Saturday, July 9, 2016

2 ‘Being together’ in Plato’s Protagoras

Socrates: ‘When we got to the doorway (epeidȇ en tȏi prothurȏi egenometha) [of Callias’ house], we stood there (epistantes) talking about some subject (peri tinos logou dielegometha) which had come up on the way (hos hȇmin kata tȇn hodon enepesen). As we didn’t want to break off the discussion, but preferred to reach a conclusion and then go in (hin’ oun mȇ atelȇs genoito, alla diaperanamenoi houtȏs eisioimen), we stood in the doorway (stantes en tȏi prothurȏi) talking (dielegometha) until we reached agreement (heȏs sunȏmologȇsamen allȇlois). I think (dokei oun moi) that the porter (ho thurȏros), a eunuch (eunouchos tis), must have overheard us (katȇkouen hȇmȏn), and perhaps he was annoyed at the throngs of people that the number of sophists was bringing (kinduneuei de dia to plȇthos tȏn sophistȏn achthesthai tois phoitȏsin) to the house (eis tȇn oikian). At any rate, when we knocked at the door (epeidȇ goun ekrousamen tȇn thuran), he opened it (anoixas) and saw (kai idȏn) us (hȇmas). “Ah, sophists,” he said (‘Ea’, ephȇ, ‘sophistai tines’); “he’s busy (‘ou scholȇ autȏi’),” and at the same time (kai hama) he slammed the door with both hands as hard as he could (amphoin toin cheroin tȇn thuran panu prothumȏs hȏs hoios t’ ȇn epȇraxen). We began knocking again (kai hȇmeis palin ekrouomen), and he (kai hos) kept the door closed (enkeklȇimenȇs tȇs thuras) and said (apokrinomenos eipen), “Didn’t you hear (‘Ȏ anthrȏpoi’, ephȇ, ‘ouk akȇkoate)? He’s busy (hoti ou scholȇ autȏi’).” “My dear sir (All’ ȏ’gathe),” I said (ephȇn egȏ), “we haven’t come to see Callias (oute para Kallian hȇkomen), nor are we sophists (oute sophistai esmen). Don’t worry (alla tharrei). We’ve come to see Protagoras (Prȏtagoran gar toi deomenoi idein ȇlthomen). Just tell them we’ve come (eisangellon oun).” So eventually, with great reluctance (mogis oun pote), the fellow opened the door to us (hȇmin h’anthrȏpos aneȏixen tȇn thuran).’ (314c3-e2, tr. Taylor)

Can this scene be viewed as part of Socrates’ sunousia, his ‘being together’, with Protagoras? It was his ‘being together’ with Protagoras that he undertook to narrate at 310a2-5, and every reflection of his since the moment Hippocrates asked him to ‘put in a word for him’ with Protagoras played a role in preparing him for his ‘being together’ with the latter, and thus pre-formed their ‘being together’ as far as his part in it was concerned. But there are other factors which make this scene an integral part of Socrates’ sunousia-narrative. In his introductory sunousia with Hippocrates he defined the sophists as merchants and pedlars selling learning, and Hippocrates blushed at the thought that he might become a sophist, and rejected it as unsuitable to him. Yet because of their discussion at the door of Callias’ house the porter mistook them for sophists; this provided Socrates with an opportunity to firmly distance himself and his friend from the sophists.

The difference between Socrates and Hippocrates on the one hand, and the sophists on the other is emphasized by the fact that Socrates and Hippocrates knocked on the door only after they brought the discourse (logos, Taylor’s ‘subject’) ‘which had come up on the way’ to its proper conclusion (i.e. the conclusion on which they agreed with each other [sunȏmologȇsamen allȇlois]), whereas Socrates’ discussion with Protagoras became incomplete, for the latter in the end chickened out of it.

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