319 (English, original)

July 9, 2010

An original translation

What I teach is good judgment in personal affairs, so he can best manage his own household, as well as in city affairs, so he can both act and speak powerfully when it comes to his city.”
I said, “Do I follow what you’re saying? I get the feeling you’re talking about the art of politics and that you’re claiming to be in the business of turning men into good citizens.”
“That’s exactly what I’m advertising.”
“Now, that’s certainly a nice trick to have up your sleeve … if you have it. Now, I won’t tell you anything I don’t really think, Protagoras. You see, I didn’t think this skill could be taught. Yet I can hardly disbelieve you when you say that you do. So it’s up to me to tell you where I got the idea that it can’t be taught or even passed on from person to person. Now, like everyone else in Greece I claim that the Athenians are wise. I’ve also noticed that when we gather in the Assembly and the city has to do something relating to building, they get the builders to come as building consultants. When it relates to shipbuilding, they get the ship-builders to come, and the same thing for everything else they think can be taught and learned. But if someone they don’t consider an expert tries to give them advice, no matter how beautiful or rich or upper-crust he is, they won’t have any of it. Instead, they boo him and shout him down, until the would-be speaker either leaves himself when he gets shouted down, or when the executive council gets the archers to drag or carry him away. So that’s what they do when they think it’s a technical matter. But when they have to decide on something to do with managing the city, on these questions, anyone who stands up advises them on the same footing, whether he’s a carpenter, a metal-worker, a shoemaker, a retailer, or a ship-owner, rich or poor, big-shot or nobody. Unlike before, no one chews them out and says, ‘This guy hasn’t studied anywhere, he doesn’t even have a teacher, and here he is trying to give advice.’ Clearly that’s because they don’t think it’s teachable. Not only is this true in the public affairs of the city, but also in private, where our wisest and best citizens can’t pass on this goodness they have to others.”

Compare W.R. Lamb’s 1924 translation at the Perseus Project (Greek text and commentary also available)


319 (English, Jowett)

July 9, 2010

trans. Jowett (1871)

And this is prudence in affairs private as well as public; he will learn to order his own house in the best manner, and he will be able to speak and act for the best in the affairs of the state.

Do I understand you, I said; and is your meaning that you teach the art of politics, and that you promise to make men good citizens?

That, Socrates, is exactly the profession which I make.
Then, I said, you do indeed possess a noble art, if there is no mistake about this; for I will freely confess to you, Protagoras, that I have a doubt whether this art is capable of being taught, and yet I know not how to disbelieve your assertion. And I ought to tell you why I am of opinion that this art cannot be taught or communicated by man to man. I say that the Athenians are an understanding people, and indeed they are esteemed to be such by the other Hellenes. Now I observe that when we are met together in the assembly, and the matter in hand relates to building, the builders are summoned as advisers; when the question is one of shipbuilding, then the ship-wrights; and the like of other arts which they think capable of being taught and learned. And if some person offers to give them advice who is not supposed by them to have any skill in the art, even though he be good-looking, and rich, and noble, they will not listen to him, but laugh and hoot at him, until either he is clamoured down and retires of himself; or if he persist, he is dragged away or put out by the constables at the command of the prytanes. This is their way of behaving about professors of the arts. But when the question is an affair of state, then everybody is free to have a say-carpenter, tinker, cobbler, sailor, passenger; rich and poor, high and low-any one who likes gets up, and no one reproaches him, as in the former case, with not having learned, and having no teacher, and yet giving advice; evidently because they are under the impression that this sort of knowledge cannot be taught. And not only is this true of the state, but of individuals; the best and wisest of our citizens are unable to impart their political wisdom to others:

Compare W.R. Lamb’s 1924 translation at the Perseus Project (Greek text and commentary also available).


318 (English, original)

July 7, 2010

An original translation

I said, “I’ll start in the same place I did just now, Protagoras, and say what I came for. Hippocrates here really wants to spend time with you. He says he would like to know what he’ll get out of doing that. That’s all we’ve said so far.”
Protagoras responded, “Young man, if you come and learn from me, that same day, you’ll go home better, and the same thing the next day. And every day after, you will make progress towards betterment.”
I said in turn, “Protagoras, what you’re saying is no surprise; it’s only to be expected. Even you, despite your age and wisdom would become better if someone taught you something you happened to not know. So don’t just give us that; think of it this way: say Hippocrates here had a change of heart and longed instead to spend time learning from this young man who’s new in town, Zeuxippus from Heraclea. Say Hippocrates came to him, like he’s come to you now, and heard the same things from Zeuxippus that he has from you: that every day he’s with him, he’d become better and make progress. What if Hippocrates asked further, ‘Now, what exactly will I get better at and what am I going to make progress toward?’ Zeuxippus would tell him, ‘At painting.’ Now let’s say he went to study with Orthagoras the Theban, heard the same things he’s heard from you, and asked him what exactly he’d get better at by spending every day with him, Orthagoras would tell him, ‘At playing flute.’ Now, in the same way tell the young man – and me, since I’m asking for him – if Hippocrates here spends time learning from Protagoras, he’ll go home and be better on the first day he spends time with you and make progress every other day after that, but better in what, Protagoras? Better in what area?”
Protagoras listened to all this and said, “Excellent question, Socrates. I enjoy answering people who ask good questions. If Hippocrates comes to me, he won’t suffer what the other sophists would put him through. They treat young people disgracefully. Their students have managed to escape technical subjects, and then they’re thrown back into them unwillingly when their teachers make them do arithmetic, astronomy, geometry, and music” — here, he looked over at Hippias. “But if he comes to me, he’ll learn nothing but what he came for.”

Compare W.R. Lamb’s 1924 translation at the Perseus Project (Greek text and commentary also available).


318 (English, Jowett)

July 7, 2010

trans. Jowett (1871)
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.

Compare W.R. Lamb’s 1924 translation at the Perseus Project (Greek text and commentary also available).


317 (English, original)

July 5, 2010

An original translation

“But I don’t put any stock in the method used by all these men, because I don’t think they achieved what they wanted. It never escaped the powerful people in the cities what these disguises were in service of. Of course, the common people barely notice anything and just recite the handful of things the powerful tell them. Now, running away, but not managing it and getting caught red-handed is really stupid and makes people even more hostile, so it’s not even worth trying. They just end up thinking that a guy like that is a crook on top of everything else. So, I’ve gone the totally opposite way: I admit that I’m a sophist and educate people, and I find that making the admission is better protection than denial. I’ve taken other precautions besides this, too, so that, god willing, nothing awful happens to me because I admit to being a sophist. What’s more, I’ve spent quite a few years in the business, and, as you can see, I’m pretty old: there’s not a single man here too old for me to be his father. That’s why I’d prefer to make my speech about these things, with your permission, in front of everyone in the house.”
I suspected he wanted to put on a show in front of Prodicus and Hippias and bask in the fact that we had come as big fans of his. I said, “OK, why don’t we call over Prodicus and Hippias and the others they’re with to come and listen to us?”
“By all means,” said Protagoras.
“If it suits you,” Callias added, “shall we draw up the chairs council-style, so you can have the discussion sitting down?”
We thought that was a good idea. Since we were so glad that we were going to get to listen to wise men, we helped with the chairs and couches ourselves. We set up by Hippias since the chairs were around him. Meanwhile, Callias and Alcibiades came together leading Prodicus – they’d managed to get him out of bed – and his entourage.
When we were all sitting down together, Protagoras resumed, “Now, since everyone’s here, could you repeat what you told me a moment ago on the young man’s behalf.”


317 (English, Jowett)

July 5, 2010

trans. Jowett (1871)

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.


316 (English, original)

July 4, 2010

An original translation

I couldn’t make out what they were discussing from outside, though I was really eager to listen to Prodicus. He’s a genius, I think, a phenomenon. Unfortunately, his voice is so deep that the room rumbled, making his words indistinct. As soon as we had made it inside, the beautiful Alcibiades – as you say, and I have to agree he is – and Critias the son of Callaeschrus came in after us. Once we were inside, we spent a little time taking a good look about, but then, we went up to Protagoras and I said, “Protagoras, you’re the man Hippocrates here and I are after.”
“Would you rather talk in private or in front of others?”
“It makes no difference to us. Listen to why we’ve come and you can decide.”
“So, why have you come?”
“Hippocrates here is a local, Apollodorus’ son, from an influential and prosperous family, and a match for any his age in talent. I get the impression he wants to become a public figure in the city, and he thinks the best way is by spending time with you. So what do you think now? Should we discuss this in private or with others present?”
“You’re right, for my sake, to be cautious, Socrates. A foreigner who visits powerful cities and persuades the best of their young men to abandon the company of all others – from one’s own family or another, young or old – and to spend time with himself instead in order to be the better for it – a man who does these things has to be careful. After all, doing so provokes no small amount of envy not to mention ill-will and plotting. I claim that sophistry is ancient, but because its earliest practitioners were afraid of the stigma, they tried to disguise it and pass it off as something else. Some did so as poetry, like Homer and Hesiod and Simonides, and others as mystical rites and prophecy, like the followers of Orpheus and Musaeus. I’ve heard some even pass it off as athletics, like Iccus from Tarentum as well as Herodicus the Selymbrian (an ex-Megarian), who’s still around and a sophist nonpareil. Your own Agathocles used music as a cover, although he was a great sophist, not to mention Pythocleides from Ceos and lots more. All of them, as I say, have used such professions as screens out of a fear of envy.”