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Socrates introduces his exposition of the poem with a paradoxical theory that Sparta is the oldest home of philosophers. The wise men of old accordingly expressed their wisdom in pithy Laconic sayings, and such a saying is that of Pittacus. Simonides, as a rival craftsman, wrote this entire poem to overthrow that saying.

This chapter is intended as a kind of counterblast to Protagoras' claim on behalf of σοφιστική in 316Dff. In general tone as well as in many of the particular statements it is elaborately ironical; but it should be remembered that Plato thought highly in many respects of the Cretan and Spartan constitutions and borrowed much from them in constructing his ideal city.

3. φιλοσοφία γὰρ κτλ. Cf. 316Dἐγὼ δὲ τὴν σοφιστικὴν τέχνην φημὶ μὲν εἶναι παλαιὰν κτλ.

4. τῶν Ἑλλήνων: ‘among the Greeks’. The genitive belongs rather to ἐν Κρήτη τε καὶ Λακεδαίμονι than to πλείστη: cf. Thuc. II. 18. 1 δὲ στρατὸςἀφίκετο τῆς Ἀττικῆς ἐς Οἰνόην. Similarly in γῆς ἐκεῖ, γῆς belongs to ἐκεῖ rather than to πλεῖστοι: there would seem to be no exact parallel to justify us in taking πλεῖστοι γῆς together. For the meaning of σοφισταί see on 312C

5. ἐξαρνοῦνται καὶ σχηματίζονται. σχηματίζεσθαι of ‘posing’ as in Soph. 268A ἀγνοεῖ ταῦτα πρὸς τοὺς ἄλλους ὡς εἰδὼς ἐσχημάτισται.

7. οὓςἔλεγε τοὺς σοφιστάς: viz. in 316D The attraction is common enough, e.g. Crito, 48C ἃς δὲ σὺ λέγεις τὰς σκέψεις περί τε ἀναλώσεως χρημάτων καὶ δόξης κτλ. and below, 359D

10. τὴν σοφίαν. So B and the second hand in T: the first hand omits the words (so Schanz, Kroschel and Kral).

12. τοὺςλακωνίζοντας. The editors refer to Ar. Birds, 1281 ἐλακωνομάνουν ἅπαντες ἄνθρωποι τότε, ἐκόμων, ἐπείνων, ἐρρύπων, ἐσωκράτων and Demosth. κατὰ Κόνωνος 34 μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν μὲν ἐσκυθπωράκασι καὶ λακωνίζειν φασὶ καὶ τπίβωνας ἔχουσι καὶ ἁπλᾶς ὑποδέδενται. The Laconisers in Athens were tolerably numerous: Plato himself (Rep. VIII. 544C) places Κρητική τε καὶ Λακωνικὴ πολιτεία nearest in merit to his ideal city.

12. οἱ μὲν ὦτά τε κατάγνυνται: thanks, of course, to boxing: cf. Gorg. 515E τῶν τὰ ὦτα κατεαγότων (i.e. τῶν λακωνιζόντων) ἀκούεις ταῦτα, Σώκρατες, and Martial, VII. 32. 5 ‘at uvenes alios fracta colit aure magister’.

13. ἱμάντας περιειλίττονται. The ἱμάντες were thongs of leather bound round the knuckles for greater efficacy in boxing: Hom. Il. XXIII. 685. The caestus, being loaded with balls of lead, was a much more brutal instrument (Virg. Aen. v. 404-5).

14. βραχείας ἀναβολάς: ‘short cloaks’ in imitation of the τρίβων (the national Spartan dress: see on 335D. ἀναβολή (here almost concrete) and ἀναβάλλεσθαι were said of the ἱμάτιον, to wear which rightly and like a gentleman was ἐπὶ δεξιὰ ἀναβάλλεσθαι (Theaet. 175 E), not ὲπ᾽ ἀριστερά (Ar. Birds, 1567-8, a passage which seems decisive against reading ἐπιδέξια in this phrase). From Suidas (s.v. ἀναβάλλειἀναβάλλεσθαι δὲ τὸ ἱμάτιον, οὐ περιβάλλεσθαι λέγουσιν) we may infer that ἀναβολή refers not to the throwing back of the ἱμάτιον over the shoulder (since in point of fact it was thrown back over the left shoulder) but to pulling it round the back (from left to right) before throwing the end over the left shoulder in front.

15. ὡσδὴκρατοῦντας is ‘quasi vero—his superent’ (Kroschel). For the construction cf. (with Kroschel) Rep. I. 345E οὐκ ἐννοεῖς ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἐθέλει ἄπχειν ἑκών, ἀλλὰ μισθὸν αἰτοῦσιν, ὡς οὐχὶ αὐτοῖσιν ὠφέλειαν ἐσομένην ἐκ τοῦ ἄρχειν ἀλλὰ τοῖς ἀρχομένοις; Madvig's Gk Syntax, p. 168.

19. ξενηλασίας. Heindorf quotes (inter alia) Ar. Birds, 1012 ὥσπερ ἐν Λακεδαίμονι ξενηλατοῦνται and Plut. Lyc. 27. 6 τοὺς ἀθροιζομένους ἐπ᾽ οὐδενὶ χρησίμῳ καὶ παρεισρέοντας εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήλαυνεν (sc. Λυκοῦργος), οὐχ, ὡς Θουκυδίδης (II. 39) φησί, δεδιὼς μὴ τῆς ρολιτείας μιμηταὶ γένωνται καὶ ρπὸς ἀπετήν τι χπήσιμον ἐκμάθωσιν, ἀλλὰ μᾶλλον ὄρως μὴ διδάσκαλοι κακοῦ τινος ὑπάρξωσιν. The reasons assigned by Plutarch are no doubt the true ones.

22. οὐδένα ἐῶσινἐξιέναι. Plut. Lyc. 27. 5 οὐδ᾽ ἀποδημεῖν ἔδωκε (Λυκοῦργος) τοῖς βουλομένοις καὶ πλανᾶσθαι ξενικὰ συνάγοντας ἤθη καὶ μιμήματα βίων ἀπαιδεύτων καὶ πολιτευμάτων διαφοράν, ἀλλὰ καὶ τοὺς ἀθροιζομένους etc. (see last note). In Laws, XII. 950C ff. (quoted by Sauppe) Plato lays down similar though less stringent regulations as to ἀποδημία.

23. ὥσπερ οὐδὲ Κρῆτες. There seems to be no other authority for this statement, but (as Sauppe remarks) the resemblance between the Cretan and Spartan institutions is well known.

26. ἀλλὰ καὶ γυναῖκες. Women in Sparta held a position of much greater power and influence than in the rest of Greece, partly at least in consequence of their superior education, physical and otherwise: cf. Ar. Pol. II. 9. 1269b. 32 πολλὰ διῳκεῖτο ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν ἐπὶ τῆς ἀρχῆς αὐτῶν (sc. τῶν Λακεδαιμονίων) and see Grote, 11, 383 ff. Heindorf remarks that wise and pregnant sayings by Spartan women (such as are given in pseudo-Plutarch's Λακαινῶν ἀποφθέγματα, e.g. the famous τέκνον, τὰν ἐπὶ τᾶς) were probably already current in Plato's time.

28. εἰ γὰρ ἐθέλειεὑρήσει. Cf. 324A

32. ἐνέβαλεν ῥῆμασυνεστραμμένον. The aorist is like ‘behold! he has thrown in’: it expresses rapidity by representing the action as no sooner begun than over. The idiom is very frequent in Plato: Turner refers to Stallbaum on Rep. III. 406D ἐὰν δέ τις αὐτῷ μικρὰν δίαιταν προστάττῃταχὺ εἶπεν ὅτι οὐ σχολὴ κάμνειν. With συνεστ ραμμένον cf. Ar. Rhet. II. 24. 1401a. 5 συνεστ ραμμένωςεἰπεῖν; the metaphor is apparently from an animal gathering itself for a spring (cf. Ar. Hist. Anim. IX. 48. 631a. 27 συστρέψαντες ἑαυτοὺς φέρονται ὥσπερ τόξευμα and Plato, Rep. I. 336B συστρέψας ἑαυτὸν ὥσπερ θηρίον ἧκεν ἐφ᾽ ἡμᾶς).

33. ὥσπερ δεινὸς ἀκοντιστής. With the metaphor compare Theaet. 165D καὶ ἄλλα μυρία ἐλλοχῶν ἂν πελταστικὸς ἀνὴρ μισθοφόπος ἐν λόγοις ἐπόμενοςἐμβαλὼν ἂν εἰς τὸ ἀκούεινἤλεγχεν ἂν ἐπέχων καὶ οὐκ ἀνιεὶς κτλ., ibid. 180A ἀλλ᾽ ἄν τινά τι ἔρῃ, ὥσπερ ἐκ φαρέτρας ῥηματίσκια αἰνιγματώδη ἀνασπῶντες ἀποτοξεύουσιν.

34. παιδὸς μηδὲν βελτίω. The phrase is almost proverbial: see on Crito, 49B παίδων οὐδὲν διαφέροντες.

38. φθέγγεσθαι, here of an impressive (almost mystic) utterance, as often in Greek, e.g. Ar. Clouds, 315 αὗται αἱ φθεγξάμεναι τοῦτο τὸ σεμνόν.

39. Θαλῆς Μιλήσιος κτλ. This list of the seven wise men is remarkable as excluding Periander, who was canonised later (Diog. Laert. I. 13). Plato refused to allow that a tyrant could be truly σοφός (Rep. IX. 587D) or even (in the true sense of the term) powerful: see Rep. I. 336A οἶμαι αὐτὸ (sc. the view that justice is doing good to friends and evil to enemies) Περιάνδρου εἶναι Ρεπδίκκου Ξέπξου Ἰσμηνίου τοῦ Θηβαίου τινος ἄλλου μέγα οἰομένου δύνασθαι πλουσίου ἀνδρός.

Myson (the least known of the seven) figures as early as Hipponax (Frag. 45, quoted by Sauppe) καὶ Μύσων ὃν Ὡπόλλων ἀνεῖπεν ἀνδρῶν σωφρονέστατον πάντων. According to a tradition preserved in Diog. Laert. I. 106 the Pythian priestess, being asked by Anacharsis to say if there was any man wiser than himself, replied Οἰταῖόν τινά φημι Μύσων᾽ ἐνὶ Χηνὶ γενέσθαι σοῦ μᾶλλον πραπίδεσσιν ἀρηρότα πευκαλίμη̣σι: but another account placed his birthplace in Chen in Laconia, and a third (reading Ἠτεῖόν τινά φημι for Οἰταῖόν τινά φημι in the oracle) in Etea, which was variously placed in Laconia and in Crete. Sauppe remarks that the presence of Λακεδαιμόνιος with Χίλων seems to show that Plato did not regard Laconia as Myson's birthplace, but favoured the view which made him a native of Chenae by Mount Oeta. Thales (fl. ca. 585 B.C., the eclipse of which year he is said to have predicted) is mentioned in two other passages in Plato (in neither of which is his philosophical teaching—that the ἀρχή is ὕδωρ—referred to), once as an author of useful inventions (Rep. X. 600A), and once as the hero of an anecdote illustrating the philosopher's want of worldly wisdom (Theaet. 174A). Pittacus (fl. ca. 612 B.C.) and Bias of Priene in Ionia (contemporary with or earlier than Hipponax, who refers to him in Diog. Laert. I. 84) are mentioned together again in Rep. I. 335E Βίαντα Πιττακὸν τιν᾽ ἄλλον τῶν σοφῶν τε καὶ μακαρίων ἀνδρῶν. Cleobulus of Lindus in Rhodes and Chilon of Sparta (both about the beginning of the 6th cent. B.C.) are not again referred to by Plato.

The traditions relating to the wise men and many of the aphorisms with which they are credited are given in Diog. Laert. I. 22-122: for the authorities for their lives, and for their sayings, see Mullach's Fragmenta Philos. Graec. II, 203-34. This passage of the Protagoras, apparently the earliest in which seven are named together, probably contributed in large measure to the canonisation of the wise men.

42. Λακεδαιμόνιος: Heindorf would read Λακεδαιμόνιος, but Plato may well have said ‘a Lacedaemonian, Chilon’.

46. εἰρημένα: οὗτοι. The sentence beginning with οὗτοι shows how one is to learn αὐτῶν τὴν σοφίαν τοιαύτην οὖσαν; the asyndeton (as Heindorf observes) resembles that after σημεῖον δέ, τεκμήριον δέ and the like. Here οὗτοι καὶ κτλ. is so far removed from καὶ καταμάθοιοὖσαν that we might have expected οὗτοι γὰρ καί or (as Kroschel reads) ὅτι for οὗτοι, but the emphatic οὗτοι (parallel to οὗτοι in l. 43 above) renders the explanatory particle unnecessary. Hermann's correction εἰρημένα for εἰρημένα—adopted by Sauppe—gives a wrong meaning; for ἀπαρχή ‘first-fruits’ (l. 47) coming after καὶ κοινῇ ξυνελθόντες, in marked antithesis to ἑκάστῳ εἰρημένα, cannot mean merely the sayings of each individual—as it will have to mean if is read, being then in apposition to ἀπαρχήν. Kral's ῥήματα βραχέα ἀξιομνημόνευτα <σκοπῶν> ἑκάστῳ εἰρημένα, οὗτοι κτλ. suffers from the same fault, besides that it is very unlikely that σκοπῶν should have fallen out.

47. κοινῇ ξυνελθόντεςἀνέθεσαν. The editors cite Pausanias, X. 24. I ἐν δὲ τῷ προνάῳ τῷ ἐν Δελφοῖς γεγραμμένα ἐστὶν ὠφελήματα ἀνθπώροις εἰς βίονοὗτοι οὖν οἱ ἄνδπες ἀφικόμενοι ἐς Δελφοὺς ἀνέθεσαν τῷ Ἀρόλλωνι τὰ ἀ̣δόμενα Γνῶθι σαυτὸν καὶ Μηδὲν ἄγαν. The same explanation of the presence of these maxims on the temple at Delphi meets us in other authors; but in each case the author is obviously borrowing the story from Plato. Plato states that these two maxims were the cream of the wisdom of the wise men: it would be hardly too much to say that upon them the whole structure of Greek ethical philosophy was based. For the construction, and for the practice of thus dedicating wisdom to a god, Kroschel aptly quotes Diog. Laert. IX. 6 ἀνέθηκε (sc. Ἡράκλειτος) δ᾽ αὐτὸ (sc. τὸ περὶ φύσεως βιβλίον) εἰς τὸ τῆς Ἀρτέμιδος ἱερόν.

51. τοῦ δὴ ἕνεκα ταῦτα λέγω; Plato frequently enlivens his style by such self-interrogations: Sauppe quotes (inter aliaGorg. 457E τοῦ δὴ ἕνεκα λέγω ταῦτα; Apol. 40B τί οὖν αἴτιον εἶναι ὑπολαμβάνω;

τῶν παλαιῶν τῆς φιλοσοφίας. τῶν παλαιῶν in this emphatic place suggests the contrast with Protagoras and the νεώτεροι whose τρόπος is μακρολογία.

53. καὶ δὴ καί marks the application to the present case: cf. Apol. 18A ὥσπερ οὖν ἂν κτλ.—καὶ δὴ καὶ νῦν.

56. καθέλοι: cf. 344C Sauppe quotes Theocr. 22. 115 (of Polydeuces overcoming Amycus) Διὸς υἱὸς ἀδηφάγον ἄνδρα καθεῖλεν.

59. τούτου ἕνεκα, i.e. τοῦ εὐδοκιμεῖν ἕνεκα. τούτῳ in τούτῳ ἐπιβουλεύων is τούτῳ τῷ ῥήματι: with the construction cf. Rep. IV. 443B εὐθὺς ἀρχόμενοι τῆς πόλεως οἰκίζειν and see Stallbaum on Rep. I. 342B.

59. κολοῦσαι. Hdt. VII. 10. 5 φιλέει γὰρ θεὸς τὰ ὑπερέχοντα πάντα κολούειν (Sauppe).

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  • Commentary references from this page (29):
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    • Aristophanes, Birds, 1567
    • Aristophanes, Birds, 1012
    • Herodotus, Histories, 7.10
    • Plato, Laws, 950c
    • Plato, Republic, 345e
    • Plato, Republic, 600a
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    • Plato, Protagoras, 344c
    • Plato, Protagoras, 359d
    • Homer, Iliad, 23.685
    • Aristophanes, Clouds, 315
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