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Respecting the political history of Athens during the few years immediately succeeding the restoration of the democracy, we have unfortunately little or no information. But in the spring of 399 B.C., between three and four years after the beginning of the archonship of Euclides, an event happened of paramount interest to the intellectual public of Greece as well as to philosophy generally—the trial, condemnation, and execution of Socrates. Before I recount that memorable incident, it will be proper to say a few words on the literary and philosophical character of the age in which it happened. Though literature and philosophy are now becoming separate departments in Greece, each exercises a marked influence on the other ; and the state of dramatic literature will be seen to be one of the causes directly contributing to the fate of Socrates.

During the century of the Athenian democracy between Cleisthenes and Euclides, there had been produced a development of dramatic genius, tragic and comic, never paralleled before or afterwards. Aeschylus, the creator of the tragic drama, or at least the first composer who rendered it illustrious, had been a combatant both at Marathon and Salamis; while Sophocles and Euripides, his two eminent followers (the former one of the generals of the Athenian armament against Samos in 440 B.C.), expired both of them only a year before the battle of Aegospotami—just in time to escape the bitter humiliation and suffering of that mournful period. Out of the once numerous compositions of these poets we possess only a few, yet sufficient to enable us to appreciate in some degree the grandeur of Athenian tragedy; and when we learn that they were frequently beaten, even with the best of their dramas now remaining, in fair competition for the prize against other poets whose names only have reached us, we seem warranted in presuming that the best productions of these successful competitors, if not intrinsically finer, could hardly have been inferior in merit to theirs.

The tragic drama belonged essentially to the festivals in honour of the god Dionysus; being originally a chorus sung in his honour, to which were successively superadded an Iambic monologue,—next, a dialogue with two actors,—lastly, a regular plot with three actors, and the chorus itself interwoven into the scene. Its subjects were from the beginning, and always continued to be, persons either divine or heroic, above the level of historical life and borrowed from what was called the mythical past. The Persae of Aeschylus, indeed, forms a splendid exception; but the two analogous dramas of his contemporary, Phrynichus—the Phoenissae and the capture of Miletus—were not successful enough to invite subsequent tragedians to meddle with contemporary events. To three serious dramas or a trilogy—at first connected together by sequence of subject more or less loose, but afterwards unconnected and on distinct subjects, through an innovation introduced by Sophocles, if not before—the tragic poet added a fourth or satirical drama; the characters of which were satyrs, the companions of the god Dionysus, and other heroic or mythical persons exhibited in farce. He thus made up a total of four dramas or a tetralogy, which he got up and brought forward to contend for the prize at the festival. The expense of training the chorus and actors was chiefly furnished by the Choregi, wealthy citizens, of whom one was named for each of the ten tribes, and whose honour and vanity were greatly interested in obtaining the prize. At first, these exhibitions took place on a temporary stage, with nothing but wooden supports and scaffolding; but shortly after the year 500 B.C., on an occasion when the poets Aeschylus and Pratinas were contending for the prize, this stage gave way during the ceremony, and lamentable mischief was the result. After that misfortune, a permanent theatre of stone was provided. To what extent the project was realized before the invasion of Xerxes, we do not accurately know; but after his destructive occupation of Athens, the theatre, if any existed previously, would have to be rebuilt or renovated along with other injured portions of the city.

It was under that great development of the power of Athens which followed the expulsion of Xerxes that the theatre with its appurtenances attained full magnitude and elaboration, and Attic tragedy its maximum of excellence. Sophocles gained his first victory over Aeschylus in 468 B.C.; the first exhibition of Euripides was in 455 B.C. The names, though unhappily the names alone, of many other competitors have reached us : Philocles, who gained the prize even over the Oedipus Tyrannus of Sophocles; Euphorion son of Aeschylus, Xenocles, and Nikomachus, all known to have triumphed over Euripides; Neophron, Achaeus, Ion, Agathon, and many more. The continuous stream of new tragedy, poured out year after year, was something new in the history of the Greek mind. If we could suppose all the ten tribes contending for the prize every year, there would be ten tetralogies (or sets of four dramas each, three tragedies and one satirical farce) at the Dionysiac festival, and as many at the Lenaean. So great a number as sixty new tragedies composed every year is not to be thought of; yet we do not know what was the usual number of competing tetralogies : it was at least three—since the first, second, and third are specified in the Didaskalies or Theatrical Records—and probably greater than three. It was rare to repeat the same drama a second time, unless after considerable alterations, nor would it be creditable to the liberality of a Choregus to decline the full cost of getting up a new tetralogy. Without pretending to determine with numerical accuracy how many dramas were composed in each year, the general fact of unexampled abundance in the productions of the tragic muse is both authentic and interesting.

Moreover, what is not less important to notice, all this abundance found its way to the minds of the great body of the citizens, not excepting even the poorest. For the theatre is said to have accommodated 30,000 persons : here again it is unsafe to rely upon numerical accuracy, but we cannot doubt that it was sufficiently capacious  to give to most of the citizens, poor as well as rich, ample opportunity of profiting by these beautiful compositions. At first, the admission to the theatre was gratuitous; but as the crowd, of strangers as well as freemen, was found both excessive and disorderly, the system was adopted of asking a price, seemingly at a time when the permanent theatre was put in complete order after the destruction caused by Xerxes. The theatre was let by contract to a manager who engaged to defray (either in whole or part) the habitual cost incurred by the state in the representation, and who was allowed to sell tickets of admission. At first it appears that the price of tickets was not fixed, so that the poor citizens were overbid, and could not get places. Accordingly Perikles introduced a new system, fixing the price of places at three oboli (or half-a-drachma) for the better, and one obolus for the less good. As there were two days of representation, tickets covering both days were sold respectively for a drachma and two oboli. But in order that the poor citizens might be enabled to attend, two oboli were given out from the public treasure to each citizen (rich as well as poor, if they chose to receive it) on the occasion of the festival. A poor man was thus furnished with the means of purchasing his place and going to the theatre without cost, on both days, if he chose; or, if he preferred it, he might go on one day only, or might even stay away altogether and spend both the two oboli in any other manner. The higher price obtained for the better seats purchased by the richer citizens is here to be set against the sum disbursed to the poorer; but we have no data before us for striking the balance, nor can we tell how the finances of the state were affected by it.

Such was the original Theorikon or festival-pay introduced by Pericles at Athens—a system of distributing the public money, gradually extending to other festivals in which there was no theatrical representation, and which in later times reached a mischievous excess, having begun at a time when Athens was full of money from foreign tribute, and continuing, with increased demand, at a subsequent time when she was comparatively poor and without extraneous resources. It is to be remembered that all these festivals were portions of the ancient religion, and that, according to the feelings of that time, cheerful and multitudinous assemblages were essential to the satisfaction of the god in whose honour the festival was celebrated. Such disbursements were a portion of the religious, even more than of the civil, establishment. Of the abusive excess which they afterwards reached, however, I shall speak hereafter : at present I deal with the Theorikon only in its primitive function and effect, of enabling all Athenians indiscriminately to witness the representation of the tragedies.

We cannot doubt that the effect of these compositions upon the public sympathies, as well as upon the public judgment and intelligence, must have been beneficial and moralizing in a high degree. Though the subjects and persons are legendary, the relations between them are all human and simple—exalted above the level of humanity only in such measure as to present a stronger claim to the hearer’s admiration or pity. So powerful a body of poetical influence has probably never been brought to act upon the emotions of any other population; and when we consider the extraordinary beauty of these immortal compositions, which first stamped tragedy as a separate department of poetry, and gave to it a dignity never since reached, we shall be satisfied that the tastes, the sentiments, and the intellectual standard of the Athenian multitude must have been sensibly improved and exalted by such lessons. The reception of such pleasures through the eye and the ear, as well as amidst a sympathizing crowd, was a fact of no small importance in the mental history of the people. It contributed to exalt their imagination, like the grand edifices and ornaments added during the same period to their acropolis. Like them too, and even more than they, tragedy was the monopoly of Athens; for while tragic composers came thither from other parts of Greece (Achaeus from Eretria, and Ion from Chios, at a time when the Athenian empire comprised both those places) to exhibit their genius, nowhere else were original tragedies composed and acted, though hardly any considerable city was without a theatre.

The three great tragedians—Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides—distinguished above all their competitors, as well by contemporaries as by subsequent critics, are interesting to us, not merely from the positive beauties of each, but also from the differences between them in handling, style, and sentiment, and from the manner in which these differences illustrate the insensible modification of the Athenian mind. Though the subjects, persons, and events of tragedy always continued to be borrowed from the legendary world, and were thus kept above the level of contemporaneous life—yet the dramatic manner of handling them is sensibly modified, even in Sophocles as compared with Aeschylus—and still more in Euripides, by the atmosphere of democracy, political and judicial contention, and  philosophy, encompassing and acting upon the poet

In Aeschylus, the ideality belongs to the handling no less than to the subjects : the passions appealed to are the masculine and violent, to the exclusion of Aphrodite and her inspirations : the figures are vast and majestic, but exhibited only in half-light and in shadowy outline : the speech is replete with bold metaphor and abrupt transition—“grandiloquent even to a fault” (as Quintilian remarks), and often approaching nearer to Oriental vagueness than to Grecian perspicuity. In Sophocles, there is evidently a closer approach to reality and common life: the range of emotions is more varied, the figures are more distinctly seen, and the action more fully and conspicuously worked out. Not only we have a more elaborate dramatic structure, but a more expanded dialogue, and a comparative simplicity of speech like that of living Greeks : and we find too a certain admixture of rhetorical declamation, amidst the greatest poetical beauty which the Grecian drama ever attained. But when we advance to Euripides, this rhetorical element becomes still more prominent and developed. The ultra-natural sublimity of the legendary characters disappears; love and compassion are invoked to a degree which Aeschylus would have deemed inconsistent with the dignity of the heroic person: moreover there are appeals to the reason, and argumentative controversies, which that grandiloquent poet would have despised as petty and forensic cavils. And—what was worse still, judging from the Aeschylean point of view—there was a certain novelty of speculation, an intimation of doubt on reigning opinions, and an air of scientific refinement, often spoiling the poetical effect.

Such differences between these three great poets are doubtless referable to the working of Athenian politics and Athenian philosophy on the minds of the two latter. In Sophokles, we may trace the companion of Herodotus—in Euripides, the hearer of Anaxagoras, Socrates, and Prodicus; in both, the familiarity with that widespread popularity of speech, and real, serious debate of politicians and competitors before the dikastery, which both had ever before their eyes, but which the genius of Sophocles knew how to keep in due subordination to his grand poetical purpose.

The transformation of the tragic muse from Aeschylus to Euripides is the more deserving of notice, as it shows us how tragedy served as the natural prelude and encouragement to the rhetorical and dialectical age which was approaching. But the democracy, which thus insensibly modified the tragic drama, imparted a new life and ampler proportions to the comic; both the one and the other being stimulated by the increasing prosperity and power of Athens during the last half century following 480 B.C. Not only was the affluence of strangers and visitors to Athens continually augmenting, but wealthy men were easily found to incur the expense of training the chorus and actors. There was no manner of employing wealth which seemed so appropriate to Grecian feeling, or tended so much to procure influence and popularity to its possessors, as that of contributing to enhance the magnificence of the national and religious festivals. This was the general sentiment both among rich and among poor; nor is there any criticism more unfounded than that which represents such an obligation as hard and oppressive upon rich men. Most of them spent more than they were legally compelled to spend in this way, from the desire of exalting their popularity. The only real sufferers were the people, considered as interested in a just administration of law; since it was a practice which enabled many rich men to acquire importance who had no personal qualities to deserve it—and which provided them with a stock of factitious merits to be pleaded before the Dikastery, as a set-off against substantive accusations.

The full splendour of the comic Muse was considerably later than that of the tragic. Even down to 460 B.C. (about the time when Pericles and Ephialtes introduced their constitutional reforms), there was not a single comic poet of eminence at Athens ; nor was there apparently a single undisputed Athenian comedy before that date, which survived to the times of the Alexandrine critics. Magnes, Krates, and Cratinus—probably also Chionides and Ekphanoides—all belong to the period beginning about (Olympiad 80 or) 460 B.C.; that is, the generation preceding Aristophanes, whose first composition dates in 427 B.C. The condition and growth of Attic comedy before this period seems to have been unknown even to Aristotle, who intimates that the archon did not begin to grant a chorus for comedy, or to number it among the authoritative solemnities of the festival, until long after the practice had been established for tragedy. Thus the comic chorus in that early time consisted of volunteers, without any choregus publicly assigned to bear the expense of teaching them or getting up the piece—so that there was little motive for authors to bestow care or genius in the preparation of their song, dance, and scurrilous monody or dialogue. The exuberant revelry of the phallic festival and procession—with full licence of scoffing at any one present, which the god Dionysus was supposed to enjoy—and with the most plain-spoken grossness as well in language as in ideas—formed the primitive germ, which under Athenian genius ripened into the old comedy. It resembled in many respects the satiric drama of the tragedians, but was distinguished from it by dealing not merely with the ancient mythical stories and persons, but chiefly with contemporary men and subjects of common life—dealing with them often, too, under their real names, and with ridicule the most direct, poignant, and scornful. We see clearly how fair a field Athens would offer for this species of composition, at a time when the bitterness of political contention ran high—when the city had become a centre for novelties from every part of Greece—when tragedians, rhetors, and philosophers were acquiring celebrity and incurring odium—and when the democratical constitution laid open all the details of political and judicial business, as well as all the first men of the state, not merely to universal criticism, but also to unmeasured libel.

Out of all the once abundant compositions of Attic comedy, nothing has reached us except eleven plays of Aristophanes. That Poet himself singles out Magnes, Crates and  Cratts, and Cratinus, among predecessors whom he describes as numerous, for honourable mention; as having been frequently, though not uniformly, successful. Kratinus appears to have been not only the most copious, but also the most distinguished, among all those who preceded Aristophanes : a list comprising Hermippus, Telecleides, and the other bitter assailants of Pericles. It was Kratinus who first extended and systematized the licence of the phallic festival, and the “careless laughter of the festive crowd,” into a drama of regular structure, with actors three in number, according to the analogy of tragedy. Standing forward, against particular persons exhibited or denounced by their names, with a malignity of personal slander not inferior to the Iambist Archilochus, and with an abrupt and dithyrambic style somewhat resembling Aeschylus, Kratinus made an epoch in comedy as the latter had made in tragedy; but was surpassed by Aristophanes as much as Aeschylus had been surpassed by Sophocles. We are told that his compositions were not only more rudely bitter and extensively libellous than those of Aristophanes, but also destitute of that richness of illustration and felicity of expression which pervades all the wit of the latter, whether good-natured or malignant. In Kratinus, too, comedy first made herself felt as a substantive agent and partisan in the political warfare of Athens. He espoused the cause of Cimon against Pericles ; eulogizing the former, while he bitterly derided and vituperated the latter. Hermippus, Telecleides, and most of the contemporary comic writers followed the same political line in assailing that great man, together with those personally connected with him, Aspasia and Anaxagoras; indeed Hermippus was the person who indicted Aspasia for impiety before the Dikastery. But the testimony of Aristophanes shows that no comic writer of the time of Pericles equalled Kratinus either in vehemence of libel or in popularity.

It is remarkable that in 440 B.C. a law was passed forbidding comic authors to ridicule any citizen by name in their compositions, which prohibition, however, was rescinded after two years—an interval marked by the rare phaenomenon of a lenient comedy from Kratinus. Such enactment denotes a struggle in the Athenian mind, even at that time, against the mischief of making the Dionysiac festival an occasion for unmeasured libel against citizens publicly named and probably themselves present. And there was another style of comedy taken up by Krates, distinct from the Iambic or Archilochian vein worked by Kratinus, in which comic incident was attached to fictitious characters and woven into a story, without recourse to real individual names or direct personality. This species of comedy (analogous to that which Epicharmus had before exhibited at Syracuse) was continued by Pherekrates as the successor of Krates. Though for a long time less popular and successful than the poignant food served up by Kratinus and others, it became finally predominant after the close of the Peloponnesian war, by the gradual transition of what is called the Old Comedy into the Middle and New Comedy.

But it is in Aristophanes that the genius of the old libellous comedy appears in its culminating perfection. At least we have before us enough of his works to enable us to appreciate his merits; though perhaps Eupolis, Ameipsias, Phrynicus, Plato (Comicus), and others, who contended against him at the festivals with alternate victory and defeat, would be found to deserve similar praise, if we possessed their compositions. Never, probably, will the full and unshackled force of comedy be so exhibited again. Without having Aristophanes actually before us, it would have been impossible to imagine the unmeasured and unsparing licence of attack assumed by the old comedy upon the gods, the institutions, the politicians, philosophers, poets, private citizens specially named, and even the women, whose life was entirely domestic, of Athens. With this universal liberty in respect of subject there is combined a poignancy of derision and satire, a fecundity of imagination and variety of turns, and a richness of poetical expression, such as cannot be surpassed, and such as fully explains the admiration expressed for him by the philosopher Plato, who in other respects must have regarded him with unquestionable disapprobation. His comedies are popular in the largest sense of the word, addressed to the entire body of male citizens on a day consecrated to festivity, and providing for them amusement or derision with a sort of drunken abundance, out of all persons or things standing in any way prominent before the public eye. The earliest comedy of Aristophanes was exhibited in 427 B.C., and his Muse continued for a long time prolific, since two of the dramas now remaining belong to an epoch eleven years after the Thirty and the renovation of the democracy—about 392 B.C. After that renovation, however (as I have before remarked), the unmeasured sweep and libellous personality of the old comedy was gradually discontinued; the comic Chorus was first cut down and afterwards suppressed, so as to usher in what is commonly termed the Middle Comedy, without any Chorus at all. The “Plutus” of Aristophanes indicates some approach to this new phase; but his earlier and more numerous comedies (from the “Acharneis ” in 425 B.C. to the “Frogs” in 405 B.C., only a few months before the fatal battle of Aegospotami) exhibit the continuous, unexhausted, untempered flow of the stream first opened by Cratinus.

Such abundance both of tragic and comic poetry, each of first-rate excellence, formed one of the marked features of Athenian life, and became a powerful instrument in popularizing new combinations of thought with Athenian variety and elegance of expression. While the tragic Muse presented the still higher advantage of inspiring elevated and benevolent sympathies, more was probably lost than gained by the lessons of the comic Muse, not only bringing out keenly all that was really ludicrous or contemptible in the phenomena of the day, but manufacturing scornful laughter, quite as often out of that which was innocent or even meritorious as well as out of boundless private slander. The “Knights” and the “Wasps” of Aristophanes, however, not to mention other plays are a standing evidence of one good point in the Athenian character—that they bore with good-natured indulgence the full outpouring of ridicule and even of calumny interwoven with it, upon those democratical institutions to which they were sincerely attached. The democracy was strong enough to tolerate unfriendly tongues either in earnest or in jest; the reputations of men who stood conspicuously forward in politics, on whatever side, might also be considered as a fair mark for attacks, inasmuch as that measure of aggressive criticism, which is tutelary and indispensable, cannot be permitted without the accompanying evil, comparatively much smaller, of excess and injustice; though even here we may remark that excess of bitter personality is among the most conspicuous sins of Athenian literature generally. But the warfare of comedy, in the persons of Aristophanes and other composers, against philosophy, literature, and eloquence, in the name of those good old times of ignorance, “when an Athenian seaman knew nothing more than how to call for his barley-cake, and cry Yo-ho,” and the retrograde spirit which induces them to exhibit moral turpitude as the natural consequence of the intellectual progress of the age, are circumstances going far to prove an unfavourable and degrading influence of Comedy on the Athenian mind.

In reference to individual men, and to Socrates especially, the Athenians seem to have been unfavourably biassed by the misapplied wit and genius of Aristophanes in “The Clouds,” aided by other Comedies of Ameipsias and Eupolis; but on the general march of politics, philosophy, or letters, these composers had little influence. Nor were they ever regarded at Athens in the light in which they are presented to us by modem criticism—as men of exalted morality, stern patriotism, and genuine discernment of the true interests of their country—as animated by large and steady views of improving their fellow-citizens, but compelled, in consequence of prejudice or opposition, to disguise a far-sighted political philosophy under the veil of satire—as good judges of the most debateable questions, such as the prudence of making war or peace—and excellent authority to guide us in appreciating the merits or demerits of their contemporaries, insomuch that the victims of their lampoons are habitually set down as worthless men. There cannot be a greater misconception of the old comedy than to regard it in this point of view; yet it is astonishing how many subsequent writers (from Diodorus and Plutarch down to the present day) have thought themselves entitled to deduce their facts of Grecian history, and their estimate of Grecian men, events, and institutions, from the comedies of Aristophanes. Standing pre-eminent as the latter does in comic genius, his point of view is only so much the more determined by the ludicrous associations suggested to his fancy, so that he thus departs the more widely from the conditions of a faithful witness or candid critic. He presents himself to provoke the laugh, mirthful or spiteful, of the festival crowd, assembled for the gratification of these emotions, and not with any expectation of serious or reasonable impressions. Nor does he at all conceal how much he is mortified by failure; like the professional jester, or “laughter­maker,” at the banquets of rich Athenian citizens, the parallel of Aristophanes as to purpose, however unworthy of comparison in every other respect.

This rise and development of dramatic poetry in Greece—so abundant, so varied, and so rich in genius—belongs to the fifth century B.C. It had been in the preceding century nothing more than an unpretending graft upon the primitive chorus, and was then even denounced by Solon (or in the dictum ascribed to Solon) as a vicious novelty, tending—by its simulation of a false character, and by “its effusion of sentiments not genuine or sincere—to corrupt the integrity of human dealings; a charge of corruption not unlike that which Aristophanes worked up a century afterwards, in his “Clouds,” against physics, rhetoric, and dialectics, in the person of Socrates. But the properties of the graft had overpowered and subordinated those of the original stem; so that dramatic poetry was now a distinct form, subject to laws of its own, and shining with splendour equal, if not superior, to the elegiac, choric, lyric, and epic poetry which constituted the previous stock of the Grecian world.

Such transformations in the poetry—or, to speak more justly, in the literature, for before the year 500 B.C. the two compared expressions were equivalent—of Greece were at once products, marks, and auxiliaries in the expansion of the national mind. Our minds have now become familiar with dramatic combinations, which have ceased to be peculiar to any special form or conditions of political society. But if we compare the fifth century B.C. with that which preceded it, the recently born drama will be seen to have been a most important and impressive novelty : and so assuredly it would have been regarded by Solon, the largest mind of his own age, if he could have risen again a century and a quarter after his death, to witness the Antigone of Sophokles, the Medea of Euripides, or the Archameis of Aristophanes.

Its novelty does not consist merely in the high order of imagination and judgment required for the construction of a drama at once regular and effective. This, indeed, is no small addition to Grecian poetical celebrity as it stood in the days of Solon, Alkaeus, Sappho, and Stesichorus; but we must remember that the epical structure of the Odyssey, so ancient and long acquired to the Hellenic world, implies a reach of architectonic talent quite equal to that exhibited in the most symmetrical drama of Sophocles. The great innovation of the dramatists consisted in the rhetorical, the dialectical, and the ethical spirit which they breathed into their poetry. Of all this, the undeveloped germ doubtless existed in the previous epic, lyric, and gnomic composition ; but the drama stood distinguished from all three by bringing it out into conspicuous amplitude, and making it the substantive means of effect. Instead of recounting exploits achieved or sufferings undergone by the heroes—instead of pouring out his own single-minded impressions in reference to some given event or juncture—the tragic poet produces the mythical persons themselves, to talk, discuss, accuse, defend, confute, lament, threaten, advise, persuade, or appease, among one another, but before the audience. In the drama (a singular misnomer) nothing is actually done : all is talk, assuming what is done as passing, or as having passed, elsewhere. The dramatic poet, speaking continually, but each moment through a different character, carries on the purpose of each of his characters by words calculated to influence the other characters and appropriate to each successive juncture. Here are rhetorical exigences from beginning to end; while since the whole interest of the piece turns upon some contention or struggle carried on by speech—since debate, consultation, and retort never cease—since every character, good or evil, temperate or violent, must be supplied with suitable language to defend his proceedings, to attack or repel opponents, and generally to make good the relative importance assigned to him—here again dialectical skill in no small degree is indispensable.

Lastly, the strength and variety of ethical sentiment infused into the Grecian tragedy are among the most remarkable characteristics which distinguish it from the anterior forms of poetry. “ To do or suffer terrible things ” is pronounced by Aristotle to be its proper subject-matter; and the internal mind and motives of drama, the doer or sufferer, on which the ethical interest fastens, are laid open by the Greek tragedians with an impressive minuteness which neither the epic nor the lyric could possibly parallel. Moreover, the appropriate subject-matter of tragedy is pregnant not only with ethical sympathy, but also with ethical debate and speculation. Characters of mixed good and evil—distinct rules of duty, one conflicting with the other—wrong done, and justified to the conscience of the doer, if not to that of the spectator, by previous wrong suffered,—all these are the favourite themes of Aeschylus and his two great successors. Clytaemnestra kills her husband Agamemnon on his return from Troy: her defence is, that he had deserved this treatment at her hands for having sacrificed his own and her daughter Iphigeneia. Her son Orestes kills her, under a full conviction of the duty of avenging his father, and even under the sanction of Apollo. The retributive Eumenides pursue him for the deed, and Aeschylus brings all the parties before the court of Areopagus with Athene as president; where the case, being fairly argued, with the Eumenides as accusers and Apollo as counsel for the prisoner, ends by an equality of votes in the court: upon which Athene gives her casting-vote to absolve Orestes. Again, let any man note the conflicting obligations which Sophocles so forcibly brings in his beautiful drama of the Antigone. Kreon directs that the body of Polyneikes, as a traitor and recent invader of the country, shall remain unburied : Antigone, sister of Polyneikes, denounces such interdict as impious, and violates it, under an overruling persuasion of fraternal duty. Kreon having ordered her to be buried alive, his youthful son Haemon, her betrothed lover, is plunged into a heartrending conflict between abhorrence of such cruelty on the one side, and submission to his father on the other. Sophocles sets forth both these contending rules of duty in an elaborate scene of dialogue between the father and the son. Here are two rules both sacred and respectable, but the one of which cannot be observed without violating the other. Since a choice must be made, which of the two ought a good man to obey? This is a point which the great poet is well pleased to leave undetermined. But if there be any among the audience in whom the least impulse of intellectual speculation is alive, he will by no means leave it so, without some mental effort to solve the problem, and to discover some grand and comprehensive principle from whence all the moral rules emanate—a principle such as may instruct his conscience in those cases generally, of not infrequent occurrence, wherein two obligations conflict with each other. The tragedian not only appeals more powerfully to the ethical sentiment than poetry had ever done before, but also, by raising these grave and touching questions, addresses a stimulus and challenge to the intellect, spurring it on to ethical speculation.

Putting all these points together, we see how much wider was the intellectual range of tragedy, and how considerable is the mental progress which it betokens, as compared with the lyric and gnomic poetry, or with the Seven Wise Men and their authoritative aphorisms, which formed the glory and marked the limit of the preceding century. In place of unexpanded results, or the mere communication of single-minded sentiment, we have even in Aeschylus, the earliest of the great tragedians, a large latitude of dissent and debate—a shifting point of view—a case better or worse, made out for distinct and contending parties—and a divination of the future advent of sovereign and instructed reason. It was through the intermediate stage of tragedy that Grecian literature passed into the Rhetoric, Dialectics, and Ethical speculation, which marked the fifth century B.C.

Other simultaneous causes, arising directly out of the business of real life, contributed to the generation of these same capacities and studies. The fifth century B.C. is the first century of democracy, at Athens, at Sicily, and elsewhere : moreover, at that period, beginning from the Ionic revolt and the Persian invasions of Greece, the political relations between one Grecian city and another became more complicated, as well as more continuous; requiring a greater measure of talent in the public men who managed them. Without some power of persuading or confuting —of defending himself against accusation, or, in case of need, accusing others—no man could possibly hold an ascendant position. He had probably not less need of this talent for private, informal conversations to satisfy his own political partisans, than for addressing the public assembly formally convoked. Even as commanding an army or a fleet, without any laws of war or habits of professional discipline, his power of keeping up the good humour, confidence, and prompt obedience of his men, depended not a little on his command of speech. Nor was it only to the leaders in political life that such an accomplishment was indispensable. In all the democracies—and probably in several governments which were not democracies but oligarchies of an open character—the courts of justice were more or less numerous, and the procedure oral and public : in Athens especially, the Dikasteries (whose constitution has been explained in a former chapter) were both very numerous, and paid for attendance. Every citizen had to go before them in person, without being able to send a paid advocate in his place, if he either required redress fur wrong offered to himself, or was accused of wrong by another. There was no man, therefore, who might not be cast or condemned, or fail in his own suit, even with right on his side, unless he possessed some powers of speech to unfold his case to the Dikasts, as well as to confute the falsehoods and disentangle the sophistry of an opponent. Moreover, to any man of known family and station, it would he a humiliation hardly less painful than the loss of the cause, when standing before the Dikastery with friends and enemies around him, to find himself unable to carry on the thread of a discourse without halting or confusion. To meet such liabilities, from which no citizen, rich or poor, was exempt, a certain training in speech became not less essential than a certain training in arms. Without the latter, he could not do his duty as an hoplite in the ranks for the defence of his country ; without the former, he could not escape danger to his fortune or honour, and humiliation in the eyes of his friends, if called before a Dikastery; nor could he lend assistance to any of those friends who might be placed under the like necessity.

Here then were ample motives, arising out of practical prudence not less than from the stimulus of ambition, to cultivate the power of both continuous harangue and of concise argumentation, or interrogation and reply: motives for all, to acquire a certain moderate aptitude in the use of these weapons—for the ambitious few, to devote much labour and to shine as accomplished orators.

Such political and social motives, it is to be remembered, though acting very forcibly at Athens, were by no means peculiar to Athens, but prevailed more or less throughout a large portion of the Grecian cities, especially in Sicily, when all the Governments became popularized after the overthrow of the Gelonian dynasty. And it was in Sicily and Italy that the first individuals arose who acquired permanent name both in Rhetoric and Dialectics; Empedocles of Agrigentum in the former—Zeno of Elea (in Italy) in the latter.

But these distinguished men bore a conspicuous part in politics, and both on the popular side; Empedocles against an oligarchy, Zeno against a despot. But both also were yet more distinguished as philosophers; and the dialectical impulse in Zeno, if not the rhetorical impulse in Empedocles, came more from his philosophy than from his politics. Empedocles (about 470—440 B.C.) appears to have held intercourse at least, if not partial communion of doctrine, with the dispersed philosophers of the Pythagorean league; the violent subversion of which, at Croton and elsewhere, I have related in a previous chapter. He constructed a system of physics and cosmogony, distinguished for first broaching the doctrine of the Four Elements, and set forth in a poem composed by himself: besides which he seems to have had much of the mystical tone and miraculous pretensions of Pythagoras; professing not only to cure pestilence and other distempers, but to teach how old age might be averted and the dead raised from Hades—to prophesy—and to raise and calm the winds at his pleasure. Gorgias his pupil deposed that he had been present at the magical ceremonies of Empedocles. The impressive character of his poem is sufficiently attested by the admiration of Lucretius, and the rhetoric ascribed to him may have consisted mainly in oral teaching or exposition of the same doctrines. Tisias and Korax of Syracuse, who are also mentioned as the first teachers of rhetoric—and the first who made known any precepts about the rhetorical practice—were his contemporaries; while the celebrated Gorgias was his pupil.

The dialectical movement emanated at the same time from the Eleatic school of philosophers—Zeno, and his contemporary the Samian Melissus (460—440 B.C.)—if not from their common teacher Parmenides. Melissus also, as well as Zeno and Empedocles, was a distinguished citizen, as well as a philosopher, having been, in command of the Samian fleet at the time of the revolt from Athens, and having in that capacity gained a victory over the Athenians.

All the philosophers of the fifth century B.C., prior to Socrates, inheriting from their earliest poetical predecessors the vast and unmeasured problems which had once been solved by the supposition of divine or superhuman agents, contemplated the world, physical and moral, all in a mass, and applied their minds to find some hypothesis which would give explanation of this totality, or at least appease curiosity by something which looked like an explanation. What were the elements out of which sensible things were made? What was the initial cause or principle of those changes which appeared to our senses? What was change?—was it generation or something integrally new, and destruction of something pre-existent—or was it a decomposition and recombination of elements still continuing? The theories of the various Ionic philosophers and of Empedocles after them, admitting one, two, or four elementary substances, with Friendship and Enmity to serve as causes of motion or change—the Homoeomeries of Anaxagoras, with Nous or Intelligence as the stirring and regularizing agent—the atoms and void of Leucippus and Democritus—all these were different hypotheses answering to a similar vein of thought. All of them, though assuming that the sensible appearances of things were delusive and perplexing, nevertheless were borrowed more or less directly from some of these appearances, which were employed to explain and illustrate the whole theory, and served to render it plausible when stated as well as to defend it against attack. But the philosophers of the Eleatic school—first Xenophanes, and after him Parmenides—took a distinct path of their own. To find that which was real, and which lay as it were concealed behind or under the delusive phenomena of sense, they had recourse only to mental abstractions. They supposed a Substance or Something not perceivable by sense, but only cogitable or conceivable by reason; a One and All, continuous and finite, which was not only real and self-existent, but was the only reality—eternal, immovable and unchangeable, and the only matter knowable. The phenomena of sense, which began and ended one after the other (they thought), were essentially delusive, uncertain, contradictory among themselves, and open to endless diversity of opinion. Upon these, nevertheless, they announced an opinion; adopting two elements—heat and cold, or light and darkness.

Parmenides set forth this doctrine of the One and All in a poem, of which but a few fragments now remain, so that we understand very imperfectly the positive arguments employed to recommend it. The matter of truth and knowledge, such as he alone admitted, was altogether removed from the senses and divested of sensible properties, so as to be conceived only as an Ens Rationis, and described and discussed only in the most general words of the language. The exposition given by Parmenides in his poem, though complimented by Plato, was vehemently controverted by others, who deduced from it many contradictions and absurdities. As a part of his reply,—and doubtless the strongest part,—Parmenides retorted upon his adversaries— an example followed by his pupil Zeno with still greater acuteness and success. Those who controverted his ontological theory—that the real, ultra-phenomenal substance was One—affirmed it to be not One, but Many; divisible, movable, changeable, &c. Zeno attacked this latter theory, and proved that it led to contradictions and absurdities still greater than those involved in the proposition of Parmenides. He impugned the testimony of sense, affirming that it furnished premises for conclusions which contradicted each other, and that it was unworthy of trust. Parmenides had denied that there was any such thing as real change either of place or colour : Zeno maintained change of place or motion to be impossible and self-contradictory; propounding many logical difficulties, derived from the infinite divisibility of matter, against some of the most obvious affirmations respecting sensible phenomena. Melissus appears to have argued in a vein similar to that of Zeno, though with much less acuteness; demonstrating indirectly the doctrine of Parmenides by deducing impossible inferences from the contrary hypothesis.

Zeno published a treatise to maintain the thesis above described, which he also upheld by personal conversations and discussions, in a manner doubtless far more efficacious than his writing ; the oral teaching of these early philosophers being their really impressive manifestation. His subtle dialectic arguments were not only sufficient to occupy all the philosophers of antiquity, in confuting them more or less successfully, but have even descended to modern times as a fire not yet extinguished. The great effect produced among the speculative minds of Greece by his writing and conversation, is attested both by Plato and Aristotle. He visited Athens, gave instruction to some eminent Athenians, for high pay, and is said to have conversed both with Pericles and with Socrates, at a time when the latter was very young, probably between 450—440 B.C.

His appearance constitutes a remarkable era in Grecian philosophy, because he first brought out the extraordinary aggressive or negative force of the dialectic method. In this discussion respecting the One and the Many, positive grounds on either side were alike scanty : each party had to set forth the contradictions deducible from the opposite hypothesis, and Zeno professed to show that those of his opponents were the more flagrant. We thus see that along with the methodized question and answer, or dialectic method, employed from henceforward more and more in philosophical inquiries, comes out at the same time the negative tendency, the probing, testing, and scrutinizing force, of Grecian speculation. The negative side of Grecian speculation stands quite as prominently marked, and occupies as large a measure of the intellectual force of their philosophers, as the positive side. It is not simply to arrive at a conclusion, sustained by a certain measure of plausible premise—and then to proclaim it as an authoritative dogma, silencing or disparaging all objectors—that Grecian speculation aspires. To unmask not only positive falsehood, but even affirmation without evidence, exaggerated confidence in what was only doubtful, and show of knowledge without the reality—to look at a problem on all sides, and set forth all the difficulties attending its solution— to take account of deductions from the affirmative evidence, even in the case of conclusions accepted as true upon the balance—all this will be found pervading the march of their greatest thinkers. As a condition, of all progressive philosophy, it is not less essential that the grounds of negation should be freely exposed than the grounds of affirmation. We shall find the two going hand in hand, and the negative vein indeed the more impressive and characteristic of the two, from Zeno downwards in our history. In one of the earliest memoranda illustrative of Grecian dialectics—the sentences wherein Plato represents Parmenides and Zeno as bequeathing their mantle to the youthful Socrates, and giving him precepts for successfully prosecuting those researches which his marked inquisitive impulse promised—this large and comprehensive point of view is emphatically inculcated. He is admonished to set before him both sides of every hypothesis, and to follow out both the negative and the affirmative chains of argument with equal perseverance and equal freedom of scrutiny; neither daunted by the adverse opinions around him, nor deterred by sneers against wasting time in fruitless talk ; since the multitude are ignorant that without thus travelling round all sides of a question, no assured comprehension of the truth is attainable.

We thus find ourselves, from the year 450 B.C. downwards, in presence of two important classes of men in Greece, unknown to Solon or even to Cleisthenes—the Rhetoricians and the Dialecticians; for whom (as has been shown) the ground had been gradually prepared by the polities, the poetry, and the speculation of the preceding period.

Both these two novelties—like the poetry and other accomplishments of this memorable race—grew up from rude indigenous beginnings, under native stimulus unborrowed and unassisted from without. The rhetorical teaching was an attempt to assist and improve men in the power of continuous speech as addressed to assembled numbers, such as the public assembly or the dikastery; it was therefore a species of training sought for by men of active pursuits and ambition, either that they might succeed in public life, or that they might maintain their rights and dignity if called before the court of justice. On the other hand, the dialectic business had no direct reference to public life, to the judicial pleading, or to any assembled large number. It was a dialogue carried on by two disputants, usually before a few hearers, to unravel some obscurity, to reduce the respondent to silence and contradiction, to exercise both parties in mastery of the subject, or to sift the consequences of some problematical assumption. It was spontaneous conversation systematized and turned into some predetermined channel; furnishing a stimulus to thought, and a means of improvement not attainable in any other manner—furnishing to some also a source of profit or display. It opened a line of serious intellectual pursuit to men of a speculative or inquisitive turn, who were deficient in voice, in boldness, in continuous memory, for public speaking; or who desired to keep themselves apart from the political and judicial animosities of the moment.

Although there were numerous Athenians, who combined, in various proportions, speculative with practical study, yet, generally speaking, the two veins of intellectual movement—one towards active public business, the other towards enlarged opinions and greater command of speculative truth, with its evidences—continued simultaneous and separate. There subsisted between them a standing polemical controversy and a spirit of mutual detraction. If Plato despised the sophists and the rhetors, Isokrates thinks himself not less entitled to disparage those who employed their time in debating upon the unity or plurality of virtue. Even among different teachers, in the same intellectual walk, also, there prevailed but too often an acrimonious feeling of personal rivalry, which laid them all so much the more open to assault from the common enemy of all mental progress—a feeling of jealous ignorance, stationary or wistfully retrospective, of no mean force at Athens, as in every other society, and of course blended at Athens with the indigenous democratical sentiment. This latter sentiment of antipathy to new ideas and new mental accomplishments has been raised into factitious importance by the comic genius of Aristophanes, whose point of view modern authors have too often accepted ; thus allowing some of the worst feelings of Grecian antiquity to influence their manner of conceiving the facts. Moreover, they have rarely made any allowance for that force of literary and philosophical antipathy, which was no less real and constant at Athens than the political, and which made the different literary classes or individuals perpetually unjust one towards another.

It was the blessing and the glory of Athens that every man could speak out his sentiments and his criticisms with a freedom unparalleled in the ancient world, and hardly paralleled even in the modern, in which a vast body of dissent both is, and always has been, condemned to absolute silence. But this known latitude of censure ought to have imposed on modern authors a peremptory necessity of not accepting implicitly the censure of any one, where the party inculpated has left no defence; at the very least, of construing the censure strictly, and allowing for the point of view from which it proceeds. From inattention to this necessity, almost all the things and persons of Grecian history are presented to us on their bad side : the libels of Aristophanes, the sneers of Plato and Xenophon—even the interested generalities of a plaintiff or defendant before the Dikastery—are received with little cross-examination as authentic materials for history.

If ever there was need to invoke this rare sentiment of candour, it is when we come to discuss the history of the persons called Sophists, who now for the first time appear as of note; the practical teachers of Athens and of Greece, misconceived as well as misesteemed.

The primitive education at Athens consisted of two branches— gymnastics, for the body; music, for the mind. The word music is not to be judged according to the limited signification which it now bears. It comprehended from the beginning everything appertaining to the province of the Nine Muses—not merely learning the use of the lyre, or how to bear part in a chorus, but also the hearing, learning, and repeating of poetical compositions, as well as the practice of exact and elegant pronunciation—which latter accomplishment, in a language like the Greek, with long words, measured syllables, and great diversity of accentuation between one word and another, must have been far more difficult to acquire than it is in any modern European language. As the range of ideas enlarged, so the words music and musical teachers acquired an expanded meaning, so as to comprehend matter of instruction at once ampler and more diversified. During the middle of the fifth century B.C., at Athens, there came thus to be found, among the musical teachers, men of the most distinguished abilities and eminence ; masters of all the learning and accomplishments of the age, teaching what was. known of astronomy, geography, and physics, and capable of holding dialectical discussions with their pupils upon all the various problems then afloat among intellectual men. Of this character were Lamprus, Agathocles, Pythokleides, Damon, &c. The two latter were instructors of Pericles; and Damon was even rendered so unpopular at Athens, partly by his large and free speculations, partly through the political enemies of his great pupil, that he was ostracised, or at least sentenced, to banishment. Such men were competent companions for Anaxagoras and Zeno, and employed in part on the same studies, the field of acquired knowledge being not then large enough to be divided into separate exclusive compartments. While Euripides frequented the company and acquainted himself with the opinions of Anaxagoras, Ion of Chios (his rival as a tragic poet, as well as the friend of Kimon) bestowed so much thought upon physical subjects as then conceived, that he set up a theory of his own, propounding the doctrine of three elements in nature—air, fire, and earth.

Now such musical teachers as Damon and the others above mentioned were Sophists, not merely in the natural and proper Greek sense of that word, but, to a certain meaning of extent, even in the special and restricted meaning which Plato afterwards thought proper to confer upon it. A Sophist, in the genuine sense of the word, was a wise man—a clever man—one who stood prominently before the public as distinguished for intellect or talent of some kind. Thus Solon and Pythagoras are both called Sophists; Thamyras, the skilful bard, is called a Sophist: Socrates is so denominated, not merely by Aristophanes, but by Aeschines: Aristotle himself calls Aristippus, anil Xenophon calls Antisthenes, both of them disciples of Socrates, by that name : Xenophon, in describing a collection of instructive books, calls them “the writings of the old poets and Sophists,” meaning by the latter word prose writers generally : Plato is alluded to as a Sophist, even by Isokrates : Aeschines (the disciple of Socrates, not the orator) was so denominated by his contemporary Lysias: Isokrates himself was harshly criticized as a Sophist, and defends both himself and his profession : lastly, Timon (the friend and admirer of Pyrrho, about 300—280 B.C.), who bitterly satirized all the philosophers, designated them all, including Plato and Aristotle, by the general name of Sophists. In this large and comprehensive sense the word was originally used, and always continued to be so understood, among the general public. But, along with this idea, the title Sophist also carried with it or connoted a certain invidious feeling. The natural temper of a people generally ignorant towards superior intellect—the same temper which led to those charges of magic so frequent in the Middle Ages—appears to be a union of admiration with something of an unfavourable sentiment, dislike or apprehension, as the case may be; unless where the latter element has become neutralized by habitual respect for an established profession or station. At any rate, the unfriendly sentiment is so often intended, that a substantive word, in which it is implied without the necessity of any annexed predicate, is soon found convenient. Timon, who hated the philosophers, thus found the word Sophist exactly suitable, in sentiment as well as meaning, to his purpose in addressing them.

Now when (in the period succeeding 450 B.C.) the rhetorical and musical teachers came to stand before the public at Athens in such increased eminence, they of course, as well as other men intellectually celebrated, became designated by the appropriate name of Sophists. But there was one characteristic peculiar to themselves whereby they drew upon themselves a double measure of that invidious sentiment which lay wrapped up in the name. They taught for pay : of course therefore the most eminent among them taught only the rich, and earned large sums—a fact naturally provocative of envy, to some extent, among the many who benefited nothing by them, but still more among the inferior members of their own profession. Even great minds like Socrates and Plato, though much superior to any such envy, cherished in that age a genuine and vehement repugnance against receiving pay for teaching. We read in Xenophon that Sokrates considered such a bargain as nothing less than servitude, robbing the teacher of all free choice as to persons or proceeding; and that he assimilated the relation between teacher and pupil to that between two lovers or two intimate friends, which was thoroughly dishonoured, robbed of its charm and reciprocity, and prevented from bringing about its legitimate reward of attachment and devotion, by the intervention of money payment. However little in harmony with modern ideas, such was the conscientious sentiment of Socrates and Plato, who therefore considered the name Sophist, denoting intellectual celebrity combined with an odious association, as pre-eminently suitable to the leading teachers for pay. The splendid genius, the lasting influence, and the reiterated polemics of Plato have stamped it upon the men against whom he wrote as if it were their recognized, legitimate, and peculiar designation; though it is certain that if, in the middle of the Peloponnesian war, any Athenian had been asked, “Who are the principal Sophists in your city?”, he would have named Socrates among the first; for Socrates was at once eminent as an intellectual teacher, and personally unpopular, not because he received pay, but on other grounds which will be hereafter noticed; and this was the precise combination of qualities which the general public naturally expressed by a Sophist. Moreover, Plato not only stole the name out of general circulation in order to fasten it specially upon his opponents the paid teachers, but also connected with it express discreditable attributes, which formed no part of its primitive and recognized meaning, and were altogether distinct from, though grafted upon, the vague sentiment of dislike associated with it. Aristotle, following the example of his master, gave to the word Sophist a definition substantially the same as that which it bears in the modern languages—“an imposturous pretender to knowledge; a man who employs what he knows to he fallacy, for the purpose of deceit and of getting money”. And he did this at a time when he himself, with his estimable contemporary Isokrates, were considered at Athens to come under the designation of Sophists, and were called so by every one who disliked either their profession or their persons.

Great thinkers and writers, like Plato and Aristotle, have full right to define and employ words in a sense of their own, provided they give due notice. But it is essential that the reader should keep in mind the consequences of such change, and not mistake a word used in a new sense for a new fact or phenomenon. The age with which we are now dealing (the last half of the fifth Century.) is commonly distinguished in the history of philosophy as the age of Socrates and the Sophists. The Sophists are spoken of as a new class of men, or sometimes in language which implies a new doctrinal set or school, as if they then sprang up in Greece for the first time—ostentatious impostors, flattering and duping the rich youth for their own personal gain, undermining the morality of Athens public and private, and encouraging their pupils to the unscrupulous prosecution of ambition and cupidity. They are even affirmed to have succeeded in corrupting the general morality, so that Athens had become miserably degenerated and vicious in the latter years of the Peloponnesian war, as compared with what she was in the time of Miltiades and Aristeides. Socrates, on the contrary, is usually described as a holy man combating and exposing these false prophets—standing up as the champion of morality against their insidious artifices. Now, though the appearance of a man so very original as Socrates was a new fact, of unspeakable importance, the appearance of the Sophists was no new fact; what was new was the peculiar use of an old word which Plato took out of its usual meaning, and fastened upon the eminent paid teachers of the Socratic age.

The paid teachers, with whom, under the name of The Sophists, he brings Socrates into controversy, were Protagoras of Abdera, Gorgias of Leontini, Polus of Agrigentum, Hippias of Elis, Prodikus of Keos, Thrasymachus of Chalcedon, Euthydemus and Dionysodorus of Chios : Protagoras, to whom Xenophon adds Antiphon of Athens. These men—whom modern writers set down as The Sophists, and denounce as the moral pestilence of their age—were not distinguished in any marked or generic way from their predecessors. Their vocation was to train up youth for the duties, the pursuits, and the successes of active life, both private and public. Others had done this before; but these teachers brought to the task a larger range of knowledge, with a greater multiplicity of scientific and other topics—not only more impressive powers of composition and speech, serving as a personal example to the pupil, but also a comprehension of the elements of good speaking, so as to be able to give precepts conducive to that accomplishment—a considerable treasure of accumulated thought on moral and political subjects, calculated to make their conversation very instructive—and discourse ready prepared, on general heads or commonplaces, for their pupils to learn by heart. But this, though a very important extension, was nothing more than an extension, differing merely in degree, of that which Damon and others had done before them. It arose from the increased demand which had grown up among the Athenian youth for a larger measure of education and other accomplishments; from an elevation in the standard of what was required from every man who aspired to occupy a place in the eyes of his fellow-citizens. Protagoras, Gorgias, and the rest supplied this demand with an ability and success unknown before their time: hence they gained a distinction such as none of their predecessors had attained, were prized all over Greece, travelled from city to city with general admiration, and obtained considerable pay. While such success, among men personally strangers to them, attests unequivocally their talent and personal dignity, of course it also laid them open to increased jealousy, as well from inferior teachers as from the lovers of ignorance generally; such jealousy manifesting itself (as I have before explained) by a greater readiness to stamp them with the obnoxious title of Sophists.

The hostility of Plato against these teachers (for it is he, and not Socrates, who was peculiarly hostile to them, as may be seen by the absence of any such marked antithesis in the Memorabilia of Xenophon) may be explained without at all supposing in them that corruption which modern writers have been so ready not only to admit but to magnify. It arose from the radical difference between his point of view and theirs. He was a great reformer and theorist: they undertook to qualify young men for doing themselves credit, and rendering service to others, in active Athenian life. Not only is there room for the concurrent operation of both these veins of thought and action, in every progressive society, but the intellectual outfit of the society can never be complete without the one as well as the other. It was the glory of Athens that both were there adequately represented, at the period which we have now reached. Whoever peruses Plato’s immortal work—The Republic—will see that he dissented from society, both democratical and oligarchical, on some of the most fundamental points of public and private morality; and throughout most of his dialogues his quarrel is not less with the statesmen, past as well as present, than with the paid teachers of Athens. Besides this ardent desire for radical reform of the state, on principles of his own, distinct from every recognized political party or creed, Plato was also unrivalled as a speculative genius and as a dialectician; both which capacities he put forth, to amplify and illustrate the ethical theory and method first struck out by Socrates, as well as to establish, comprehensive generalities of his own.

Now his reforming, as well as his theorizing tendencies, brought him into polemical controversy with all the leading agents by whom the business of practical life at Athens was carried on. In so far as Protagoras or Gorgias talked the language of theory, they were doubtless much inferior to Plato, nor would their doctrines be likely to hold against his acute dialectics. But it was neither their duty nor their engagement to reform the state, or discover and vindicate the best theory on ethics. They professed to qualify young Athenians for an active and honourable life, private as well as public, in Athens (or in any other given city) : they taught them “to think, speak, and act,” in Athens; they of course accepted, as the basis of their teaching, that type of character which estimable men exhibited, and which the public approved, in Athens—not undertaking to recast the type, but to arm it with new capacities and adorn it with fresh accomplishments. Their direct business was with ethical precept, not with ethical theory : all that was required of them as to the latter was that their theory should be sufficiently sound to lead to such practical precepts as were accounted virtuous by the most estimable society in Athens. It ought never to be forgotten that those who taught for active life were bound by the very conditions of their profession to adapt themselves to the place and the society as it stood. With the Theorist Plato, not only there was no such obligation, but the grandeur and instructiveness of his speculations were realized only by his departing from it, and placing himself on a loftier pinnacle of vision ; while he himself not only admits, but even exaggerates, the unfitness and repugnance, of men taught in his school, for practical life and duties.

To understand the essential difference between the practical and the theoretical point of view, we need only look to Isokrates, the pupil of Gorgias, and himself a Sophist. Though not a man of commanding abilities, Isokrates was one of the most estimable men of Grecian antiquity. He taught for money, and taught young men to “think, speak, and act,” all with a view to an honourable life of active citizenship : not concealing his marked disparagement of speculative study and debate, such as the dialogues of Plato and the dialectic exercises generally. He defends his profession much in the same way as his master Gorgias, or Protagoras, would have defended it, if we had before us vindications from their pens. Socrates at Athens, and Quintilian, a man equally estimable at Rome, are in their general type of character and professional duty the fair counterpart of those whom Plato arraigns as The Sophists.

We know these latter chiefly from the evidence of Plato, their pronounced enemy; yet even his evidence, when construed candidly and taken as a whole, will not be found to justify the charges of corrupt and immoral teaching, imposturous pretence of knowledge, &c., which the modern historians pour forth in loud chorus against them. I know few characters in history who have been so hardly dealt with as these so-called Sophists, the penalty of their name, in its modern sense—a misleading association, from which few modern writers take pains to emancipate either themselves or their readers, though the English or French word Sophist is absolutely inapplicable to Protagoras or Gorgias, who ought to be called rather “Professors or Public Teachers”. It is really surprising to examine the expositions prefixed, by learned men like Stallbaum and others, to the Platonic dialogues entitled Protagoras, Gorgias, Euthydemus, Theaetetus, &c., where Plato introduces Socrates either in personal controversy with one or other of these Sophists, or as canvassing their opinions. We continually read from the pen of the expositor such remarks as these—“Mark how Plato puts down the shallow and worthless Sophist”—the obvious reflection, that it is Plato himself who plays both games on the chess-board, being altogether overlooked. And again—“This or that argument, placed in the mouth of Socrates, is not to be regarded as the real opinion of Plato : he only takes it up and enforces it at this moment, in order to puzzle and humiliate an ostentatious pretender”—a remark which converts Plato into an insincere disputant and a Sophist in the modern sense, at the very moment when the commentator is extolling his pure and lofty morality as an antidote against the alleged corruption of Gorgias and Protagoras.

Plato has devoted a long and interesting dialogue to the  inquiry, What is a Sophist? and it is curious to observe that the definition which he at last brings out suits Socrates himself, intellectually speaking, better than any one else whom we know. Cicero defines the Sophist to be one who pursues philosophy for the sake of ostentation or of gain; which, if it is to be held as a reproach, will certainly bear hard upon the great body of modern teachers, who are determined to embrace their profession and to discharge its important duties, like other professional men, by the prospect either of deriving an income or of making a figure in it, or both—whether they have any peculiar relish for the occupation or not. But modern writers, in describing Protagoras or Gorgias, while they adopt the sneering language of Plato against teaching for pay, low purposes, tricks to get money from the rich, &c, use terms which lead the reader to believe that there was something in these Sophists peculiarly greedy, exorbitant, and truckling; something beyond the mere fact of asking and receiving remuneration. Now, not only there is no proof that any of them (speaking of those conspicuous in the profession) were thus dishonest or exorbitant, but, in the case of Protagoras, even his enemy Plato furnishes a proof that he was not so. In the Platonic dialogue termed Protagoras, that Sophist is introduced as describing the manner in which he proceeded respecting remuneration from his pupils.  I make no stipulation beforehand: when a pupil part from me, I ask from him such a sum as I think the time and the circumstances warrant; and I add, that if he deems the demand too great, he has only to make up his own mind what is the amount of improvement which my company has procured to him, and what sum he considers an equivalent for it. I am content to accept the sum so named by himself, only requiring him to go into a temple and make oath that it is his sincere belief.” It is not easy to imagine a more dignified way of dealing than this, nor one which more thoroughly attests an honourable reliance on the internal consciousness of the scholar; on the grateful sense of improvement realized, which to every teacher constitutes a reward hardly inferior to the payment that proceeds from it, and which (in the opinion of Socrates) formed the only legitimate reward. Such is not the way in which the corrupters of mankind go to work.

That which stood most prominent in the teaching of Gorgias and the other Sophists was, that they cultivated and improved the powers of public speaking in their pupils—one of the most essential accomplishments to every Athenian of consideration. For this, too, they have been denounced by Ritter, Brandis, and other learned writers on the history of philosophy, as corrupt and immoral. “Teaching their pupils rhetoric (it has been said), they only enable them to second unjust designs, to make the worse appear the better reason, and to delude their hearers, by trick and artifice, into false persuasion and show of knowledge without reality. Rhetoric (argues Plato in the dialogue called Gorgias) is no art whatever, but a mere unscientific knack, enslaved to the dominant prejudices, and nothing better than an imposturous parody on the true political art.” Now, though Aristotle, following the Platonic vein, calls this power of making the worse appear the better reason “the promise of Protagoras, the accusation ought never to be urged as if it bore specially against the teachers of the Socratic age. It is an argument against rhetorical teaching generally; against all the most distinguished teachers of pupils for active life throughout the ancient world from Protagoras, Gorgias, Isokrates, tec., down to Quintilian. Not only does the argument bear equally against all, but it was actually urged against all. Isokrates and Quintilian both defend themselves against it: Aristotle was assailed by it, and provides a defence in the beginning of his treatise on Rhetoric : nor was there ever any man, indeed, against whom it was pressed with greater bitterness of calumny than Sokrates—by Aristophanes in his comedy of the “Clouds,” as well as by other comic composers. Socrates complains of it in his defence before his judges characterizing such accusations in their true point of view, as being “the stock reproaches against all who pursue philosophy”. They are indeed only one of the manifestations, ever varying in form though the same in spirit, of the antipathy of ignorance against dissenting innovation or superior mental accomplishments; which antipathy intellectual men themselves, when it happens to make on their side in a controversy, are but too ready to invoke. Considering that we have here the materials of defence, as well as of attack, supplied by Socrates and Plato, it might have been expected that modern writers would have refrained from employing such an argument to discredit Gorgias or Protagoras; the rather, as they have before their eyes, in all the countries of modern Europe, the profession of lawyers and advocates, who lend their powerful eloquence without distinction to the cause of justice or injustice, and who, far from being regarded as the corrupters of society, are usually looked upon, for that very reason among others, as indispensable auxiliaries to a just administration of law.

Though writing was less the business of these Sophists than personal teaching, several of them published treatises. Thrasymachus and Theodorus both set forth written precepts on the art of Rhetoric; precepts which have not descended to us, but which appear to have been narrow and special, bearing directly upon practice, and relating chiefly to the proper component parts of an oration. To Aristotle, who had attained that large and comprehensive view of the theory of Rhetoric which still remains to instruct us in his splendid treatise, the views of Thrasymachus appeared unimportant, serving to him only as hints and materials. But their effect must have been very different when they first appeared, and when young men were first enabled to analyse the parts of a harangue, to understand the dependence of one upon the other, and call them by their appropriate names; all illustrated, let us recollect, by oral exposition on the part of the master, which was the most impressive portion of the whole.

Prodicus, again, published one or more treatises intended to elucidate the ambiguities of words, and to point out the different significations of terms apparently, but not really, equivalent. For this Plato often ridicules him, and the modern historians of philosophy generally think it right to adopt the same tone. Whether the execution of the work was at all adequate to its purpose, we have no means of judging; but assuredly the purpose was one pre-eminently calculated to aid Grecian thinkers and dialecticians; for no man can study their philosophy without seeing how lamentably they were hampered by enslavement to the popular phraseology, and by inferences founded on mere verbal analogy. At a time when neither dictionary nor grammar existed, a teacher who took care, even punctilious care, in fixing the meaning of important words of his discourse, must be considered as guiding the minds of his hearers in a salutary direction; salutary, we may add, even to Plato himself, whose speculations would most certainly have been improved by occasional hints from such a monitor.

Protagoras, too, is said to have been the first who discriminated and gave names to the various modes and forms of address — an analysis well-calculated to assist his lessons on right speaking, he appears also to have been the first who distinguished the three genders of noun. We hear further of a treatise which he wrote on wrestling—or most probably on gymnastics generally—as well as a collection of controversial dialogues. But his most celebrated treatise was one entitled “Truth,” seemingly on philosophy generally. Of this treatise we do not even know the general scope or purport. In one of his treatises he confessed his inability to satisfy himself about the existence of the gods, in these words—“Respecting the gods, I neither know whether they exist, nor what are their attributes : the uncertainty of the subject, the shortness of human life, and many other causes debar me from this knowledge”. That the believing public of Athens were seriously indignant at this passage, and that it caused the author to be threatened with prosecution and forced to quit Athens, we can perfectly understand, though there seems no sufficient proof of the tale that he was drowned in his outward voyage. But that modern historians of philosophy, who consider the Pagan gods to be fictions, and the religion to be repugnant to any reasonable mind, should concur in denouncing Protagoras on this ground as a corrupt man, is to me less intelligible. Xenophanes, and probably many other philosophers, had said the same thing before him. Nor is it easy to see what a superior man was to do, who could not adjust his standard of belief to such fictions; or what he could say, if he said anything, less than the words cited above from Protagoras; which appear, as far as we can appreciate them standing without the context, to be a brief mention, in modest and circumspect phrase, of the reason why he said nothing about the gods, in a treatise where the reader would expect to find much upon the subject. Certain it is that in the Platonic dialogue called “Protagoras,” that Sophist is introduced speaking about the gods exactly in the manner that any orthodox Pagan might naturally adopt.

The other fragment preserved of Protagoras relates to his view of the cognitive process, and of truth generally. He taught that “Man is the measure of all things, both of that which exists, and of that which does not exist”: a doctrine canvassed and controverted, by Plato, who represents that Protagoras affirmed knowledge to consist in sensation, and considered the sensations of each individual man to be, to him, the canon measure of truth. We know scarce anything of relative the elucidations or limitations with which Protagoras may have accompanied his general position: and if even Plato, who had good means of knowing them, felt it ungenerous to insult an orphan doctrine whose father was recently dead, and could no longer defend it—much more ought modern authors, who speak with mere scraps of evidence before them, to be cautious how they heap upon the same doctrine insults much beyond those which Plato recognizes. In so far as we can pretend to understand the theory, it was certainly not more incorrect than several others then afloat, from the Eleatic school and other philosophers; while it had the merit of bringing into forcible relief the essentially relative nature of cognition—relative, not indeed to the sensitive faculty alone, but to that reinforced and guided by the other faculties of man, memorial and ratiocinative. And had it been even more incorrect than it really is, there would be no warrant for those imputations which modern authors build upon it, against the morality of Protagoras. No such imputations are countenanced in the discussion which Plato devotes to the doctrine : indeed, if the vindication which he sets forth against himself on behalf of Protagoras be really ascribable to that Sophist, it would give an exaggerated importance to the distinction between Good and Evil, into which the distinction between Truth and Falsehood is considered by the Platonic Protagoras as resolvable. The subsequent theories of Plato and Aristotle respecting cognition were much more systematic and elaborate, the work of men greatly superior in speculative genius to Protagoras; but they would not have been what they were, had not Protagoras as well as others gone before them, with suggestions more partial and imperfect.

From Gorgias there remains one short essay, preserved in one of the Aristotelian or pseudo-Aristotelian treatises, on a metaphysical thesis. He professes to demonstrate that nothing exists: that if anything exist, it is unknowable : and granting it even to exist and to be knowable by any one man, he could never communicate it to others. The modern historians of philosophy here prefer the easier task of denouncing the scepticism of the Sophist, instead of performing the duty incumbent on them of explaining his thesis in immediate sequence with the speculations which preceded it. In our sense of the words, it is a monstrous paradox; but construing them in their legitimate filiation from the Eleatic philosophers immediately before him, it is a plausible, not to say conclusive, deduction from principles which they would have acknowledged. The word Existence, as they understood it, did not mean phenomenal, but ultra-phenomenal existence. They looked upon the phenomena of sense as always coming and going—as something essentially transitory, fluctuating, incapable of being surely known, and furnishing at best grounds only for conjecture. They searched by cogitation for what they presumed to be the really existent Something or Substance—the Noumenon, to use a Kantian phrase—lying behind or under the phenomena, which Noumenon they recognized as the only appropriate object of knowledge. They discussed much (as I have before remarked) whether it was One or Many— Noumenon in the singular, or Noumena in the plural. Now the thesis of Gorgias related to his ultra-phenomenal existence, and bore closely upon the arguments of Zeno and Melissus, the Eleatic reasoners of his elder contemporaries. He denied that any such ultra-phenomenal Something, or Noumenon, existed, or could be known, or could be described. Of this tripartite thesis, the first negation was neither more untenable nor less untenable than that of those philosophers who before him had argued for the affirmative: on the two last points his conclusions were neither paradoxical nor improperly sceptical, but perfectly just, and have been ratified by the gradual abandonment, either avowed or implied, of such ultra-phenomenal researches among the major part of philosophers. It may fairly be presumed that these doctrines were urged by Gorgias for the purpose of diverting his disciples from studies which he considered as unpromising and fruitless, just as we shall find his pupil Isokrates afterwards enforcing the same view, discouraging speculations of this nature, and recommending rhetorical exercise as preparation for the duties of an active citizen. Nor must we forget that Socrates himself discouraged physical speculations even more decidedly than either of them.

If the censures cast upon the alleged scepticism of Gorgias and Protagoras are partly without sufficient warrant—partly without any warrant at all—much more may the same remark be made respecting the graver reproaches heaped upon their teaching on the score of immorality or corruption. It has been common with recent German historians of philosophy to translate from Plato and dress up a fiend called “Die Sophistik” (Sophistic) ; whom they assert to have poisoned and demoralized by corrupt teaching, the Athenian  moral character, so that it became degenerate at the end of the Peloponnesian war, compared with what it had been in the time of Miltiades and Aristeides.

Now, in the first place, if the abstraction “Die Sophistik ” is to have any definite meaning, we ought to have proof that the persons styled Sophists had some doctrines, principles, or method, both common to them all and common distinguishing them from others. But such a supposition is untrue; there were no such common doctrines, or principles, or method belonging to them. Even the name by which they are known did not belong to them, any more than to Socrates and others; they had nothing in common except their profession as paid teachers, qualifying young men “to think, speak, and act” (these are the words of Isocrates, and better words it would not be easy to find) with credit to themselves as citizens. Moreover, such community of profession did not at that time imply so much analogy of character as it does now, when the path of teaching has been beaten into a broad and visible high road, with measured distances and stated intervals: Protagoras and Gorgias found predecessors indeed, but no binding precedents to copy; so that each struck out, more or less, a road of his own. And, accordingly, we find Plato, in his dialogue called “Protagoras,” wherein Protagoras, Prodicus, and Hippias are all introduced, imparting a distinct type of character and distinct method to each, not without a strong admixture of reciprocal jealousy between them; while Thrasymachus, in the “Republic,” and Euthydemus, in the dialogue so called, are again painted each with colours of his own, different from all the three above named. We do not know how far Gorgias agreed in the opinion of Protagoras—“Man is the measure of all things”: and we may infer, even from Plato himself, that Protagoras would have opposed the views expressed by Thrasymachus in the first book of the “Republic”. It is impossible, therefore, to predicate anything concerning doctrines, methods, or tendencies common and peculiar to all the Sophists. There were none such; nor has the abstract word—“Die Sophistik’’—any real meaning, except such qualities (whatever they may be) as are inseparable from the profession or occupation of public teaching. And if, at present, every candid critic would be ashamed to cast wholesale aspersions on the entire body of professional teachers, much more is such censure unbecoming in reference to the ancient Sophists, who were distinguished from each other by stronger individual peculiarities.

If, then, it were true that in the interval between 480 B.C. and the end of the Peloponnesian war a great moral deterioration had taken place in Athens and in Greece generally, we should have to search for some other cause than the imaginary abstraction called Sophistic. But—and this is the second point—the matter of fact here alleged is as untrue as the cause alleged is unreal. Athens, at the close of the Peloponnesian war, was not more corrupt than Athens in the days of Miltiades and Aristeides. If we revert to that earlier period, we shall find that scarcely any acts of the Athenian people have drawn upon them sharper censure (in my judgment, unmerited) than their treatment of these very two statesmen—the condemnation of Miltiades and the ostracism of Aristeides. In writing my history of that time, far from finding previous historians disposed to give the Athenians credit for public virtue, I have been compelled to contend against a body of adverse criticism, imputing to them gross ingratitude and injustice. Thus the contemporaries of Miltiades and Aristeides, when described as matter of present history, are presented in anything but flattering colours ; except their valour at Marathon and Salamis, which finds one unanimous voice of encomium. But when these same men have become numbered among the mingled recollections and fancies belonging to the past—when a future generation comes to be present, with its appropriate stock of complaint and denunciation —then it is that men find pleasure in dressing up the virtues of the past, as a count in the indictment against their own contemporaries. Aristophanes, writing during the Peloponnesian war, denounced the Demos of his day as degenerated from the virtue of that Demos which had surrounded Miltiades and Aristeides; while Isocrates, writing as an old man between 350—340 B.C., complains in like manner of his own time, boasting how much better the state of Athens had been in his youth : which period of his youth fell exactly during the life of Aristophanes, in the last half of the Peloponnesian war.

Such illusions ought to impose on no one without a careful comparison of facts; and most assuredly that comparison will not bear out the allegation of increased corruption and degeneracy, between the age of Miltiades and the end of the Peloponnesian war. Throughout the whole of Athenian history, there are no acts which attest be large a measure of virtue and judgment pervading the whole people, as the proceedings after the Four Hundred and after the Thirty. Nor do I believe that the contemporaries of Miltiades would have been capable of such heroism; for that appellation is by no means too large for the case. I doubt whether they would have been competent to the steady self-denial of retaining a large sum in reserve during the time of peace, both prior to the Peloponnesian war and after the peace of Nicias—or of keeping back the reserve fund of 1000 talents, while they were forced year after year to pay taxes for the support of the war—or of acting upon the prudent yet painfully trying policy recommended by Pericles, so as to sustain an annual invasion without either going out to fight or purchasing peace by ignominious concessions. If bad acts such as Athens committed during the later years of the war—for example, the massacre of the Melian population—were not done equally by the contemporaries of Miltiades, this did not arise from any superior humanity or principle on their part, but from the fact that they were not exposed to the like temptation, brought upon them by the possession of imperial power. The condemnation of the six generals after the battle of Arginusae, if we suppose the same conduct on their part to have occurred in 490 B.C., would have been decreed more rapidly and more unceremoniously than it was actually decreed in 406 B.C. For at that early date there existed no psephism of Kannonus, surrounded by prescriptive respect—no Graphs Paranomon—no such habits of established deference to a Dikastery solemnly sworn, with full notice to defendants and full time of defence measured by the water-glass—none of those securities which a long course of democracy had gradually worked into the public morality of every Athenian, and which (as we saw in a former chapter) interposed a serious barrier to the impulse of the moment, though ultimately overthrown by its fierceness. A far leas violent impulse would have sufficed for the same mischief in 490 B.C., when no such barriers existed. Lastly, if we want a measure of the appreciating sentiment of the Athenian public, towards a strict and decorous morality in the narrow sense, in the middle of the Peloponnesian war, we have only to consider the manner in which they dealt with Nicias. I have shown, in describing the Sicilian expedition, that the gravest error which the Athenians ever committed, power at home, arose from their unmeasured esteem for the respectable and pious Nicias which blinded them to the grossest defects of generalship and public conduct. Disastrous as such misjudgement was, it counts at least as a proof that the moral corruption; alleged to have been operated in their characters, is a mere fiction. Nor let it be supposed that the nerve and resolution which once animated the combatants of Marathon and Salamis had disappeared in the latter years of the Peloponnesian war. On the contrary, the energetic and protracted struggle of Athens, after the irreparable calamity at Syracuse, forms a worthy parallel to her resistance in the time of Xerxes, and maintained unabated that distinctive attribute which Pericles had set forth as the mam foundation of her glory—that of never giving way before misfortune. Without any disparagement to the armament at Salamis, we may remark that the patriotism of the fleet at Samos, which rescued Athens from the Four Hundred, was equally devoted and more intelligent; and that the burst of effort, which sent a subsequent fleer to victory at Arginusae, was to the full as strenuous.

If then we survey the eighty-seven years of Athenian history, between the battle of Marathon and the renovation of the democracy after the Thirty, we shall see no ground for the assertion, so often made, of increased and increasing moral and political corruption. It is my belief that the people had become both morally and politically better, and that their democracy had worked to their improvement. The remark made by Thucydides, on the occasion of the Corcyraean bloodshed—on the violent and reckless political antipathies, arising out of the confluence of external warfare with internal party-feud—wherever else it may find its application, has no bearing upon Athens : the proceedings after the Four Hundred and after the Thirty prove the contrary. And while Athens may thus be vindicated on the moral side, it is indisputable that her population had acquired a far larger range of ideas and capacities than they possessed at the tune of the battle of Marathon. This indeed is the very matter of fact deplored by Aristophanes, and admitted by those writers who, while denouncing the Sophists, connect such enlarged range of ideas with the dissemination of the pretended sophistical poison. In my judgment, not only the charge against the Sophists as poisoners, but even the existence of such poison in the Athenian system, deserves nothing less than an emphatic denial.

Let us examine again the names of these professional teachers, beginning with Prodicus, one of the most renowned. Who is there that has not read the well-known fable called “The Choice of Hercules,” which is to be found in every book professing to collect impressive illustrations of elementary morality? Who does not know that its express purpose is to kindle the imaginations of youth in favour of a life of labour for noble objects, and against a life of indulgence? It was the favourite theme on which Prodicus lectured, and on which he obtained the largest audience.  If it be of striking simplicity and effect even to a modern reader, how much more powerfully must it have worked upon the audience for whose belief it was specially adapted, when, set off by the oral expansions of its author!  Xenophon wondered that the Athenian Dikaste dealt with Socrates as a corrupter of youth; Isocrates wondered that a portion of the public made the like mistake about himself; and I confess my wonder to be not less, that not only Aristophanes, but even the modern writers on Grecian philosophy, should rank Prodicus in the same unenviable catalogue. This is the only composition remaining from him; indeed, the only composition remaining from any one of the Sophists, excepting the thesis of Gorgias above noticed. It serves not merely as a vindication of Prodicus against such reproach, but also as a warning against implicit confidence in the sarcastic remarks of Plato, which include Prodicus as well as the other Sophists, and in the doctrines which he puts into the mouth of the Sophists generally, in order that Socrates may confute them. The commonest candour would teach us that if a polemical writer of dialogue chooses to put indefensible doctrine into the mouth of the opponent, we ought to be cautious of condemning the latter upon such very dubious proof.

Weicker and other modern authors treat Prodicus as “the most innocent” of the Sophists, and except him from the sentence which they pass upon the class generally. Let us see, therefore, what Plato himself says about the rest of them, and first about Protagoras. If it were not the established practice with readers of Plato to condemn Protagoras beforehand, and to put upon every passage relating to him not only a sense as bad as it will bear, but much worse than it will fairly bear, they would probably carry away very different inferences from the Platonic dialogue called by that Sophist’s name, and in which he is made to bear a chief part. That dialogue is itself enough to prove that Plato did not conceive Protagoras either as a corrupt, or unworthy, or incompetent teacher. The course of the dialogue exhibits him as not master of the theory of ethics, and unable to solve various difficulties with which that theory is expected to grapple; moreover, as no match for Socrates in dialectics, which Plato considered as the only efficient method of philosophical investigation. In so far, therefore, as imperfect acquaintance with the science or theory upon which rules of art, or the precepts bearing on practice, repose, disqualifies a teacher from giving instruction in such art or practice, to that extent Protagoras is exposed as wanting. And if an expert dialectician like Plato had passed Isokrates or Quintilian, or the large majority of teachers past or present, through a similar cross-examination as to the theory of their teaching, an ignorance not less manifest than that of Protagoras would be brought out. The antithesis which Plato sets forth, in so many of his dialogues, between precept or practice, accompanied by full knowledge of the scientific principles from which it must be deduced, if its rectitude be disputed, and unscientific practice, without any such power of deduction or defence, is one of the most valuable portions of his speculations; he exhausts his genius to render it conspicuous in a thousand indirect ways, and to shame his readers, if possible, into the loftier and more rational walk of thought. But it is one thing to say of a man that he does not know the theory of what he teaches or of the way in which he teaches; it is another thing to say that he actually teaches that which scientific theory would not prescribe as the best; it is a third thing, graver than both, to say that his teaching is not only below the exigences of science, but even corrupt and demoralizing. Now, of these three points it is the first only which Plato in his dialogue makes out against Protagoras; even the second, he neither affirms nor insinuates; and as to the third, not only he never glances at it, even indirectly, but the whole tendency of the discourse suggests a directly contrary conclusion. As if sensible that when an eminent opponent was to be depicted as puzzled and irritated by superior dialectics, it was but common fairness to set forth his distinctive merits also, Plato gives a fable, and expository harangue, from the mouth of Protagoras, upon the question whether virtue is teachable. This harangue is, in my judgment, very striking and instructive; and so it would have been probably accounted, if commentators had not read it with a pre-established persuasion that whatever came from the lips of a Sophist must be either ridiculous or immoral. It is the only part of Plato’s works wherein any account is rendered of the growth of that floating, uncertified, self-propagating body of opinion upon which the cross-examining analysis of Socrates is brought to bear, as will be seen in the following chapter.

Protagoras professes to teach his pupils “good counsel” in their domestic and family relations, as well as how to speak and act in the most effective manner for the weal of the city. Since this comes from Protagoras, the commentators of Plato pronounce it to be miserable morality; but it coincides, almost to the letter, with that which Isokrates describes himself as teaching, a generation afterwards, and substantially even with that which Xenophon represents Socrates as teaching; nor is it easy to set forth, in a few words, a larger scheme of practical duty. And if the measure of practical duty, which Protagoras devoted himself to teach, was thus serious and extensive, even the fraction of theory assigned to him in his harangue includes some points better than that of Plato himself. For Plato seems to have conceived the Ethical End, to each individual, as comprising nothing more than his own permanent happiness and moral health; and in this very dialogue he introduces Socrates as maintaining virtue to consist only in a right calculation of a man’s own personal happiness and misery. But here we find Protagoras speaking in a way which implies a larger, and in my opinion a juster, appreciation of the Ethical End, as including not only reference to a man’s own happiness, but also obligations towards the happiness of others. Without at all agreeing in the harsh terms of censure which various critics pronounce upon that theory which Socrates is made to set forth in the Platonic Protagoras, I consider his conception of the Ethical End essentially narrow and imperfect, not capable of being made to serve as basis for deduction of the best ethical precepts. Yet such is the prejudice with which the history of the Sophists has been written, that the commentators on Plato accuse the Sophists of having originated what they ignorantly term “the base theory of utility,” here propounded by Socrates himself; complimenting the latter on having set forth those larger views which in this dialogue belong only to Protagoras.

So far as concerns Protagoras, therefore, the evidence of Plato himself may be produced to show that he was not a corrupt teacher, but a worthy companion of Prodicus; worthy also of that which we know him to have enjoyed—the society and conversation of Pericles. Let us now examine what Plato says about a third Sophist— Hippias of Elis; who figures both in the dialogue called “Protagoras,” and in two distinct dialogues known by the titles of  Hippias Major and Minor”. Hippias is represented as distinguished for the wide range of his accomplishments, of which in these dialogues he ostentatiously boasts. He could teach astronomy, geometry, and arithmetic—which subjects Protagoras censured him for enforcing too much upon his pupils; so little did these Sophists agree in any one scheme of doctrine or education. Besides this, he was a poet, a musician, an expositor of the poets, and a lecturer with a large stock of composed matter—on subjects moral, political, and even legendary—treasured up in a very retentive memory. He was a citizen much employed as envoy by his fellow-citizens: to crown all, his manual dexterity was such that he professed to have made with his own hands all the attire and ornaments which he wore on his person. If, as is sufficiently probable, he was a vain and ostentatious man—defects not excluding an useful and honourable career—we must at the same time give him credit for a variety of acquisitions such as to explain a certain measure of vanity. The style in which Plato handles Hippias is very different from that in which he treats Protagoras. It is full of sneer and contemptuous banter, insomuch that even Stallbaum, after having repeated a great many times that this was a vile Sophist who deserved no better treatment, is forced to admit that the petulance is carried rather too far, and to suggest that the dialogue must have been a juvenile work of Plato. Be this as it may, amidst so much unfriendly handling, not only we find no imputation against Hippias of having preached a low or corrupt morality, but Plato inserts that which furnishes good, though indirect, proof of the contrary. For Hippias is made to say that he had already delivered, and was about to deliver again, a lecture composed by himself with great care, wherein he enlarged upon the aims and pursuits which a young man ought to follow. The scheme of his discourse was, that after the capture of Troy the youthful Neoptolemus was introduced as asking the advice of Nestor about his own future conduct; in reply to which, Nestor sets forth to him what was the plan of life incumbent on a young man of honourable aspirations, and unfolds to him the full details of regulated and virtuous conduct by which it ought to be filled up. The selection of two such names, among the most venerated in all Grecian legend, as monitor and pupil, is a stamp clearly attesting the vein of sentiment which animated the composition. Morality preached by Nestor for the edification of Neoptolemus might possibly be too high for Athenian practice; but most certainly it would not err on the side of corruption, selfishness, or over-indulgence. We may fairly presume that this discourse composed by Hippias would not be unworthy, in spirit and purpose, to be placed by the side of “The Choice of Hercules,” nor its author by that of Prodicus as a moral teacher.

The dialogue entitled “Gorgias” in Plato is carried on by Socrates with three different persons one after the other—Gorgias, Polus, and Kallicles. Gorgias (of Leontini in Sicily), as a rhetorical teacher, acquired greater celebrity than any man of his time during the Peloponnesian war; his abundant powers of illustration, his florid ornaments, his artificial structure of sentences distributed into exact antithetical fractions,—all spread a new fashion in the art of speaking, which for the time was very popular, but afterwards became discredited. If the line could be clearly drawn between rhetors and sophists, Gorgias ought rather to be ranked with the former. In the conversation with Gorgias, Socrates exposes the fallacy and imposture of rhetoric and rhetorical teaching, as cheating an ignorant audience into persuasion without knowledge, and as framed to satisfy the passing caprice, without any regard to the permanent welfare and improvement of the people. Whatever real inculpation may be conveyed in these arguments against a rhetorical teacher, Gorgias must bear in common with Isocrates and Quintilian, and under the shield of Aristotle. But save and except rhetorical teaching, no dissemination of corrupt morality is ascribed to him by Plato, who indeed treats him with a degree of respect which surprises the commentators.

The tone of the dialogue changes materially when it passes to Polus and Kallicles, the former of whom is described as a writer on rhetoric, and probably a teacher also. There is much insolence in Polus, and no small asperity in Socrates. Yet the former maintains no arguments which justify the charge of immorality against himself or his fellow-teachers. He defends the tastes and sentiments common to every man in Greece, and shared even by the most estimable Athenians—Pericles, Nicias, and Aristocrates, while Socrates prides himself on standing absolutely alone, and having no support except from his irresistible dialectics, whereby he is sure of extorting reluctant admission from his adversary. How far Socrates may be right I do not now inquire. It is sufficient that Polus, standing as he does amidst company at once so numerous and so irreproachable, cannot be fairly denounced as a poisoner of the youthful mind.

Polus presently hands over the dialogue to Kallicles, who is here represented, doubtless, as laying down doctrines openly and avowedly antisocial. He distinguishes between the law of nature and the law (both written. and unwritten, for the Greek word substantially includes both) of society. According to the law of nature (Kallicles says) the strong man—the better or more capable man—puts forth his strength to the full, for his own advantage, without limit or restraint; overcomes the resistance which weaker men are able to offer; and seizes for himself as much as he pleases of the matter of enjoyment. He has no occasion to restrain any of his appetites or desires—the more numerous and pressing they are, so much the better for him—since his power affords him the means of satiating them all. The many, who have the misfortune to be weak, must be content with that which he leaves them, and submit to it as best they can. This (Kallicles says) is what actually happens in a state of nature ; this is what is accounted just, as is evident by the practice of independent communities, not included in one common political society, towards each other; this is justice, by nature, or according to the law of nature. But when men come into society, all this is reversed. The majority of individuals know very well that they are weak, and that their only chance of security or comfort consists in establishing laws to restrain the strong man, reinforced by a moral sanction of praise and blame devoted to the same general end. They catch him like a young lion whilst his mind is yet tender, and fascinate him by talk and training into a disposition conformable to that measure and equality which the law enjoins. Here, then, is justice according to the law of society: a factitious system built up by the many for their own protection and happiness, to the subversion of the law of nature, which arms the strong man with a right to encroachment and licence. Let a fair opportunity occur, and the favourite of nature will be seen to kick off his harness, tread down the laws, break through the magic circle of opinion around him, and stand forth again as lord and master of the many; regaining that glorious position which nature has assigned to him as his right. Justice by nature and justice by law and society are thus, according to Kallicles, not only distinct, but mutually contradictory. He accuses Socrates of having jumbled the two together in his argument.

It has been contended by many authors that this anti-social reasoning (true enough, in so far it states simple matter of fact and probability; immoral, in so far as it erects the power of the strong man into a right; and inviting many comments, if I could find a convenient place for them) represents the morality commonly and publicly taught by the persons called Sophists at Athens. I deny this assertion emphatically. Even if I had no other evidence to sustain my denial, except what has been already extracted from the unfriendly writings of Plato himself, respecting Protagoras and Hippias, with what we know from Xenophon about Prodicus, I should consider my case made out as vindicating the Sophists generally from such an accusation. If refutation to the doctrine of Kallicles were needed, it would be obtained quite as efficaciously from Prodicus and Protagoras as from Sokrates and Plato.

But this is not the strongest part of the vindication.

First, Kallicles himself is not a Sophist, nor represented by Plato as such. He is a young Athenian citizen, of rank and station, belonging to the deme Acharnae; he is intimate with other young men of condition in the city, has recently entered into active political life, and bends his whole soul towards it; he disparages philosophy, and speaks with utter contempt about the Sophists. If, then, it were even just (which I do not admit) to infer from opinions put into the mouth of one Sophist that the same were held by another or by all of them, it would not be the less unjust to draw the like inference from opinions professed by one who is not a Sophist, and who despises the whole profession.

Secondly, if any man will read attentively the course of the dialogue, he will see that the doctrine of Kallicles is such as no one dared publicly to propound. So it is conceived both by Kallicles himself and by Socrates. The former first takes up the conversation by saying that his predecessor Polus had become entangled in a public contradiction, because he had not courage enough openly to announce an unpopular and odious doctrine; but he (Kallicles) was less shamefaced, and would speak out boldly that doctrine which others kept to themselves for fear of shocking the hearers. “Certainly (says Sokrates to him) your audacity is abundantly shown by the doctrine which you have just laid down—you set forth plainly that which other people think, but do not choose to utter.” Now, opinions of which Polus, an insolent young man, was afraid to proclaim himself the champion, must have been revolting indeed to the sentiments of hearers. How then can any reasonable man believe that such opinions were not only openly propounded, but seriously inculcated as truth upon audiences of youthful hearers by the Sophists? We know that the teaching of the latter was public in the highest degree ; publicity was pleasing as well as profitable to them; among the many disparaging epithets heaped upon them, ostentation and vanity are two of the most conspicuous. Whatever they taught, they taught publicly; and I contend, with full conviction, that had they even agreed with Kallicles in this opinion, they could neither have been sufficiently audacious, nor sufficiently their own enemies, to make it a part of their public teaching, but would have acted like Polus, and kept the doctrine to themselves.

Thirdly, this latter conclusion will be rendered doubly certain, when we consider of what city we are now speaking. Of all places in the world, the democratical Athens is the last in which the doctrine advanced by Kallicles could possibly have been professed by a public teacher, or even by Kallicles himself in any public meeting. It is unnecessary to remind the reader how profoundly democratical was the sentiment and morality of the Athenians—how much they loved their laws, their constitution, and their political equality—how jealous their apprehension was of any nascent or threatening despotism. All this is not simply admitted, but even exaggerated, by Mr. Mitford, Wachsmuth, and other anti-democratical writers, who often draw from it materials for their abundant censures. Now the very point which Sokrates (in this dialogue called “Gorgias”) seeks to establish against Kallicles, against the Rhetors, and against the Sophists, is that they courted, flattered, and truckled to the sentiment of the Athenian people, with degrading subservience; that they looked to the immediate gratification simply, and not to permanent moral improvement of the people—that they had not courage to address to them any unpalatable truths, however salutary, but would shift and modify opinions in every way so as to escape giving offence—that no man who put himself prominently forward at Athens had any chance of success, unless he became moulded and assimilated, from the core, to the people and their type of sentiment. Granting such charges to be true, how is it conceivable that any Sophist or any Rhetor could venture to enforce upon an Athenian public audience the doctrine laid down by Kallicles? To tell such audience—“Your laws and institutions are all violations of the law of nature, contrived to disappoint the Alkibiades or Napoleon among you of his natural right to become your master, and to deal with you petty men as his slaves. All your unnatural precautions and conventional talk, in favour of legality and equal dealing, will turn out to be nothing better than pitiful impotence, as soon as he finds a good opportunity of standing forward in his full might and energy—so as to put you into your proper places, and show you what privileges Nature intends for her favourite!’’. Conceive such a doctrine propounded by a lecturer to assembled Athenians!—a doctrine just as revolting to Nicias as to Cleon, and which even Alcibiades would be forced to affect to disapprove; since it is not simply anti-popular—not simply despotic—but the drunken extravagance of despotism. The Great man as depicted by Kallicles stands m the same relation to ordinary mortals as Jonathan Wild the Great in the admirable parody of Fielding.

That Sophists, whom Plato accuses of slavish flattery to the democratical ear, should gratuitously insult it by the proposition of such tenets, is an assertion not merely untrue, but utterly absurd. Even as to Sokrates, we know from Xenophon how much the Athenians were offended with him, and how much it was urged by the accusers on his trial, that in his conversations he was wont to cite with peculiar relish the description (in the second book of the Iliad) of Odysseus following the Grecian crowd when running away from the agora to get on shipboard, and prevailing upon them to come back—by gentle words addressed to the chiefs, but by blows of his stick, accompanied with contemptuous reprimand, to the common people. The indirect evidence thus afforded that Sokrates countenanced unequal dealing and ill-usage towards the Many told much against him in the minds of the Dikasts. What would they have felt then towards a Sophist who publicly professed the political morality of Kallicles? The truth is, not only was it impossible that any such morality, or anything of the same type even much diluted, could find its way into the educational lectures of professors at Athens, but the fear would be in the opposite direction. If the Sophist erred in either way, it would be in that which Socrates imputes—by making his lectures over-democratical. Nay, if we suppose any opportunity to have arisen of discussing the doctrine of Kallicles, he would hardly omit to flatter the ears of the surrounding democrats by enhancing the beneficent results of legality and equal dealing, and by denouncing this “natural despot” or undisclosed Napoleon as one who must either take his place under such restraints, or find a place in some other city.

I have thus shown, even from Plato himself, that the doctrine ascribed to Kallicles neither did enter, nor could have entered, into the lectures of a Sophist or .professed teacher. The same conclusion may be maintained respecting the doctrine of Thrasymachus in the first book of the “Republic”. Thrasymachus was a rhetorical teacher, who had devised precepts respecting the construction of an oration and the training of young men for public speaking. It is most probable that he confined himself, like Gorgias, to this department, and that he did not profess to give moral lectures, like Protagoras and Prodicus. But granting him to have given such, he would not talk about justice in the way in which Plato makes him talk, if he desired to give any satisfaction to an Athenian audience. The mere brutality and ferocious impudence of demeanour, even to exaggeration, with which Plato invests him, is in itself a strong proof that the doctrine, ushered in with such a preface, was not that of a popular and acceptable teacher, winning favour in public audiences. He defines justice to be “the interest of the superior power; that rule which, in every society, the dominant power prescribes as being for its own advantage”. A man is just (he says) for the advantage of another, not for his own : he is weak, cannot help himself, and must submit to that which the stronger authority, whether despot, oligarchy, or commonwealth, commands.

The theory is essentially different from the doctrine of Kallicles, as set forth a few pages back; for Thrasymachus does not travel out of society to insist upon anterior rights dating from a supposed state of nature—he takes societies as he finds them, recognizing the actual governing authority of each as the canon and it is the constituent of justice or injustice. Stallbaum and other writers have incautiously treated the two theories as they were the same; and with something even worse than want of caution, while they pronounce the theory of Thrasymachus to be detestably immoral, announce it as having been propounded not by him only, but by The Sophists—thus, in their usual style, dealing with the Sophists as if they were a school, sect, or partnership with mutual responsibility. Whoever has followed the evidence which I have produced respecting Protagoras and Prodicus will know how differently these latter handled the question of justice.

But the truth is that the theory of Thrasymachus, though incorrect and defective, is not so detestable as these writers represent. What makes it seem detestable is the style and manner in which he is made to put it forward, which causes the just man to appear petty and contemptible, while it surrounds the unjust man with enviable attributes. Now this is precisely the circumstance which revolts the common sentiments of mankind, as it revolts also the critics who read what is said by Thrasymachus. The moral sentiments exist in men’s minds in complex and powerful groups, associated with some large, words and emphatic forms of speech. Whether an ethical theory satisfies the exigences of reason, or commands and answers to all the phenomena, a common audience will seldom give themselves the trouble to consider with attention; but what they imperiously exact, and what is indispensable to give the theory any chance of success, is that it shall exhibit to their feelings the just man as respectable and dignified, and the unjust man as odious and repulsive. Now that which offends in the language ascribed to Thrasymachus is, not merely the absence, but the reversal, of this condition—the presentation of the just man as weak and silly, and of injustice in all the prestige of triumph and dignity. And for this very reason I venture to infer that such a theory was never propounded by Thrasymachus to any public audience in the form in which it appears in Plato. For Thrasymachus was a rhetor, who had studied the principles of his art: now we know that these common sentiments of an audience were precisely what the rhetors best understood, and always strove to conciliate. Even from the time of Gorgias, they began the practice of composing beforehand declamations upon the general heads of morality, which were ready to be introduced into actual speeches as occasion presented itself, and in which appeal was made to the moral sentiments foreknown as common, with more or less of modification, to all the Grecian assemblies. The real Thrasymachus, addressing any audience at Athens, would never have wounded these sentiments, as the Platonic Thrasymachus is made to do in the “Republic . Least of all would he have done this, if it be true of him, as Plato asserts of the Rhetors and Sophists generally, that they thought about nothing but courting popularity, without any sincerity of conviction.

Though Plato thinks fit to bring out the opinion of Thrasymachus with accessories unnecessarily offensive, and thus to enhance the dialectical triumph of Sokrates by the brutal manners of the adversary, he was well afterwards aware that he had not done justice to the opinion itself, much less confuted it. The proof of this is, that in the second book of the “Republic,” after Thrasymachus has disappeared, the very same opinion is taken up by Glaukon and Adeimantus, and set forth by both of them (though they disclaim entertaining it as their own), as suggesting grave doubts and difficulties which they desire to hear solved by Socrates. Those who read attentively the discourses of Glaukon and Adeimantus will see that the substantive opinion ascribed to Thrasymachus, apart from the brutality with which he is made to state it, does not even countenance the charge of immoral teaching against him—much less against the Sophists generally. Hardly anything in Plato’s compositions is more powerful than those discourses. They present, in a perspicuous and forcible manner, some of the most serious difficulties with which ethical theory is required to grapple. And Plato can answer them only in one way—by taking society to pieces and reconstructing it in the form of his imaginary republic. The speeches of Glaukon and Adeimantus form the immediate preface to the striking and elaborate description which he goes through, of his new state of society, nor do they receive any other answer than what is applied in that description. Plato indirectly confesses that he cannot answer them, assuming social institutions to continue unreformed ; and his reform is sufficiently fundamental.

I call particular attention to this circumstance, without which we cannot fairly estimate the Sophists, or practical teachers of Athens, face to face with their accuser-general—Plato. He was a great and systematic theorist, whose opinions on ethics, politics, cognition, religion, &c., were all wrought into harmony by his own mind, and stamped with that peculiarity which is the mark of an original intellect. So splendid an effort of speculative genius is among the marvels of poets and the Grecian world. His dissent from all the societies which he saw around him, not merely democratical, but oligarchical and despotic also, was of the deepest and most radical character. Nor did he delude himself by the belief that any partial amendment of that which he saw around could bring about the end which he desired : he looked to nothing short of a new genesis of the man and the citizen, with institutions calculated from the beginning to work out the full measure of perfectibility. His fertile scientific imagination realized this idea in the “Republic”. But that very systematic and original character, which lends so much value and charm to the substantive speculations of Plato, counts as a deduction from his trustworthiness as critic or witness, in reference to the living agents whom he saw at work in Athens and other cities, as statesmen, generals, or teachers. His criticisms are dictated by his own point of view, according to which the entire society was corrupt, and all the instruments who carried on its functions were of essentially base metal. Whoever will read either the “Gorgias” or the “Republic” will see in how sweeping and indiscriminate a manner he passes his sentence of condemnation. Not only all the Sophists and all the Rhetors, but all the musicians and dithyrambic or tragic poets—all the statesmen, past as well as present, not excepting even the great Periclesreceive from his hands one common stamp of dishonour. Every one of these men is numbered by Plato among the numerous category of flatterers, who minister to the immediate gratification and to the desires of the people, without looking to their permanent improvement or making them morally better. “Pericles and Cimon (says Socrates in the “Gorgias”) are nothing but servants or ministers who supply the immediate appetites and tastes of the people; just as the baker and the confectioner do in their respective departments, without knowing or caring whether the food will do any real good—a point which the physician alone can determine. As ministers, they are clever enough: they have provided the city amply with tribute, walls, docks, ships, and such other follies: but I (Socrates) am the only man in Athens who aim, so far as my strength permits, at the true purpose of politics—the mental improvement of the people.” So wholesale a condemnation betrays itself as the offspring, and the consistent offspring, of systematic peculiarity of vision—the prejudice of a great and able mind.

It would be not less unjust to appreciate the Sophists or the it is unjust statesmen of Athens from the point of view of Plato, than the present teachers and politicians of England or France from that of Mr. Owen or Fourier. Both the one and the other class laboured for society as it stood at Athens : the statesmen carried on the business of practical politics, the Sophist trained up youth for practical life in all its departments, as family men, citizens, and leaders, to obey as well as to command. Both accepted the system as it stood without contemplating the possibility of a new birth of society; both ministered to certain exigences, held their anchorage upon certain sentiments, and bowed to a certain morality, actually felt among the living men around them. That which Plato says of the statesmen of Athens is perfectly true—that they were only servants or ministers of the people. He who tried the people and the entire society by comparison with an imaginary standard of his own might deem all these ministers worthless in the lump, as carrying on a system too bad to be mended; but nevertheless the difference between a competent and an incompetent minister—between Pericles and Nicias—was of unspeakable moment to the security and happiness of the Athenians. What the Sophists on their part undertook was to educate young men so as to make them better qualified for statesmen or ministers; and Protagoras would have thought it sufficient honour to himself, as well as sufficient benefit to Athens, which assuredly it would have been, if he could have inspired any young Athenian with the soul and the capacities of his friend and companion Pericles.

So far is Plato from considering the Sophists as the corrupters of Athenian morality, that he distinctly protests against that supposition, in a remarkable passage of the “Republic”. It is (he says) the whole people, or the society, with its established morality, intelligence, and tone of sentiment, which is intrinsically vicious : the teachers of such a society must be vicious also, otherwise their teaching would not be received; and even if their private teaching were ever so good, its effect would be washed away, except in some few privileged natures, by the overwhelming deluge of pernicious social influences. Nor let any one imagine (as modern readers are but too ready to understand it) that this poignant censure is intended for Athens so far forth as a democracy. Plato was not the man to preach king-worship, or wealth-worship as social or political remedies: he declares emphatically that not one of the societies then existing was such that a truly philosophical nature could be engaged in active functions under it. These passages would be alone sufficient to repel the assertions of those who denounce the Sophists as poisoners of Athenian morality, on the alleged authority of Plato.

Nor is it at all more true that they were men of mere words, and made their pupils no better—a charge just as vehemently pressed against Socrates as against the Sophists, and by the same class of enemies, such as Anytus, Aristophanes, Eupolis, &c. It was mainly from Sophists like Hippias that the Athenian youth learnt what they knew of geometry, astronomy, and arithmetic; but the range of what is called special science, possessed even by the teacher, was at that time very limited; and the matter of instruction communicated was expressed under the general title of “Words or Discourses,” which were always taught by the Sophists, in connexion with thought and in reference to a practical use. The capacities of thought, speech, and action are conceived in conjunction by Greeks generally, and by teachers like Isocrates and Quintilian especially ; and when young men in Greece, like the Boeotian Proxenus, put themselves under training by Gorgias or any other Sophist, it was with a view of qualifying themselves, not merely to speak, but to act.

Most of the pupils of the Sophists (as of Sokrates himself) were young men of wealth—a fact at which Plato sneers, and others copy him, as if it proved that they cared only about high pay. But I do not hesitate to range myself on the side of Isocrates, and to contend that the Sophist himself had much to lose by corrupting his pupils (an argument used by Socrates in defending himself before the Dikastery, and just as good effect valid in defence of Protagoras or Prodicus) and strong personal interest in sending them forth accomplished and virtuous; that the best taught youth were decidedly the most free from crime, and the most active towards good ; that among the valuable ideas and feelings which a young Athenian had in his mind, as well as among the good pursuits which he followed, those which he learnt from the Sophists counted nearly as the best; that if the contrary had been the fact, fathers would not have continued so to send their sons and pay their money. It was not merely that these teachers countervailed in port the temptations to dissipated enjoyment, but also that they were personally unconcerned in the acrimonious slander and warfare of party in his native city; that the topics with which they familiarized him were the general interests and duties of men and citizens; that they developed the germs of morality in the ancient legends (as in Prodicus’s fable), and amplified in his mind all the undefined cluster of associations connected with the great words of morality; that they vivified in him the sentiment of Pan-hellenic brotherhood; and that in teaching him the art of persuasion, they could not but make him feel the dependence in which he stood towards those who were to be persuaded, together with the necessity under which he lay of so conducting himself as to conciliate their goodwill.

The intimations given in Plato of the enthusiastic reception which Protagoras, Prodicus, and other Sophists met with in the various cities; the description which we read (in the dialogue called Protagoras) of the impatience of the youthful Hippocrates, on healing of the arrival of that Sophist, insomuch that he awakens Socrates before daylight, in order to obtain an introduction to the newcomer and profit by his teaching; the readiness of such rich young men to pay money, and to devote time and trouble for the purpose of acquiring a personal superiority apart from their wealth and station; the ardour with which Kallias is represented as employing his house for the hospitable entertainment, and his fortune for the aid of the Sophists all this makes upon my mind an impression directly the reverse of that ironical and contemptuous phraseology with which it is set forth by Plato. Such Sophists had nothing to recommend them except superior knowledge and intellectual force, combined with an imposing personality, making itself felt in their lectures and conversation. It is to this that the admiration was shown; and the fact that it was so shown brings to view the best attributes of the Greek, especially the Athenian mind. It exhibits those qualities of which Pericles made emphatic boast in his celebrated funeral oration—conception of public speech as a practical thing, not meant as an excuse for inaction, but combined with energetic action, and turning it to good account by full and open discussion beforehand—profound sensibility to the charm of manifested intellect, without enervating the powers of execution or endurance. Assuredly a man like Protagoras, arriving in a city with all his train of admiration laid before him, must have known very little of his own interest or position if he began to preach a low or corrupt morality. If it be true generally, as Voltaire has remarked, that “any man who should come to preach a relaxed morality would be pelted”, much more would it be true of a Sophist like Protagoras, arriving in a foreign city with all the prestige of a great intellectual name, and with the imagination of youths on fire to hear and converse with him, that any similar doctrine would destroy his reputation at once. Numbers oi teachers have made their reputation by inculcating overstrained asceticism ; it will be hard to find an example of success in the opposite vein.