Socrates’ life coincides with a period in which various intellectual movements seemed, to conservatives, to mount a concerted attack on traditional values. These movements I will gather under one name, “the new learning,” without meaning to imply that any one person subscribed to all of them. The two elements in the new learning that seem to have troubled traditionalists the most were natural science and forensic argument. Socrates was associated in the public eye with the new learning; this association is one of the few things we know about him with historical certainty. Probably he was part of the movement in his own unique way, although he had little to do with science and was opposed to the teaching of public speaking.
science and argument
The natural science of the day differed from modern science in many ways, but it has this similarity: it sought to displace traditional supernatural explanations with natural ones, and in so doing it encountered resistance (though not so fierce as the modern American resistance to the teaching of evolution). Early cosmologists proposed accounts of the beginnings of things in terms of familiar natural processes, while early anthropologists explained culture as produced by human invention, and one historian explained human events in terms of an empirical theory of human nature. Taken together, these theories leave no room for traditional explanations that appeal to action by the gods. The new learning offered the ancient Greeks cosmology without creation, human progress without divine teaching, and human history without divine intervention.
The Pyrrhonian Modes are argument schemata for general use against dogmatism. We have records of two main lists of Modes, the Ten and the Five, which were used at various times in the history of ancient scepticism, either independently or in some sort of systematic connection. These Modes use strategies with ancient roots in such thinkers as Protagoras, Democritus, Plato, and Aristotle, but users of the Modes were not committed to positions held by those thinkers. They were compiled long after Pyrrho (the Ten probably by Aenesidemus and the Five by a shadowy figure named Agrippa) during the first phase of the Pyrrhonian revival. In addition, we have a list of eight causal Modes attributed to Aenesidemus.
The second and final phase of Pyrrhonism occupies most of the works of Sextus Empiricus (apart from Against the Ethicists, M 11). Although he has different strategies from Aenesidemus, he lays out the Ten Modes in some detail and makes extensive use of the Five. His account of the Ten is sometimes at odds with his general practice, and this is most likely due to his use of sources from the first phase of the revival.
Besides Sextus (PH 1.36–163), we have two main sources for the Ten Modes: Diogenes Laertius (9.78–88) and Philo of Alexandria (On Drunkenness 169–202), both of whom seem to have a source independent of Sextus. Diogenes is just reporting what he knows, whereas Philo appropriates eight of the Modes for his own purpose and leaves out the other two (the Third and Ninth in the list according to Sextus). Brief mentions by Aristocles and Herrenius do not add to our understanding.
Protagoras and Gorgias are the most significant of the early sophists. Although philosophy as we understand it was not their chief business, they taught views and methods of argument that have fascinated subsequent philosophers. In their own context they exhibit the spirit of the new learning, the cultural and intellectual revolution of the fifth century B.C. in Greece. This revolution - or, rather, the reaction against it - is illustrated in Aristophanes' comic play, The Clouds, by a character enrolling in a sophistic school in order to learn the “unjust argument.” This, he has heard, can win a jury's favour for the worst of offenders. The syllabus, he finds, involves science as well as rhetoric, both laughable in this satire. What is not laughable is the popular animosity against the school that leads to its incineration (at least one student included), a grim sign of the strong feelings that would later contribute to the death of the man whose name Aristophanes uses for the leader of his imaginary school - Socrates.
Prodicus came from the island of Ceos; he was probably born around 470 and died some time after 400. There is an amusing picture of him in Plato's Protagoras (315c–d), lying on a couch. Socrates often refers to Prodicus as his teacher, and some have speculated that Socrates' concern with the precise meanings of words like “justice” may owe something to Prodicus' work on distinctions. In addition to fr. 1, there are also references to Prodicus' fondness for distinguishing between near synonyms in Protagoras 339e–341d, Meno 75e, Euthydemus 277e, and Aristotle, Topics 2.6, 122b22.
(Plato, Protagoras 337a–c; DK A13)
During an interlude in the discussion between Socrates and Protagoras, Prodicus contributes the following.
Those who are present at these discussions should be an impartial but not an egalitarian audience; for these are not the same. You must hear both sides impartially but not give them equal weight; rather, give more weight to the wiser and less to the more foolish speaker. For my own part, moreover, I think you two, Protagoras and Socrates, should agree to debate but not to quarrel; for friends debate with friends in a cordial spirit, but enemies and adversaries quarrel with one another. In this way we will have the best discussion, for you speakers will be esteemed, and not praised: esteem is truly in the minds of the listeners without deceit, whereas praise is often falsely given in words that run counter to one's actual opinion.
The passages printed in this book are for the most part short, and many of them are fragmentary. They have all been the subject of far more scholarly research than can be aired in this format. We have tried to provide sufficient explanatory material for students to reach a basic understanding of the texts. Those who wish to go further may consult the Bibliographical Note. All readers should be warned that nothing presented here is beyond controversy.
We have been generous in our selection of texts. Some texts of doubtful authenticity that nevertheless represent pre-Platonic political thought have been included. Some texts have been chosen not because of what they say about political theory, but for the light they shed on other texts that are directly relevant to our themes. Questions of authenticity are mentioned in the notes when they arise. We have arranged our texts by genre, with the sophists at the end. We exclude texts representing the thought of Socrates, who will be the subject of another volume in this series. For a chronology of authors and events, see below, pp. xxxii–xxxv. Unless otherwise indicated, all our dates are bce.
The translations aim at clarity and accuracy, and for the most part follow the structure of the original Greek. Translations of Greek verse are roughly line-for-line, and verse passages are provided with the Greek line numbers for convenient reference.
Archilochus of Paws, an elegiac and iambic poet, lived in the eighth and seventh centuries, and is said to have taken part in the colonization of Thasos in about 708. Little is known about his life, but a large number of poems and fragmentary quotations survive.
The common people (W 14)
If a man listened to the reproaches of the common people,
Aesimedes, he would never have very much fun.
The eagle and the fox
This is a fable people tell,
how a fox and an eagle joined
(Atticus, quoted by Eusebius in Praeparatio Evangelica 15.4.4)
Do you see where that high rock is,
rough and menacing?
There I sit lightly, planning my fight with you…
[Our source continues in paraphrase as follows:]
Up to this high rock it is impossible for this clever wicked animal to climb, so that for the fox to come where the eagle's offspring are, they would have to meet a sad accident and fall to earth, losing their home, or else he would have to grow what it is not his nature to grow, and bend swift wings; then rising from the ground, he could fly up to the high rock. But as long as each stays in his appointed home, there will be no sharing between the creatures of the land and those of the sky.
Hippias of Elis was born before the middle of the fifth century. He was frequently appointed to represent Elis as an ambassador and traveled widely for professional reasons as well. He was richly paid for his lessons on a variety of topics, including mnemonics, speech rhythms and harmonies, astronomy, mathematics, ethics, and history. He did original work in mathematics, and was known for a more technical approach to teaching than that of Protagoras. He visited Athens regularly, is the principal character in the two Platonic dialogues named after him, and appears also in the Protagoras. He appears to have been a supporter of the idea that nature is opposed to custom.
Hypothesis to Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannos (DK 9)
The poets after Homer have this peculiarity: they call kings before the Trojan war “tyrants,” although this word was given to the Greeks rather late, in the time of Archilochus according to the sophist Hippias. For Homer says that Echetus – who was the most lawless of all – was a king and not a tyrant: “to Echetus the king, destroyer of men.” They say that tyrants are named after the Tyrrhenians, some of whom were terrible robbers.
Democritus came from Abdera, a city in Thrace. He lived c. 460–380, a generation later than two other philosophers from Abdera, Protagoras (below, p. 173) and Leucippus. Democritus and Leucippus are known as the inventors of atomism, the theory that all matter consists of atoms and void. In addition to fragments on physics, more than a hundred ethical/political fragments are attributed to Democritus. Although their authenticity has been doubted, a majority of scholars accept them as authentic. We present here only those fragments that deal with the themes of this volume.
This is an excerpt from the History of Diodorus Siculus (1.8) who wrote in the first century. It does not mention Democritus, but is based on the work of a fifth-century thinker, and this is likely to have been Democritus (see Cole, Bibliographical Note, § B.4).
The generations of humans born in the beginning led an unruly and bestial life. They foraged individually for food and consumed the most pleasing of the plants and whatever fruit fell from the trees. When attacked by wild beasts, they helped each other, learning that this was mutually advantageous; and when they were thus brought together by fear, little by little they learned each other's ways. The sounds of their voices were confused and unintelligible at first, but gradually they articulated words, and by establishing signs (symbola) for each existing thing, they taught each other the meanings of each of them.
Sophocles lived 496–406. In addition to his poetic activity, he held a minor, hereditary priesthood, and he was elected general, perhaps more than once. His first production was in 468 and we are told that he wrote about 120 plays during his career. He was victorious eighteen times with his plays at the Greater Dionysia (i.e. with seventy-two individual plays).
This choral passage, often called the “Ode to Man,” follows a long speech by Creon in justification of his decree forbidding the burial of Polyneices on the grounds that he was a traitor to the city. Earlier Antigone had affirmed her intention to bury him. Creon asserts that the primary duty of a king is to uphold law and order in the city. In view of the tragic turn of events, there is undoubtedly irony in the optimistic view of the progress of human civilization expressed in this ode. Antigone was produced about 442, and the ode is one of the earliest surviving expressions of the progressive anthropology developed during the sophistic period. Compare Aeschylus' Prometheus (frs. 1–3), Protagoras' Myth (fr. 8), Euripides, fr. 4, Critias, fr. 5, and Democritus, fr. 1.
There are many wonders (deina), but nothing
is more wonderful than a human being.
He crosses over the grey sea,
against the stormy wind,
passing through swells
breaking all around; and
Earth, greatest of the gods,
immortal and unwearied, he wears away,
as year after year his plows go back and forth,
turning the soil with horse-born mules.
Pindar (518–c. 440) was an aristocratic Boeotian lyric poet known especially for his odes in honor of victors at festivals such as the one at Olympia. He wrote for rich and powerful patrons throughout the Greek world and was, on the whole, a defender of tradition. The fragment translated here comes from one of the most frequently cited poems of Greek antiquity. It is most notably cited by Herodotus (3.38, fr. 3) and by Plato, Gorgias 484b (Unknown authors, fr. 2), who quotes the first five lines and summarizes part of the remainder (cf. Laws 680b). About forty lines of the poem have been reconstructed from a recently discovered papyrus and other sources, but the original meaning is increasingly uncertain after line 20. Pindar's point appears to be that, despite the apparent injustice of Heracles' violent treatment of his two victims, the traditional glorification of Heracles' labors makes this behavior just.
The Nomos–Basileus fragment (S 169)
Custom (nomos), king of all,
of mortals and immortals,
takes up and justifies what is most violent
with a supremely high hand. As evidence,
I cite the deeds of Heracles:
for he drove the cattle of Geryon
to the Cyclopean courtyard of Eurystheus
without paying, and when they were not for sale. […]
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