Plato’s Counterfeit Sophists

  Tell, Håkan. 2011. Plato's Counterfeit Sophists. Hellenic Studies Series 44. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

5. Sages at the Games

In one of the stranger accounts of sophists at work, we hear how Hippias of Elis made a conspicuous appearance at Olympia. In the words of Plato (Hippias Minor 368b-e):

This passage perfectly illustrates the strangeness of the material on the sophists, and it also draws attention to how little we know about the performance context of their activities. It thus invites us to explore this context further, but it also raises questions about the larger issue of dissemination of wisdom in the ancient Greek world, and the function of the Panhellenic centers in this process. Specifically, I shall try to shed light on the context for intellectual displays at the Panhellenic sanctuaries by documenting the evidence we have for the presence of sophoi at these places. [3] Special emphasis will be placed on the repeated claim of the sophoi’s self-presentation and charismatic attraction of the audience. The examination is not limited to the sophists, but will also cover material on other practitioners of wisdom. Initial stress will be placed on Delphi in order to outline in greater detail what role that center played as a facilitator in the circulation of sophia, and I will suggest that this functional model of Delphi is valid, at least partially, for the workings of other Panhellenic centers, especially Olympia. Next, we shall look at the unique status of Apollo at Delphi in authenticating claims to wisdom, and at the ways in which sophoi sought to appropriate for themselves that authority.

Let us start by reviewing the evidence for the presence of sophoi at the Panhellenic sanctuaries.

Sophoi at the Panhellenic Centers

In the case of Diogenes the Cynic (i.e. in early to mid fourth century BCE), we have an elaborate description of his presence at the Isthmian Games by Dio Chrysostom (8.6–7):

ἐπεὶ δὲ ἧκεν ὁ τῶν Ἰσθμίων χρόνος καὶ πάντες ἦσαν ἐν Ἰσθμῷ, κατέβη καὶ αὐτός. εἰώθει γὰρ ἐπισκοπεῖν ἐν ταῖς πανηγύρεσι τὰς σπουδὰς τῶν ἀνθρώπων καὶ τὰς ἐπιθυμίας καὶ ὧν ἕνεκα ἀποδημοῦσι καὶ ἐπὶ τίσι μέγα φρονοῦσι. παρέσχε δὲ καὶ αὑτὸν τῷ βουλομένῳ ἐντυγχάνειν.

So, when the time for the Isthmian games arrived, and everybody was at the Isthmus, he went down also. For it was his custom at the great festivals to make a study of the pursuits and ambitions of men, of their reasons for being abroad, and of the things on which they prided themselves. He gave his time also to any who wished to converse with him.

Trans. Cohoon, slightly modified

Diogenes made it a habit to frequent the festivals (πανηγύρεις) and took this opportunity to meet with others and offer his wisdom. What sorts of conversation would he engage in, and what advice would he offer his interlocutors? Dio Chrysostom writes that he promised to cure his followers from foolishness, wickedness, and intemperance (ἀγνοία, πονηρία, ἀκολασία 8.8). A little later in his narrative (8.9), Dio Chrysostom depicts other attractions at the Isthmian Games:

καὶ δὴ καὶ τότε ἦν περὶ τὸν νεὼν τοῦ Ποσειδῶνος ἀκούειν πολλῶν μὲν σοφιστῶν κακοδαιμόνων βοώντων καὶ λοιδορουμένων ἀλλήλοις, καὶ τῶν λεγομένων μαθητῶν ἄλλου ἄλλῳ μαχομένων, πολλῶν δὲ συγγραφέων ἀναγιγνωσκόντων ἀναίσθητα συγγράμματα, πολλῶν δὲ ποιητῶν ποιήματα ᾀδόντων, καὶ τούτους ἐπαινούντων ἑτέρων, πολλῶν δὲ θαυματoποιῶν θαύματα ἐπιδεικνύντων, πολλῶν δὲ τερατοσκόπων τέρατα κρινόντων, μυρίων δὲ ῥητόρων δίκας στρεφόντων, οὐκ ὀλίγων δὲ καπήλων διακαπηλευόντων ὅτι τύχοιεν ἕκαστος.

That was also the time to hear crowds of wretched sophists around the Temple of Poseidon as they shouted and heaped abuse on each other, and their so-called students as they fought with one another, and many historians reading out their dumb writings, and many poets reciting poetry to the applause of others, and many magicians showing their tricks, many fortune-tellers telling fortunes, countless orators perverting justice, and not a few peddlers peddling whatever came to hand.

Trans. Miller

This passage, which purports to describe the situation at the Isthmian Games in mid-fourth century BCE, [
5] offers good testimony to the variety of sophoi present at the games: sophists, historians, poets, magicians, etc. The context for their activities is described as highly competitive (βοώντων καὶ λοιδορουμένων ἀλλήλοις; μαχομένων). Of particular interest is that Dio Chrysostom gives us a description of the state of affairs at a big festival other than Delphi and Olympia, and that the picture is so consistent with the evidence we have from those places. Just as in the passage from the Hippias Minor discussed earlier, we hear of “scientific” and “literary” competitive performances, in which emphasis is placed on the individual sophos’ ability to outdo the competition and to attract disciples. And the context for these performances is described in both instances as a formalized competition similar to the athletic contests. [6]

A similar picture emerges from the material on the individual sophists and their visits to the games. Both Gorgias and Hippias visited Olympia, and our sources, mainly Plato, give us a multifaceted description of the sorts of activities in which they took part. Hippias, for example, while at Olympia, offered to speak on any topic he had prepared and to take questions afterwards (Hippias Minor 363c-d), [7] and he refers to his activities at Olympia as competitive (Ὀλυμπίασιν ἀγωνίζεσθαι; ibid. 364a). Philostratus (Lives of the Sophists 1.11) adds that “he used to charm Greece at Olympia with his ornate and well-devised speeches”:

ἔθελγε τὴν Ἑλλάδα ἐν Ὀλυμπίᾳ λόγοις ποικίλοις καὶ πεφροντισμένοις εὖ.

Here we are reintroduced to the theme of quasi-formalized contests in wisdom and flamboyant displays with an eye to attracting listeners and students. This emphasis on self-presentation is a recurring motif in our sources on sophoi. Aelian (Varia Historia 12.32) writes that Pythagoras wore white clothing, a golden garland (στέφανον χρυσοῦν), and Persian or Scythian trousers (ἀναξυρίδας); [
8] and in the same paragraph he also comments that Hippias and Gorgias appeared in purple robes (πορφυραῖς ἐσθῆσι). [9] We find a similar emphasis on attire in Diogenes Laertius’ description of Empedocles’ public demeanor (8.73):

διὸ δὴ πορφύραν τε ἀναλαβεῖν αὐτὸν καὶ στρόφιον ἐπιθέσθαι χρυσοῦν, ὡς Φαβωρῖνος ἐν Ἀπομνημονεύμασιν· ἔτι τ’ ἐμβάδας χαλκᾶς καὶ στέμμα Δελφικόν. κόμη τε ἦν αὐτῷ βαθεῖα καὶ παῖδες ἀκόλουθοι· καὶ αὐτὸς ἀεὶ σκυθρωπὸς ἐφ’ ἑνὸς σχήματος ἦν. τοιοῦτος δὴ προῄει.

No doubt it was the same means that enabled him to don a purple robe and over it a golden girdle, as Favorinus relates in his Memorabilia, and again slippers of bronze and a Delphic laurel-wreath. He had thick hair, and a train of boy attendants. He himself was always grave, and kept his gravity of demeanor unshaken. In such sort would he appear in public.

Trans. Hicks

These passages all call attention to the physical appearance of the different sophoi in public. There are striking similarities between the outfits of Hippias and Empedocles: the purple robe, girdle, and sandals. [
10] Hippias wore a Persian girdle, and the trousers of Pythagoras are likely to have been of Persian origin and design. The mention of a group of attendant boys is also striking—highlighting the effectiveness of the outfit in captivating the audience and pupils. This question of followers is addressed in fragment 112 (DK 31B112), where Empedocles describes his reception in the various cities he enters:

According to his own account, Empedocles is met by thousands of people in every city he enters. [
12] His appearance displays a magnetism that exerts a pull on his surroundings, and he has a great throng of people accompanying him during his stay in the city. In the Platonic dialogue Protagoras (315a-b), Plato says that Protagoras had a similar effect on his audience:

τούτων δὲ οἳ ὄπισθεν ἠκολούθουν ἐπακούοντες τῶν λεγομένων, τὸ μὲν πολὺ ξένοι ἐφαίνοντο, οὓς ἄγει ἐξ ἑκάστων τῶν πόλεων ὁ Πρωταγόρας, δι’ ὧν διεξέρχεται, κηλῶν τῇ φωνῇ ὥσπερ Ὀρφεύς, οἱ δὲ κατὰ τὴν φωνὴν ἕπονται κεκηλημένοι.

Recall that this type of Orphic attraction on his followers is also attributed to Hippias by Philostratus in the passage quoted earlier (Lives of the Sophists 1.11), in which Philostratus uses the verb θέλγω (“charm,” “spell-bind”) to describe Hippias’ power over his audience. This attraction is envisioned in the passage from the Protagoras through the use of the verb κηλέω (“charm,” “enchant,” “spell-bind”). Thrasymachus also uses the same verb to describe the efficacy of his own oratory on an audience, as Plato quotes him in the Phaedrus (267c–d):

ὀργίσαι τε αὖ πολλοὺς ἅμα δεινὸς ἁνὴρ γέγονεν καὶ πάλιν ὠργισμένοις ἐπᾴδων κηλεῖν, ὡς ἔφη.

The man was skilled at stirring up many and, once stirred up, at enchanting them again through his charms, as he said.

All these mentions of charms and spells might seem to take us off track from the theme of sophoi and Panhellenic centers. But we shall return to this topic in the next section to see how appropriate it is to the context of displays of wisdom at Delphi and the other Panhellenic sanctuaries.

It thus seems reasonable to suppose that the context for formal displays and dissemination of wisdom would look similar at many of the Panhellenic festivals. [15] But attendance of sophoi at the games does not begin with Hippias and Gorgias, or even with Empedocles and Anaxagoras. We can trace the precedent for such later activities by the Presocratics and sophists back at least to the Seven Sages. [16] We have numerous sources discussing how they frequented the Panhellenic festivals. Diogenes Laertius (1.40), for example, firmly locates them within a Panhellenic framework:

φασὶ δέ τινες καὶ ἐν Πανιωνίῳ καὶ ἐν Κορίνθῳ καὶ ἐν Δελφοῖς συνελθεῖν αὐτούς.

Some people say that they met at the Panionian festival, at Corinth, and at Delphi.

Plutarch (Solon 4) provides a similar assessment:

γενέσθαι δὲ μετ’ ἀλλήλων ἔν τε Δελφοῖς ὁμοῦ λέγονται καὶ πάλιν ἐν Κορίνθῳ, Περιάνδρου σύλλογόν τινα κοινὸν αὐτῶν καὶ συμπόσιον κατασκευάσαντος.

They are said to have met together at Delphi and again in Corinth, where Periander prepared some common assembly for them and a symposium.

In the Protagoras (343a–b), we hear that they met at Delphi and that, as a first-fruit offering of their wisdom to Apollo, they inscribed their sayings there. [
17] The Seven Sages, through their offering, defer their wisdom to the legitimizing power that Apollo’s temple at Delphi could confer on it; and by inscribing their aphorisms in the temple, they simultaneously award the sanctuary the role of a repository for their sophia.

But there is yet another area in which the Seven Sages can be said to have sought to obtain the authority from Delphi for their activities and to have deferred to the oracle as the guarantor and authenticator of sophia, namely, in the narratives about the tripod. [18] According to one version of this story (Diogenes Laertius 1.28), some Milesian fishermen, not knowing that a tripod had been caught in their nets, sold their catch to Ionian youths. When they later learned about the tripod, they started a dispute over its ownership with the Ionians, and they finally referred the question to the Delphic oracle, and the god answered:

τρίποδος πέρι Φοῖβον ἐρωτᾷς;
τίς σοφίῃ πάντων πρῶτος, τούτου τρίποδ’ αὐδῶ.
Are you asking Phoebus regarding the tripod?
Who is the wisest of all men, I proclaim the tripod to be his.

Diogenes continues:

διδοῦσιν οὖν Θαλῇ· ὁ δὲ ἄλλῳ καὶ ἄλλος ἄλλῳ ἕως Σόλωνος. ὁ δὲ ἔφη σοφίᾳ πρῶτον εἶναι τὸν θεὸν καὶ ἀπέστειλεν εἰς Δελφούς.

Louis Gernet has called attention to the competitive aspects of the transmission of the tripod among the sages, and how athletic contests at the games constitute the immediate context for its circulation. Thus, in the words of Gernet, “The tripod or the vase is regarded as a prize awarded on the basis of a competition of wisdom, indeed, a contest of happiness.” [
20] Here the emphasis on Delphi as the meeting place of the sages seems particularly appropriate to express this emulation of athletic competition that figures in the tripod narrative. Plutarch’s account (Solon4) adds to this description:

ἔτι δὲ μᾶλλον εἰς ἀξίωμα καὶ δόξαν αὐτοὺς κατέστησεν ἡ τοῦ τρίποδος περίοδος καὶ διὰ πάντων ἀνακύκλησις καὶ ἀνθύπειξις μετ’ εὐμενείας φιλοτίμου γενομένη.

We find a number of other accounts in which the affiliation of the Seven Sages with Delphi is stressed, but they are also frequently mentioned in relation to other festivals; for example, Chilon appears at Olympia, [
22] and Thales supposedly died while watching an athletic contest in his old age. [23]

Philosophical Magnetism

Empedocles, Protagoras, Hippias, and Thrasymachus all figure in contexts where they are said to have enchanted or made their audience possessed. I will try to show how this Orphic power of attraction is intrinsically linked to their connection with Delphi, and consequently, to its divine protector as the ultimate authority and guarantor of their sophia. The route we are going to use to explore this theme goes through some fragmentary lines of Pindar’s Eighth Paean. By comparing the descriptions of the power of attraction of the sophoi to Pindar’s poem, we shall see how uniquely appropriate the usages of the verbs κηλέω and θέλγω are in the context of displays of wisdom at Panhellenic festivals.

Pindar (105–116, Rutherford) describes the Charmers and the detrimental results of listening to their songs in Paean 8:

χάλκεοι μὲν τοῖχοι χάλκ[εαί
θ’ ὑπὸ κίονες ἕστασαν,
χρύσεαι δ’ ἓξ ὑπὲρ αἰετοῦ
ἄειδον Κηληδόνες.
ἀλλά μιν Κρόνου παῖ[δες
κεραυνῷ χθόν’ ἀνοιξάμ[ε]νο[ι
ἔκρυψαν τὸ [π]άντων ἔργων ἱερώτ[ατον
γλυκείας ὀπὸς ἀγασ[θ]έντες
ὅτι ξένοι ἔφ[θ]<ι>νον
ἄτερθεν τεκέων
ἀλόχων τε μελ[ί]φρονι
αὐδ[ᾷ θυ]μὸν ἀνακρίμναντες.

Bronze were the walls, bronze pillars stood beneath, and six golden Charmers sang above the gable. But the sons of Cronus opened the ground with a thunderbolt and hid it, the most sacred of all works …

… astonished at the sweet voice, that foreigners wasted away apart from children and wives, hanging up their spirit as a dedication to the sweet voice.

Trans. Rutherford

There are some remarkable features in Pindar’s poem that can help further our understanding of Delphi as a site of particular interest to sophoi, on the one hand, and of the intriguing and charismatic bond between these sophoi and their audience, on the other. As Ian Rutherford has shown, Pindar presents us with a mythological account of the interconnectedness of prophetic song and Delphi that predates the establishment of the Delphic oracle. [
27] The song of the Κηληδόνες has been likened to that of the Sirens in the Odyssey, [28] whose utterances Rutherford calls “a narration of universal knowledge.” [29] There are several overlaps between Paean 8 and the material on sophoi reviewed earlier. First, there is a strong emphasis on the element of voice in our accounts. In Pindar, it is repeated twice (ὀπός and αὐδᾷ) in lines 112 and 116. The audience is astonished at the sweet voice of the Κηληδόνες, and they dedicate their spirit to it. [30] In the Platonic dialogue Protagoras, people are enchanted with Protagoras as he enters their city and follow him in pursuit of his voice (κατὰ τὴν φωνὴν ἕπονται κεκηλημένοι). Although φωνή is not used for “voice” in the lines quoted from Pindar, it occurs a little later in the poem, in line 120. Scholars have debated what it refers to, given the fragmentary state of the text, but Rutherford, following Charles Segal, argues that the use may figure in lines that “constitute a flash-back and refer to the construction of the Κηληδόνες and the third temple.” [31] It is thus very likely that it is yet another reference to the Κηληδόνες, and as such it suggestively mirrors the Platonic use in the Protagoras. And this connection between the temple at Delphi and φωνή is further elaborated in a fragment of Heraclitus, preserved by Plutarch (DK 22B92):

The voice of the Κηληδόνες and the voice of sophoi thus produce similar reactions in their listeners, that is, a feeling of entrancement and enchantment; and the etymological affinity between Κηληδόνες and κηλέω further illuminates this connection on the verbal level. This is surely similar to the effect that is envisioned also in the passages about Thrasymachus and Hippias, although in the Hippias passage λόγος is substituted for φωνή.

The participle ἀνακρίμναντες in line 116 of Paean 8, used to describe the dedication of the spirit that the listeners make to the Κηληδόνες, is derived from the verb that in Attic Greek is ἀνακρεμάννυμι. It means either “to hang up on a thing” or “to make dependent.” Rutherford translates is as “hang up in dedication to,” and when discussing this passage in his commentary (220), he expands on his translation by saying that xenoi are “hanging up their souls as an offering to the voice, in a metaphor that suggests both a religious dedication and psychological dependency.” He thus brings out the twofold meaning of the verb and emphasizes the reciprocal relationship implied in the act of dedication as a result of dependency. In Plato’s Ion, [34] Socrates postulates that it is divine power (θεία δύναμις), not art (τέχνη), that makes it possible for Ion to speak well on Homer, and he goes on to liken the power to the force found in magnetic stones (533d–e):

καὶ γὰρ αὕτη ἡ λίθος οὐ μόνον αὐτοὺς τοὺς δακτυλίους ἄγει τοὺς σιδηροῦς, ἀλλὰ καὶ δύναμιν ἐντίθησι τοῖς δακτυλίοις, ὥστ’ αὖ δύνασθαι ταὐτὸν τοῦτο ποιεῖν ὅπερ ἡ λίθος, ἄλλους ἄγειν δακτυλίους, ὥστ’ ἐνίοτε ὁρμαθὸς μακρὸς πάνυ σιδηρίων καὶ δακτυλίων ἐξ ἀλλήλων ἤρτηται· πᾶσι δὲ τούτοις ἐξ ἐκείνης τῆς λίθου ἡ δύναμις ἀνήρτηται. οὕτω δὲ καὶ ἡ Μοῦσα ἐνθέους μὲν ποιεῖ αὐτή, διὰ δὲ τῶν ἐνθέων τούτων ἄλλων ἐνθουσιαζόντων ὁρμαθὸς ἐξαρτᾶται.

For this stone not only moves the iron rings themselves, but it also instills a power into the rings so that they in turn can do the same thing as the stone, to move other rings, so that sometimes a long chain entirely of bits of iron and rings hang upon each other. And all of them are dependent upon that stone for their power. In the same way the Muse makes men possessed herself, and through these possessed people, a chain is being hung from other persons who are being possessed.

In this passage, Plato uses the verb ἀρτάω and the compounds ἀναρτάω and ἐξαρτάω to designate how the pieces of iron and men are attached to one another. These verbs have basically the same semantic range as ἀνακρεμάννυμι: “to hang upon” or “make dependent upon.” The original source, the magnetic stone or the Muse, channels its power through chains of dependency to its followers and links them together, one depending upon the other. A little later in the dialogue (535e–536a), Socrates turns to Ion to explain where he sees the rhapsode’s role in this series of dependency:

οἶσθα οὖν ὅτι οὗτός ἐστιν ὁ θεατὴς τῶν δακτυλίων ὁ ἔσχατος, ὧν ἐγὼ ἔλεγον ὑπὸ τῆς Ἡρακλειώτιδος λίθου ἀπ’ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν λαμβάνειν; ὁ δὲ μέσος σὺ ὁ ῥαψῳδὸς καὶ ὑποκριτής, ὁ δὲ πρῶτος αὐτὸς ὁ ποιητής· ὁ δὲ θεὸς διὰ πάντων τούτων ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν ὅποι ἂν βούληται τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν.

You are aware then that this spectator of yours is the last of the rings, of which I said that they receive the power from each other through the Heraclean stone? You, the rhapsode and actor, are the middle ring, and the poet himself is the first. But the god draws the souls of men through all these rings wherever he wants, making the power of one depend on the other.

Ion holds an intermediary position, poised between the poet and his audience. When addressing the inspiration that emanates from the poets and enraptures the listeners, Socrates says (536b):

ἐκ δὲ τούτων τῶν πρώτων δακτυλίων, τῶν ποιητῶν, ἄλλοι ἐξ ἄλλου αὖ ἠρτημένοι εἰσὶ καὶ ἐνθουσιάζουσιν, οἱ μὲν ἐξ Ὀρφέως, οἱ δὲ ἐκ Μουσαίου· οἱ δὲ πολλοὶ ἐξ Ὁμήρου κατέχονταί τε καὶ ἔχονται.

As to these first rings—the poets—different people are dependent upon and inspired by different ones; some are dependent upon Orpheus, others upon Musaeus; but the majority is possessed and held by Homer.

This resonates well with the passage quoted from the Protagoras earlier, where Protagoras is said to have a similar attraction on his followers as Orpheus; he charms them with his voice and draws them with him from city to city. [
35] In the present passage, Orpheus, Musaeus, and Homer all make their audience possessed, as do the rhapsodes, in turn, when reciting their poetry in public. Implicit is also the notion of charm and enchantment (θέλγω, κηλέω) similar to that discussed above in relation to the attraction of the Κηληδόνες and certain sophoi on their audience.

Beyond the chain of rings is the god, who draws the souls of men in any direction he pleases. By instilling divine power (θεία δύναμις) into the voice of poets and thus inspiring anyone hearing it, he establishes a particular relationship whereby he controls the souls of men (ἕλκει τὴν ψυχὴν τῶν ἀνθρώπων). This is reminiscent of lines 115–116 of Paean 8, where ξένοι are said to hang up their souls in dedication to the sweet voice of the Κηληδόνες (μελ[ί]φρονι αὐδ[ᾷ θυ]μὸν ἀνακρίμναντες). What is more, in the Ion passage cited earlier (535e–536a), the god is described as “making the power of one depend on the other” (ἀνακρεμαννὺς ἐξ ἀλλήλων τὴν δύναμιν), that is, he channels divine power through the rings and in so doing connects the various levels to each other. Plato is here using the same participle as in Pindar. In both passages, the verb carries the meaning of dependency; in Pindar, it denotes the dependency that the ξένοι experience listening to the divinely inspired voice of the Κηληδόνες; in the Ion, it pertains to the mutual dependency among the different levels of audience of the divine voice. In both instances, the ultimate source of dependency is the god, and this is clearly illustrated in the description of divine manipulation of mortal souls as a result of exposure to the divine power.

The seat of the Κηληδόνες is at Delphi, and the authority of their charismatic song, I suggest, must be understood with reference to their connection with that sanctuary. And this link could also be extended to the charismatic power of sophoi; [38] through their affiliation with Delphi and other Panhellenic centers, they tap into the authority these places have to legitimize prophetic speech. The Heraclitean passage quoted earlier (DK 22B92) is a good example of this link. The fragment mentions the timeless truths uttered by the oracle through the mediation of Apollo, and it stresses the idea of Delphi as the center of dissemination from and out of which those utterances emanate; Delphi becomes the seat of the voice. In fragment 93, this connection is further elaborated:

ὁ ἄναξ, οὗ τὸ μαντεῖόν ἐστι τὸ ἐν Δελφοῖς, οὔτε λέγει οὔτε κρύπτει ἀλλὰ σημαίνει.

The lord whose oracle is that at Delphi neither speaks nor hides, but gives signs.

Here Heraclitus juxtaposes his own oracular and enigmatic style to that of the Delphic oracle, thereby paralleling his own voice to Delphi’s and invoking it as the ultimate authority for his own sophia. [
39] It is also significant how well fragment 101 (ἐδιζησάμην ἐμεωυτόν, “I searched myself”) [40] resonates with one of the emblems of Delphic wisdom, “Know thyself” (γνῶθι σαυτόν), and Guthrie points out that the verb used by Heraclitus, δίζημαι, also means “to seek the meaning of an oracle.” [41] Empedocles, in fragment 112 quoted above, describes how part of his expertise was to deliver oracles (μαντοσύνη and βάξις) to his audience. Socrates likewise had strong ties with Delphi and claimed that his reputation for wisdom, if not the wisdom itself, ultimately derived from Apollo:

τῆς γὰρ ἐμῆς, εἰ δή τίς ἐστιν σοφία καὶ οἵα, μάρτυρα ὑμῖν παρέξομαι τὸν θεὸν τὸν ἐν Δελφοῖς.

In like manner, Diogenes Laertius (8.8), citing Aristoxenus, reports that, “Pythagoras got most of his ethical doctrines from the Delphic priestess Themistoclea.” It is not relevant to our investigation whether this is historically true or not; we are more interested in the reputation Delphi had for defining and validating wisdom.

There is plenty of material to support the view that sophoi, through tapping into the repository of sophia that Delphi constituted and through aligning themselves with its authority, were seen as themselves being a conduit for a similar type of charismatic speech. The verbal and thematic echoes between Paean 8 and the Protagoras are examples of this overlap of authority, and Pindar’s poem provides us with the context to understand the sophoi’s almost uncanny, yet highly conventional abilities to attract listeners and enchant them with their verbal performances.

In the final part, we shall consider the exploration undertaken thus far in light of the findings of last chapter. We shall explore the role of xenia as a facilitator in the circulation of sophia, and demonstrate how intrinsically linked this network was with the Panhellenic centers.

Xenia and the Panhellenic Centers

The aim of this section is to direct attention to the importance of the elite network of xenia for establishing formal channels of interaction that enabled sophoi to meet. One might object that there seems to be an inconsistency in my argument in the apparent discrepancy between the mass appeal of the sophoi, on the one hand, and the emphasis on the importance of the elite network of xenia, on the other. But these aspects stand in no way in a contradictory relationship to each other. Participation in the xenia network assures the acquisition of symbolic capital that enables (and even authenticates) sophoi to present themselves to a larger audience as charismatic figures capable of dazzling intellectual performances. It is thus their exclusive position as practitioners of wisdom that is owed to the elite network of xenia. One of the characteristics of this position is the ability to enchant and enthrall a mass audience.

As I argued in the last chapter, there is a strong link in our primary sources between xenia and dissemination of wisdom, or, to phrase it differently, the ability of sophoi to travel and participate in intellectual exchanges appears to be contingent upon their utilization of the formal channels of interaction already established through the xenia-system. In this context, the Panhellenic centers were crucial meeting places for sophoi as well as important arenas for intellectual interaction and dissemination. Isocrates (Panegyricus 4.43) gives us a good insight into the significance of these festivals in the maintenance and renewal of xenia relationships:

τῶν τοίνυν τὰς πανηγύρεις καταστησάντων δικαίως ἐπαινουμένων ὅτι τοιοῦτον ἔθος ἡμῖν παρέδοσαν, ὥστε σπεισαμένους πρὸς ἀλλήλους καὶ τὰς ἔχθρας τὰς ἐνεστηκυίας διαλυσαμένους συνελθεῖν εἰς ταὐτόν, καὶ μετὰ ταῦτ’ εὐχὰς καὶ θυσίας κοινὰς ποιησαμένους ἀναμνησθῆναι μὲν τῆς συγγενείας τῆς πρὸς ἀλλήλους ὑπαρχούσης, εὐμενεστέρως δ’ εἰς τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον διατεθῆναι πρὸς ἡμᾶς αὐτούς, καὶ τάς τε παλαιὰς ξενίας ἀνανεώσασθαι καὶ καινὰς ἑτέρας ποιήσασθαι.

Now the founders of our great festivals are justly praised for handing down to us a custom by which, having proclaimed a truce toward each other and resolved our pending quarrels, we come together in one place, where, as we make our prayers and sacrifices in common, we are reminded of the kinship (syngeneia) which exists among us and are made to feel more kindly towards each other for the future, reviving old xeniai and establishing new ones.

Trans. Herman, modified

To judge from this Isocratean characterization, the Panhellenic centers were of particular importance in the maintenance of xenia-relationships. In the last chapter we considered the significance of xenia in providing an institutional framework of interaction for sophoi, and we have up till now explored the strong presence of sophoi at the Panhellenic centers. It is time to bring these observations together in an attempt to explore the Panhellenic sanctuaries as central meeting places for sophoi. We shall do this through the insights of Anthony Snodgrass’ work on peer polity interaction. When exploring the peer polity interaction approach developed by Colin Renfrew and John Cherry, he addresses the role of meeting places at the supra-polity level. In this context, he talks about the significance of Delphi in the areas of codification of law and colonization, not only to give approval to proposals, but also to provide the impetus for action:

Snodgrass proposes a systemic and institutional analysis of Delphi as a central hub on a supra-polity level in a broader circulation pattern of knowledge among the Greek poleis. He concludes that Delphi gathered, authenticated, and distributed various kinds of information. Although he makes no mention of the sophists or any other practitioner of wisdom, I nonetheless suggest that we extend his findings and draw an analogy to the model outlined here of the Panhellenic centers as focal points in the interaction of sophoi and circulation of sophia in the Greek world.

A powerful illustration of this model was already provided in the tripod narrative involving the Seven Sages, discussed earlier. The connection between sophoi, in this case the Seven Sages, and Delphi is already established in this account. In addition to this association, Plutarch’s narrative (Solon 4) adds emphatic allusions to the terminology of xenia. First we have the twofold repetition of circulation (περίοδος and ἀνακύκλησις). The prize passes from hand to hand (as does the narrative on the tripod itself) in successive acts of generous giving, acts that serve to enhance the status of both recipient and giver alike. The gift is declined only to be passed on to the next person in line, until it is finally returned to the god. The words designating how the tripod is passed on, “with competitive yet generous grace” (εὐμένεια φιλότιμος) invoke the kind of relationship established through lavish acts of (competitive) gift-giving, namely, that of guest-friends (ξένοι). This relationship is further emphasized through the history of the object: Diogenes writes that it is of divine origin, made by Hephaestus, given to Pelops, passed on to Menelaus, stolen by Paris, and then miraculously recovered from the ocean. Gernet notes that this history gives the object “an almost civic status, as is often the case with prize objects in Homer.” [44] It is thus well suited to serve in these narratives as a precious object of the highest order to be passed generously among guest-friends. In the words of Martin: “The provenance of tripod dedications at Delphi suggests they were prestige items circulating in an aristocratic gift-exchange network. I suggest such a network is represented in the tale of the sages.” [45]


[ back ] 3. Little work has been done on this topic. Most recently, Tarrant 2003 addresses the presence of the sophists at the games, but his interest is focused on how the sophists would go on to appropriate and “shift the pre-existing competitive ethic away from physical towards verbal competition” (355). In his view Socrates and Plato later continued this process of “redirecting the competitive spirit” (357) by diminishing the importance on competition and winning, a process triggered in response “to the need of democracy to develop a co-operative excellence” (360). Some important discussions can be found in Guthrie 1971:42–43; Lloyd 1987:90–91, esp. n146, and 2005:71–72; and Nightingale 2000 (esp. 168) and 2001, where she argues that Greek “theoretical” philosophy as a cultural practice developed out of the civic institution of theoria, and that the “panhellenic space” of sanctuaries played an important part in this process. This exploration is continued and expanded in Nightingale 2004.

[ back ] 4. On the authority of Satyrus, Diogenes further reports that Empedocles and his son Exaenetus were both victorious in the same Olympiad, Empedocles in the horse race, and Exaenetus in wrestling (8.53). Whatever the historical veracity of this account may be, it nevertheless serves to highlight and reinforce the strong affiliation of Empedocles’ family with Olympia.

[ back ] 5. Miller 1979:51 dates the episode to 359 BCE.

[ back ] 6. For discussions of competition in wisdom, see Lloyd 1979 (esp. 92–98) and 1987:50–108; Richardson 1981; Griffith 1990; and Graziosi 2001. Cf. the picture that emerges from the Contest of Homer and Hesiod. Here, we hear of a highly formalized competition in wisdom, alongside other more traditional athletic competitions, where what counts is one’s ability to answer any possible question. The winner is crowned (322) and rewarded with a prize in the same manner as the athletes: the words ἀγωνίζομαι, ἀγών, νικάω, and νίκη (315 and 322) are used to describe the competition between Hesiod and Homer. The statues of Gorgias at Olympia and Delphi offer another good example of the analogy between athletic and intellectual competition. A base of a statue dated to the early fourth century BCE was excavated at Olympia in 1876, which contained an epigram in honor of Gorgias. The inscription eulogizes Gorgias for “training the soul for the contests of virtue” (ἀσκῆσαι ψυχὴν ἀρετῆς ἐς ἀγῶνας). See Morgan 1994 for discussion and bibliography.

[ back ] 7. Similar practices were shared by Ion in Plato’s Ion, who claimed to be able to explain and elaborate on any point in Homer before an audience.

[ back ] 8. For the ethnic connotations of ἀναξυρίδας, see Burkert 1972:165n250 and 112n16. See also Miller 1991, who argues from the iconographic portrayal in Attic vase-painting of symposiasts and komasts wearing the kidaris, an Oriental hat, that it is representative of “the deliberate adoption of a select range of Oriental objects by wealthy Athenians as an effective statement of elitism,” 71. From such a perspective, it is tempting to understand the embracing of Oriental wear as an elite marker intended for a “domestic” audience, not as an indicator of personal exposure to the Orient (intellectual or otherwise).

[ back ] 9. For the purple robe, see Morrison 1949:58n21. For Athenian male dress norms in the fifth century BCE, see Geddes 1987.

[ back ] 10. Kingsley 1995 interprets the sandals of bronze as a “magical ‘symbol’” that represents Empedocles’ “ability to descend to the underworld at will,” 289.

[ back ] 11. Kingsley 1995:220 argues that we should take seriously Empedocles’ statement of immortality, and he questions modern attempts at dismissing it as ironic: “In fact it is quite clear that any attempt at denying the fragment its literal, obvious meaning is wrong.” Cf. Long 1966:259n1.

[ back ] 12. It is intriguing that he apparently traveled from city to city; this is another feature that is normally attributed to the sophists.

[ back ] 13. For poetic inspiration and voice, see Schadewaldt 1944; Sperduti 1950; Dodds 1951:80–82; Tigerstedt 1970; Murray 1981; Walsh 1984; Ritook 1989; Ford 1992:31–89. On Orpheus, see Linforth 1941; Guthrie 1952; West 1983; Graf 1987; and Segal 1989. On magic and rhetoric, see Romilly 1975 and Gellrich 1993.

[ back ] 14. In the Apology, Socrates, too, describes his practice of making himself available to rich and poor alike for questioning: ὁμοίως καὶ πλουσίῳ καὶ πένητι παρέχω ἐμαυτὸν ἐρωτᾶν (33b).

[ back ] 15. Richardson (1992:225) gives a good description of the range of activities that took place at Olympia: “It had already come to be used as a place for debate between cities when a dispute arose, for arbitration, and for the publication of treaties. It became also a place where orators, philosophers and literary men could display their talents, by speeches or recitation of their works. It was said that Herodotus read parts of his history here, in the opisthodomos of the temple of Zeus (Lucian Herodotus 1). Gorgias appealed for unity against Persia here in 408, and Lysias and Isocrates composed speeches for delivery at Olympia in the early fourth century.” As the examples from the Protagoras and the Meno demonstrate, the context for the intellectual displays of sophists should not be thought of as being exclusively that of the Panhellenic sanctuaries; but they constituted a significant and major venue for these displays, as I hope that the documentation of sophoi at the games has shown.

[ back ] 16. On the Seven Sages, see Martin 1993.

[ back ] 17. For a full discussion of the aphorisms of the Seven Sages, see Schutz 1866 and Oikonomides 1980 and 1987.

[ back ] 18. For a discussion of the tripod narrative, see Gernet 1981:78–81; Humphreys 1983a:249–250; and Martin 1993:120. For an etiological explanation of the myth traced back to Sumerian texts, see Reiner 1961. Martin 1993:122 also discusses the tripod story within a comparative framework.

[ back ] 19. Diogenes gives us many more variants of the story. Some accounts describe the origin of the tripod: It was a bridal gift presented at Pelops’ wedding by Hephaestus. It was later passed on to Menelaus and then carried off by Paris along with Helen. She later threw it into the ocean, saying that it would be a cause of strife. In another account Periander sent the tripod on a ship to Thrasybulus. The ship was wrecked and the tripod was later found by fishermen. In yet other versions, it was not a tripod, but a bowl or golden goblet. One version relates how a certain Bathycles from Arcadia left a bowl (φιάλη) at his death to be given to the one who had been most useful with his wisdom (δοῦναι τῶν σοφῶν ὀνηΐστῳ). A second version tells that Croesus, king of Lydia, gave a golden goblet (ποτήριον χρυσοῦν) to a friend to be bestowed upon the wisest of the Greeks. Plutarch, following the first version of Diogenes Laertius, makes the fishermen come from Cos and the buyers of the catch from Miletus. He adds that Helen threw the tripod into the ocean on her way back from Troy in accordance with an old prophecy. See Wiersma 1934 for the different versions.

[ back ] 20. Gernet 1981:79.

[ back ] 21. This is of course not to imply that this is the only way to interpret the tripod story. Indeed, there are other versions where the tripod does not circulate among the Seven Sages or has no affiliation with Apollo at Delphi. For more on the tripod and the Seven Sages, see Wiersma 1934, Snell 1971, Gernet 1981, Fehling 1985, Martin 1993, and Busine 2002.

[ back ] 22. Hermippus in Diogenes Laertius 1.72.

[ back ] 23. Diogenes Laertius 1.39.

[ back ] 24. Delphi was also the occasion for musical/poetical recitations, which undoubtedly many sophoi would attend and make an object of interpretation and criticism. For more on the musical performances at Delphi, see Richardson 1992.

[ back ] 25. For textual edition and commentary of Pindar’s paeans, and discussion of the Delphic temples, see Rutherford 2001:210–232.

[ back ] 26. Rutherford 2001:219. See Dickie 1997, who suggests a common ancient source.

[ back ] 27. Rutherford 2001:220. For other instances of the connection between prophetic song and Delphi, see, e.g. Pindar fr. 150 (μαντεύεο, Μοῖσα, προφατεύσω δ’ ἐγώ, “Deliver your prophesy, Muse, and I will interpret.”). Dodds 1951:82 comments that the “words he uses are the technical terms of Delphi; implicit in them is the old analogy between poetry and divination.” See also Paean 6.6 (ἀοίδιμον Πιερίδων προφάταν) and Bacchylides 9.3 (θεῖος προφάτας). Murray 1981:97, and Rutherford 2001:307 discuss these passages. For a more general discussion on poetry and prophecy, see Chadwick 1952, and Kugel 1990.

[ back ] 28. Pausanias (10.5.12) and Philostratus (Vita Apollonii 6.11) both make this connection. It also occurs at Vita Sophoclea 64.

[ back ] 29. Rutherford 2001:220, referring to the Odyssey 12.189–191: [ back ] ἴδμεν γάρ τοι πάνθ’, ὅσ’ ἐνὶ Τροίῃ εὐρείῃ [ back ] Ἀργεῖοι Τρῶές τε θεῶν ἰότητι μόγησαν, [ back ] ἴδμεν δ’ ὅσσα γένηται ἐπὶ χθονὶ πουλυβοτείρῃ. [ back ] For we know all the toils that the Argives and the Trojans suffered [ back ] At spacious Troy by the will of the gods, [ back ] And we know all that happens on the all-nourishing earth.

[ back ] 30. Compare this to Hesiod’s Muses (Theogony 26–34), who breathed a divine voice into the poet (ἐνέπνευσαν δέ μοι αὐδὴν θέσπιν) and thus enabled him to celebrate in song things to come and things that had been (ἵνα κλείοιμι τά τ’ ἐσσόμενα πρό τ’ ἐόντα). For bibliography, see footnote 13 above.

[ back ] 31. Rutherford 2001:222 and n38.

[ back ] 32. This quotation comes from Plutarch, and there is a vivid scholarly debate about how much of the quotation is authentic and how much derives from Plutarch himself. See Kahn 1979:124–125 and Guthrie 1962:414n1.

[ back ] 33. It is perhaps significant that Plutarch, when introducing this quotation, refers to it as a counter-example to the charm of Sappho’s poetry, which spell-binds and enchants the listeners (κηλοῦντα καὶ καταθέλγοντα τοὺς ἀκροωμένους), De Pythiae Oraculis 6. Thus it seems that Plutarch has displaced the motif of charming and spell-binding from Delphi to Sappho’s poetry.

[ back ] 34. For text, commentary, and discussion of Plato’s attitude towards poetry, see Murray 1996.

[ back ] 35. For Orpheus and Orphism, see n13 above.

[ back ] 36. In this context, one could also include other key terms such as ἐπῳδαί, γοητεία, and ψυχαγωγία, all of which are used in relation to magicians, poets, and sophists. For a discussion of these terms, see Romilly 1975.

[ back ] 37. See also 530b and 541c.

[ back ] 38. By using the term “charismatic power,” I draw heavily upon the Weberian term “charisma,” which he defines as, “a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities. These are such as are not accessible to the ordinary person, but are regarded as of divine origin or as exemplary, and on the basis of them the individual concerned is treated as a ‘leader.’ In primitive circumstances this peculiar kind of quality is thought of as resting on magical powers, whether of prophets, persons with reputation for therapeutic or legal wisdom, leaders in the hunt, or heroes in war.” Weber 1978:241.

[ back ] 39. As Kahn 1979:23 notes, it has been thought since antiquity that “the Delphic mode” was “a paradigm for Heraclitus’ own riddling style.” For the parallelism between Heraclitus’ style and that of the Delphic oracle, see Guthrie 1962:414, esp. n2; cf. Nightingale 2000:164.

[ back ] 40. Heraclitus DK 22B101.

[ back ] 41. Guthrie 1962:418.

[ back ] 42. Plato Apology 20e. Lloyd 1987 notes that Plato, although often portraying Socrates as interested in oracular knowledge, “frequently undercuts references to Socrates as some kind of μάντις,” 86–87n134.

[ back ] 43. Snodgrass 1986:53–54.

[ back ] 44. Gernet 1981:80.

[ back ] 45. Martin 1993:127n42. Morgan 1990 gives support to such a view. When discussing tripods as dedications, she writes, “It is possible, for example, that their social value depended upon their previous role as gifts or prestige items within an elite exchange network,” 46. This network could also be said to be at work in the sympotic context of the Seven Sages as portrayed by Plutarch’s Dinner of the Seven Wise Men. The symposium, of course, would be the site par excellence for aristocratic activities and for the same elite ethos that fueled the operation of xenia. For a social analysis of the institution of the symposium, see Murray 1990; see also Griffith 2001:56–59.

[ back ] 46. The scarcity of primary sources presents unique challenges in attempting a full-scale investigation of the subject matter at hand, and I have often settled for a “circumstantial” picture of the institutional framework that facilitated travel and interaction among sophoi. See the appendix for a longer discussion of how the fragmentary nature of the sources has affected my argument.