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Πρωταγόρας). A celebrated Sophist, born at Abdera, in Thrace, probably about B.C. 480, and died about 411, at the age of nearly seventy years. It is said that Protagoras was once a poor porter, and that the skill with which he had fastened together, and poised upon his shoulders, a large bundle of wood, attracted the attention of Democritus, who conceived a liking for him, took him under his care, and instructed him in philosophy (Diog. Laert. ix. 53; x. 8; Gell. v. 3). This well-known story, however, appears to have arisen out of the statement of Aristotle that Protagoras invented a sort of porter's knot for the more convenient carrying of burdens. In addition to this, Protagoras was about twenty years older than Democritus. Protagoras was the first who called himself a Sophist, and taught for pay; and he practised his profession for the space of forty years. He must have come to Athens before B.C. 445, since he drew up a code of laws for the Thurians, who left Athens for the first time in that year. Whether he accompanied the colonists to Thurii, we are not informed; but at the time of the plague (430 B.C.) we find him again in Athens. Between his first and second visit to Athens he had spent some time in Sicily, where he had acquired great fame; and he brought with him to Athens many admirers out of other Greek cities through which he had passed. His instructions were so highly valued that he sometimes received 100 minae from a pupil; and Plato says that Protagoras made more money than Phidias and ten other sculptors. In 411 he was accused of impiety by Pythodorus, one of the Four Hundred. His impeachment was founded on his book on the gods, which began with the statement, “Respecting the gods, I am unable to know whether they exist or do not exist” (Diog. Laert. ix. 52). The impeachment was followed by his banishment, or, as others affirm, only by the burning of his book. His doctrine was, in fact, a sort of agnosticism based upon the impossibility of attaining any absosolute criterion of truth. It is summed up in the sentence, “Man is the measure of all things” (πάντων ἄνθρωπος μέτρον, or, in Latin, homo mensura omnium), implying that each one must be his own final authority; for just as each thing appears to any individual, so it really is for him. This doctrine is therefore styled Individualism. Protagoras wrote a large number of works, of which the most important were entitled Truth (Ἀλήθεια) and On the Gods (Περὶ Θεῶν). The first contained the theory refuted by Plato in the Theaetetus. Plato gives a vivid picture of the teaching of Protagoras in the dialogue that bears his name. Protagoras was especially celebrated for his skill in the rhetorical art. By way of practice in the art he was accustomed to make his pupils discuss theses (communes loci), an exercise which is also recommended by Cicero. He also directed his attention to language, and endeavoured to explain difficult passages in the poets. He is said to have been the first to make the grammatical distinctions of moods in verbs and of genders in nouns.

See Geist, De Protagora Sophista (Giessen, 1827); Herbst, Protagoras Leben und Sophistik (Hamburg, 1832); Vitringa, De Protagorae Vita (Groningen, 1853); Blass, Attische Beredsamkeit, pp. 23-29; Ueberweg, Hist. of Philosophy, i. pp. 73-76 (Eng. trans. N. Y. 1872).

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