Chapter 8. PROTAGORAS (481-411
Protagoras, son of Artemon or, according to
Apollodorus and Dinon in the fifth book of his History of Persia
, of Maeandrius, was born at
Abdera (so says Heraclides of Pontus in his treatise On Laws
, and also that he made laws for Thurii) or,
according to Eupolis in his Flatterers
, at Teos
; for the latter says :
Inside we've got
Protagoras of Teos.
He and Prodicus of Ceos gave public
readings for which fees were charged, and Plato in the Protagoras1
deep-voiced. Protagoras studied under Democritus. The latter2
was nicknamed "Wisdom," according to
Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History.
Protagoras was the first to maintain that there are two sides to
every question, opposed to each other, and he even argued in this
fashion, being the first to do so. Furthermore he began a work thus
: "Man is the measure of all things, of things that are that they
are, and of things that are not that they
not." He used to say that soul was nothing apart from the senses, as
we learn from Plato in the Theaetetus
and that everything is
true. In another work he began thus : "As to the gods, I have no
means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist.
For many are the obstacles that impede knowledge, both the obscurity
of the question and the shortness of human life."
introduction to his book the Athenians expelled him ; and they burnt
his works in the market-place, after sending round a herald to
collect them from all who had copies in their possession.
was the first to exact a fee of a hundred minae and the first to
distinguish the tenses of verbs, to emphasize the importance of
seizing the right moment, to institute contests in debating, and to
teach rival pleaders the tricks of their trade. Furthermore, in
his dialectic he neglected the meaning in favour of verbal
quibbling, and he was the father of the whole tribe of eristical
disputants now so much in evidence ; insomuch that Timon4
too speaks of him as5
Cunning, I trow, to war with words.
He too first introduced the method of discussion which is called
Socratic. Again, as we learn from Plato in the Euthydemus
he was the
first to use in discussion the argument of Antisthenes which strives
to prove that contradiction is impossible, and the first to point
out how to attack and refute any proposition laid down : so
Artemidorus the dialectician in his treatise In
Reply to Chrysippus.
He too invented the shoulder-pad on which
porters carry their burdens, so we are told by Aristotle in his
treatise On Education
; for he himself had been
says Epicurus somewhere.7
This was how he was
taken up by Democritus, who saw how skilfully his bundles of wood
were tied. He was the first to mark off the parts of discourse into
four, namely, wish, question, answer, command8
others divide into seven parts, narration,
question, answer, command, rehearsal, wish, summoning ; these he
called the basic forms of speech. Alcidamas made discourse fourfold,
affirmation, negation, question, address.
The first of his
books he read in public was that On the Gods
the introduction to which we quoted above ; he read it at Athens in
Euripides' house, or, as some say, in Megaclides' ; others again
make the place the Lyceum and the reader his disciple Archagoras,
Theodotus's son, who gave him the benefit of his voice. His accuser
was Pythodorus, son of Polyzelus, one of the four hundred ;
Aristotle, however, says it was Euathlus.
The works of his
which survive are these :
* * The Art of Controversy.
Of the State.
Of the Ancient Order of
On the Dwellers in Hades.
Of the Misdeeds of
A Book of Precepts.
Of Forensic Speech for a
Fee, two books of opposing arguments.
This is the list of his
there is a dialogue which Plato wrote upon him.
Philochorus says that, when he was on a voyage to Sicily, his
ship went down, and that Euripides hints at this in his Ixion.
According to some his death occurred, when
he was on a journey, at nearly ninety years of age, though
Apollodorus makes his age seventy, assigns forty years for his
career as a sophist, and puts his floruit
the 84th Olympiad.10
There is an
epigram of my own on him as follows11
Protagoras, I hear it told of
Thou died'st in eld when Athens thou didst flee ;
Cecrops' town chose to banish thee ; but though
`scap'dst Athene, not so Hell below.
The story is told that
once, when he asked Euathlus his disciple for his fee, the latter
replied, "But I have not won a case yet." "Nay," said Protagoras,
"if I win this case against you I must have the fee, for winning it
; if you win, I must have it, because you
There was another Protagoras, an astronomer, for whom
Euphorion wrote a dirge ; and a third who was a Stoic