Tell, Håkan. 2011. Plato's Counterfeit Sophists. Hellenic Studies Series 44. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies. http://nrs.harvard.edu/urn-3:hul.ebook:CHS_Tell.Platos_Counterfeit_Sophists.2011.
Apendix. Primary Sources for the Sophists
It would be difficult to regard the story of the tripod as legend, since it seems to have been invented simply as an illustration of a type of wisdom. Still, it remains a legend because of the recognizable persistence of certain traditional ideas or images, and because of the mythological basis it retains (more or less faithfully, depending on the authors). Without such a foundation, the narrative would lose the minimum emotional and poetic interest it has.
Louis Gernet The Anthropology of Ancient Greece
In exploring the cultural authority of the sophists, I have repeatedly used Plato, Xenophon, and Aristotle as important sources. This invites the question of how it is possible to use this hostile tradition to draw a nuanced picture of the sophists—especially if its members are, as I argue in chapter one, engrossed in a battle over legitimacy with rival practitioners of wisdom. In addition, the chronological diversity of the material on the Greek wisdom tradition poses numerous problems. For example, how are we to justify the juxtaposition of testimonia from Plato and, say, Diogenes Laertius (probably active in the first half of the third century CE) or Stobaeus (early fifth century CE)?
The problem of the potential unreliability of primary sources is of course not unique to this book, but confronts anyone studying Greek culture and literature. Early Greek philosophy is particularly affected, since most of what has come down to us is derived from later, more or less reliable, summaries. In response to this situation, a whole field of study has emerged in an attempt to establish reliable criteria according to which the authenticity of such primary sources can be assessed. Jaap Mansfeld has been active in both chronicling the emergence of doxography as a modern discipline, while simultaneously making substantial contributions to it; and his scholarship is the obvious starting point for anyone interested in understanding the many problems associated with establishing the authenticity of the primary material on early Greek philosophy.
While those of us interested in the sophists must often rely on the findings of doxographical scholarship, we still face difficulties peculiar to the material on them, especially the extent to which Plato’s hostility towards sophists disqualifies him as a reliable source for their intellectual practices. The guiding principle that I have adopted in the foregoing pages is to strive for conceptual consistency, that is, for the recurrence of motifs, themes, and homologies that help bring into focus crucial features. I then attempted to corroborate the validity of these themes by chronicling their prevalence in sources that are chronologically and qualitatively diverse. In the case of the sophists’ presence at the Panhellenic games, for example, we have evidence from sources as disparate as Plato’s Hippias Minor, Dio Chrysostom, and Clement of Alexandria. Regarding their preoccupation with the topic of concord (ὁμόνοια), there exists a similar breadth of testimonia, including some surviving fragments from Gorgias, Antiphon, and Thrasymachus.
While such chronological diversity in the sources is helpful, it is certainly not sufficient. When discussing accusations against the sophists of teaching for pay in chapter two, for example, my main line of argument is that many of the later sources are directly derivative of the Platonic tradition and therefore offer little new evidence. In that case I instead seek to contrast the Platonic characterization of the sophists with divergent portrayals found in old comedy and Isocrates—precisely to highlight the lack of conceptual consistency. In other words, I have assumed that there exist conceptual connections among temporally disparate passages except when there is strong evidence to the contrary, for example, in passages from independent traditions. I have thus tried not to rely exclusively on the Platonic tradition, but to corroborate characterizations found there with evidence from other traditions or in later authors with access to diverse sources. The treatment of the primary sources in this book is thus far from precise, but given the dearth of material—especially in respect to the sophists—I have attempted throughout to avoid conclusions based on one-sided characterizations.
Despite the presence of conceptual connections, however, there is no guarantee that they necessarily correspond to a factual reality. Even so, they might still be revealing about historical representations; that is, “the way in which the Greeks themselves thought things happened and pictured to themselves the ideal by which they then judged the real.”  This is especially relevant in the material on the elusive Seven Sages, where there is a particular problem of the reliability of the sources. It has been argued by Detlev Fehling that Plato invented this group of sophoi in the Protagoras, and that all earlier occurrences of the names of sages in Greek literature refer to individual sages without any notion that they were part of a collegium.  In Fehling’s view, it would be historically flawed to ascribe any cultural significance to the Seven Sages before the fourth century BCE, and all subsequent references to them are derived from Plato. This view is contrary to that of Bruno Snell, who reached a different conclusion based upon his reading of papyrus PSI 1093. There he found fragmentary lines of hexameter poetry that he ascribed to a work on the banquet of the Seven Sages.  Citing this papyrus as well as the scholia attributed to the Seven Sages (transmitted by Diogenes Laertius)—which, on the basis of meter and content, he dates to no later than to the fifth century BCE—Snell argued that there existed a traditional genre on the Seven Sages that predated Plato; he further suggested that the Contest of Homer and Hesiod is a good example of this genre. 
Martin similarly defends the antiquity of the tradition of the Seven Sages. Examining the sources surrounding the sages and comparing similar features and characteristics, he argues that “certain traits, certain recurring themes, in the stories of the sages allow us to extrapolate and to reconstruct a world in which the existence of a group of Seven Sages, long before Plato’s era, makes good sense.”  We also have the commandments of the Seven Sages that both Oikonomides and Schultz trace back to an original inscription that they believe was cut on a stele in Apollo’s temple at Delphi sometime in the early sixth century BCE.  There is thus evidence to suggest that literary and oral accounts of the Seven Sages existed before Plato, and that these rich traditions were readily available for later generations of sophoi to appropriate and model themselves upon.
[ back ] 1. Martin 1993:108.
[ back ] 2. Fehling 1985.
[ back ] 3. Snell 1966.
[ back ] 4. Cf. Richardson 1981:1, who argues that the story of the contest goes back to the sixth century BCE.
[ back ] 5. Martin 1993:113.
[ back ] 6. See Schultz 1866 and Oikonomides 1980 and 1987. Though Schultz’s date of the inscriptions may be a bit too early, it is probably safe to suggest a pre-Platonic date for the stele.