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not been already produced previous to the exhibition mentioned in Athenaeus, whether in the same or in a more imperfect form, especially as it is an exhibition at the Lenaea that is here spoken of; for it is impossible to entertain the notion of an oversight committed by Plato, supposing him to have here come back to the time at which he actually wrote. In like manner it may be doubted whether it is absolutely necessary to conceive Hipponicus as dead, and whether he may not have been absent abroad, perhaps in the army before Potidaea, if the second year of the eighty-seventh olympiad is not to be thought of, in which Hipponicus led an army against the Tanagraeans. In any way it may sooner be conceived that Plato transposed to a false period this one circumstance, not unimportant for his plan, than that he purposely pursued such a course with those of trifling magnitude and importance; and in this case “The Wild Men” also of Pherecrates might be fixed to this date, in order not to leave that fabrication perfectly isolated, and to keep the more ambiguous what could not be clearly made out. For Plato could not have chosen a better place for this spectacle than the house of Callias, and probably “The Flatterers” of Eupolis were the occasion of this idea and the temptation to such a licence. And quite as necessary for him was that earlier period in which those wise men were actually in the flower of their fame, and could thus be collected at Athens; and when, moreover, this generation of knowledge-seeking youths was not yet devoted to the affairs of state and war. Moreover, it might well shock Plato's feeling of propriety to represent Socrates, in his year of approaching old age, engaged in such a prize-fight with the sophists, and to make even Protagoras, towards whom he cannot still divest himself of a certain respect, a butt of such Socratic irony in his actually extreme old age. And even here what Protagoras says, exaggeratingly boasting of his age, and the way in which Socrates depreciatingly mentions his own youth, may not be without its object, but intended to throw ridicule upon the standard of those who perhaps reproached even Plato with his youth. For Protagoras was banished from Athens at the beginning of the ninety-second olympiad, during the change of constitution effected by Antiphon the Rhamnusian, and died, it would seem, in his exile, according to some, seventy, according to others, ninety years old. Now if we look for the truth even between the two, although Plato in the Menon, plainly declares himself in favour of the first opinion, still, five olympiads earlier, he could not boast thus of his old age to Socrates, then nearly forty years old, without some degree of exaggeration. Therefore, I would continue, if it is thought not possible to solve the contradictions in the dates, to rest upon the point that the earlier time is that which belongs to the nature of the dialogue, and into which Plato would properly wish to transpose the reader, and that from the later date only some trifling circumstances are intermixed, perhaps unconsciously, in the way of ornament. For at any rate it is but a shallow expedient to rest satisfied with the simple supposition that different dates are mixed up with one another, and that this apparent confusion does not proceed from the method and conscience of an ancient author. But it is time to exchange the less important investigation of the external circumstances for the consideration of the internal subject of this somewhat complicated dialogue, one perhaps not quite so thoroughly understood as it is multifariously praised. It is indeed very easy to separate the different sections and to draw out the subject of each particular one in its order; but whoever thinks that he has therewith discovered the sense of the whole, proclaiming plan and arrangement as easy and simple, can hardly suppose this dialogue in any other predicament than the very worst, and this with great injustice. For he must suppose that no arranging idea whatever is the basis of the whole, but that every thing spins out accidentally from what precedes, as much without unity as without art and purpose. On the contrary, whosoever desires not to miss the object and idea of the whole, in which much that is complex is interwoven throughout, must trace accurately the connection of every particular, and into these the reader is now to be preliminarily introduced.
1. First of all Socrates endeavours, by means of a sceptical investigation into the nature and the peculiar art of the sophists, to bring the young man who desires to be taken to Protagoras, to reflect upon his purpose. This investigation is as it were continued by Protagoras quite as indirectly, though from a different point, in a short lecture delivered after a request for it had been preferred, upon the extent and antiquity of sophistics. And in this he partly exposes the boldness of his public profession to this trade, partly deduces the thing itself as of considerable antiquity, not indeed from the most ancient philosophers, but from poets and artists. Not anything however, uninvolved or definite comes out respecting the art until Socrates, in a short dialogical section, extracts from him thus much, that political virtue is properly that which constitutes the object of his instruction.
2. Hereupon Socrates, in a continuous speech, lays down the position, slightly sketched indeed, but supported by instances and the expressions of general opinion, that no instruction can be imparted in this matter; to which Protagoras offers a counterproof, partly in a myth about the origin of men and of social life, partly also by endeavouring, in some further investigations, to turn the same instances of ordinary modes of acting, which Socrates had brought forward, to favour his own proposition.
3. On occasion of what is adduced by Protagoras, Socrates, after some premonitory hints as to the difference between an epideictic lecture and a dialogue, annexes a discussion of the latter form upon the question of the unity or plurality of the virtues, in which he first compels his opponent, who maintains their plurality, to oppose justice and piety to one another, and then when Protagoras has great difficulty in extricating himself from this dilemma, Socrates courteously breaks off, forces from him in a second course the confession that discretion also and wisdom must be identical, and at length is on the point of proving the same of justice, when Protagoras violently starting off in order to break the thread, brings forward a long, but exclusively empirical discussion upon the nature of the Good.
4. Hence arise naturally new explanations as to the nature of the dialogue, and while fresh terms have to be entered into for the contest, since the affair has taken the form of a regular philosophical prize-fight, to the increasing pleasure of the noble youths the nearer it had approached that form, Prodicus and Hippias now find opportunity for coming forward in their own way, with short speeches. And Socrates also, with regard to the proposal to choose an umpire, delivers his opinion in a
form which, with all its brevity, is distinguished above all others by the strict dialectic process observed in it. 5. According to the conditions proposed by Socrates, Protagoras has now become the questioner, and after introducing a poem of Simonides, continues the dialogue concerning virtue, without however any definite point being visible to which he would conduct by this method, but only the endeavour to involve Socrates in contradictions. Socrates, however, first, as respondent, not only repels Protagoras, but also carries on further a pleasant by-fight with Prodicus, and afterwards himself explains this poem in a continuous discourse, in which the position that all evil is only willed from error, is assumed to be the general opinion of all wise men, and also a derivation of philosophy from the worldly wisdom of the Lacedaemonians and Cretans introduced, but at last a serious tone being taken up, the discussion is brought to an end with the conclusion that by such argumentations taken from poets, nothing can be gained for the establishment of ideas. 6. Upon this, lastly, the Dialogue is again taken up, and Socrates is now the questioner in it, and in that character continues to shew that virtue is only one— (knowledge, science, of that namely which is to be dones First he shews this of courage, and after removing an only apparently sound objection of Protagoras, he makes him allow, half voluntarily, that there is no good but pleasure, and no evil but pain, whence it follows, as a very easy consequence, that all virtue is nothing but a science of calculation and comparative measurement. And thus the contradiction is brought to light by Socrates himself, that on the one side Protagoras, who still maintains his ability to teach virtue, has refused