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Democritus

This webpage reproduces one of the
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

by
Diogenes Laërtius

published in the Loeb Classical Library, 1925

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
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Diogenes of Apollonia

(Vol. II) Diogenes Laërtius
Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

Book IX

 p463  Chapter 8
Protagoras (481‑411 B.C.)

[link to original Greek text] 50 Protagoras, son of Artemon or, according to Apollodorus and Dinon in the fifth book of his History of Persia, of Maeandrius, was born at Abdera (so says Heracleides of Pontus in his treatise On Laws, and also that he made laws for Thurii) or, according to Eupolis in his Flatterers, at Teos; for the latter says:

Inside we've got Protagoras of Teos.

He and Prodicus of Ceos gave public readings for which fees were charged, and Plato in the Protagoras1 calls Prodicus deep-voiced. Protagoras studied under Democritus. The latter2 was nicknamed "Wisdom," according to Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History.

[link to original Greek text] 51 Protagoras was the first to maintain that there are two sides to every question, opposed to each other, and he even argued in this fashion, being the first to do so. Furthermore he began a work thus: "Man is the measure of all things, of things that are that they are, and of things that are not that they  p465 are not." He used to say that soul was nothing apart from the senses, as we learn from Plato in the Theaetetus,3 and that everything is true. In another work he began thus: "As to the gods, I have no means of knowing either that they exist or that they do not exist. For many are the obstacles that impede knowledge, both the obscurity of the question and the shortness of human life." [link to original Greek text] 52 For this introduction to his book the Athenians expelled him; and they burnt his works in the market-place, after sending round a herald to collect them from all who had copies in their possession.

He was the first to exact a fee of a hundred minae and the first to distinguish the tenses of verbs, to emphasize the importance of seizing the right moment, to institute contests in debating, and to teach rival pleaders the tricks of their trade. Furthermore, in his dialectic he neglected the meaning in favour of verbal quibbling, and he was the father of the whole tribe of eristical disputants now so much in evidence; insomuch that Timon4 too speaks of him as5

Protagoras, all mankind's epitome,

Cunning, I trow, to war with words.

[link to original Greek text] 53 He too first introduced the method of discussion which is called Socratic. Again, as we learn from Plato in the Euthydemus,6 he was the first to use in discussion the argument of Antisthenes which strives to prove that contradiction is impossible, and the first to point out how to attack and refute any proposition laid down: so Artemidorus the dialectician in his treatise In Reply to Chrysippus. He too invented the shoulder‑pad on which porters carry their burdens, so we are told by Aristotle in his treatise On Education; for he himself had been a porter,  p467 says Epicurus somewhere.7 This was how he was taken up by Democritus, who saw how skilfully his bundles of wood were tied. He was the first to mark off the parts of discourse into four, namely, wish, question, answer, command;8 [link to original Greek text] 54 others divide into seven parts, narration, question, answer, command, rehearsal, wish, summoning; these he called the basic forms of speech. Alcidamas made discourse fourfold affirmation, negation, question, address.

The first of his books he read in public was that On the Gods, the introduction to which we quoted above; he read it at Athens in Euripides' house, or, as some say, in Megaclides'; others again make the place the Lyceum and the reader his disciple Archagoras, Theodotus's son, who gave him the benefit of his voice. His accuser was Pythodorus, son of Polyzelus, one of the four hundred; Aristotle, however, says it was Euathlus.

[link to original Greek text] 55 The works of his which survive are these:

* * Of Wrestling.

On Mathematics.

Of the State.

Of Ambition.

Of Virtues.

On the Ancient Order of Things.

On the Dwellers in Hades.

Of the Misdeeds of Mankind.

A Book of Precepts.

Of Forensic Speech for a Fee, two books of opposing arguments.

This is the list of his works.9 Moreover there is a dialogue which Plato wrote upon him.

 p469  Philochorus says that, when he was on a voyage to Sicily, his ship went down, and that Euripides hints at this in his Ixion. According to some his death occurred, when he was on a journey, at nearly ninety years of age, [link to original Greek text] 56 though Apollodorus makes his age seventy, assigns forty years for his career as a sophist, and puts his floruit in the 84th Olympiad.10

There is an epigram of my own on him as follows:11

Protagoras, I hear it told of thee

Thou died'st in eld when Athens thou didst flee:

Cecrops' town chose to banish thee; but though

Thou 'scap'dst Athene, not so Hell below.

The story is told that once, when he asked Euathlus his disciple for his fee, the latter replied, "But I have not won a case yet." "Nay," said Protagoras, "if I win this case against you I must have the fee, for winning it; if you win, I must have it, because you win it."

There was another Protagoras, an astronomer, for whom Euphorion wrote a dirge; and a third who was a Stoic philosopher.


The Loeb Editor's Notes:

1 316A.

2 Cf. Clem. Strom. VI.32, and Suidas, s.v. Δημόκριτος.

3 152A sq.

4 Fr. 47 D.

5 Cf. Il. XV.679.

6 286C.

7 Sc. in an epistle, Περὶ ἐπιτηδευμάτων, cf. Athen. VIII.354C.

8 This answers roughly to the optative, the indicative, and the imperative.

9 That the list is defective is evident from the fact that the two works by which Protagoras is best known (supra, §§ 5154) are not here named.

10 444‑441 B.C.

11 Anth. Pal. VII.130.


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