Part 9

Alcibiades, Callias, Critias, Hippias, Prodicus,

by Plato Icon

As I was rising from my seat, Callias seized me by the right hand. In his left hand caught hold of this old cloak of mine.


We cannot let you go, Socrates.

If you leave us, our discussions will end.

I therefore beg you to remain, as there is nothing in the world that I should like better than to hear you and Protagoras discourse.


I have always admired you.

I now heartily applaud and love your philosophical spirit, and I would gladly comply with your request, if I could.

But the truth is that I cannot.

And what you ask is as great an impossibility to me, as if you bade me run a race with Crison of Himera, when in his prime, or with some one of the long or day course runners. To such a request I should reply that I would fain ask the same of my own legs; but they refuse to comply.

Therefore, if you want to see Crison and me in the same stadium, you must bid him slacken his speed to mine, for I cannot run quickly, and he can run slowly.

And in like manner if you want to hear me and Protagoras discoursing, you must ask him to shorten his answers, and keep to the point, as he did at first; if not, how can there be any discussion? For discussion is one thing, and making an oration is quite another, in my humble opinion.

Callias But Protagoras may fairly claim to speak in his own way, just as you claim to speak in yours.

That, Callias, is not a true statement of the case.

Socrates admits that he cannot make a speech—in this he yields the palm to Protagoras:

but I should be greatly surprised if he yielded to any living man in the power of holding and apprehending an argument. Now if Protagoras will make a similar admission, and confess that he is inferior to Socrates in argumentative skill, that is enough for Socrates;

but if he claims a superiority in argument as well, let him ask and answer—not, when a question is asked, slipping away from the point, and instead of answering, making a speech at such length that most of his hearers forget the question at issue (not that Socrates is likely to forget—I will be bound for that, although he may pretend in fun that he has a bad memory).

Socrates appears to me to be more in the right than Protagoras.


O Prodicus and Hippias, Callias appears to me to be a partisan of Protagoras.

This led Alcibiades, who loves opposition, to take the other side. But we should not be partisans either of Socrates or of Protagoras; let us rather unite in entreating both of them not to break up the discussion.


Well said, Critias.

Those who are present at such discussions ought to be impartial hearers of both the speakers; remembering, however, that impartiality is not the same as equality, for both sides should be impartially heard, and yet an equal meed should not be assigned to both of them; but to the wiser a higher meed should be given, and a lower to the less wise.

And I as well as Critias would beg you, Protagoras and Socrates, to grant our request, which is, that you will argue with one another and not wrangle; for friends argue with friends out of good-will, but only adversaries and enemies wrangle. And then our meeting will be delightful; for in this way you, who are the speakers, will be most likely to win esteem, and not praise only, among us who are your audience; for esteem is a sincere conviction of the hearers’ souls, but praise is often an insincere expression of men uttering falsehoods contrary to their conviction. And thus we who are the hearers will be gratified and not pleased; for gratification is of the mind when receiving wisdom and knowledge, but pleasure is of the body when eating or experiencing some other bodily delight. Thus spoke Prodicus, and many of the company applauded his words.

Hippias-the-Sage All of you who are here present I reckon to be kinsmen and friends and fellow-citizens, by nature and not by law; for by nature like is akin to like, whereas law is the tyrant of mankind, and often compels us to do many things which are against nature. How great would be the disgrace then, if we, who know the nature of things, and are the wisest of the Hellenes, and as such are met together in this city, which is the metropolis of wisdom, and in the greatest and most glorious house of this city, should have nothing to show worthy of this height of dignity, but should only quarrel with one another like the meanest of mankind! I do pray and advise you, Protagoras, and you, Socrates, to agree upon a compromise. Let us be your peacemakers. And do not you, Socrates, aim at this precise and extreme brevity in discourse, if Protagoras objects, but loosen and let go the reins of speech, that your words may be grander and more becoming to you. Neither do you, Protagoras, go forth on the gale with every sail set out of sight of land into an ocean of words, but let there be a mean observed by both of you. Do as I say. And let me also persuade you to choose an arbiter or overseer or president; he will keep watch over your words and will prescribe their proper length.

This proposal was received by the company with universal approval;

Callias said that he would not let me off, and they begged me to choose an arbiter.


But to choose an umpire of discourse would be unseemly.

If the person chosen was inferior, then the inferior or worse should not preside over the better. If he were equal, then he will do as we do. What will be the use of choosing him?

We cannot have anyone better since there is no one wiser than Protagoras.

If Protagoras is not disposed to answer, let him ask and I will answer.

I will try to show at the same time how he should answer.

When I have answered as many questions as he likes to ask, let him in like manner answer me.

If he seems to be not very ready at answering the precise question asked of him, you and I will unite in entreating him, as you entreated me, not to spoil the discussion.

This will require no special arbiter – all of you shall be arbiters.

This was generally approved.

Protagoras was obliged to agree that he would ask questions even if it was very much against his will.

When he had put a sufficient number of them, that he would answer in his turn those which he was asked in short replies.


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