of drudgery
with which other Sophists are in the habit of insulting their
pupils; who, when they have just escaped from the arts, are taken
and driven back into them by these teachers, and made to learn
calculation, and astronomy, and geometry, and music (he gave a look at
Hippias as he said this) ; but if he comes to me, he will learn that
which he comes to learn. And this is prudence in affairs private as
well as public; he will learn to order his own house in the best
manner, and he will be able to speak and act for the best in the
affairs of the state.
Do I understand you, I said; and is your meaning that you teach
the art of politics, and that you promise to make men good citizens?
That, Socrates, is exactly the profession which I make.
Then, I said, you do indeed possess a noble art, if there is no
mistake about this; for I will freely confess to you, Protagoras, that
I have a doubt whether this art is capable of being taught, and yet
I know not how to disbelieve your assertion. And I ought to tell you
why I am of opinion that this art cannot be taught or communicated
by man to man. I say that the Athenians are an understanding people,
and indeed they are esteemed to be such by the other Hellenes. Now I
observe that when we are met together in the assembly, and the
matter in hand relates to building, the builders are summoned as
advisers; when the question is one of shipbuilding, then the
ship-wrights ; and the like of other arts which they think capable of
being taught and learned. And if some person offers to give them
advice who is not supposed by them to have any skill in the art,
even though he be good-looking, and rich, and noble, they will not
listen to him, but laugh and hoot at him, until either he is clamoured
down and retires of himself; or if he persist, he is dragged away or
put out by the constables at the command of the prytanes . This is
their way of behaving about professors of the arts. But when the
question is an affair of state, then everybody is free to have a
say-carpenter, tinker, cobbler, sailor, passenger; rich and poor, high
and low-any one who likes gets up, and no one reproaches him, as in
the former case, with not having learned, and having no teacher, and
yet giving advice; evidently because they are under the impression
that this sort of knowledge cannot be taught. And not only is this
true of the state, but of individuals; the best and wisest of our
citizens are unable to impart their political wisdom to others: as for
example, Pericles, the father of these young men, who gave them
excellent instruction in all that could be learned from masters, in
his own department of politics neither taught them, nor gave them
teachers; but they were allowed to wander at their own free will in
a sort of hope that they would light upon virtue of their own
accord. Or take another example: there was Cleinias the younger
brother of our friend Alcibiades, of whom this very same Pericles
was the guardian; and he being in fact under the apprehension that
Cleinias would be corrupted by Alcibiades, took him away, and placed
him in the house of Ariphron to be educated; but before six months had
elapsed, Ariphron sent him back, not knowing what to do with him.
And I could mention numberless other instances of persons who were
good themselves, and never yet made any one else good, whether
friend or stranger. Now I, Protagoras, having these examples before
me, am inclined to think that virtue cannot be taught. But then again,
when I listen to your words, I waver; and am disposed to think that
there must be something in what you say, because I know that you
have great experience, and learning, and invention. And I wish that
you would, if possible, show me a little more clearly that virtue
can be taught. Will you be so good?
That I will, Socrates, and gladly. But what would you like? Shall I,
as an elder, speak to you as younger men in an apologue or myth, or
shall I argue out the question?
To this several of the company answered that he should choose for
Well, then, he said, I think that the myth will be more interesting.
Once upon a time there were gods only, and no mortal creatures.
But when the time came that these also should be created, the gods
fashioned them out of earth and fire and various mixtures of both
elements in the interior of the earth; and when they were about to
bring them into the light of day, they ordered Prometheus and
Epimetheus to equip them, and to distribute to them severally their
proper qualities. Epimetheus said to Prometheus: "Let me distribute,
and do you inspect." This was agreed, and Epimetheus made the
distribution. There were some to whom he gave strength without
swiftness, while he equipped the weaker with swiftness; some he armed,
and others he left unarmed; and devised for the latter some other
means of preservation, making some large, and having their size as a
protection, and others small, whose nature was to fly in the air or
burrow in the ground; this was to be their way of escape. Thus did
he compensate them with the view of preventing any race from
becoming extinct. And when he had provided against their destruction
by one another, he contrived also a means of protecting them against
the seasons of heaven; clothing them with close hair and thick skins
sufficient to defend them against the winter cold and able to resist
the summer heat, so that they might have a natural bed of their own
when they wanted to rest; also he furnished them with hoofs and hair
and hard and callous skins under their feet. Then he gave them
varieties of food-herb of the soil to some, to others fruits of trees,
and to others roots, and to some again he gave other animals as
food. And some he made to have few young ones, while those who were
their prey were very prolific; and in this manner the race was
preserved. Thus did Epimetheus, who, not being very wise, forgot
that he had distributed among the brute animals all the qualities
which he had to give-and when he came to man, who was still
unprovided, he was terribly perplexed. Now while he was in this
perplexity, Prometheus came to inspect the distribution, and he
found that the other animals were suitably furnished, but that man
alone was naked and shoeless, and had neither bed nor arms of defence.
The appointed hour was approaching when man in his turn was to go
forth into the light of day; and Prometheus, not knowing how he
could devise his salvation, stole the mechanical arts of Hephaestus
and Athene, and fire with them (they could neither have been
acquired nor used without fire), and gave them to man. Thus man had
the wisdom necessary to the support of life, but political wisdom he
had not; for that was in the keeping of Zeus, and the power of
Prometheus did not extend to entering into the citadel of heaven,
where Zeus dwelt, who moreover had terrible sentinels; but he did
enter by stealth into the common workshop of Athene and Hephaestus, in
which they used to practise their favourite arts, and carried off
Hephaestus' art of working by fire, and also the art of Athene, and
gave them to man. And in this way man was supplied with the means of
life. But Prometheus is said to have been afterwards prosecuted for
theft, owing to the blunder of Epimetheus.
Now man, having a share of the divine attributes, was at first the
only one of the animals who had any gods, because he alone was of
their kindred; and he would raise altars and images of them. He was
not long in inventing articulate speech and names; and he also
constructed houses and clothes and shoes and beds, and drew sustenance
from the earth. Thus provided, mankind at first lived dispersed, and
there were no cities . But the consequence was that they were destroyed
by the wild beasts, for they were utterly weak in comparison of
them, and their art was only sufficient to provide them with the means
of life, and did not enable them to carry on war against the
animals: food they had, but not as yet the art of government, of which
the art of war is a part. After a while the desire of
self-preservation gathered them into cities; but when they were
gathered together, having no art of government, they evil intreated
one another, and were again in process of dispersion and
destruction. Zeus feared that the entire race would be exterminated,
and so he sent Hermes to them, bearing reverence and justice to be the
ordering principles of cities and the bonds of friendship and
conciliation. Hermes asked Zeus how he should impart justice and
reverence among men: -Should he distribute them as the arts are
distributed; that is to say, to a favoured few only, one skilled
individual having enough of medicine or of any other art for many
unskilled ones? "Shall this be the manner in which I am to
distribute justice and reverence among men, or shall I give them to
all?" "To all," said Zeus; "I should like them all to have a share;
for cities cannot exist, if a few only share in the virtues, as in the
arts. And further, make a law by my order, that he who has no part
in reverence and justice shall be put to death, for he is a plague
of the state . "
And this is the reason, Socrates, why the Athenians and mankind in
general, when the question relates to carpentering or any other
mechanical art, allow but a few to share in their deliberations; and
when any one else interferes, then, as you say, they object, if he
be not of the favoured few; which, as I reply, is very natural. But
when they meet to deliberate about political virtue, which proceeds
only by way of justice and wisdom, they are patient enough of any
man who speaks of them, as is also natural, because they think that
every man ought to share in this sort of virtue, and that states could
not exist if this were otherwise. I have explained to you, Socrates,
the reason of this phenomenon.
And that you may not suppose yourself to be deceived in thinking
that all men regard every man as having a share of justice or
honesty and of every other political virtue, let me give you a further
proof, which is this. In other cases, as you are aware, if a man
says that he is a good flute-player, or skilful in any other art in
which he has no skill, people either laugh at him or are angry with
him, and his relations think that he is mad and go and admonish him;
but when honesty is in question, or some other political virtue,
even if they know that he is dishonest, yet, if the man comes publicly
forward and tells the truth about his dishonesty, then, what in the
other case was held by them to be good sense, they now deem to be
madness. They say that all men ought to profess honesty whether they
are honest or not, and that a man is out of his mind who says anything
else. Their notion is, that a man must have some degree of honesty;
and that if he has none at all he ought not to be in the world.
I have been showing that they are right in admitting every man as
a counsellor about this sort of virtue, as they are of opinion that
every man is a partaker of it. And I will now endeavour to show
further that they do not conceive this virtue to be given by nature,
or to grow spontaneously, but to be a thing which may be taught; and
which comes to a man by taking pains. No one would instruct, no one
would rebuke, or be angry with those whose calamities they suppose
to be due to nature or chance; they do not try to punish or to prevent
them from being what they are; they do but pity them. Who is so
foolish as to chastise or instruct the ugly, or the diminutive, or the
feeble? And for this reason. Because he knows that good and evil of
this kind is the work of nature and of chance; whereas if a man is
wanting in those good qualities which are attained by study and
exercise and teaching, and has only the contrary evil qualities, other
men are angry with him, and punish and reprove him-of these evil
qualities one is impiety, another injustice, and they may be described
generally as the very opposite of political virtue. In such cases
any man will be angry with another, and reprimand him, -clearly because
he thinks that by study and learning, the virtue in which the other is
deficient may be acquired. If you will think, Socrates, of the
nature of punishment, you will see at once that in the opinion of
mankind virtue may be acquired; no one punishes the evil-doer under
the notion, or for the reason, that he has done wrong, only the
unreasonable fury of a beast acts in that manner. But he who desires
to inflict rational punishment does not retaliate for a past wrong
which cannot be undone; he has regard to the future, and is desirous
that the man who is punished, and he who sees him punished, may be
deterred from doing wrong again. He punishes for the sake of
prevention, thereby clearly implying that virtue is capable of being
taught. This is the notion of all who retaliate upon others either
privately or publicly. And the Athenians, too, your own citizens, like
other men, punish and take vengeance on all whom they regard as evil
doers; and hence, we may infer them to be of the number of those who
think that virtue may be acquired and taught. Thus far, Socrates, I
have shown you clearly enough, if I am not mistaken, that your
countrymen are right in admitting the tinker and the cobbler to advise
about politics, and also that they deem virtue to be capable of
being taught and acquired.
There yet remains one difficulty which has been raised by you
about the sons of good men. What is the reason why good men teach
their sons the knowledge which is gained from teachers, and make
them wise in that, but do nothing towards improving them in the
virtues which distinguish themselves? And here, Socrates, I will leave
the apologue and resume the argument. Please to consider: Is there
or is there not some one quality of which all the citizens must be
partakers, if there is to be a city at all? In the answer to this
question is contained the only solution of your difficulty; there is
no other. For if there be any such quality, and this quality or
unity is not the art of the carpenter, or the smith, or the potter,
but justice and temperance and holiness and, in a word, manly
virtue-if this is the quality of which all men must be partakers,
and which is the very condition of their learning or doing anything
else, and if he who is wanting in this, whether he be a child only
or a grown-up man or woman, must be taught and punished, until by
punishment he becomes better, and he who rebels against instruction
and punishment is either exiled or condemned to death under the idea
that he is incurable-if what I am saying be true, good men have
their sons taught other things and not this, do consider how
extraordinary their conduct would appear to be. For we have shown that
they think virtue capable of being taught and cultivated both in
private and public; and, notwithstanding, they have their sons
taught lesser matters, ignorance of which does not involve the
punishment of death: but greater things, of which the ignorance may
cause death and exile to those who have no training or knowledge of
them-aye, and confiscation as well as death, and, in a word, may be
the ruin of f amilies-those things, I say, they are supposed not to
teach them-not to take the utmost care that they should learn. How
improbable is this, Socrates!
Education and admonition commence in the first years of childhood,
and last to the very end of life. Mother and nurse and father and
tutor are vying with one another about the improvement of the child as
soon as ever he is able to understand what is being said to him: he
cannot say or do anything without their setting forth to him that this
is just and that is unjust; this is honourable, that is dishonourable;
this is holy, that is unholy; do this and abstain from that. And if he
obeys, well and good; if not, he is straightened by threats and blows,
like a piece of bent or warped wood. At a later stage they send him to
teachers, and enjoin them to see to his manners even more than to
his reading and music; and the teachers do as they are desired. And
when the boy has learned his letters and is beginning to understand
what is written, as before he understood only what was spoken, they
put into his hands the works of great poets, which he reads sitting on
a bench at school; in these are contained many admonitions, and many
tales, and praises, and encomia of ancient famous men, which he is
required to learn by heart, in order that he may imitate or emulate
them and desire to become like them. Then, again, the teachers of
the lyre take similar care that their young disciple is temperate
and gets into no mischief; and when they have taught him the use of
the lyre, they introduce him to the poems of other excellent poets,
who are the lyric poets; and these they set to music, and make their
harmonies ana rhythms quite familiar to the children's souls, in order
that they may learn to be more gentle, and harmonious, and rhythmical,
and so more fitted for speech and action; for the life of man in every
part has need of harmony and rhythm. Then they send them to the master
of gymnastic, in order that their bodies may better minister to the
virtuous mind, and that they may not be compelled through bodily
weakness to play the coward in war or on any other occasion. This is
what is done by those who have the means, and those who have the means
are the rich; their children begin to go to school soonest and leave
off latest. When they have done with masters, the state again
compels them to learn the laws, and live after the pattern which
they furnish, and not after their own fancies; and just as in learning
to write, the writing-master first draws lines with a style for the
use of the young beginner, and gives him the tablet and makes him
follow the lines, so the city draws the laws, which were the invention
of good lawgivers living in the olden time; these are given to the
young man, in order to guide him in his conduct whether he is
commanding or obeying; and he who transgresses them is to be
corrected, or, in other words, called to account, which is a term used
not only in your country, but also in many others, seeing that justice
calls men to account. Now when there is all this care about virtue
private and public, why, Socrates, do you still wonder and doubt
whether virtue can be taught? Cease to wonder, for the opposite
would be far more surprising.
But why then do the sons of good fathers often turn out ill? There
is nothing very wonderful in this; for, as I have been saying, the
existence of a state implies that virtue is not any man's private
possession. If so-and nothing can be truer-then I will further ask you
to imagine, as an illustration, some other pursuit or branch of
knowledge which may be assumed equally to be the condition of the
existence of a state. Suppose that there could be no state unless we
were all flute-players, as far as each had the capacity, and everybody
was freely teaching everybody the art, both in private and public, and
reproving the bad player as freely and openly as every man now teaches
justice and the laws, not concealing them as he would conceal the
other arts, but imparting them-for all of us have a mutual interest in
the justice and virtue of one another, and this is the reason why
every one is so ready to teach justice and the laws; -suppose, I say,
that there were the same readiness and liberality among us in teaching
one another flute-playing, do you imagine, Socrates, that the sons
of good flute players would be more likely to be good than the sons of
bad ones? I think not. Would not their sons grow up to be
distinguished or undistinguished according to their own natural
capacities as flute-players, and the son of a good player would
often turn out to be a bad one, and the son of a bad player to be a
good one, all flute-players would be good enough in comparison of
those who were ignorant and unacquainted with the art of
flute-playing? In like manner I would have you consider that he who
appears to you to be the worst of those who have been brought up in
laws and humanities, would appear to be a just man and a master of
justice if he were to be compared with men who had no education, or
courts of justice, or laws, or any restraints upon them which
compelled them to practise virtue-with the savages, for example,
whom the poet Pherecrates exhibited on the stage at the last year's
Lenaean festival. If you were living among men such as the
man-haters in his Chorus, you would be only too glad to meet with
Eurybates and Phrynondas, and you would sorrowfully long to revisit
the rascality of this part of the world, you, Socrates, are
discontented, and why? Because all men are teachers of virtue, each
one according to his ability; and you say, Where are the teachers? You
might as well ask, Who teaches Greek? For of that too there will not
be any teachers found. Or you might ask, Who is to teach the sons of
our artisans this same art which they have learned of their fathers?
He and his fellow-workmen have taught them to the best of their
ability, -but who will carry them further in their arts? And you
would certainly have a difficulty, Socrates, in finding a teacher of
them; but there would be no difficulty in finding a teacher of those
who are wholly ignorant. And this is true of virtue or of anything
else; if a man is better able than we are to promote virtue ever so
little, we must be content with the result. A teacher of this sort I
believe myself to be, and above all other men to have the knowledge
which makes a man noble and good; and I give my pupils their
money's-worth, and even more, as they themselves confess. And
therefore I have introduced the following mode of payment : -When a
man has been my pupil, if he likes he pays my price, but there is no
compulsion; and if he does not like, he has only to go into a temple
and take an oath of the value of the instructions, and he pays no more
than he declares to be their value.
Such is my Apologue, Socrates, and such is the argument by which I
endeavour to show that virtue may be taught, and that this is the
opinion of the Athenians. And I have also attempted to show that you
are not to wonder at good fathers having bad sons, or at good sons
having bad fathers, of which the sons of Polycleitus afford an
example, who are the companions of our friends here, Paralus and
Xanthippus, but are nothing in comparison with their father; and
this is true of the sons of many other artists. As yet I ought not
to say the same of Paralus and Xanthippus themselves, for they are
young and there is still hope of them.
Protagoras ended, and in my ear
So charming left his voice, that I the while
Thought him still speaking; still stood fixed to hear.
At length, when the truth dawned upon me, that he had really finished,
not without difficulty I began to collect myself, and looking at
Hippocrates, I said to him: son of Apollodorus, how deeply
grateful I am to you for having brought me hither; I would not have
missed the speech of Protagoras for a great deal. For I used to
imagine that no human care could make men good; but I know better now.
Yet I have still one very small difficulty which I am sure that
Protagoras will easily explain, as he has already explained so much.
If a man were to go and consult Pericles or any of our great
speakers about these matters, he might perhaps hear as fine a
discourse; but then when one has a question to ask of any of them,
like books, they can neither answer nor ask; and if any one challenges
the least particular of their speech, they go ringing on in a long
harangue, like brazen pots, which when they are struck continue to
sound unless some one puts his hand upon them; whereas our friend
Protagoras can not only make a good speech, as he has already shown,
but when he is asked a question he can answer briefly; and when he
asks he will wait and hear the answer; and this is a very rare gift.
Now I, Protagoras, want to ask of you a little question, which if
you will only answer, I shall be quite satisfied. You were saying that
virtue can be taught; -that I will take upon your authority, and
there is no one to whom I am more ready to trust. But I marvel at
one thing about which I should like to have my mind set at rest. You
were speaking of Zeus sending justice and reverence to men; and
several times while you were speaking, justice, and temperance, and
holiness, and all these qualities, were described by you as if
together they made up virtue. Now I want you to tell me truly
whether virtue is one whole, of which justice and temperance and
holiness are parts; or whether all these are only the names of one and
the same thing: that is the doubt which still lingers in my mind.
There is no difficulty, Socrates, in answering that the qualities of
which you are speaking are the parts of virtue which is one.
And are they parts, I said, in the same sense in which mouth,
nose, and eyes, and ears, are the parts of a face; or are they like
the parts of gold, which differ from the whole and from one another
only in being larger or smaller?
I should say that they differed, Socrates, in the first way; they
are related to one another as the parts of a face are related to the
And do men have some one part and some another part of virtue? Of if
a man has one part, must he also have all the others?
By no means, he said; for many a man is brave and not just, or
just and not wise.
You would not deny, then, that courage and wisdom are also parts
Most undoubtedly they are, he answered; and wisdom is the noblest of
the parts .
And they are all different from one another? I said.
And has each of them a distinct function like the parts of the
face; -the eye, for example, is not like the ear, and has not the
same functions; and the other parts are none of them like one another,
either in their functions, or in any other way? I want to know whether
the comparison holds concerning the parts of virtue. Do they also
differ from one another in themselves and in their functions? For that
is clearly what the simile would imply.
Yes, Socrates, you are right in supposing that they differ.
Then, I said, no other part of virtue is like knowledge, or like
justice, or like courage, or like temperance, or like holiness?
No, he answered.
Well then, I said, suppose that you and I enquire into their
natures. And first, you would agree with me that justice is of the
nature of a thing, would you not? That is my opinion: would it not
be yours also?
Mine also, he said.
And suppose that some one were to ask us, saying, "0 Protagoras, and
you, Socrates, what about this thing which you were calling justice,
is it just or unjust?"-and I were to answer, just: would you vote with
me or against me?
With you, he said.
Thereupon I should answer to him who asked me, that justice is of
the nature of the just: would not you?
Yes, he said.
And suppose that he went on to say: "Well now, is there also such
a thing as holiness? "we should answer, "Yes," if I am not mistaken?
Yes, he said.
Which you would also acknowledge to be a thing-should we not say so?
"And is this a sort of thing which is of the nature of the holy,
or of the nature of the unholy?" I should be angry at his putting such
a question, and should say, "Peace, man; nothing can be holy if
holiness is not holy." What would you say? Would you not answer in the
Certainly, he said.
And then after this suppose that he came and asked us, "What were
you saying just now? Perhaps I may not have heard you rightly, but you
seemed to me to be saying that the parts of virtue were not the same
as one another." I should reply, "You certainly heard that said, but
not, as you imagine, by me; for I only asked the question;
Protagoras gave the answer." And suppose that he turned to you and
said, "Is this true, Protagoras? and do you maintain that one part
of virtue is unlike another, and is this your position? "-how would you
I could not help acknowledging the truth of what he said, Socrates.
Well then, Protagoras, we will assume this; and now supposing that
he proceeded to say further, "Then holiness is not of the nature of
justice, nor justice of the nature of holiness, but of the nature of
unholiness; and holiness is of the nature of the not just, and
therefore of the unjust, and the unjust is the unholy": how shall we
answer him? I should certainly answer him on my own behalf that
justice is holy, and that holiness is just; and I would say in like
manner on your behalf also, if you would allow me, that justice is
either the same with holiness, or very nearly the same; and above
all I would assert that justice is like holiness and holiness is
like justice; and I wish that you would tell me whether I may be
permitted to give this answer on your behalf, and whether you would
agree with me.
He replied, I cannot simply agree, Socrates, to the proposition that
justice is holy and that holiness is just, for there appears to me
to be a difference between them. But what matter? if you please I
please; and let us assume, if you will I, that justice is holy, and
that holiness is just.
Pardon me, I replied; I do not want this "if you wish" or "if you
will" sort of conclusion to be proven, but I want you and me to be
proven: I mean to say that the conclusion will be best proven if there
be no "if. "
Well, he said, I admit that justice bears a resemblance to holiness,
for there is always some point of view in which everything is like
every other thing; white is in a certain way like black, and hard is
like soft, and the most extreme opposites have some qualities in
common; even the parts of the face which, as we were saying before,
are distinct and have different functions, are still in a certain
point of view similar, and one of them is like another of them. And
you may prove that they are like one another on the same principle
that all things are like one another; and yet things which are like in
some particular ought not to be called alike, nor things which are
unlike in some particular, however slight, unlike.
And do you think, I said in a tone of surprise, that justice and
holiness have but a small degree of likeness?
Certainly not; any more than I agree with what I understand to be
Well, I said, as you appear to have a difficulty about this, let
us take another of the examples which you mentioned instead. Do you
admit the existence of folly?
And is not wisdom the. very opposite of folly?
That is true, he said.
And when men act rightly and advantageously they seem to you to be
Yes, he said.
And temperance makes them temperate?
And they who do not act rightly act foolishly, and in acting thus
are not temperate?
I agree, he said.
Then to act foolishly is the opposite of acting temperately?
And foolish actions are done by folly, and temperate actions by
And that is done strongly which is done by strength, and that
which is weakly done, by weakness?
And that which is done with swiftness is done swiftly, and that
which is done with slowness, slowly?
He assented again.
And that which is done in the same manner, is done by the same;
and that which is done in an opposite manner by the opposite?
Once more, I said, is there anything beautiful?
To which the only opposite is the ugly?
There is no other.
And is there anything good?
There is .
To which the only opposite is the evil?
There is no other.
And there is the acute in sound?
To which the only opposite is the grave?
There is no other, he said, but that.
Then every opposite has one opposite only and no more?
Then now, I said, let us recapitulate our admissions. First of all
we admitted that everything has one opposite and not more than one?
We did so.
And we admitted also that what was done in opposite ways was done by
And that which was done foolishly, as we further admitted, was
done in the opposite way to that which was done temperately?
And that which was done temperately was done by temperance, and that
which was done foolishly by folly?
And that which is done in opposite ways is done by opposites?
And one thing is done by temperance, and quite another thing by
And in opposite ways?
And therefore by opposites : -then folly is the opposite of
And do you remember that folly has already been acknowledged by us
to be the opposite of wisdom?
And we said that everything has only one opposite?
Then, Protagoras, which of the two assertions shall we renounce? One
says that everything has but one opposite; the other that wisdom is
distinct from temperance, and that both of them are parts of virtue;
and that they are not only distinct, but dissimilar, both in
themselves and in their functions, like the parts of a face. Which
of these two assertions shall we renounce? For both of them together
are certainly not in harmony; they do not accord or agree: for how can
they be said to agree if everything is assumed to have only one
opposite and not more than one, and yet folly, which is one, has
clearly the two opposites wisdom and temperance? Is not that true,
Protagoras? What else would you say?
He assented, but with great reluctance.
Then temperance and wisdom are the same, as before justice and
holiness appeared to us to be nearly the same. And now, Protagoras,
I said, we must finish the enquiry, and not faint. Do you think that
an unjust man can be temperate in his injustice?
I should be ashamed, Socrates, he said, to acknowledge this which
nevertheless many may be found to assert.
And shall I argue with them or with you? I replied.
I would rather, he said, that you should argue with the many
first, if you will.
Whichever you please, if you will only answer me and say whether you
are of their opinion or not. My object is to test the validity of
the argument; and yet the result may be that I who ask and you who
answer may both be put on our trial .
Protagoras at first made a show of refusing, as he said that the
argument was not encouraging; at length, he consented to answer.
Now then, I said, begin at the beginning and answer me. You think
that some men are temperate, and yet unjust?
Yes, he said; let that be admitted.
And temperance is good sense?
And good sense is good counsel in doing injustice?
If they succeed, I said, or if they do not succeed?
If they succeed.
And you would admit the existence of goods?
And is the good that which is expedient for man?
Yes, indeed, he said: and there are some things which may be
inexpedient, and yet I call them good.
I thought that Protagoras was getting ruffled and excited; he seemed
to be setting himself in an attitude of war. Seeing this, I minded
my business, and gently said:-
When you say, Protagoras, that things inexpedient are good, do you
mean inexpedient for man only, or inexpedient altogether? and do you
call the latter good?
Certainly not the last, he replied; for I know of many things-meats,
drinks, medicines, and ten thousand other things, which are
inexpedient for man, and some which are expedient; and some which
are neither expedient nor inexpedient for man, but only for horses;
and some for oxen only, and some for dogs; and some for no animals,
but only for trees; and some for the roots of trees and not for
their branches, as for example, manure, which is a good thing when
laid about the roots of a tree, but utterly destructive if thrown upon
the shoots and young branches; or I may instance olive oil, which is
mischievous to all plants, and generally most injurious to the hair of
every animal with the exception of man, but beneficial to human hair
and to the human body generally; and even in this application (so
various and changeable is the nature of the benefit) , that which is
the greatest good to the outward parts of a man, is a very great
evil to his inward parts: and for this reason physicians always forbid
their patients the use of oil in their food, except in very small
quantities, just enough to extinguish the disagreeable sensation of
smell in meats and sauces.
When he had given this answer, the company cheered him. And I
said: Protagoras, I have a wretched memory, and when any one makes a
long speech to me I never remember what he is talking about. As
then, if I had been deaf, and you were going to converse with me,
you would have had to raise your voice; so now, having such a bad
memory, I will ask you to cut your answers shorter, if you would
take me with you.
What do you mean? he said: how am I to shorten my answers? shall I
make them too short?
Certainly not, I said.
But short enough?
Yes, I said.
Shall I answer what appears to me to be short enough, or what
appears to you to be short enough?
I have heard, I said, that you can speak and teach others to speak
about the same things at such length that words never seemed to
fail, or with such brevity that no one could use fewer of them. Please
therefore, if you talk with me, to adopt the latter or more
Socrates, he replied, many a battle of words have I fought, and if I
had followed the method of disputation which my adversaries desired,
as you want me to do, I should have been no better than another, and
the name of Protagoras would have been nowhere.
I saw that he was not satisfied with his previous answers, and
that he would not play the part of answerer any more if he could help;
and I considered that there was no call upon me to continue the
conversation; so I said: Protagoras, I do not wish to force the
conversation upon you if you had rather not, but when you are
willing to argue with me in such a way that I can follow you, then I
will argue with you. Now you, as is said of you by others and as you
say of yourself, are able to have discussions in shorter forms of
speech as well as in longer, for you are a master of wisdom; but I
cannot manage these long speeches: I only wish that I could. You, on
the other hand, who are capable of either, ought to speak shorter as I
beg you, and then we might converse. But I see that you are
disinclined, and as I have an engagement which will prevent my staying
to hear you at greater length (for I have to be in another place), I
will depart; although I should have liked to have heard you.
Thus I spoke, and was rising from my seat, when Callias seized me by
the right hand, and in his left hand caught hold of this old cloak
of mine. He said: We cannot let you go, Socrates, for if you leave
us there will be an end of our discussions: I must therefore beg you
to remain, as there is nothing in the world that I should like
better than to hear you and Protagoras discourse. Do not deny the
company this pleasure.
Now I had got up, and was in the act of departure. Son of
Hipponicus, I replied, I have always admired, and do now heartily
applaud and love your philosophical spirit, and I would gladly
comply with your request, if I could. But the truth is that I
cannot. And what you ask is as great an impossibility to me, as if you
bade me run a race with Crison of Himera, when in his prime, or with
some one of the long or day course runners. To such a request I should
reply that I would fain ask the same of my own legs; but they refuse
to comply. And therefore if you want to see Crison and me in the
same stadium, you must bid him slacken his speed to mine, for I cannot
run quickly, and he can run slowly. And in like manner if you want
to hear me and Protagoras discoursing, you must ask him to shorten his
answers, and keep to the point, as he did at first; if not, how can
there be any discussion? For discussion is one thing, and making an
oration is quite another, in my humble opinion.
But you see, Socrates, said Callias, that Protagoras may fairly
claim to speak in his own way, just as you claim to speak in yours.
Here Alcibiades interposed, and said: That, Callias, is not a true
statement of the case. For our friend Socrates admits that he cannot
make a speech-in this he yields the palm to Protagoras: but I should
be greatly surprised if he yielded to any living man in the power of
holding and apprehending an argument. Now if Protagoras will make a
similar admission, and confess that he is inferior to Socrates in
argumentative skill, that is enough for Socrates; but if he claims a
superiority in argument as well, let him ask and answer-not, when a
question is asked, slipping away from the point, and instead of
answering, making a speech at such length that most of his hearers
forget the question at issue (not that Socrates is likely to
forget-I will be bound for that, although he may pretend in fun that
he has a bad memory) . And Socrates appears to me to be more in the
right than Protagoras; that is my view, and every man ought to say
what he thinks .
When Alcibiades had done speaking, some one-Critias, I
believe-went on to say: Prodicus and Hippias, Callias appears to
me to be a partisan of Protagoras: and this led Alcibiades, who
loves opposition, to take the other side. But we should not be
partisans either of Socrates or of Protagoras; let us rather unite
in entreating both of them not to break up the discussion.
Prodicus added: That, Critias, seems to me to be well said, for
those who are present at such discussions ought to be impartial
hearers of both the speakers; remembering, however, that
impartiality is not the same as equality, for both sides should be
impartially heard, and yet an equal meed should not be assigned to
both of them; but to the wiser a higher meed should be given, and a
lower to the less wise. And I as well as Critias would beg you,
Protagoras and Socrates, to grant our request, which is, that you will
argue with one another and not wrangle; for friends argue with friends
out of goodwill, but only adversaries and enemies wrangle. And then
our meeting will be delightful; for in this way you, who are the
speakers, will be most likely to win esteem, and not praise only,
among us who are your audience; for esteem is a sincere conviction
of the hearers' souls, but praise is often an insincere expression
of men uttering falsehoods contrary to their conviction. And thus we
who are the hearers will be gratified and not pleased; for
gratification is of the mind when receiving wisdom and knowledge,
but pleasure is of the body when eating or experiencing some other
bodily delight. Thus spoke Prodicus, and many of the company applauded
his words .
Hippias the sage spoke next. He said: All of you who are here
present I reckon to be kinsmen and friends and fellow-citizens, by
nature and not by law; for by nature like is akin to like, whereas law
is the tyrant of mankind, and often compels us to do many things which
are against nature. How great would be the disgrace then, if we, who
know the nature of things, and are the wisest of the Hellenes, and
as such are met together in this city, which is the metropolis of
wisdom, and in the greatest and most glorious house of this city,
should have nothing to show worthy of this height of dignity, but
should only quarrel with one another like the meanest of mankind I
pray and advise you, Protagoras, and you, Socrates, to agree upon a
compromise. Let us be your peacemakers. And do not you, Socrates,
aim at this precise and extreme brevity in discourse, if Protagoras
objects, but loosen and let go the reins of speech, that your words
may be grander and more becoming to you. Neither do you, Protagoras,
go forth on the gale with every sail set out of sight of land into
an ocean of words, but let there be a mean observed by both of you. Do
as I say. And let me also persuade you to choose an arbiter or
overseer or president; he will keep watch over your words and will
prescribe their proper length.
This proposal was received by the company with universal approval;
Callias said that he would not let me off, and they begged me to
choose an arbiter. But I said that to choose an umpire of discourse
would be unseemly; for if the person chosen was inferior, then the
inferior or worse ought not to preside over the better; or if he was
equal, neither would that be well; for he who is our equal will do
as we do, and what will be the use of choosing him? And if you say,
"Let us have a better then, "-to that I answer that you cannot have any
one who is wiser than Protagoras. And if you choose another who is not
really better, and whom you only say is better, to put another over
him as though he were an inferior person would be an unworthy
reflection on him; not that, as far as I am concerned, any
reflection is of much consequence to me. Let me tell you then what I
will do in order that the conversation and discussion may go on as you
desire. If Protagoras is not disposed to answer, let him ask and I
will answer; and I will endeavour to show at the same time how, as I
maintain, he ought to answer: and when I have answered as many
questions as he likes to ask, let him in like manner answer me; and if
he seems to be not very ready at answering the precise question
asked of him, you and I will unite in entreating him, as you entreated
me, not to spoil the discussion. And this will require no special
arbiter-all of you shall be arbiters.
This was generally approved, and Protagoras, though very much
against his will, was obliged to agree that he would ask questions;
and when he had put a sufficient number of them, that he would
answer in his turn those which he was asked in short replies. He began
to put his questions as follows :-
I am of opinion, Socrates, he said, that skill in poetry is the
principal part of education; and this I conceive to be the power of
knowing what compositions of the poets are correct, and what are
not, and how they are to be distinguished, and of explaining when
asked the reason of the difference. And I propose to transfer the
question which you and I have been discussing to the domain of poetry;
we will speak as before of virtue, but in reference to a passage of
a poet. Now Simonides says to Scopas the son of Creon the Thessalian:
Hardly on the one hand can a man become truly good, built
four-square in hands and feet and mind, a work without a flaw.
Do you know the poem? or shall I repeat the whole?
There is no need, I said; for I am perfectly well acquainted with
the ode-I have made a careful study of it.
Very well, he said. And do you think that the ode is a good
composition, and true?
Yes, I said, both good and true.
But if there is a contradiction, can the composition be good or
No, not in that case, I replied.
And is there not a contradiction? he asked. Reflect.
Well, my friend, I have reflected.
And does not the poet proceed to say, "I do not agree with the
word of Pittacus, albeit the utterance of a wise man: Hardly can a man
be good"? Now you will observe that this is said by the same poet.
I know it .
And do you think, he said, that the two sayings are consistent?
Yes, I said, I think so (at the same time I could not help fearing
that there might be something in what he said) . And you think
Why, he said, how can he be consistent in both? First of all,
premising as his own thought, "Hardly can a man become truly good";
and then a little further on in the poem, forgetting, and blaming
Pittacus and refusing to agree with him, when he says, "Hardly can ..
man be good," which is the very same thing. And yet when he blames hi
who says the same with himself, he blames himself; so that he must
be wrong either in his first or his second assertion.
Many of the audience cheered and applauded this. And I felt at first
giddy and faint, as if I had received a blow from the hand of an
expert boxer, when I heard his words and the sound of the cheering;
and to confess the truth, I wanted to get time to think what the
meaning of the poet really was. So I turned to Prodicus and called
him. Prodicus, I said, Simonides is a countryman of yours, and you
ought to come to his aid. I must appeal to you, like the river
Scamander in Homer, who, when beleaguered by Achilles, summons the
Simois to aid him, saying:
Brother dear, let us both together stay the force of the hero.
And I summon you, for I am afraid that Protagoras will make an end
of Simonides. Now is the time to rehabilitate Simonides, by the
application of your philosophy of synonyms, which enables you to
distinguish "will" and "wish," and make other charming distinctions
like those which you drew just now. And I should like to know
whether you would agree with me; for I am of opinion that there is
no contradiction in the words of Simonides. And first of all I wish
that you would say whether, in your opinion, Prodicus, "being" is
the same as "becoming."
Not the same, certainly, replied Prodicus.
Did not Simonides first set forth, as his own view, that "Hardly can
a man become truly good"?
Quite right, said Prodicus.
And then he blames Pittacus, not, as Protagoras imagines, for
repeating that which he says himself, but for saying something
different from himself. Pittacus does not say as Simonides says,
that hardly can a man become good, but hardly can a man be good: and
our friend Prodicus would maintain that being, Protagoras, is not
the same as becoming; and if they are not the same, then Simonides
is not inconsistent with himself. I dare say that Prodicus and many
others would say, as Hesiod says,
On the one hand, hardly can a man become good,
For the gods have made virtue the reward of toil,
But on the other hand, when you have climbed the height,
Then, to retain virtue, however difficult the acquisition, is easy.
Prodicus heard and approved; but Protagoras said: Your correction,
Socrates, involves a greater error than is contained in the sentence
which you are correcting.
Alas! I said, Protagoras; then I am a sorry physician, and do but
aggravate a disorder which I am seeking to cure.
Such is the fact, he said.
How so? I asked.
The poet, he replied, could never have made such a mistake as to say
that virtue, which in the opinion of all men is the hardest of all
things, can be easily retained.
Well, I said, and how fortunate are we in having Prodicus among
us, at the right moment; for he has a wisdom, Protagoras, which, as
I imagine, is more than human and of very ancient date, and may be
as old as Simonides or even older. Learned as you are in many
things, you appear to know nothing of this; but I know, for I am a
disciple of his. And now, if I am not mistaken, you do not
understand the word "hard" (chalepon) in the sense which Simonides
intended; and I must correct you, as Prodicus corrects me when I use
the word "awful" (deinon) as a term of praise. If I say that
Protagoras or any one else is an "awfully" wise man, he asks me if I
am not ashamed of calling that which is good "awful"; and then he
explains to me that the term "awful" is always taken in a bad sense,
and that no one speaks of being "awfully" healthy or wealthy, or
"awful" peace, but of "awful" disease, "awful" war, "awful" poverty,
meaning by the term "awful," evil. And I think that Simonides and
his countrymen the Ceans, when they spoke of "hard" meant "evil," or
something which you do not understand. Let us ask Prodicus, for he
ought to be able to answer questions about the dialect of Simonides.
What did he mean, Prodicus, by the term "hard?"
Evil, said Prodicus.
And therefore, I said, Prodicus, he blames Pittacus for saying,
"Hard is the good," just as if that were equivalent to saying, Evil is
Yes, he said, that was certainly his meaning; and he is twitting
Pittacus with ignorance of the use of terms, which in a Lesbian, who
has been accustomed to speak a barbarous language, is natural.
Do you hear, Protagoras, I asked, what our friend Prodicus is
saying? And have you an answer for him?
You are entirely mistaken, Prodicus, said Protagoras; and I know
very well that Simonides in using the word "hard" meant what all of us
mean, not evil, but that which is not easy-that which takes a great
deal of trouble: of this I am positive.
I said: I also incline to believe, Protagoras, that this was the
meaning of Simonides, of which our friend Prodicus was very well
aware, but he thought that he would make fun, and try if you could
maintain your thesis; for that Simonides could never have meant the
other is clearly proved by the context, in which he says that God only
has this gift. Now he cannot surely mean to say that to be good is
evil, when he afterwards proceeds to say that God only has this
gift, and that this is the attribute of him and of no other. For if
this be his meaning, Prodicus would impute to Simonides a character of
recklessness which is very unlike his countrymen. And I should like to
tell you, I said, what I imagine to be the real meaning of Simonides
in this poem, if you will test what, in your way of speaking, would be
called my skill in poetry; or if you would rather, I will be the
To this proposal Protagoras replied: As you please; -and Hippias,
Prodicus, and the others told me by all means to do as I proposed.
Then now, I said, I will endeavour to explain to you my opinion
about this poem of Simonides. There is a very ancient philosophy which
is more cultivated in Crete and Lacedaemon than in any other part of
Hellas, and there are more philosophers in those countries than
anywhere else in the world. This, however, is a secret which the
Lacedaemonians deny; and they pretend to be ignorant, just because
they do not wish to have it thought that they rule the world by
wisdom, like the Sophists of whom Protagoras was speaking, and not
by valour of arms; considering that if the reason of their superiority
were disclosed, all men would be practising their wisdom. And this
secret of theirs has never been discovered by the imitators of
Lacedaemonian fashions in other cities, who go about with their ears
bruised in imitation of them, and have the caestus bound on their
arms, and are always in training, and wear short cloaks; for they
imagine that these are the practices which have enabled the
Lacedaemonians to conquer the other Hellenes. Now when the
Lacedaemonians want to unbend and hold free conversation with their
wise men, and are no longer satisfied with mere secret intercourse,
they drive out all these laconizers, and any other foreigners who
may happen to be in their country, and they hold a philosophical
seance unknown to strangers; and they themselves forbid their young
men to go out into other cities-in this they are like the Cretans-in
order that they may not unlearn the lessons which they have taught
them. And in Lacedaemon and Crete not only men but also women have a
pride in their high cultivation. And hereby you may know that I am
right in attributing to the Lacedaemonians this excellence in
philosophy and speculation: If a man converses with the most
ordinary Lacedaemonian, he will find him seldom good for much in
general conversation, but at any point in the discourse he will be
darting out some notable saying, terse and full of meaning, with
unerring aim; and the person with whom he is talking seems to be
like a child in his hands. And many of our own age and of former
ages have noted that the true Lacedaemonian type of character has
the love of philosophy even stronger than the love of gymnastics; they
are conscious that only a perfectly educated man is capable of
uttering such expressions. Such were Thales of Miletus, and Pittacus
of Mitylene, and Bias of Priene, and our own Solon, and Cleobulus
the Lindian, and Myson the Chenian; and seventh in the catalogue of
wise men was the Lacedaemonian Chilo. All these were lovers and
emulators and disciples of the culture of the Lacedaemonians, and
any one may perceive that their wisdom was of this character;
consisting of short memorable sentences, which they severally uttered.
And they met together and dedicated in the temple of Apollo at Delphi,
as the first-fruits of their wisdom, the far-famed inscriptions, which
are in all men's mouths-"Know thyself," and "Nothing too much."
Why do I say all this? I am explaining that this Lacedaemonian
brevity was the style of primitive philosophy. Now there was a
saying of Pittacus which was privately circulated and received the
approbation of the wise, "Hard is it to be good." And Simonides, who
was ambitious of the fame of wisdom, was aware that if he could
overthrow this saying, then, as if he had won a victory over some
famous athlete, he would carry off the palm among his
contemporaries. And if I am not mistaken, he composed the entire
poem with the secret intention of damaging Pittacus and his saying.
Let us all unite in examining his words, and see whether I am
speaking the truth. Simonides must have been a lunatic, if, in the
very first words of the poem, wanting to say only that to become
good is hard, he inserted (men) "on the one hand" ["on the one hand to
become good is hard"]; there would be no reason for the introduction
of (men) , unless you suppose him to speak with a hostile reference
to the words of Pittacus . Pittacus is saying "Hard is it to be
good," and he, in refutation of this thesis, rejoins that the truly
hard thing, Pittacus, is to become good, not joining "truly" with
"good," but with "hard." Not, that the hard thing is to be truly good,
as though there were some truly good men, and there were others who
were good but not truly good (this would be a very simple observation,
and quite unworthy of Simonides); but you must suppose him to make a
trajection of the word "truly," construing the saying of Pittacus thus
(and let us imagine Pittacus to be speaking and Simonides answering
him) : "0 my friends," says Pittacus, "hard is it to be good," and
Simonides answers, "In that, Pittacus, you are mistaken; the
difficulty is not to be good, but on the one hand, to become good,
four-square in hands and feet and mind, without a flaw-that is hard
truly." This way of reading the passage accounts for the insertion
of (men) "on the one hand, " and for the position at the end of the
clause of the word "truly, " and all that follows shows this to be
the meaning. A great deal might be said in praise of the details of
the poem, which is a charming piece of workmanship, and very finished,
but such minutiae would be tedious. I should like, however, to point
out the general intention of the poem, which is certainly designed
in every part to be a refutation of the saying of Pittacus. For he
speaks in what follows a little further on as if he meant to argue
that although there is a difficulty in becoming good, yet this is
possible for a time, and only for a time. But having become good, to
remain in a good state and be good, as you, Pittacus, affirm, is not
possible, and is not granted to man; God only has this blessing;
"but man cannot help being bad when the force of circumstances
overpowers him." Now whom does the force of circumstance overpower
in the command of a vessel?-not the private individual, for he is
always overpowered; and as one who is already prostrate cannot be
overthrown, and only he who is standing upright but not he who is
prostrate can be laid prostrate, so the force of circumstances can
only overpower him who, at some time or other, has resources, and
not him who is at all times helpless. The descent of a great storm may
make the pilot helpless, or the severity of the season the
husbandman or the physician; for the good may become bad, as another
The good are sometimes good and sometimes bad.
But the bad does not become bad; he is always bad. So that when the
force of circumstances overpowers the man of resources and skill and
virtue, then he cannot help being bad. And you, Pittacus, are
saying, "Hard is it to be good." Now there is a difficulty in becoming
good; and yet this is possible: but to be good is an impossibility-
For he who does well is the good man, and he who does ill is the
But what sort of doing is good in letters? and what sort of doing
makes a man good in letters? Clearly the knowing of them. And what
sort of well-doing makes a man a good physician? Clearly the knowledge
of the art of healing the sick. "But he who does ill is the bad."
Now who becomes a bad physician? Clearly he who is in the first
place a physician, and in the second place a good physician; for he
may become a bad one also: but none of us unskilled individuals can by
any amount of doing ill become physicians, any more than we can become
carpenters or anything of that sort; and he who by doing ill cannot
become a physician at all, clearly cannot become a bad physician. In
like manner the good may become deteriorated by time, or toil, or
disease, or other accident (the only real doing ill is to be
deprived of knowledge) , but the bad man will never become bad, for
he is always bad; and if he were to become bad, he must previously
have been good. Thus the words of the poem tend to show that on the
one hand a man cannot be continuously good, but that he may become
good and may also become bad; and again that
They are the best for the longest time whom the gods love.
All this relates to Pittacus, as is further proved by the sequel.
For he adds :
Therefore I will not throw away my span of life to no purpose in
searching after the impossible, hoping in vain to find a perfectly
faultless man among those who partake of the fruit of the
broad-bosomed earth: if I find him, I will send you word.
(this is the vehement way in which he pursues his attack upon Pittacus
throughout the whole poem) :
But him who does no evil, voluntarily I praise and love; -not even
the gods war against necessity.
All this has a similar drift, for Simonides was not so ignorant as
to say that he praised those who did no evil voluntarily, as though
there were some who did evil voluntarily. For no wise man, as I
believe, will allow that any human being errs voluntarily, or
voluntarily does evil and dishonourable actions; but they are very
well aware that all who do evil and dishonourable things do them
against their will. And Simonides never says that he praises him who
does no evil voluntarily; the word "voluntarily" applies to himself.
For he was under the impression that a good man might often compel
himself to love and praise another, and to be the friend and
approver of another; and that there might be an involuntary love, such
as a man might feel to an unnatural father or mother, or country, or
the like. Now bad men, when their parents or country have any defects,
look on them with malignant joy, and find fault with them and expose
and denounce them to others, under the idea that the rest of mankind
will be less likely to take themselves to task and accuse them of
neglect; and they blame their defects far more than they deserve, in
order that the odium which is necessarily incurred by them may be
increased: but the good man dissembles his feelings, and constrains
himself to praise them; and if they have wronged him and he is
angry, he pacifies his anger and is reconciled, and compels himself to
love and praise his own flesh and blood. And Simonides, as is
probable, considered that he himself had often had to praise and
magnify a tyrant or the like, much against his will, and he also
wishes to imply to Pittacus that he does not censure him because he is
For I am satisfied [he says] when a man is neither bad nor very
stupid; and when he knows justice (which is the health of states), and
is of sound mind, I will find no fault with him, for I am not given to
finding fault, and there are innumerable fools
(implying that if he delighted in censure he might have abundant
opportunity of finding fault) .
All things are good with which evil is unmingled.
In these latter words he does not mean to say that all things are good
which have no evil in them, as you might say "All things are white
which have no black in them," for that would be ridiculous; but he
means to say that he accepts and finds no fault with the moderate or
intermediate state. He says:
I do not hope to find a perfectly blameless man among those who
partake of the fruits of the broad-bosomed earth (if I find him, I
will send you word) ; in this sense I praise no man. But he who is
moderately good, and does no evil, is good enough for me, who love and
approve every one .
(and here observe that he uses a Lesbian word, epainemi [approve],
because he is addressing Pittacus,
Who love and approve every one voluntarily, who does no evil:
and that the stop should be put after "voluntarily"); "but there are
some whom I involuntarily praise and love. And you, Pittacus, I
would never have blamed, if you had spoken what was moderately good
and true; but I do blame you because, putting on the appearance of
truth, you are speaking falsely about the highest matters. And this, I
said, Prodicus and Protagoras, I take to be the meaning of Simonides
in this poem.
Hippias said: I think, Socrates, that you have given a very good
explanation of the poem; but I have also an excellent interpretation
of my own which I will propound to you, if you will allow me.
Nay, Hippias, said Alcibiades; not now, but at some other time. At
present we must abide by the compact which was made between Socrates
and Protagoras, to the effect that as long as Protagoras is willing to
ask, Socrates should answer; or that if he would rather answer, then
that Socrates should ask.
I said: I wish Protagoras either to ask or answer as he is inclined;
but I would rather have done with poems and odes, if he does not
object, and come back to the question about which I was asking you
at first, Protagoras, and by your help make an end of that. The talk
about the poets seems to me like a commonplace entertainment to
which a vulgar company have recourse; who, because they are not able
to converse or amuse one another, while they are drinking, with the
sound of their own voices and conversation, by reason of their
stupidity, raise the price of flute-girls in the market, hiring for
a great sum the voice of a flute instead of their own breath, to be
the medium of intercourse among them: but where the company are real
gentlemen and men of education, you will see no flute-girls, nor
dancing-girls, nor harp-girls; and they have no nonsense or games, but
are contented with one another's conversation, of which their own
voices are the medium, and which they carry on by turns and in an
orderly manner, even though they are very liberal in their
potations. And a company like this of ours, and men such as we profess
to be, do not require the help of another's voice, or of the poets
whom you cannot interrogate about meaning of what they are saying;
people who cite them declaring, some that the poet has meaning, and
others that he has another, and the point which is in dispute can
never be decided. This sort of entertainment they decline, and
prefer to talk with one another, and put one another to the proof in
conversation. And these are the models which I desire that you and I
should imitate. Leaving the poets, and keeping to ourselves, let us
try the mettle of one another and make proof of the truth in
conversation. If you have a mind to ask, I am ready to answer; or if
you would rather, do you answer, and give me the opportunity of
resuming and completing our unfinished argument.
I made these and some similar observations; but Protagoras would not
distinctly say which he would do. Thereupon Alcibiades turned to
Callias, and said:-Do you think, Callias, that Protagoras is fair in
refusing to say whether he will or will not answer? for I certainly
think that he is unfair; he ought either to proceed with the argument,
or distinctly refuse to proceed, that we may know his intention; and
then Socrates will be able to discourse with some one else, and the
rest of the company will be free to talk with one another.
I think that Protagoras was really made ashamed by these words of
Alcibiades and when the prayers of Callias and the company were
superadded, he was at last induced to argue, and said that I might ask
and he would answer.
So I said: Do not imagine, Protagoras, that I have any other
interest in asking questions of you but that of clearing up my own
difficulties. For I think that Homer was very right in saying that
When two go together, one sees before the other,
for all men who have a companion are readier in deed, word, or
thought; but if a man
Sees a thing when he is alone,
he goes about straightway seeking until he finds some one to whom he
may show his discoveries, and who may confirm him in them. And I would
rather hold discourse with you than with any one, because I think that
no man has a better understanding of most things which a good man
may be expected to understand, and in particular of virtue. For who is
there, but you?-who not only claim to be a good man and a gentleman,
for many are this, and yet have not the power of making others good
whereas you are not only good yourself, but also the cause of goodness
in others. Moreover such confidence have you in yourself, that
although other Sophists conceal their profession, you proclaim in
the face of Hellas that you are a Sophist or teacher of virtue and
education, and are the first who demanded pay in return. How then
can I do otherwise than invite you to the examination of these
subjects, and ask questions and consult with you? I must, indeed.
And I should like once more to have my memory refreshed by you about
the questions which I was asking you at first, and also to have your
help in considering them. If I am not mistaken the question was
this: Are wisdom and temperance and courage and justice and holiness
five names of the same thing? or has each of the names a separate
underlying essence and corresponding thing having a peculiar function,
no one of them being like any other of them? And you replied that
the five names were not the names of the same thing, but that each
of them had a separate object, and that all these objects were parts
of virtue, not in the same way that the parts of gold are like each
other and the whole of which they are parts, but as the parts of the
face are unlike the whole of which they are parts and one another, and
have each of them a distinct function. I should like to know whether
this is still your opinion; or if not, I will ask you to define your
meaning, and I shall not take you to task if you now make a
different statement. For I dare say that you may have said what you
did only in order to make trial of me.
I answer, Socrates, he said, that all these qualities are parts of
virtue, and that four out of the five are to some extent similar,
and that the fifth of them, which is courage, is very different from
the other four, as I prove in this way: You may observe that many
men are utterly unrighteous, unholy, intemperate, ignorant, who are
nevertheless remarkable for their courage.
Stop, I said; I should like to think about that. When you speak of
brave men, do you mean the confident, or another sort of nature?
Yes, he said; I mean the impetuous, ready to go at that which others
are afraid to approach.
In the next place, you would affirm virtue to be a good thing, of
which good thing you assert yourself to be a teacher.
Yes, he said; I should say the best of all things, if I am in my
And is it partly good and partly bad, I said, or wholly good?
Wholly good, and in the highest degree.
Tell me then; who are they who have confidence when diving into a
I should say, the divers .
And the reason of this is that they have knowledge?
Yes, that is the reason.
And who have confidence when fighting on horseback-the skilled
horseman or the unskilled?
And who when fighting with light shields-the peltasts or the
The peltasts. And that is true of all other things, he said, if that
is your point: those who have knowledge are more confident than
those who have no knowledge, and they are more confident after they
have learned than before.
And have you not seen persons utterly ignorant, I said, of these
things, and yet confident about them?
Yes, he said, I have seen such persons far too confident.
And are not these confident persons also courageous?
In that case, he replied, courage would be a base thing, for the men
of whom we are speaking are surely madmen.
Then who are the courageous? Are they not the confident?
Yes, he said; to that statement I adhere.
And those, I said, who are thus confident without knowledge are
really not courageous, but mad; and in that case the wisest are also
the most confident, and being the most confident are also the bravest,
and upon that view again wisdom will be courage.
Nay, Socrates, he replied, you are mistaken in your remembrance of
what was said by me. When you asked me, I certainly did say that the
courageous are the confident; but I was never asked whether the
confident are the courageous; if you had asked me, I should have
answered "Not all of them" : and what I did answer you have not
proved to be false, although you proceeded to show that those who have
knowledge are more courageous than they were before they had
knowledge, and more courageous than others who have no knowledge,
and were then led on to think that courage is the same as wisdom.
But in this way of arguing you might come to imagine that strength
is wisdom. You might begin by asking whether the strong are able,
and I should say "Yes"; and then whether those who know how to wrestle
are not more able to wrestle than those who do not know how to
wrestle, and more able after than before they had learned, and I
should assent. And when I had admitted this, you might use my
admissions in such a way as to prove that upon my view wisdom is
strength; whereas in that case I should not have admitted, any more
than in the other, that the able are strong, although I have
admitted that the strong are able. For there is a difference between
ability and strength; the former is given by knowledge as well as by
madness or rage, but strength comes from nature and a healthy state of
the body. And in like manner I say of confidence and courage, that
they are not the same; and I argue that the courageous are
confident, but not all the confident courageous. For confidence may be
given to men by art, and also, like ability, by madness and rage;
but courage comes to them from nature and the healthy state of the
I said: You would admit, Protagoras, that some men live well and
And do you think that a man lives well who lives in pain and grief?
He does not.
But if he lives pleasantly to the end of his life, will he not in
that case have lived well?
Then to live pleasantly is a good, and to live unpleasantly an evil?
Yes, he said, if the pleasure be good and honourable.
And do you, Protagoras, like the rest of the world, call some
pleasant things evil and some painful things good?-for I am rather
disposed to say that things are good in as far as they are pleasant,
if they have no consequences of another sort, and in as far as they
are painful they are bad.
I do not know, Socrates, he said, whether I can venture to assert in
that unqualified manner that the pleasant is the good and the
painful the evil. Having regard not only to my present answer, but
also to the whole of my life, I shall be safer, if I am not
mistaken, in saying that there are some pleasant things which are
not good, and that there are some painful things which are good, and
some which are not good, and that there are some which are neither
good nor evil .
And you would call pleasant, I said, the things which participate in
pleasure or create pleasure?
Certainly, he said.
Then my meaning is, that in as far as they are pleasant they are
good; and my question would imply that pleasure is a good in itself.
According to your favourite mode of speech, Socrates, "Let us
reflect about this," he said; and if the reflection is to the point,
and the result proves that pleasure and good are really the same, then
we will agree; but if not, then we will argue.
And would you wish to begin the enquiry?
I said; or shall I begin?
You ought to take the lead, he said; for you are the author of the
May I employ an illustration? I said. Suppose some one who is
enquiring into the health or some other bodily quality of
another: -he looks at his face and at the tips of his fingers, and then
he says, Uncover your chest and back to me that I may have a better
view: -that is the sort of thing which I desire in this speculation.
Having seen what your opinion is about good and pleasure, I am
minded to say to you: Uncover your mind to me, Protagoras, and
reveal your opinion about knowledge, that I may know whether you agree
with the rest of the world. Now the rest of the world are of opinion
that knowledge is a principle not of strength, or of rule, or of
command: their notion is that a man may have knowledge, and yet that
the knowledge which is in him may be overmastered by anger, or
pleasure, or pain, or love, or perhaps by fear, -just as if knowledge
were a slave, and might be dragged about anyhow. Now is that your
view? or do you think that knowledge is a noble and commanding
thing, which cannot be overcome, and will not allow a man, if he
only knows the difference of good and evil, to do anything which is
contrary to knowledge, but that wisdom will have strength to help him?
I agree with you, Socrates, said Protagoras; and not only so, but I,
above all other men, am bound to say that wisdom and knowledge are the
highest of human things.
Good, I said, and true. But are you aware that the majority of the
world are of another mind; and that men are commonly supposed to
know the things which are best, and not to do them when they might?
And most persons whom I have asked the reason of this have said that
when men act contrary to knowledge they are overcome by pain, or
pleasure, or some of those affections which I was just now mentioning.
Yes, Socrates, he replied; and that is not the only point about
which mankind are in error.
Suppose, then, that you and I endeavour to instruct and inform
them what is the nature of this affection which they call "being
overcome by pleasure, " and which they affirm to be the reason why they
do not always do what is best. When we say to them: Friends, you are
mistaken, and are saying what is not true, they would probably
reply: Socrates and Protagoras, if this affection of the soul is not
to be called "being overcome by pleasure, " pray, what is it, and by
what name would you describe it?
But why, Socrates, should we trouble ourselves about the opinion
of the many, who just say anything that happens to occur to them?
I believe, I said, that they may be of use in helping us to discover
how courage is related to the other parts of virtue. If you are
disposed to abide by our agreement, that I should show the way in
which, as I think, our recent difficulty is most likely to be
cleared up, do you follow; but if not, never mind.
You are quite right, he said; and I would have you proceed as you
have begun .
Well then, I said, let me suppose that they repeat their question,
What account do you give of that which, in our way of speaking, is
termed being overcome by pleasure? I should answer thus: Listen, and
Protagoras and I will endeavour to show you. When men are overcome
by eating and drinking and other sensual desires which are pleasant,
and they, knowing them to be evil, nevertheless indulge in them, would
you not say that they were overcome by pleasure? They will not deny
this. And suppose that you and I were to go on and ask them again: "In
what way do you say that they are evil-in that they are pleasant and
give pleasure at the moment, or because they cause disease and poverty
and other like evils in the future? Would they still be evil, if
they had no attendant evil consequences, simply because they give
the consciousness of pleasure of whatever nature?"-Would they not
answer that they are not evil on account of the pleasure which is
immediately given by them, but on account of the after
consequences-diseases and the like?
I believe, said Protagoras, that the world in general would answer
as you do.
And in causing diseases do they not cause pain? and in causing
poverty do they not cause pain; -they would agree to that also, if I am
Then I should say to them, in my name and yours : Do you think them
evil for any other reason, except because they end in pain and rob
us of other pleasures : -there again they would agree?
We both of us thought that they would.
And then I should take the question from the opposite point of view,
and say: "Friends, when you speak of goods being painful, do you not
mean remedial goods, such as gymnastic exercises, and military
service, and the physician's use of burning, cutting, drugging, and
starving? Are these the things which are good but painful? "-they would
assent to me?
"And do you call them good because they occasion the greatest
immediate suffering and pain; or because, afterwards, they bring
health and improvement of the bodily condition and the salvation of
states and power over others and wealth?"-they would agree to the
latter alternative, if I am not mistaken?
"Are these things good for any other reason except that they end
in pleasure, and get rid of and avert pain? Are you looking to any
other standard but pleasure and pain when you call them good?"-they
would acknowledge that they were not?
I think so, said Protagoras.
"And do you not pursue after pleasure as a good, and avoid pain as
"Then you think that pain is an evil and pleasure is a good: and
even pleasure you deem an evil, when it robs you of greater
pleasures than it gives, or causes pains greater than the pleasure.
If, however, you call pleasure an evil in relation to some other end
or standard, you will be able to show us that standard. But you have
none to show . "
I do not think that they have, said Protagoras.
"And have you not a similar way of speaking about pain? You call
pain a good when it takes away greater pains than those which it
has, or gives pleasures greater than the pains: then if you have
some standard other than pleasure and pain to which you refer when you
call actual pain a good, you can show what that is. But you cannot."
True, said Protagoras.
Suppose again, I said, that the world says to me: "Why do you
spend many words and speak in many ways on this subject?" Excuse me,
friends, I should reply; but in the first place there is a
difficulty in explaining the meaning of the expression "overcome by
pleasure"; and the whole argument turns upon this. And even now, if
you see any possible way in which evil can be explained as other
than pain, or good as other than pleasure, you may still retract.
Are you satisfied, then, at having a life of pleasure which is without
pain? If you are, and if you are unable to show any good or evil which
does not end in pleasure and pain, hear the consequences : -If what
you say is true, then the argument is absurd which affirms that a
man often does evil knowingly, when he might abstain, because he is
seduced and overpowered by pleasure; or again, when you say that a man
knowingly refuses to do what is good because he is overcome at the
moment by pleasure. And that this is ridiculous will be evident if
only we give up the use of various names, such as pleasant and
painful, and good and evil. As there are two things, let us call
them by two names-first, good and evil, and then pleasant and painful.
Assuming this, let us go on to say that a man does evil knowing that
he does evil. But some one will ask, Why? Because he is overcome, is
the first answer. And by what is he overcome? the enquirer will
proceed to ask. And we shall not be able to reply "By pleasure," for
the name of pleasure has been exchanged for that of good. In our
answer, then, we shall only say that he is overcome. "By what?" he
will reiterate. By the good, we shall have to reply; indeed we
shall. Nay, but our questioner will rejoin with a laugh, if he be
one of the swaggering sort, "That is too ridiculous, that a man should
do what he knows to be evil when he ought not, because he is
overcome by good. Is that, he will ask, because the good was worthy or
not worthy of conquering the evil?" And in answer to that we shall
clearly reply, Because it was not worthy; for if it had been worthy,
then he who, as we say, was overcome by pleasure, would not have
been wrong. "But how," he will reply, "can the good be unworthy of the
evil, or the evil of the good?" Is not the real explanation that
they are out of proportion to one another, either as greater and
smaller, or more and fewer? This we cannot deny. And when you speak of
being overcome-"what do you mean," he will say, "but that you choose
the greater evil in exchange for the lesser good?" Admitted. And now
substitute the names of pleasure and pain for good and evil, and
say, not as before, that a man does what is evil knowingly, but that
he does what is painful knowingly, and because he is overcome by
pleasure, which is unworthy to overcome. What measure is there of
the relations of pleasure to pain other than excess and defect,
which means that they become greater and smaller, and more and
fewer, and differ in degree? For if any one says: "Yes, Socrates,
but immediate pleasure differs widely from future pleasure and
pain"-To that I should reply: And do they differ in anything but in
pleasure and pain? There can be no other measure of them. And do
you, like a skilful weigher, put into the balance the pleasures and
the pains, and their nearness and distance, and weigh them, and then
say which outweighs the other. If you weigh pleasures against
pleasures, you of course take the more and greater; or if you weigh
pains against pains, you take the fewer and the less; or if
pleasures against pains, then you choose that course of action in
which the painful is exceeded by the pleasant, whether the distant
by the near or the near by the distant; and you avoid that course of
action in which the pleasant is exceeded by the painful. Would you not
admit, my friends, that this is true? I am confident that they
cannot deny this.
He agreed with me.
Well then, I shall say, if you agree so far, be so good as to answer
me a question: Do not the same magnitudes appear larger to your
sight when near, and smaller when at a distance? They will acknowledge
that. And the same holds of thickness and number; also sounds, which
are in themselves equal, are greater when near, and lesser when at a
distance. They will grant that also. Now suppose happiness to
consist in doing or choosing the greater, and in not doing or in
avoiding the less, what would be the saving principle of human life?
Would not the art of measuring be the saving principle; or would the
power of appearance? Is not the latter that deceiving art which
makes us wander up and down and take the things at one time of which
we repent at another, both in our actions and in our choice of
things great and small? But the art of measurement would do away
with the effect of appearances, and, showing the truth, would fain
teach the soul at last to find rest in the truth, and would thus
save our life. Would not mankind generally acknowledge that the art
which accomplishes this result is the art of measurement?
Yes, he said, the art of measurement.
Suppose, again, the salvation of human life to depend on the
choice of odd and even, and on the knowledge of when a man ought to
choose the greater or less, either in reference to themselves or to
each other, and whether near or at a distance; what would be the
saving principle of our lives? Would not knowledge?-a knowledge of
measuring, when the question is one of excess and defect, and a
knowledge of number, when the question is of odd and even? The world
will assent, will they not?
Protagoras himself thought that they would.
Well then, my friends, I say to them; seeing that the salvation of
human life has been found to consist in the right choice of
pleasures and pains, -in the choice of the more and the fewer, and
the greater and the less, and the nearer and remoter, must not this
measuring be a consideration of their excess and defect and equality
in relation to each other?
This is undeniably true.
And this, as possessing measure, must undeniably also be an art
They will agree, he said.
The nature of that art or science will be a matter of future
consideration; but the existence of such a science furnishes a
demonstrative answer to the question which you asked of me and
Protagoras. At the time when you asked the question, if you
remember, both of us were agreeing that there was nothing mightier
than knowledge, and that knowledge, in whatever existing, must have
the advantage over pleasure and all other things; and then you said
that pleasure often got the advantage even over a man who has
knowledge; and we refused to allow this, and you rejoined:
Protagoras and Socrates, what is the meaning of being overcome by
pleasure if not this?-tell us what you call such a state: -if we had
immediately and at the time answered "Ignorance," you would have
laughed at us. But now, in laughing at us, you will be laughing at
yourselves: for you also admitted that men err in their choice of
pleasures and pains; that is, in their choice of good and evil, from
defect of knowledge; and you admitted further, that they err, not only
from defect of knowledge in general, but of that particular
knowledge which is called measuring. And you are also aware that the
erring act which is done without knowledge is done in ignorance. This,
therefore, is the meaning of being overcome by pleasure; -ignorance,
and that the greatest. And our friends Protagoras and Prodicus and
Hippias declare that they are the physicians of ignorance; but you,
who are under the mistaken impression that ignorance is not the cause,
and that the art of which I am speaking cannot be taught, neither go
yourselves, nor send your children, to the Sophists, who are the
teachers of these things-you take care of your money and give them
none; and the result is, that you are the worse off both in public and
private life: -Let us suppose this to be our answer to the world in
general: And now I should like to ask you, Hippias, and you, Prodicus,
as well as Protagoras (for the argument is to be yours as well as
ours), whether you think that I am speaking the truth or not?
They all thought that what I said was entirely true.
Then you agree, I said, that the pleasant is the good, and the
painful evil. And here I would beg my friend Prodicus not to introduce
his distinction of names, whether he is disposed to say pleasurable,
delightful, joyful. However, by whatever name he prefers to call them,
I will ask you, most excellent Prodicus, to answer in my sense of
the words .
Prodicus laughed and assented, as did the others.
Then, my friends, what do you say to this? Are not all actions
honourable and useful, of which the tendency is to make life
painless and pleasant? The honourable work is also useful and good?
This was admitted.
Then, I said, if the pleasant is the good, nobody does anything
under the idea or conviction that some other thing would be better and
is also attainable, when he might do the better. And this
inferiority of a man to himself is merely ignorance, as the
superiority of a man to himself is wisdom.
They all assented.
And is not ignorance the having a false opinion and being deceived
about important matters?
To this also they unanimously assented.
Then, I said, no man voluntarily pursues evil, or that which he
thinks to be evil. To prefer evil to good is not in human nature;
and when a man is compelled to choose one of two evils, no one will
choose the greater when he may have the less.
All of us agreed to every word of this.
Well, I said, there is a certain thing called fear or terror; and
here, Prodicus, I should particularly like to know whether you would
agree with me in defining this fear or terror as expectation of evil.
Protagoras and Hippias agreed, but Prodicus said that this was
fear and not terror.
Never mind, Prodicus, I said; but let me ask whether, if our
former assertions are true, a man will pursue that which he fears when
he is not compelled? Would not this be in flat contradiction to the
admission which has been already made, that he thinks the things which
he fears to be evil; and no one will pursue or voluntarily accept that
which he thinks to be evil?
That also was universally admitted.
Then, I said, these, Hippias and Prodicus, are our premisses; and
I would beg Protagoras to explain to us how he can be right in what he
said at first. I do not mean in what he said quite at first, for his
first statement, as you may remember, was that whereas there were five
parts of virtue none of them was like any other of them; each of
them had a separate function. To this, however, I am not referring,
but to the assertion which he afterwards made that of the five virtues
four were nearly akin to each other, but that the fifth, which was
courage, differed greatly from the others. And of this he gave me
the following proof. He said: You will find, Socrates, that some of
the most impious, and unrighteous, and intemperate, and ignorant of
men are among the most courageous; which proves that courage is very
different from the other parts of virtue. I was surprised at his
saying this at the time, and I am still more surprised now that I have
discussed the matter with you. So I asked him whether by the brave
he meant the confident. Yes, he replied, and the impetuous or goers.
(You may remember, Protagoras, that this was your answer.)
Well then, I said, tell us against what are the courageous ready
to go-against the same dangers as the cowards?
No, he answered.
Then against something different?
Yes, he said.
Then do cowards go where there is safety, and the courageous where
there is danger?
Yes, Socrates, so men say.
Very true, I said. But I want to know against what do you say that
the courageous are ready to go-against dangers, believing them to be
dangers, or not against dangers?
No, said he; the former case has been proved by you in the
previous argument to be impossible.
That, again, I replied, is quite true. And if this has been
rightly proven, then no one goes to meet what he thinks to be dangers,
since the want of self-control, which makes men rush into dangers, has
been shown to be ignorance.
And yet the courageous man and the coward alike go to meet that
about which they are confident; so that, in this point of view, the
cowardly and the courageous go to meet the same things .
And yet, Socrates, said Protagoras, that to which the coward goes is
the opposite of that to which the courageous goes; the one, for
example, is ready to go to battle, and the other is not ready.
And is going to battle honourable or disgraceful? I said.
Honourable, he replied.
And if honourable, then already admitted by us to be good; for all
honourable actions we have admitted to be good.
That is true; and to that opinion I shall always adhere.
True, I said. But which of the two are they who, as you say, are
unwilling to go to war, which is a good and honourable thing?
The cowards, he replied.
And what is good and honourable, I said, is also pleasant?
It has certainly been acknowledged to be so, he replied.
And do the cowards knowingly refuse to go to the nobler, and
pleasanter, and better?
The admission of that, he replied, would belie our former
But does not the courageous man also go to meet the better, and
pleasanter, and nobler?
That must be admitted.
And the courageous man has no base fear or base confidence?
True, he replied.
And if not base, then honourable?
He admitted this.
And if honourable, then good?
But the fear and confidence of the coward or foolhardy or madman, on
the contrary, are base?
And these base fears and confidences originate in ignorance and
True, he said.
Then as to the motive from which the cowards act, do you call it
cowardice or courage?
I should say cowardice, he replied.
And have they not been shown to be cowards through their ignorance
Assuredly, he said.
And because of that ignorance they are cowards?
And the reason why they are cowards is admitted by you to be
He again assented.
Then the ignorance of what is and is not dangerous is cowardice?
He nodded assent.
But surely courage, I said, is opposed to cowardice?
Then the wisdom which knows what are and are not dangers is
opposed to the ignorance of them?
To that again he nodded assent.
And the ignorance of them is cowardice?
To that he very reluctantly nodded assent.
And the knowledge of that which is and is not dangerous is
courage, and is opposed to the ignorance of these things?
At this point he would no longer nod assent, but was silent.
And why, I said, do you neither assent nor dissent, Protagoras?
Finish the argument by yourself, he said.
I only want to ask one more question, I said. I want to know whether
you still think that there are men who are most ignorant and yet
You seem to have a great ambition to make me answer, Socrates, and
therefore I will gratify you, and say, that this appears to me to be
impossible consistently with the argument.
My only object, I said, in continuing the discussion, has been the
desire to ascertain the nature and relations of virtue; for if this
were clear, I am very sure that the other controversy which has been
carried on at great length by both of us-you affirming and I denying
that virtue can be taught-would also become clear. The result of our
discussion appears to me to be singular. For if the argument had a
human voice, that voice would be heard laughing at us and saying:
"Protagoras and Socrates, you are strange beings; there are you,
Socrates, who were saying that virtue cannot be taught,
contradicting yourself now by your attempt to prove that all things
are knowledge, including justice, and temperance, and courage, -which
tends to show that virtue can certainly be taught; for if virtue
were other than knowledge, as Protagoras attempted to prove, then
clearly virtue cannot be taught; but if virtue is entirely
knowledge, as you are seeking to show, then I cannot but suppose
that virtue is capable of being taught. Protagoras, on the other hand,
who started by saying that it might be taught, is now eager to prove
it to be anything rather than knowledge; and if this is true, it
must be quite incapable of being taught." Now I, Protagoras,
perceiving this terrible confusion of our ideas, have a great desire
that they should be cleared up. And I should like to carry on the
discussion until we ascertain what virtue is, whether capable of being
taught or not, lest haply Epimetheus should trip us up and deceive
us in the argument, as he forgot us in the story; I prefer your
Prometheus to your Epimetheus, for of him I make use, whenever I am
busy about these questions, in Promethean care of my own life. And
if you have no objection, as I said at first, I should like to have
your help in the enquiry.
Protagoras replied: Socrates, I am not of a base nature, and I am
the last man in the world to be envious . I cannot but applaud your
energy and your conduct of an argument. As I have often said, I admire
you above all men whom I know, and far above all men of your age;
and I believe that you will become very eminent in philosophy. Let
us come back to the subject at some future time; at present we had
better turn to something else.
By all means, I said, if that is your wish; for I too ought long
since to have kept the engagement of which I spoke before, and only
tarried because I could not refuse the request of the noble Callias.
So the conversation ended, and we went our way.