Method and Theory in Classics
Session 17: Philosophy 2
Plato’s Socrates in action:
In Plato’s dialogue Protagoras¸ Socrates is the central character. Most of
the work describes how Socrates met the famous Protagoras of Abdera,
and the discussions that follow. At the very start there is a short scene
where Socrates is met by an unnamed friend; the rest of the work is
Socrates’ account of how he has spent the earlier part of the day.
Socrates tells his friend that he was woken up before dawn by
Hippocrates, who was very excited to tell him that Protagoras had arrived
in town. Hippocrates was eager to meet Protagoras and become his pupil,
and wanted Socrates’ help. Socrates then pointed out that it was far too
early, and suggested that they wait a little while; Socrates and
Hippocrates talked while they waited.
See now the excerpt on the accompanying sheet (the translation is taken
from Christopher Taylor’s edition, in the Clarendon Plato Series), which
recounts that conversation between Socrates and Hippocrates.
As you read it, think about these questions:
1. Near the beginning (311b), Socrates says ‘In order to test
Hippocrates I began to examine him and ask him questions.’ ( καὶ
ἐγὼ ἀποπειρώμενος τοῦ Ἱππόκρατες τῆς ῥώμης διεσκόπουν αὐτὸν καὶ
ἠρώτων...). Why do you think Socrates does this, and what do you
think he is trying to achieve by this questioning?
2. Why does Hippocrates want to meet Protagoras (and possibly
become his student)?
3. What is Hippocrates’ attitude to sophists?
4. What is Socrates’ attitude to sophists?
5. What is the point of Socrates’ comparison of a sophist with a music
teacher (at 312d5-312e)? Is it an effective comparison?
Notes on the excerpt:
1. The word translated as ‘soul’ (e.g. at 312c1) is in Greek psuchē,
which has a rather wider range of meaning than the English word implies, as it includes intellect, will and emotions – essentially all
non-bodily aspects of the self.
2. The Protagoras was writte