2. The Sophist, was a native of Elis, and a son of Diopeithes.
He was a disciple of Hegesidamus (Suid. s. v.
), and the contemporary of Protagoras and Socrates. Owing to his talent and skill, his fellow-citizens availed themselves of his services in political matters, and in a diplomatic mission to Sparta. (Plat. Hipp. maj.
pp. 281. a, 286. a; Philostr. Vit. Soph.
But he was in every respect like the other sophists of the time: he travelled about in various towns and districts of Greece for the purpose of acquiring wealth and celebrity, by teaching and public speaking. His character as a sophist, his vanity, and his boastful arrogance, are well described in two dialogues of Plato, the Ἱππίας μείζων
and the Ἱππίας ἐλάττων
and Hippias minor
The former treats of the question about the beautiful, and in a manner which gives ample scope for putting the knowledge and presumption of Hiippias in a ludicrous light; the other handles the deficiency of our knowledge, and exposes the ridiculous vanity of the sophist.
The latter dialogue is considered by Schleiermacher and Ast to be spurious. Ast even goes so far as to reject the Hippias major also; but it is not easy to get over the difficulty which arises from the fact of Aristotle (Aristot. Met. 5.29
) and Cicero (Cic. de Orat. 3.32
) mentioning it, though without expressly ascribing it to Plato; but however this may be, the dialogues must at any rate have been written by a person and at a time when there was no difficulty in forming a correct estimate of the character of Hippias. If we compare the accounts of Plato with those given by other writers, it cannot be denied that Hippias was a man of very extensive knowledge, that he occupied himself not only with rhetorical, philosophical, and political studies, but was also well versed in poetry, music, mathematics, painting and sculpture, nay, that to a certain extent he had a practical skill in the ordinary arts of life, for he used to boast of wearing on his body nothing that he had not made himself with his own hands, such as his seal-ring, his cloak, and shoes. (Plat. Hipp. maj.
p. 285. c, Hipp. min.
p. 368. b, Protag.
p. 315. c; Philostr. l.c.
; Themist. Orat.
xxix. p. 345. d.)
But it is at the same time evident that his knowledge of all these things was of a superficial kind, that he did not enter into the details of any particular art or science, and that he was satisfied with certain generalities, which enabled him to speak on everything without a thorough knowledge of any.
This arrogance, combined with ignorance, is the main cause which provoked Plato to his severe criticism of Hippias, in which he is the more justified, as the sophist enjoyed a very extensive reputation, and thus had a proportionate influence upon the education of the youths of the higher classes.
Hippias' great forte seems to have consisted in delivering extempore show speeches; and once his sophistic vanity led him to declare that he would travel to Olympia, and there deliver before the assembled Greeks an oration on any subject that might be proposed to him (Plat. Hipp. min.
p. 363); and Philostratus in fact speaks of several such orations delivered at Olympia, and which created great sensation. Such speeches must have been published by Hippias, but no specimen has come down to us.
He seems to have been especially fond of choosing antiquarian and mythical subjects for his show speeches.
Other Works mentioned in Plato
Socrates (apud Plat. Hipp. min.
p. 368) speaks of epic poetry, tragedies, dithyrambs, and various orations, as the productions of Hippias; nay, his literary vanity seems not to have scrupled to write on grammar, music, rhythm, harmony, and a variety of other subjects. (Plat. Hipp. naj.
p. 285, &c.; comp. Philostr. l.c.;
1, 23; Dion Chrys. Orat.
lxxi. p. 625.)
Athenaeus (xiii. p. 609) mentions a work of Hippias under the title Συναγωγὴ
, which is otherwise unknown.
An epigram of his is preserved in Pausanias (5.25
, also in Brunck, Analect.
His style and language are not censured for any thing particular by the ancients.
Comp. Groen van Prinsterer, Prosop. Platon.
p. 91, &c.; Geel, Hist. Crit. Soph.
p. 181, &c.; F. Osann, Der Sophist Hippias als Archaeolog,
in the Rhein. Mus.
for 1843, p. 495, &c.)