translated by Benjamin Jowett
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
SOCRATES, who is the narrator of the Dialogue to his
Sophists: PROTAGORAS, HIPPIAS, PRODICUS;
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
[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 his arrival?
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
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, O 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
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
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 him?
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 know them?
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
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
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
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 keeping.
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, O 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, O 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 inaudible.
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 company.
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
profession-for 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 us?
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
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
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
Well, then, he said, I think that the myth will be more
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
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 families-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: O 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
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 whole face.
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 of virtue?
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
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, "O
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
"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 same way?
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 answer
I could not help acknowledging the truth of what he said,
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 your view.
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 temperate?
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
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
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?
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
We did so.
And we admitted also that what was done in opposite ways was
done by opposites?
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
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
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 compendious method.
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
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
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: O 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
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
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
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
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 a man be good," which is the very
same thing. And yet when he blames him 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 the good.
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,
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
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): "O 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 poet witnesses: 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 bad. 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 censorious. 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
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
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
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 right mind.
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 well?
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 soul.
I said: You would admit, Protagoras, that some men live well
and others ill?
And do you think that a man lives well who lives in pain and
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
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
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
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
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
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
But why, Socrates, should we trouble ourselves about the
opinion of the many, who just say anything that happens to occur
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 not mistaken?
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 an evil?"
"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
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 and science?
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: O 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
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
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
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
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 of dangers?
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
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,
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 most courageous?
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.
The Classical Library, This HTML edition copyright 2000.