Then now, I said, let us recapitulate our admissions. First of all we admitted that everything has one opposite and not more than one ?
We did so.
And we admitted also that what was done in opposite ways was done by 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 ?
He agreed.
And that which is done in opposite ways is done by opposites ?
And one thing is done by temperance, and quite another thing by folly ?
And in opposite ways ?
And therefore by opposites : — then folly is the opposite of temperance ?
And do you remember that folly has already been acknowledged by us to be the opposite of wisdom ?
He assented.
And we said that everything has only one opposite ?
Then, Protagoras, which of the two assertions shall we renounce ? One says that everything has but one opposite ; the other that wisdom is distinct from temperance, and that both of them are parts of virtue ; and that they are not only distinct, but dissimilar, both in themselves and in their functions, like the parts of a face. Which of these two assertions shall we renounce ? For both of them together are certainly not in harmony ; they do not accord or agree : for how can they be said to agree if everything is assumed to have only one opposite and not more than one, and yet folly, which is one, has clearly the two opposites wisdom and temperance ? Is not that true, Protagoras ? What else would you say ?
He assented, but with great reluctance.
Then temperance and wisdom are the same, as before justice and holiness appeared to us to be nearly the same. And now, Protagoras, I said, we must finish the enquiry, and not faint. Do you think that an unjust man can be temperate in his injustice ?
I should be ashamed, Socrates, he said, to acknowledge this which nevertheless many may be found to assert.
And shall I argue with them or with you ? I replied.
I would rather, he said, that you should argue with the many first, if you will.
Whichever you please, if you will only answer me and say whether you are of their opinion or not. My object is to test the validity of the argument ; and yet the result may be that I who ask and you who answer may both be put on our trial.
Protagoras at first made a show of refusing, as he said that the argument was not encouraging ; at length, he consented to answer.
Now then, I said, begin at the beginning and answer me. You think that some men are temperate, and yet unjust ?
Yes, he said ; let that be admitted.
And temperance is good sense ?
And good sense is good counsel in doing injustice ?
If they succeed, I said, or if they do not succeed ?
If they succeed.
And you would admit the existence of goods ?
And is the good that which is expedient for man ?
Yes, indeed, he said : and there are some things which may be inexpedient, and yet I call them good.
I thought that Protagoras was getting ruffled and excited ; he seemed to be setting himself in an attitude of war. Seeing this, I minded my business, and gently said : —
When you say, Protagoras, that things inexpedient are good, do you mean inexpedient for man only, or inexpedient altogether ? and do you call the latter good ?
Certainly not the last, he replied ; for I know of many things-meats, drinks, medicines, and ten thousand other things, which are inexpedient for man, and some which are expedient ; and some which are neither expedient nor inexpedient for man, but only for horses ; and some for oxen only, and some for dogs ; and some for no animals, but only for trees ; and some for the roots of trees and not for their branches, as for example, manure, which is a good thing when laid about the roots of a tree, but utterly destructive if thrown upon the shoots and young branches ; or I may instance olive oil, which is mischievous to all plants, and generally most injurious to the hair of every animal with the exception of man, but beneficial to human hair and to the human body generally ; and even in this application (so various and changeable is the nature of the benefit), that which is the greatest good to the outward parts of a man, is a very great evil to his inward parts : and for this reason physicians always forbid their patients the use of oil in their food, except in very small quantities, just enough to extinguish the disagreeable sensation of smell in meats and sauces.
When he had given this answer, the company cheered him. And I said : Protagoras, I have a wretched memory, and when any one makes a long speech to me I never remember what he is talking about. As then, if I had been deaf, and you were going to converse with me, you would have had to raise your voice ; so now, having such a bad memory, I will ask you to cut your answers shorter, if you would take me with you.
What do you mean ? he said : how am I to shorten my answers ? shall I make them too short ?
Certainly not, I said.
But short enough ?
Yes, I said.
Shall I answer what appears to me to be short enough, or what appears to you to be short enough ?
I have heard, I said, that you can speak and teach others to speak about the same things at such length that words never seemed to fail, or with such brevity that no one could use fewer of them. Please therefore, if you talk with me, to adopt the latter or more 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 nowhere.
I saw that he was not satisfied with his previous answers, and that he would not play the part of answerer any more if he could help ; and I considered that there was no call upon me to continue the conversation ; so I said : Protagoras, I do not wish to force the conversation upon you if you had rather not, but when you are willing to argue with me in such a way that I can follow you, then I will argue with you. Now you, as is said of you by others and as you say of yourself, are able to have discussions in shorter forms of speech as well as in longer, for you are a master of wisdom ; but I cannot manage these long speeches : I only wish that I could. You, on the other hand, who are capable of either, ought to speak shorter as I beg you, and then we might converse. But I see that you are disinclined, and as I have an engagement which will prevent my staying to hear you at greater length (for I have to be in another place), I will depart ; although I should have liked to have heard you.
Thus I spoke, and was rising from my seat, when Callias seized me by the right hand, and in his left hand caught hold of this old cloak of mine. He said : We cannot let you go, Socrates, for if you leave us there will be an end of our discussions : I must therefore beg you to remain, as there is nothing in the world that I should like better than to hear you and Protagoras discourse. Do not deny the company this pleasure.
Now I had got up, and was in the act of departure. Son of Hipponicus, I replied, I have always admired, and do now heartily applaud and love your philosophical spirit, and I would gladly comply with your request, if I could. But the truth is that I cannot. And what you ask is as great an impossibility to me, as if you bade me run a race with Crison of Himera, when in his prime, or with some one of the long or day course runners. To such a request I should reply that I would fain ask the same of my own legs ; but they refuse to comply. And therefore if you want to see Crison and me in the same stadium, you must bid him slacken his speed to mine, for I cannot run quickly, and he can run slowly. And in like manner if you want to hear me and Protagoras discoursing, you must ask him to shorten his answers, and keep to the point, as he did at first ; if not, how can there be any discussion ? For discussion is one thing, and making an oration is quite another, in my humble opinion.
But you see, Socrates, said Callias, that Protagoras may fairly claim to speak in his own way, just as you claim to speak in yours.
Here Alcibiades interposed, and said : That, Callias, is not a true statement of the case. For our friend Socrates admits that he cannot make a speech — in this he yields the palm to Protagoras : but I should be greatly surprised if he yielded to any living man in the power of holding and apprehending an argument. Now if Protagoras will make a similar admission, and confess that he is inferior to Socrates in argumentative skill, that is enough for Socrates ; but if he claims a superiority in argument as well, let him ask and answer — not, when a question is asked, slipping away from the point, and instead of answering, making a speech at such length that most of his hearers forget the question at issue (not that Socrates is likely to forget — I will be bound for that, although he may pretend in fun that he has a bad memory). And Socrates appears to me to be more in the right than Protagoras ; that is my view, and every man ought to say what he thinks.
When Alcibiades had done speaking, some one — Critias, I believe — went on to say : 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 the whole ?
There is no need, I said ; for I am perfectly well acquainted with the ode — I have made a careful study of it.
Very well, he said. And do you think that the ode is a good composition, and true ?
Yes, I said, both good and true.