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 name implies.
And might you not, I said, affirm this of the painter and of the carpenter also : Do not they, too, know wise things ? But suppose a person were to ask us : In what are the painters wise ? We should answer : In what relates to the making of likenesses, and similarly of other things. And if he were further to ask : What is the wisdom of the Sophist, and what is the manufacture over which he presides ? — how should we answer him ?
How should we answer him, Socrates ? What other answer could there be but that he presides over the art which makes men eloquent ?
Yes, I replied, that is very likely true, but not enough ; for in the answer a further question is involved : Of what does the Sophist make a man talk eloquently ? The player on the lyre may be supposed to make a man talk eloquently about that which he makes him understand, that is about playing the lyre. Is not that true ?
Then about what does the Sophist make him eloquent ? Must not he make him eloquent in that which he understands ?
Yes, that may be assumed.
And what is that which the Sophist knows and makes his disciple know ?
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.