As I have mentioned in my 3rd post devoted to the sunousia in Plato’s Protagoras, Aristides noted that ‘Plato presents the sophists as those who are punished in Hades’ (phainetai de Platȏn tous sophistas kata tous en Haidou kolazomenous titheis, Aristid. Vol. III. P. 483). In the light of his observation, let us reflect once again on Socrates’ words ‘“And after him I recognized (Ton de met’ eisenoȇsa)”, as Homer says (ephȇ Homȇros), Hippias of Elis (Hippian ton Êleion).’ Odysseus’ words ‘And after him I recognized’ point forward at the phantom of Heracles, and back at Sisyphus whom he saw just before: ‘And I saw Sisyphus (Kai mȇn Sisyphon eiseidon) suffering great pains (krater’ alge’ echonta, XI, 593); before Sisyphus he saw another great ancient sinner, Tantalus: ‘And I saw Tantalus (Kai mȇn Tantalon eiseidon) in grievous pains (chalep’ alge echonta, XI, 582)’; and before Tantalus he saw the third great sinner: ‘And I saw Tityus (Kai Tituon eidon), the son of the glorious Earth (Gaiȇs erikudeos huion), as he lay on the ground he covered nine acres (ho d’ ep’ ennea keito pelethra), two vultures (gupe), sitting on each side of him (de min hekaterthe parȇmenȏ), were devouring his liver (hȇpar ekeiron), penetrating into the intestines (dertron esȏ dunontes), but he did not defend himself with his hands (ho d’ ouk epamuneto chersi, XI, 576-579).’ Odysseus explains his sin: ‘For he tried to rape Leto (Lȇtȏ gar helkȇse), the illustrious consort of Zeus (Dios kudrȇn parakoitin, XI, 580).
What could have brought this scene from Homer to Socrates’ mind as he saw the scene in Callias’ house? He saw three sophists, the sinners noted by Odysseus in the Hades were three. This might have contributed to Socrates’ perceiving the parallel, but it cannot explain it.
Socrates was reminded of the three sinners in Hades as his eyes fell on Hippias of Elis. Can Plato’s Greater Hippias help us see the connection? In this dialogue Socrates subjects Hippias to biting irony, yet the witless sophist is incapable of perceiving it. Socrates: ‘It is Hippias, the beautiful and wise (Hippias ho kalos te kai sophos)! What a long while it is since (hȏs dia chronou) you came to anchor at Athens (hȇmin katȇras eis tas Athȇnas)!’ – Hippias: ‘I have had no time to spare (ou gar scholȇ) Socrates (ȏ Sȏkrates). Elis (hȇ gar Êlis) looks on me as her best judge and reporter of anything said by other governments, and so I am always the first choice among her citizens to be her ambassador when she has business to settle (hotan ti deȇtai diapraxasthai pros tina tȏn poleȏn, aei epi prȏton eme erchetai tȏn politȏn hairoumenȇ presbeutȇn, hȇgoumenȇ dikastȇn kai angelon hikanȏtaton einai tȏn logȏn hoi an para tȏn poleȏn hekastȏn legȏntai).’ (281a1-b1) … Socrates: ‘Hippias, what a thing it is to be a complete man, as well as a wise one (Toiouton, mentoi, ȏ Hippia, esti to tȇi alȇtheiai sophon te kai teleion andra einai)! As a private person, your talents earn you a great deal of money from the young (su gar kai idiai hikanos ei para tȏn neȏn polla chrȇmata lambanȏn), and in return you confer on them even greater benefits (eti pleiȏ ȏphelein hȏn lambaneis); in public affairs, again (kai au dȇmosiai), you can do good work for your country (tȇn sautou polin hikanos euergetein), which is the way to avoid contempt (hȏsper chrȇ ton mellonta mȇ kataphronȇsesthai) and win popular esteem (all’ eudokimȇsein en tois pollois). Yet I wonder for what possible reason (atar, ȏ Hippia, ti pote to aition) the great figures of the past (hoti hoi palaioi ekeinoi) who are famous for their wisdom (hȏn onomata megala legetai epi sophiai) – Pittacus and Bias (Pittakou te kai Biantos) and the school of Thales of Miletus (kai tȏn amphi ton Milȇsion Thalȇn), and others nearer to our own time, down to Anaxagoras (kai eti tȏn husteron mechri Anaxagorou) – why all (hȏs ȇ pantes) or most of them (ȇ hoi polloi autȏn) clearly made a habit of taking no active part in politics (phainontai apechomenoi tȏn politikȏn praxeȏn)? – Hippias: ‘What reason do you suppose (Ti d’ oiei, ȏ Sȏkrates) except incapacity (allo ge ȇ adunatoi ȇsan), the lack of the power (kai ouch hikanoi) to carry their wisdom into both regions of life (exikneisthai phronȇsei ep’ amphotera), the public (ta te koina) and the private (kai ta idia)?’ – Socrates: ‘Then we should be right in saying that just as other arts have advanced until the craftsmen of the past compare ill with those of today (Ar’ oun pros Dios, hȏsper hai allai technai epidedȏkasi kai eisi para tous nun dȇmiourgous hoi palaioi phauloi), so your art, that of the sophist (houtȏ kai tȇn humeteran tȇn tȏn sophistȏn technȇn), has advanced until the old philosophers cannot stand comparison with you and your fellows (epidedȏkenai phȏmen kai einai tȏn archaiȏn tous peri tȇn sophian phaulous pros humas)?’ – Hippias: ‘Perfectly right (Panu men oun orthȏs legeis).’ (281b5-d8) … Socrates: ‘I can support with my own testimony your statement (summarturȇsai de soi echȏ hoti alȇthȇ legeis) that your art really has made progress (kai tȏi onti humȏn epidedȏken hȇ technȇ) towards (pros to) combining public business with private pursuits (kai ta dȇmosia prattein dunasthai meta tȏn idiȏn). The eminent Gorgias (Gorgias te gar houtos), the sophist of Leontini (ho Leontinos sophistȇs), came here from his home on an official mission (deuro aphiketo dȇmosiai oikothen presbeuȏn), selected because he was the ablest man of his city (hȏs hikanȏtatos ȏn Leontinȏn ta koina prattein). By general consent he spoke most eloquently before the Assembly (kai en te tȏi dȇmȏi edoxen arista eipein), and in his private capacity (kai idiai), by giving demonstrations (epideixeis poioumenos) to the young and associating with them (kai sunȏn tois neois), he earned and took away with him a large sum of Athenian money (chrȇmata polla ȇrgasato kai elaben ek tȇsde tȇs poleȏs). Or again (ei de boulei), there is our distinguished friend Prodicus (ho hȇmeteros hetairos Prodikos). He has often been at Athens on public business from Ceos; the last time he came on such a mission, quite lately (houtos pollakis men kai allote dȇmosiai aphiketo, atar ta teleutaia enanchos aphikomenos dȇmosiai ek Keȏ), he was much admired for his eloquence before the Council (legȏn t’ en tȇi boulȇi panu ȇudokimȇsen), and also as a private person (kai idiai) he made an astonishing amount of money by giving demonstrations to the young and admitting them to his society (epideixeis poioumenos kai tois neois sunȏn chrȇmata elaben thaumasta hosa). None of those great men of the past (tȏn de palaiȏn ekeinȏn oudeis) ever saw fit to charge money for his wisdom (pȏpote ȇxiȏsen argurion misthon praxasthai), or to give demonstrations of it to miscellaneous audiences (oud’ epideixeis poiȇsasthai en pantodapois anthrȏpois tȇs heautou sophias); they were too simple (houtȏs ȇsan euȇtheis) ever to realise the enormous importance of money (kai elelȇthei autous argurion hȏs pollou axion eiȇ). Either of the two I have mentioned (toutȏn d’ hekateros) has earned more from his wisdom (pleon argurion apo sophias eirgastai) than any other craftsman (ȇ allos dȇmiourgos) from his art, whatever it may have been (aph’ hȇstinos technȇs); and so did Protagoras before them (kai eti proteros toutȏn Prȏtagoras).’ – Hippias: ‘Socrates, you know nothing of the real charms of all this business (Ouden gar, ȏ Sȏkrates, oistha tȏn kalȏn peri touto). If you were told (ei gar eideiȇs) how much I have earned (hoson argurion eirgasmai egȏ), you would be astounded (thaumasais an).’ (282b2-d7, tr. B. Jowett)
The Greater Hippias reads as if written to explain why Socrates was reminded of Odysseus in the realm of the dead when he saw Hippias in Callias’ house. The Greater Hippias, in its turn, may be best appreciated if we read it in the light of what Socrates said to the young Hippocrates after the latter had told him that he wanted to be taught wisdom by Protagoras: ‘Do you realize (Oistha), then (oun), what you are going to do (ho melleis nun prattein) … that you are going to entrust your soul to the care of a man (hoti melleis tȇn psuchȇn sautou paraschein therapeusai andri) who is, as you agree, a sophist (hȏs phȇis, sophistȇi)? … do you realize (oistha) in what danger you are going to expose your soul (eis hoion tina kindunon erchȇi hupothȇsȏn tȇn psuchȇn) … the soul (tȇn psuchȇn), on which everything in your life depends: your doing well if it becomes good and badly if it becomes bad (kai en hȏi pant’ estin ta sa ȇ eu ȇ kakȏs prattein, chrȇstou ȇ ponȇrou autou genomenou) … you have to put down the price (anankaion katathenta tȇn timȇn), and taking the learning into your soul (to mathȇma en autȇi tȇi psuchȇi labonta), and learning it (kai mathonta), to go away harmed or benefited (apienai ȇ beblammenon ȇ ȏphelȇmenon). (312b7-314b4)