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extravagance put an end to the ancient splendour of his house, which had come down almost from the time of Solon/ These are the wise and noble personages who take part in the dialogue which Socrates here details to his friend just after its occurrence, and it is not necessary to have any further previous information respecting them, as they all, and the latter especially, are reflected so clearly and distinctly in the work itself, that it is one of the first and most important sources from whence a knowledge of their characteristics may be obtained. But the question how this company was brought together cannot be passed over, as even in the old times it was objected to the dialogue, that its author had been enabled to bestow upon it this profusion of important personages only in the most inadmissible way, by means of gross offences against the order and propriety of dates. For several points of evidence appear, which seem to argue that Plato conceived the dialogue to be held not earlier than in the ninetieth olympiad. Thus Hipponicus, the father of Callias, is never mentioned, but Protagoras lodges immediately with the latter, who appears exclusively as lord and master; and Hipponicus perished in the battle of Delos not later than the beginning of the eighty-ninth olympiad, Nay, still more decisively, there is a comedy of Pherecrates, called “The Wild Men,” mentioned as having been brought out in the previous year, which adorned the Lenaean festival in the last year of the eighty-ninth olympiad. Athenaeus, then, takes this as his standing point, and from it accuses Plato of two faults, namely, that Hippias the Peloponnesian could not have been staying at Athens at any other time except during the truce under Isarchus, in the first year of the
to the translation of the Protagoras, endeavours to justify Plato ; further that Plato, in the first of the ninetieth, could not have said of Protagoras that he had come first to Athens three days ago, as he is brought forward in the comedy of Eupolis, the Flatterers, as already present in the third of the eighty-ninth. But even if any one should be disposed to agree with Dacier as regards the first point, and in respect of the second, to reject the testimony of a comic poet, who, as well as Plato, may have allowed himself a fiction, still the matter is not done with, as there are several unquestionable evidences in every way opposed to fixing the date of the dialogue in that year, and forcing it higher up ; and it is matter of wonder that these are not mentioned in that hostile passage of Athenaeus, although he brings them forward elsewhere. For first Socrates is treated by Protagoras as still a young man, and even calls himself so, which it is impossible he could do only twenty years before his death. Moreover, Alcibiades, who only a year after that assumed by Athenaeus is called a general, is termed a downy-cheeked youth, and Agathon, crowned as a tragic poet in the same olympiad, a boy. Nay, what is most decisive of all, Pericles is spoken of as still living, and his sons who died before him in the plague are present in the company, whence this dialogue is clearly thrown back to a date prior to the third year of the eighty-seventh olympiad. Now as so many minor points coincide with this last epoch, not belonging at all to what is essential in the dialogue, as for instance Agathon and the sons of Pericles, it is evidently that which was most clearly in Plato's mind, and which he really intended to adhere to in the execution of the work. But as to the evidence for a later date, it may be asked whether the comedy of Pherecrates had 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.