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Protagoras' reply falls into three sections, viz. (1) 320C323C (2) 323C324D (3) 324E328D cf. Introduction, pp. x-xi. In the first he is concerned to justify the Athenians for allowing everyone to address them on political questions: this he does in the first instance by relating a myth of prehistoric man.

It is probable that this myth comes from Protagoras' treatise περὶ τῆς ἐν ἀρχῇ καταστάσεως, mentioned in Diog. Laert. IX. 55. It does not resemble the other myths of Plato in point of style, and if not actually written by Protagoras, it is at least carefully modelled on his way of writing: cf. the similar imitations of the style of Agathon in Symp. 194D ff. and of Prodicus below, 337 A ff. See Introduction, p. xix. That the ‘Sophists’ taught by means of parables we can see from Prodicus' Apologue of Heracles in Xen. Mem. II. 1. 21 ff. The other passages in Plato treating of the primitive constitution of man are Polit. 269C ff., Tim. 42E ff. and Symp. 189C ff. In Rep. III. 414C ff. there are also some points of resemblance to the present story.

1. ἦν γάρ ποτε χρόνος. γάρ introduces the story: see on Apol. 20E Χαιρεφῶντα γὰρ ἴστε που. ἦν χρόνος was usual in beginning a tale: the editors quote Theocr. 8. 1 ἦν χρόνος ἁνίκ᾽ ἐγών κτλ.

θνητὰ δὲ γένη οὐκ ἦν. In the Timaeus, 42E ff., the creation of men takes place after that of gods. The lower animals in the Timaeus arise from the degeneration of the souls of men in later births, every soul being first born as man: cf. Tim. 41E with 90E ff. Here the lower animals are created simultaneously with man, for θνητὰ γένη is of course not limited to the human race.

2. Χρόνος ἦλθεν εἱμαρμένος γενέσεως. The omission of the article, as well as the whole turn of expression (ἦλθεν αὐτοῖς χρόνος), is somewhat poetic.

3. θεοὶ γῆς ἔνδον: so in Tim. 42E it is the created gods, not the δημιουργός, who make men. There, however, it is not said that human creatures were made within the earth: but compare the γενναῖον ψεῦδος of Rep. III. 414C ἦσαν δὲ (i.e. the citizens of Plato's state) τότε τῇ ἀληθείᾳ ὑπὸ γῆς ἐντὸς πλαττόμενοι. The widespread tradition of autochthonous races among the Greeks no doubt helped to produce such anthropological theories, with which compare Empedocles (ap. Ritter and Preller, Hist. Philos.7 p. 143), οὐλοφυεῖς μὲν πρῶτα τύποι χθονὸς ἐξανέτελλον; Symp. 191C ἐγέννων καὶ ἔτικτον (sc. primitive men) οὐκ εἰς ἀλλήλους ἀλλ᾽ εἰς γῆν ὥσπερ οἱ τέττιγες; and Polit. 272A ἐκ γῆς γὰρ ἀνεβιώσκοντο πάντες. It is to be noticed that Plato regularly uses ἐντός (not ἔνδον) as a preposition: ἔνδον (so used) is the more poetic word.

ἐκ γῆςκεράννυται. Cf. Tim. 42E (of the creation of man) μιμούμενοι (i.e. the created gods) τὸν σφέτερον δημιουργόν, πυρὸς καὶ γῆς ὕδατός τε καὶ ἀέπος ἀρὸ τοῦ κόσμου δανειζόμενοι μόπια ὡς ἀποδοθησόμενα πάλιν εἰς ταὐτὸν τὰ λαμβανόμενα ξυνεκόλλων. For ‘air and water’ is substituted here τῶν ὅσα πυρὶ καὶ γῇ κεράννυται. Fire is the rarest and earth the densest of the four elements: Protagoras' theory is that air and water are produced by mixing these in different proportions, for κεράννυται cannot mean merely that the elements interchange. Cf. the theory attributed by Aristotle to Parmenides: Met. I. 5. 986b. 33 δύο τὰς αἰτίας καὶ δύο τὰς ἀρχὰς πάλιν τίθησι, θερμὸν καὶ ψυχρόν, οἷον πῦρ καὶ γῆν λέγων. It is noteworthy that Plato himself regards all four elements as differentiated, although imperfectly, before the creation of the κόσμος by the δημιουργός: cf. Tim. 53A ff. The chiasmus in γῆς καὶ πυρός followed by πυρὶ καὶ γῇ is part of Protagoras' art.

5. ἐπειδὴ δ᾽ ἄγειν αὐτὰ πρὸς φῶς ἔμελλον. Cf. Rep. III. 414D ἐπειδὴ δὲ παντελῶς ἐξειργασμένοι ἦσαν καὶ γῆ αὐτοὺς μήτηρ οὖσα ἀνῆκε.

6. Προμηθεῖ καὶ Ἐπιμηθεῖ. In Gorg. 523D Prometheus again appears as the servant of Zeus, commissioned to put a stop to man's foreknowledge of his day of death: in Polit. 274C he is mentioned as the giver of fire to mortals. The Hesiodic and Aeschylean form of the legend, in which Prometheus steals the fire, does not appear in Plato, except at 321D nor is there any hint in his works of the story in Hesiod about the gift of Pandora —the source of human ills—to Epimetheus (Works and Days, 50 ff.), though it is worth noting that Plato like Hesiod makes the creation of woman posterior to that of man (Tim. 42B).

8. παραιτεῖταιαὐτὸς νεῖμαι. The object clause, as usual with verbs like παραιτεῖσθαι (deprecari), depends on the positive part of the verb (here αἰτεῖσθαι): see on Apol. 31B. αὐτός is ‘by himself’, without Prometheus' aid. We follow Cron and Turner in retaining the MSS. νείμαντος δέ μου as against Bekker's δ᾽ ἐμοῦ: the antithesis, as Cron remarks, is between the actions—νείμαντος and ἐπίσκεψαι. The point to be noticed is that Afterthought invites Forethought to exchange offices with him: it is Afterthought whose duty it is to inspect (ἐπισκέψασθαι: cf. Gorg. 526C δὲ Μίνως ἐπισκοπῶν κάθηται).

10. τὰ δ᾽ ἀσθενέστερατὰ δέ. B and T have τοὺς δ᾽ ἀσθενεστέρουςτοὺς δέ, a natural mistake, which can hardly be due to Plato.

12. ἐμηχανᾶτο δύναμιν εἰς σωτηρίαν. Plato's own style rarely falls into verse: cf. Rep. X. 621B εἰς τὴν γένεσιν ᾁττοντας ὥσπερ ἀστέρας. The whole passage is full of rare and often poetic rhythms, words, constructions, and turns of expression: e.g. ἄοπλον φύσιν, σμικρότητι ἤμπισχεν, πτηνὸν φυγήν, τῷδε αὐτῷ (for αὐτῷ τούτῳ), ἀϊστωθείη, ἀλληλοφθοριῶν διαφυγὰς ἐπήρκεσε, εὐμαρίαν (as against εὐμάρειαν), and many more: note also the effort after balance and variety in ἱκανοῖς μὲν ἀμῦναι χειμῶνα, δυνατοῖς δὲ καὶ καύματα (321A, τοῖς μὲν ἐκ γῆςἄλλοις δὲτοῖς δὲἔστι δ᾽ οἷς. ‘Summum opinor’, says Heindorf, ‘in his imitantis philosophi appareret artificium, si quid de propria Protagorae dictione superesset’. See Introduction, p. xix.

13. σμικρότητι ἤμπισχεν. The usual construction would require σμικρότητα: the change is perhaps due to the desire for balance with δὲ ηὖξε μεγέθει, but the same construction occurs below in l. 19 with ἀμφιεννύς.

17. μή τι γένος ἀϊστωθείη. Aesch. Prom. 232 ἀϊστώσας γένος; ibid. 668 κεραυνὸν ὃς πᾶν ἐξαϊστώσοι γένος. Note the emphasis with which Protagoras asserts the permanence of the genus: cf. below, 321Bσωτηρίαν τῷ γένει πορίζων.

19. εὐμαρίαν. So Schanz with BT: the editors generally read εὐμάρειαν. The older form is intentionally used here: see above on l. 12.

23. ὑποδῶν is Cobet's correction for ὑπὸ ποδῶν of B and T. See below on 321Cγυμνόν τε καὶ ἀνυπόδητον κτλ.

24. τὰ δὲ δέρμασιν στερεοῖς καὶ ἀναίμοις. After τὰ δέ the MSS. read θριξὶν καί. The words seem to have been wrongly introduced from l. 20. This (the suggestion of Ast, adopted by Schanz and others) seems better than to read for θριξὶν καί the words ὄνυξιν καί.

30. οὐ πάνυ τι = non satis: cf. note on Euthyphr. 2B οὐδ᾽ αὐτὸς πάνυ τι γιγνώσκω. οὐ πάνυ is the English ‘not quite’, sometimes equivalent to ‘not at all’ by meiosis: the addition of τι makes the phrase a little less emphatic. πάνυ οὐ is quite a different phrase and means ‘altogether not’.

31. καταναλώσας τὰς δυνάμεις. After τὰς δυνάμεις, the words εἰς τὰ ἄλογα are found in T, but not in B.

35. ἐμμελῶς πάντων ἔχοντα: like ἱκανῶς τοῦ βάθους ἔχοντα in Theaet. 194D and the genitive after καλῶς ἔχειν and the like.

36. γυμνόν τε καὶ ἀνυπόδητονκαὶ ἄστρωτονκαὶ ἄοπλον. Cf. the description of Ἔρως in Symp. 203C: ἀνυπόδητος καὶ ἄοικος, χαμαιπετὴς ἀεὶ ὢν καὶ ἄστρωτος. ἀνυπόδητον contrasts with ὑποδῶν in 321B(l. 23), and justifies Cobet's emendation for ὑπὸ ποδῶν. Aristotle (περὶ ζῴων μορίων, IV. 10, p. 687a. 23) alludes to this passage of the Protagoras: ἀλλ᾽ οἱ λέγοντες ὡς συνέστηκεν οὐ καλῶς ἄνθρωπος, ἀλλὰ χείριστα τῶν ζῴων (ἀνυπόδητόν τε γὰρ αὐτὸν εἶναί φασι καὶ γυμνὸν καὶ οὐκ ἔχοντα ὄπλον πρὸς τὴν ἀλκήν), οὐκ ὀρθῶς λέγουσιν.

37. ἐν . See above on ἐν τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ (318A. All the θνητὰ γένη then according to Protagoras issued forth on the same day. Plato thought otherwise: see on 320D l. 1.

38. ἐχόμενος: so T: ‘σχόμενος B, sed in marg. vitii nota’ (Schanz). σχόμενος is occasionally found in this passive sense, especially in compounds (Sauppe quotes Soph. 250D συνεσχόμεθα and Isocr. XIX. II φθόῃ σχόμενον), but the present participle is at least equally well attested here and suits the meaning better: cf. (with Kroschel) Laws, VI. 780B ὑπὸ πολλῆς ἀπορίας ἐχομένοις.

40. τὴν ἔντεχνον σοφίαν σὺν πυρί. Aesch. Prom. 252-4 πρὸς τοῖσδε μέντοι πῦρ ἐγώ σφιν ὤπασα. καὶ νῦν φλογωπὸν πῦρ ἔχουσ᾽ ἐφήμεροι, ἀφ᾽ οὗ γε πολλὰς ἐκμαθήσονται τέχνας—which is the usual form of the story. In Polit. 274C Plato attributes fire to Prometheus, and the arts to Hephaestus and Athena. σύν denotes a much closer connection than μετά: it is seldom used by Plato except in a few adverbial phrases, or in religious uses (like ξύν τισι Χάρισι καὶ Μούσαις Laws, III. 682A), or in semi-poetic passages like the present: see on οὐδενὶ ξὺν νῷ in Crito, 48C.

44. ἔσχεν is ‘obtained’: see on ἔσχετε in Apol. 19A. ἦν γὰρ παρὰ τῷ Διί reminds one of Sophocles' Δίκη ξύνεδρος Ζηνός, O.C. 1382.

46. οὐκέτι means that Prometheus had to draw the line there; he had been able to steal the fire, but farther he could not go—no doubt because time pressed. The same idiomatic use of οὐκέτι)(ἤδη occurs above in 312Eμὰ Δί᾽, ἔφη, οὐκέτι ἔχω σοι λέγειν: it is extremely common in Plato and in Greek generally: see note on Euthyphr. 3E and Cope on Arist. Rhet. A, 1. 1354b. 7 referred to there.

47. Διὸς φυλακαί are no doubt Κράτος and Βία, as in the Prometheus. Cf. Hesiod, Theog. 385 ff. (quoted by Heindorf) καὶ Κράτος ἠδὲ Βίην ἀριδείκετα γείνατο τέκνα (sc. Στύξ) τῶν οὐκ ἔστ᾽ ἀπάνευθε Διὸς δόμος οὐδέ τις ἕδρη οὐδ᾽ ὁδὸς ὅππῃ μὴ κείνοις θεὸς ἡγεμονεύει: ἀλλ᾽ αἰεὶ πὰρ Ζηνὶ βαρυκτύπῳ ἑδριόωνται.

εἰς δὲ τὸ τῆς Ἀθηνᾶς κτλ. Protagoras reverts to the story of the theft. Similarly in 346Dbelow Socrates reverts to a part of the poem which he has quoted some time before in 345C

49. ἔμπυρον τέχνην is τέχνη which works by πῦρ, as ἔντεχνος σοφία in line 40 is σοφία working by τέχνη.

52. τοῦ βίουδι᾽ Ἐπιμηθέα. βίου is ‘means of living’ as in l. 43. The words δι᾽ Ἐπιμηθέα mean ‘thanks to Epimetheus’: cf. Ar. Clouds, 12-14 ἀλλ᾽ οὐ δύναμαι δείλαιος εὕδειν δακνόμενος ὑπὸ τῆς δαπάνης καὶ τῆς φάτνης καὶ τῶν χρεῶν, διὰ τουτονὶ τὸν υἱόν, and in Rep. I. 354A οὐ μέντοι καλῶς γε εἱστίαμαι, δι᾽ ἐμαυτόν, ἀλλ᾽ οὐ διὰ σέ. The words are rejected by Schanz (after Sauppe), but without reason: the jingle (Προ-μηθέα δὲ δι᾽ Ἐπι-μηθέα) is quite in Protagoras' style.

53. ᾗπερ λέγεται. Aeschylus relates the punishment but not the trial: cf. Prom. 7-9 τὸ σὸν γὰρ ἄνθος, παντέχνου πυρὸς σέλας, θνητοῖσι κλέψας ὤπασεν: τοιᾶσδέτοι ἁμαρτίας σφε δεῖθεοῖς δοῦναι δίκην.

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  • Commentary references from this page (38):
    • Plato, Laws, 682a
    • Plato, Laws, 780b
    • Plato, Republic, 354a
    • Plato, Republic, 414c
    • Plato, Republic, 621b
    • Plato, Apology, 19a
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    • Plato, Protagoras, 312e
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    • Plato, Protagoras, 321d
    • Plato, Protagoras, 323c
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    • Plato, Protagoras, 345c
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    • Plato, Timaeus, 41e
    • Plato, Timaeus, 42b
    • Plato, Timaeus, 42e
    • Plato, Timaeus, 53a
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 12
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