Marian Demos, Lyric Quotation in Plato: Chapter 2. Simonides’ Ode to Scopas in the Protagoras

Chapter 2. Simonides’ Ode to Scopas in the Protagoras

One of the most controversial topics in the study of Greek lyric poetry centers on Simonides’ poem to Scopas and its role in the Protagoras. Uncertainties remain concerning the genre to which the poem belongs, the poem’s original setting and intent, and the interpretations of the poem by Protagoras and Socrates. Scholars have attempted to reconstruct Simonides’ poem from the quotations in the Platonic dialogue and thus have isolated it from the only context in which it has come down to us. [1] My purpose in studying Simonides’ poem and its interpretation in the Protagoras is not to argue for any definitive text of the poem and thereby divorce it from the context of the dialogue.
My interest lies in Socrates’ interpretation of the poem and the poem’s role in the conversation between Socrates and Protagoras. I believe that Socrates’ represented interpretation is fundamentally sound and that this section of the dialogue, which some consider a comic digression on Plato’s part, has a serious intent. Plato has Socrates view the meaning of Simonides’ words from a “Socratic” standpoint. As we shall see, Socrates ascribes his own philosophical tenets to Simonides. If Socrates’ statements regarding Simonides’ poem seem ludicrous to us, perhaps we are lacking the knowledge that Plato’s—not to mention Socrates’—intended audience possessed regarding the poem under discussion. It is important to notice at the very beginning of any study of Simonides’ poem that the poem is not quoted in its entirety. Extrapolation on the part of scholars therefore becomes necessary but, in some cases, may lead to conclusions that appear as unfathomable as Socrates’ own interpretation.
Protagoras is coerced into asking questions of Socrates so that the discussion regarding ἀρετή (‘virtue’) can continue (339a-d). However, the inquiry is now transferred to the realm of poetry (339a5-6: τὸ ἐρώτημα…μετενηνεγμένον δ’ εἰς ποίησιν), and the role of poetry in a man’s παιδεία (‘education’) has become the focus of the discussion (338e7). The significance of the episode in the Protagoras involving the interpretation of verses from Simonides’ ode to Scopas is difficult to grasp because Plato appears to portray Socrates as unable to provide a convincing defense of the meaning of the verses quoted by Protagoras. The sophist claims that Simonides contradicts himself, since he makes two seemingly contrasting statements in the same poem. First, Protagoras quotes the following lines (presumably the beginning of the poem): [2]

ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν μὲν ἀλαθέως γενέσθαι χαλεπόν,
χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόῳ τετράγωνον, ἄνευ ψόγου

Hard is it on the one hand to become
A good man truly, hands and feet and mind
Foursquare, wrought without blame. [3]

Socrates claims that he knows this poem very well and that it is composed correctly (339b8). Protagoras asks Socrates whether a poem is well-constructed if the poet contradicts himself; Socrates says that it doubtless is not. The sophist proceeds to quote more of Simonides’ poem:

οὐδέ μοι ἐμμελέως τὸ Πιττάκειον νέμεται,
καίτοι σοφοῦ παρὰ φωτὸς εἰρημένον · χαλεπὸν φάτ’
ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι.

Nor do I count as sure the oft-quoted word
of Pittacus, though wise indeed he was
Who spoke it. To be noble, said the sage,
Ιs hard.

Protagoras then asks Socrates if all the lines he quoted belong to one and the same poet and if the latter words are in accordance with the former. According to Socrates, the two quotations agree with one another; however, in an aside, he expresses his apprehension regarding Protagoras’ seemingly purposeful line of questioning (339c8-9: καὶ ἅμα μέντοι ἐφοβούμην μὴ τὶ λέγοι—‘and yet I feared that he may have a point’).

Protagoras’ questions make it clear that he intends to criticize Simonides’ poetic skill. I take it that when Protagoras says that the poet ‘does not speak correctly’ (οὐκ ὀρθῶς λέγει), he is referring to a flaw in the logic of a poem’s overall meaning or intent. [4] Since Simonides had first stated that it is difficult for a man to be good truly, he seems to be inconsistent when he criticizes a similar remark by Pittacus (339c4-5: χαλεπὸν φάτ’ ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι—‘he said it is difficult to be noble’). Before looking closely at the lines attributed to Simonides, it is important to ask why Socrates feels compelled to uphold Simonides’ integrity as a poet. Is Socrates really concerned with Simonides’ meaning, or is he intent upon countering Protagoras’ display of knowledge with respect to poetry only to present any type of challenge that he can muster against the sophist? The latter is the more probable, since Socrates himself views his confrontation with Protagoras as a sort of bout. The language Socrates uses to describe the effect of Protagoras’ “blow” belongs to a boxing match: ὡσπερεὶ ὑπὸ ἀγαθοῦ πύκτου πληγείς, ἐσκοτώθην τε καὶ ἰλιγγίασα (339e1-2: ‘things went dark and I felt dizzy, as if I had been hit by a good boxer’.) If one considers the exchange between the two as an agôn in which Socrates is intent upon demonstrating that Protagoras is not as keen a literary critic (or one who ranks himself as sophos as the poets) as he himself thinks, then the validity of Socrates’ argumentation becomes secondary. Socrates confesses that he appeals to Prodicus the Cean in the immediate audience in order to have time to think about what Simonides meant in the poem under discussion (339e3-5). Socrates puts his appeal in the language of Homer, quoting Iliad 21.308-9, and views Simonides as though the poet were a citadel in need of protection from the attack of Protagoras. [5]
Earlier in the Protagoras, Prodicus is portrayed as a sophist particularly keen on semantic differences; [6] a touch of humor on the part of Plato is obvious in Prodicus’ monologue at 337a1-c4 where he goes on at tedious length to distinguish between the meanings of verbs. This was a hallmark of his “sophistry,” or, as Socrates politely says in 340a8, his μουσική (poetical sensibility and education), and Plato does not hesitate to exploit the comic possibilities that such a practice can offer. Since Prodicus knows how to distinguish meanings, Socrates begins to discuss whether Simonides’ statement that “it is difficult for a man to become (γενέσθαι) good truly” is the same as Pittacus’ saying that “it is difficult to be (ἔμμεναι) good” (340c4-5). Since ‘to become’ is different from ‘to be’, as Socrates maintains and believes that Prodicus—given his love of semantic distinctions—would doubtless agree, then Socrates concludes that Simonides is not contradicting himself when he disagrees with Pittacus’ remark. In order to strengthen his argument, Socrates paraphrases Works and Days 289 and 291-2, where Hesiod describes ἀρετή as something difficult to achieve but easy to possess once one reaches its summit (340d1-5). Socrates probably has in mind another of Simonides’ poems, PMG 579, which resembles the Hesiodic passage as it contains a reference to virtue dwelling atop steep cliffs; the diction of both Hesiod and Simonides is similar. [7] Prodicus agrees with Socrates’ interpretation of the subtle difference between the words of Simonides and Pittacus; however, Protagoras immediately disagrees with Socrates’ argument that Simonides regards virtue as something easy (φαῦλον) to possess on the grounds that all men deem it the most difficult thing of all (πάντων χαλεπώτατον).
Protagoras’ question to Socrates about the lines from Simonides is intended to show us more about Protagoras, the sophist who ranks himself among the great poets whom he views as sophists in disguise. Unlike the poets, Protagoras is not afraid of displaying his knowledge (σοφιστικὴ τέχνη); in other words, Plato is setting Protagoras up as one who considers himself among the great educators of Hellas. Plato has Protagoras characterize Homer, Hesiod, and, interestingly enough, Simonides as sophists:

ἐγὼ δὲ τὴν σοφιστικὴν τέχνην φημὶ μὲν εἶναι παλαιάν, τοὺς δὲ μεταχειριζομένους αὐτὴν τῶν παλαιῶν ἀνδρῶν, φοβουμένους τὸ ἐπαχθὲς αὐτῆς, πρόσχημα ποιεῖσθαι καὶ προκαλύπτεσθαι, τοὺς μὲν ποίησιν, οἷον Ὅμηρόν τε καὶ Ἡσίοδον καὶ Σιμωνίδην…
Personally I hold that the sophist’s art is an ancient one, but that those who put their hand to it in former times, fearing the odium which it brings, adopted a disguise and worked under cover. Some used poetry as a screen, for instance, Homer and Hesiod and Simonides…

These are bold words. Protagoras has the audacity not only to liken himself to such figures but also to claim that he surpasses them because he alone does not deny being a sophist; like these ἄνδρες παλαιοί, he educates men (317b4-5: ὁμολογῶ τε σοφιστὴς εἶναι καὶ παιδεύειν ἀνθρώπους—‘I admit that I am a sophist and educator’).

Since, in his own eyes, his knowledge is equal if not superior to the poet’s, Protagoras can criticize Simonides’ poem. Consequently, Socrates’ reaction to Protagoras’ attack on Simonides can be understood as an attempt to preserve the stature of a traditional transmitter of παιδεία, in the case of Simonides, the poet-educator for the χορός, and to reject the audacious claims of the sophist. Thus, if Protagoras objects to Simonides’ poem, greater objections should be raised against the sophist who claims to be such a great educator, especially in the sphere of ἀρετή. Moreover, if Protagoras displays his lack of ἀρετή by posing a question that does not do justice to Simonides’ poem as a whole, then it is possible to view Socrates’ “literary criticism” with respect to the Simonidean quotations as not simply a misunderstanding of the poem’s meaning on the part of Socrates but as a poor answer to a question that was unfair from the beginning, since it took the quotations out of their original context.
It is usually assumed that Protagoras quoted the beginning of Simonides’ poem. [8] Perhaps Protagoras omitted lines known to the readers for whom Plato intended the dialogue. The poem in its entirety may have been well-known to the immediate audience. Unfortunately, the entire text of Simonides’ poem is not extant. Some of Socrates’ comments may not have been as out of place as they now seem. Although this is a possible explanation for the seemingly unintelligible line of argumentation offered by Socrates in his defense of Simonides, one must not exclude the scenario that Socrates cannot offer an adequate justification of the poem’s meaning because Protagoras has skewed the question-and-answer session in his favor; that is, the way that Protagoras sets up the charge of self-contradiction against Simonides does not permit any suitable rebuttal.
Socrates again consults Prodicus as an authority on the meanings of words. Before a discussion of what Simonides meant by χαλεπόν (‘difficult’: 341a5-d7), Plato has Socrates infuse his words to Prodicus, another sophist in the group, with a mocking tone. He is surely ironic in saying that Prodicus’ presence during the exchange with Protagoras is fortuitous (340e8-9). This somewhat sarcastic tone continues when he states that Prodicus has some sort of divine knowledge that dates back to the days of Simonides or even earlier. Surely Protagoras would agree, since he himself had compared his own knowledge to that of ‘the men of old’ earlier in the dialogue (316d and following). Socrates then is attacking indirectly the sophist Protagoras when he describes the sophist Prodicus in these terms. Socrates’ saying that he is a student of Prodicus takes this ironical tone to an extreme and, as if he were pitting one sophist against another sophist, he claims that he is more expert than Protagoras in the field of semantic differentiation because he can apply Prodicus’ expertise to the matter at hand (341a2-4).
The interpretation of Socrates’ appeal to Prodicus as a means of mocking “sophists” in general is supported by the subsequent passage on the meaning of Simonides’ use of χαλεπόν. Once Prodicus claims that Simonides meant χαλεπόν in the sense of κακόν (‘bad’ or ‘evil’: 341c2), a definition swiftly rejected by Protagoras, and once Socrates agrees with the latter and withdraws Prodicus’ suggestion by saying that Prodicus knew what Simonides meant by the word but was jesting and merely trying to test Protagoras’ ability to defend his interpretation of χαλεπόν as meaning ‘not easy’ in accordance with its common usage (341d7-9), it becomes clear that Socrates is making manifest Prodicus’ ignorance in the very skill that the sophist claims as his own. Prodicus not only fails to understand Simonides’ meaning but he also assumes Simonides was objecting to Pittacus’ faulty diction caused by the latter’s being from Lesbos (341c6-9). A funny twist has taken place: Prodicus, and not Simonides or Pittacus, is the one unable to distinguish between various shades of meaning: τὰ ὀνόματα οὐκ ἠπίστατο ὀρθῶς διαιρεῖν—‘he does not know to distinguish meanings correctly’ (341c7-8).
Socrates, agreeing with Protagoras, provides another line from the Simonidean poem as proof that Simonides could not have meant χαλεπόν in the sense of κακόν. He says to Protagoras:

ἐπεὶ ὅτι γε Σιμωνίδης οὐ λέγει τὸ χαλεπὸν κακόν, μέγα
τεκμήριόν ἐστιν εὐθὺς τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο ῥῆμα· λέγει γὰρ ὅτι—
θεὸς ἄν μόνος τοῦτ’ ἔχοι γέρας,
οὐ δήπου τοῦτό γε λέγων, κακὸν ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι, εἶτα τὸν
θεόν φησιν μόνον τοῦτο ἂν ἔχειν καὶ τῷ θεῷ τοῦτο γέρας
ἀπένειμε μόνῳ.

Actually the very next words provide ample proof that
Simonides did not equate ‘hard’ with ‘bad.’ He goes on,
A god alone can have this privilege,
and presumably he does not first say ‘it is bad to be
noble’ and then add that only a god could achieve it, and
allot it as a privilege entirely divine.

According to Socrates, the line quoted immediately follows the lines of Simonides’ poem mentioned by Protagoras. The γέρας in the poem of Simonides refers to the condition of being ἐσθλός (here used in place of ἀγαθός). Socrates’ citing of Simonides’ words about a god alone having the privilege of ‘being noble’ shows that he, like Protagoras, knows the poem well. His knowledge of the poem’s contents becomes clearer as the dialogue progresses and it should be noted that it is Socrates (not Protagoras) who quotes other lines from Simonides’ ᾆσμα (‘song’ or ‘poem’). If Socrates later quotes lines in order to uphold his interpretation of the poet’s overall intent (341e7-8: ἅ μoι δοκεῖ διανοεῖσθαι Σιμωνίδης ἐν τούτῳ τῷ ἄσματι— ‘what I think is Simonides’ intention in this song’), then it is reasonable to assume that he will select only those lines in accordance with his view of the poem. More importantly, his purpose in discussing this poem in particular is to show Protagoras that he is περὶ ἐπῶν δεινός (338e7-339a1) and that he can confront Protagoras on his own terms, since, like the sophist, he is “educated” in matters relating to poetry. Protagoras claims that knowledge of poetry is the greatest part of a man’s education (338e7). As a result, Socrates now is forced to display his own δεινότης (‘cleverness’) concerning the Simonidean poem about ἀρετή. It is striking that Socrates must give an account of virtue by being δεινός, a quality ascribed usually to sophists. If Socrates must adopt the sophistry of a Protagoras in order to take up the latter’s challenge, then the seemingly awkward argumentation of Socrates is intended to be understood as a feeble attempt on the philosopher’s part to resemble a sophist. I venture to suggest that Plato intended Socrates’ arguments not to be persuasive; Socrates must not play by the rules of Protagoras’ game.

If Protagoras forces Socrates to pose as a literary critic in the mode of a sophist like Protagoras, [9] then it is not surprising that the philosopher would resort to an interpretation of Simonides’ poem that allows for amplification of the views of Socrates the philosopher and not Socrates the Protagorean-style critic of poetry. In fact, Socrates focuses on philosophical questions concerning ontology (more precisely, the difference between ‘becoming’ and ‘being’ in the lines of Simonides and Pittacus, respectively) and his own famous contention that “no one errs willingly,” a view he ascribes to Simonides and the other wise men (345d9-e2: οὐδεὶς τῶν σοφῶν ἀνδρῶν ἡγεῖται οὐδένα ἀνθρώπων ἑκόντα ἐξαμαρτάνειν—‘no wise man thinks anyone errs willingly’).
Socrates begins his interpretation of Simonides’ poem at 342a6. Before quoting various lines, he prefaces his monologue with a small excursus on Crete and Sparta as the oldest leading centers of philosophy in Hellas. Sophists, he goes on to say, abound in these areas but they, like the sophists whom Protagoras had mentioned earlier (316d2-317c1), deny being sophists and hide their wisdom (342b1-6). These Cretan and Spartan “sophists” are so protective of their sophia that they pretend that their regions excel rather in warfare and courage so as not to share their wisdom with others (342b4-6). Socrates is obviously parodying Protagoras’ earlier comments about the reluctance of the sophists of old to divulge their being sophists; Protagoras, on the other hand, is not afraid to show his knowledge. Socrates’ purpose in this part of the Protagoras is obvious: to mock Protagoras’ style of exposition as displayed in his earlier discussion about his relationship to the ancients and to contrast Protagoras’ μακρολογία (‘speaking at length’) [10] with the Laconic brevity of Pittacus’ maxim as quoted by Simonides. Socrates contends that the Spartans have the best education with respect to philosophy and logoi. According to Socrates, the ability to utter short remarks that become memorable sayings is the hallmark of education, and he counts Pittacus of Mytilene as one of the traditional seven sages [11] who were influenced by Spartan paideia. He attributes maxims like γνῶθι σαυτόν (‘know thyself’) and μηδὲν ἅγαν (‘nothing in excess’) to these disciples of Spartan culture and then proceeds to classify Pittacus’ remark that it is difficult to be noble (as mentioned by Simonides) as an example of these pithy “philosophical” statements.
According to Socrates, Simonides intended to ‘take down’ (343c1: καθέλοι) Pittacus’ gnomic statement because he, covetous of fame, wished to gain a reputation for wisdom. [12] Simonides’ entire poem then is a refutation of Pittacus’ gnome (343c3-5 and 344b3-5). Socrates’ account of Simonides’ motivation indirectly mocks the practice of sophists like Protagoras who hope to debunk traditional wisdom in order to display their own cleverness. Although Socrates’ tone seems not altogether serious, his detailed analysis of the poem suggests that he is intent upon clearing Simonides of self-contradiction. Surely Protagoras’ opinion regarding the poem must have been novel; otherwise, Socrates would not have been compelled to defend Simonides. The arguments that Socrates provides, however, are at times strained and, as we shall see, skewed toward Socratic preoccupations.
To support his assertion that Simonides finds fault with Pittacus’ maxim regarding virtue, Socrates points to the μέν in the first line quoted by Protagoras and regards it as an indication that Simonides disagrees with the subsequent lines containing Pittacus’ maxim (343d 1-6). One cannot know whether this interpretation is correct, since the lines that came between the two quotations presented by Protagoras are missing. A corresponding δέ clause that is not available to us may have provided the key to understanding Simonides’ intent. Although some scholars find Socrates’ treatment of the μέν clause unconvincing, [13] it is a possible interpretation if one accepts Socrates’ insistence upon the difference between Pittacus’ χαλεπὸν ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι and Simonides’ ἄνδρ’ ἀγαθὸν γενέο χαλεπόν. [14] However, his claim at 343d6-344a6 that Simondes used ἀλαθέως as a hyperbaton, modifying χαλεπόν rather than referring back to ἀγαθόν, seems strained and unconvincing. [15] First, the natural sense of the word order precludes one’s understanding ‘it is truly difficult (344a4: χαλεπὸν ἀλαθέως) for a man to be good’ instead of ‘it is difficult for a man to be truly good’. Second, the latter meaning seems more appropriate, since Simonides expands upon the meaning of ἀγαθός in the phrase χερσίν τε καὶ ποσὶ καὶ νόῳ τετράγωνον, ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένον (‘hands and feet and mind foursquare, wrought without blame’). [16]
Instead of claiming that Socrates misunderstands Simonides, it is better to consider Socrates’ motivation during this segment of his analysis. In the case of the alleged hyperbaton, clearly he is trying, at any cost, to maintain that Simonides does not contradict himself. Socrates’ maneuver at 343e-344a is sophistic— i.e., clever but fallacious. More precisely, his is an obviously clumsy attempt at “Protagorean” argumentation. One can view the allusion to μακρολογία at 344b, a practice already attributed to Protagoras by Socrates (334c9-d1) and Alcibiades (336c5-6), as another ironic reference to Protagoras’ argumentative style; Socrates says that he will not delve into all the intricacies of the well-wrought poem, since it would take up too much time (344b2-3: ἀλλὰ μακρὸν ἂν εἴη αὐτὸ οὕτω διελθεῖν). Even though he promises to provide an ‘outline’ (τύπον) of the poem and a discussion of its overall ‘purpose’ (βούλησιν) as a ‘refutation’ (ἔλεγχος) [17] of Pittacus’ saying, his subsequent analysis is lengthy. Socrates’ presentation can then be understood as a subtle mimicry of the sophists infused with a serious purpose. He feels obliged to defend Simonides from the charge of self- contradiction. The convoluted defense, as will be shown, also becomes an opportunity for Socrates to voice his own philosophical views although they are attributed to Simonides. [18] If one sees Socrates’ attempt at literary criticism in such a light, then his interpretation does not seem so outlandish.
At 334b6-c5, Socrates reiterates what he has just argued, emphasizing that Simonides says ‘it is truly difficult to become a good man’ as though the poet were defending a thesis (344b6-7: ὡς ἂν εἰ λέγοι λόγον). However, the poet’s contention is now expanded upon by Socrates, who claims that Simonides regards ‘becoming agathos’ as possible only for a short period. The distinction between ‘becoming good’ (Simonides) and ‘being in a state of goodness’ (Pittacus) is mentioned again and thus introduces Socrates’ next comment, which he imagines Simonides himself would say if the poet were addressing Pittacus. Simonides would assert that it is not possible for human beings ‘to be good’ [19] since this is a privilege assigned only to the gods. [20] He quotes additional lines from the poem that presumably followed the phrase referring to the gods’ γέρας:

ἄνδρα δ’ οὐκ ἔστι μὴ οὐ κακὸν ἔμμεναι,
ὃν [ἂν] ἀμήχανος συμφορὰ καθέλῃ.

He cannot but be bad, whom once
Helpless disaster casts down.

This is followed by Socrates’ insistence that these lines refer to the man who is at times εὐμήχανος (‘resourceful’), not to the man who is always ἀμήχανος (‘helpless’). He uses a quint- essentially Socratic technique here: the comparison of those with the knowledge of some craft (e.g., sailors, farmers, doctors, etc.) to those who profess to have ἀρετή. The meaning of ἀμήχανος συμφορά here is obvious in the context of these lines. ‘Helpless disaster’ [21] refers to circumstances beyond a man’s control that render him κακός. [22] Socrates, in a clever play on words, contends that the εὐμήχανος man would be the only one susceptible to ἀμήχανος συμφορά (344d1-2). [23] The argumentation provided here seems pointless; however, it can be considered a feeble attempt at defending the upshot of this part of his presentation. His purpose is to defend Simonides’ statement that ‘it is difficult to become ἀγαθός᾽ and to infer that the poet would adduce that ‘it is impossible to be good’. If misfortune especially attacks the resourceful man, as Socrates alleges, then it can be argued (albeit dubiously) that only a good man can become κακός while the κακός man is κακός always. [24]

Socrates quotes from another poet, unknown to us, whose views resemble those of Simonides’: αὐτὰρ ἀνὴρ ἀγαθὸς τοτὲ μὲν κακός, ἄλλοτε δ’ ἐσθλός—‘a good man is sometimes bad, sometimes noble’ (344d8). [25] Simonides would say ‘to become good is difficult but possible’. The assertion that ‘to be good’ (ἐσθλὸν ἔμμεναι) is not possible—at least for human beings— is re-emphasized. [26] Another quotation from Simonides’ poem is added as further evidence for Socrates’ interpretation:

πράξας μὲν γὰρ εὖ πᾶς ἀνὴρ ἀγαθός,
κακὸς δ’ εἰ κακῶς.

For when he fares well every man is good,
But in ill faring, evil.

The subsequent discussion of these lines allows Socrates to interject one of his favorite philosophical tenets, the notion that ‘doing badly’ (κακὴ πρᾶξις) consists only of ‘being deprived of knowledge’ (ἐπιστήμης στερηθῆναι). [27] This transition at 345b5 to Socrates’ familiar claim regarding the relationship between virtue and knowledge is abrupt; however, one should not discard it on the grounds of seeming irrelevance. On the contrary, it offers a glimpse of Socrates’ insistence on the truth of his own beliefs regarding the nature of virtue.

He manages to connect Simonides’ notion that being κακός is a product of external forces that a man cannot overcome with his own conception of ‘doing badly’ applied to a man’s “inner” state comprised of knowledge. [28] Socrates achieves the fusion of these views by likening the plight of a ship’s pilot and a farmer, both susceptible to nature’s forces (344d), to the κακὴ πρᾶξις of a doctor who, unlike ‘laymen’ (ἰδιῶται), possesses a certain type of knowledge (345a-b). Since no one has absolute knowledge, no one can be ἀγαθός always. One cannot be sure that Simonides shared Socrates’ philosophical tenet; however, Socrates does agree with the poet’s attitude regarding the fragility of human goodness. Socrates interprets Simonides as implying that in order to become ‘bad’, one must first become ‘good’ (345b7-8). Socrates’ wording here is important because he clearly states that his interpretation is what Simonides had intended (345b8: ὥστε καὶ τοῦτο τοῦ ᾄσματος πρὸς τοῦτο τείνει…). In other words, Socrates is carrying Simonides’ poem a step further than the poet had. It is not clear from the context whether the phrase at 345c3 (ἐπὶ πλεῖστον δὲ καὶ ἄριστοί εἰσιν οὓς ἂν οἱ θεοὶ φιλῶσιν—‘those are best for the longest time whom the gods love’) is Socrates’ paraphrase of a line from the poem or the actual words of Simonides. [29] Socrates continues to quote from the poem:

τοὔνεκεν οὔ ποτ’ ἐγὼ τὸ μὴ γενέσθαι δυνατὸν
διζήμενος κενεὰν ἐς ἄπρακτον ἐλπίδα μοῖραν αἰῶνος
πανάμωμον ἄνθρωπον, εὐρυεδοῦς ὅσοι καρπὸν αἰνύμεθα
ἐπὶ θ’ ὑμῖν εὑρὼν ἀπαγγελέω·

Then never shall I vainly cast away
In hopeless search my little share of life,
Seeking a thing impossible to be,
A man all blameless, among those who reap
The fruit of the broad earth. But should I find him
I’ll send you word.

Although Socrates quotes these lines as additional support for his argument that Simonides is attacking Pittacus, he does not discuss their meaning immediately; he postpones his interpretation until later (at 346d). Simonides’ words are similar to what one finds in praise/blame poetry. The adjective πανάμωμος (‘utterly blameless’), a hapax legomenon, probably is synonymous with the earlier description of the ‘foursquare’ man as one who is ‘fashioned without blame’ (ἄνευ ψόγου τετυγμένος). [30] A Semonides fragment contains the adjective ἄμωμος modified by the adverb πάμπαν, and, as M. Dickie has noted, the sense in which Semonides uses it is the same as Simonides’ πανάμωμος. [31] Both poets state that a totally blameless human being does not exist. Simonides’ tone seems cynical in the last line, since it is probable that he will not be able to find such a man. [32]

The claim that Simonides directs his poem against the saying of Pittacus is repeated, and, in what appears as an anacolouthon, [33] he quickly shifts to quoting more lines as supposed evidence for this view of Simonides’ motivation:

πάντας δ’ ἐπαίνημι καὶ φιλέω
ἑκὼν ὅστις ἕρδῃ
μηδὲν αἰσχρόν · ἀνάγκῃ δ’ οὐδὲ θεοὶ μάχονται.

But all who do no baseness willingly
I praise and love. The gods themselves strive not
Against necessity.

Another abrupt transition occurs; this time, however, it is shifted toward another of Socrates’ own philosophical views. As before (cf. 345b5), he ascribes one of his philosophical tenets to Simonides. His belief that “no one errs willingly” finds a place in the subsequent interpretation of these lines. According to Socrates, Simonides was not so uneducated (ἀπαίδευτος) as to believe ‘that there were some who performed evil deeds willingly’ (345d6-9). He cleverly reintroduces the ‘wise men’ at this point and attributes his (Socrates’) belief to them: [οἱ σοφοὶ ἄνδρες] εὖ ἴσασιν ὅτι πάντες οἱ τὰ αἰσχρὰ καὶ τὰ κακὰ ποιοῦντες ἄκοντες ποιοῦσιν—‘they know well that all who do shameful and bad things do them unwillingly’ (345e2-4). In light of this belief supposedly shared by Simonides and the other wise men, [34] Socrates asserts that the adjective ἑκών refers to Simonides himself and not to the relative clause ὅστις ἕρδῃ μηδὲν αἰσχρόν. Although the natural word order would preclude Socrates’ interpretation, his claim is repeated later at 346e1-4 where Socrates says that Simonides uses ἐπαίνημι, the ‘Mytilenaean’ form of ἐπαινῶ, because the phrase beginning ‘I love and praise all willingly’ is addressed to Pittacus, who is a native of Mytilene. [35]

The curious aspect of Socrates’ analysis in 346a-b is that he not only inserts his own philosophical view but also concentrates on a topic whose relevance is not immediately understood. He dwells on the subject of the tendency of ‘wicked men’ (οἱ πονηροί) to delight in finding fault with the wrongdoing of relatives or others, whereas ‘good men’ (οἱ ἀγαθοί) force themselves, by means of reconciliation and exhortation, ‘to love and praise’ those who act unjustly (e.g., their own parents or homeland). [36] Note that Socrates is sneaking in his own view of the way one should behave toward one’s family and country. Perhaps he is also paying Simonides a backhanded compliment, since the poet, as Socrates says, [37] found himself in circumstances that compelled him to bestow praise upon such figures as tyrants; Simonides would then be counted as one of the ἀγαθοί who do not easily find fault with anyone. [38] It is important for Socrates to note that Simonides, like the ‘good’ men, felt at times that he was praising under the force of necessity (346b7: ἀναγκαζόμενος), ‘not willingly’ (οὐχ ἑκών).
After the lengthy digression on ‘loving and praising’, Socrates provides more lines from the poem in a convoluted juxtaposition of quotation and paraphrase: [39]

ταῦτα δὴ καὶ τῷ Πιττακῷ λέγει ὅτι Ἐγώ, ὦ Πιττακέ, οὐ
διὰ ταῦτά σε ψέγω, ὅτι εἰμι φιλόψογος, ἐπεὶ—
ἔμοιγ’ ἐξαρκεῖ ὃς ἄν μὴ κακὸς ᾖ
μηδ’ ἄγαν ἀπάλαμνος, εἰδώς τ’ ὀνησίπολιν
δίκαν ὑγιὴς ἀνήρ·
οὔ μιν ἐγὼ μωμήσομαι—
οὔ γάρ εἰμι φιλόμωμος—
τῶν γὰρ ἡλιθίων ἀπείρων γενέθλα,
ὥστ’ εἴ τις χαίρει ψέγων, ἐμπλησθείη ἂν ἐκείνους
πάντα τοι καλά, τοῖσί τ’ αἰσχρὰ μὴ μέμεικται.

This then is addressed to Pittacus in particular, as if to say,
My reason for blaming you, Pittacus, is not that I am a
faultfinder, for
to me that man suffices
Who is not bad nor overweak, but sound
In heart and knowing righteousness, the weal
Of nations. I shall find no fault with him—
I am not, he says, a censorious man—
For beyond number is the tribe of fools.
So,he implies, if anyone takes pleasure in faultfinding,
he may have his fill in censuring them.
All is fair that is unmixed with foul.

These lines, according to the Socratic interpretation, are directed at Pittacus (cf. 347a1-3). One should not rule out the possibility that they actually refer to Scopas, the addressee of the poem (as mentioned by Protagoras in 339a7). The meaning of the adjective ἀπάλαμνος here is a matter of scholarly debate, since it can mean ‘helpless, good for naught’ or ‘reckless, lawless’. [40] Although some understand the word in the latter sense, [41] the consensus maintains that it does not have a “moral” overtone. [42] The word recalls the sense of the adjective ἀμήχανος used earlier by Simonides to describe συμφορά (344c5). Moreover, it would be appropriate for it to mean ‘ineffectual’, since it is contrasted with the adjective ὑγιής (‘sound’ in body and mind) [43] that characterizes a ‘man who knows justice which benefits the polis’. Simonides’ words are reminiscent of the poetry of Solon and Theognis; both are concerned with the preservation of dike in the city-state. Unfortunately, one cannot be sure of Simonides’ train of thought because Socrates may be quoting lines that, out of context, can fit into his own interpretation as offered in 346d1-347a5.

The final part of Socrates’ interpretation briefly refers to the last line quoted (πάντα τοι καλά, τοῖσί τ’ αἰσχρὰ μὴ μέμεικται (‘all is fair that is unmixed with foul’). [44] Simonides, he says, is expressing here his allowance for the middle state (namely, the poet’s acceptance of actions not completely καλά, but still not ‘shameful’) as free from reproach: τὰ μέσα ἀποδέχεται ὣστε μὴ ψέγειν (346d3). [45] After a rapid repetition of the lines quoted earlier regarding the ‘utterly blameless man’, the upshot of Simonides’ words is provided in a hodgepodge of requotation and exegesis (346d-e). Simonides is understood to mean that he is content if a man is ‘average’ (μέσος) and does nothing κακόν. This is followed by the reassertion that the adjective ἑκών should refer to Simonides’ act of loving and praising whoever does nothing αἰσχρόν. [46] Then, still speaking as though he were the poet, Socrates feebly appends a comment on having to praise against one’s will: ἄκων δ’ ἔστιν οὓς ἐγὼ ἐπαινῶ καὶ φιλῶ (346e3-4: ‘there are those whom I praise and love against my will’). The hypothetical scenario continues with Simonides blaming Pittacus for pretending to tell the truth when in fact the latter is ‘grievously lying about matters of the greatest importance’ (347a2-3). [47] Socrates had just claimed that Simonides does not consider himself φιλόψογος (‘fond of blaming’), since, in the poet’s words, ‘the race (γενέθλα) of fools is endless’ and one could have one’s fill of blaming them. Obviously, Socrates has not quoted line by line here; consequently, it is difficult to reconstruct the context in which the quotations occur. All that can be said is that Socrates has concentrated on Simonides himself and has insisted that the poet blames Pittacus, even though Simonides, in his own words, says that he usually does not like to find fault with others. It is hard to believe that anyone would have taken Simonides’ claim seriously, since a major function of poetry is to offer praise (especially in epinician poetry and throughout Greek poetry in general) and blame. Therefore, Socrates may be pretending to accept Simonides’ pose in order to highlight his contention that Simonides, one who was not φιλόμωμος, felt obliged to blame Pittacus for not telling the truth. Turning to Prodicus and Protagoras, Socrates finishes his exegesis: ταῦτά μοι δοκεῖ … Σιμωνίδης διανοούμενος πεποιηκέναι τοῦτο τὸ ᾆσμα (347a3-5: ‘this is what I think Simonides intended in the making of his poem’).
Hippias, another sophist who figures prominently in the Protagoras, commends Socrates for his interpretation. Hippias’ words are important because they do not refer to Socrates’ interpretation alone; Hippias himself says that he too has a fine λόγος (‘interpretation’) regarding the Simonidean poem he is willing to display “on the spot” to the immediate audience. This reference to another possible interpretation of the poem is significant because it implies that Socrates’ immediate audience thought that a poem could be viewed in many different ways. More importantly, if a ‘poem’ (ᾆσμα) is subject to more than one λόγος and each of these λόγοι can be considered equally ‘good’ [48] then Socrates’ interpretation should not be dismissed as an unsound display of literary criticism. On the contrary, Simonides’ poem provides Protagoras and Socrates the opportunity to provide differing but acceptable accounts of a work known to their listeners. One of these listeners, the sophist Hippias, has another view of Simonides’ poem, and this implies that the art of exegesis is not rigid in the eyes of Plato’s intended audience. Various interpretations can be offered for one poem and none of them is absolutely correct, even if one interpretation seems to possess more δεινότης than another. Consequently, in the eyes of his audience, Socrates’ exegesis would be considered one of many possible interpretations of Simonides’ poem.
This is a significant observation, since Socrates’ interpretation has been the subject of debate for generations of scholars who have tried to make sense of the poem itself from the quotations and commentary presented by Protagoras and Socrates. Moreover, Socrates’ statements regarding the poet’s meaning have seemed farfetched if not openly misleading to the reader. It is doubtful that Plato’s audience would have reacted to Socrates’ interpretation in a manner similar to ours, since it was not uncommon for a poem to have more than one applicable λόγος. Hippias’ words may serve as a kind of vindication of Socrates’ views in light of the acceptance of multiple interpretations of a familiar poem by the Greeks of the fifth century B.C.E.
Hippias, however, is prevented by Alcibiades from embarking on another excursus regarding the poem. The latter curtly says ‘thank you Hippias, but some other time’ (347b2: ναί … εἰς αὖθις γε) and insists that the question-and-answer session between Protagoras and Socrates continue; the role of questioner can be played by either party. Although Socrates pretends to let Protagoras decide which of the two should ask the questions, [49] he steers the conversation away from poetry and back to his original question regarding the unity of the virtues (justice, holiness, temperance, etc.) under the single heading of ἀρετή (cf. 329c2-d2). Before abandoning the topic of poetry, he provides a long speech on the inappropriateness of discussing poetry in a sympotic setting of well-educated gentlemen. He compares discussions involving poetry to the gatherings or symposia of ‘vulgar men from the marketplace’ (οἱ φαῦλοι καὶ ἀγοραῖοι ἄνθρωποι) and contrasts these symposia to the ‘gatherings’ (συνουσίαι) of ‘well-educated gentlemen’ (καλοὶ κἀγαθοί):

καὶ γὰρ δοκεῖ μοι τὸ περὶ ποιήσεως διαλέγεσθαι ὁμοιότατον εῖναι τοῖς συμποσίοις τοῖς τῶν φαύλων καὶ ἀγοραίων ἀνθρώπων, καὶ γὰρ οὗτοι, διὰ τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι ἀλλήλοις δι’ ἑαυτῶν συνεῖναι ἐν τῷ πότῳ μηδὲ διὰ τῆς ἑαυτῶν φωνῆς καὶ τῶν λόγων τῶν ἑαυτῶν ὑπὸ ἀπαιδευσίας, τιμίας ποιοῦσι τὰς αὐλητρίδας, πολλοῦ μισθούμενοι ἀλλοτρίαν φωνὴν τὴν τῶν αὐλῶν, καὶ διὰ τῆς ἐκείνων φωνῆς ἀλλήλοις σύνεισιν· ὅπου δὲ καλοὶ κἀγαθοὶ συμπόται καὶ πεπαιδευμένοι εἰσίν, οὐκ ἂν ἴδοις οὔτ’ αὐλητρίδας οὔτε ὀρχηστρίδας οὔτε ψαλτρίας, ἀλλὰ αὐτοὺς αὐτοὶς ἱκανοὺς ὄντας συνεῖναι ἄνευ τῶν λήρων τε καὶ παιδιῶν τούτων διὰ τῆς αὑτῶν φωνῆς, λέγοντάς τε καὶ ἀκούοντας ἐν μέρει ἑαυτῶν κοσμίως, κἂν πάνυ πολὺν οἶνον πίωσιν.
Conversation about poetry reminds me too much of the wine parties of cheap and common people. Such men, being too uneducated to entertain themselves as they drink by using their own voices and conversation, put up the price of female flute-players, paying well for the extraneous sound of the flutes, and associate with each other amidst the sound. But where the drinkers are men of worth and culture, you will not see flute-players, dancers or harpists. They are quite capable of enjoying their own company without such frivolous and childish things, using their own voices in sober discussion and each taking his turn to speak or listen, even if the wine-drinking is heavy.

Socrates paints a vivid picture of the sympotic environment of the ‘common’ men. Since they are not educated enough to entertain each other by means of intelligent conversation, they resort to hiring ‘flute-girls’ (347d1: αὐλητρίδας). [50] Instead of using their own words and voices, these uneducated men rely on the sound of flutes, an outside source of entertainment, while they share each other’s company. He continues to contrast the two sympotic settings by emphasizing the point that educated participants have no need of these ‘childish things’ (347d6: παιδιῶν presumably refers to the music and dance performed by hired entertainers). They speak and listen to one another in turn while simultaneously drinking a great deal of wine. [51] Surely this type of setting is ideal for Socratic discourse; any music would be an unwelcome distraction.

The poets, says Socrates, like the extraneous sound of the flute, do not belong at a gathering such as that in the Protagoras. Poets cannot be questioned about their own poems and there is no consensus on how to interpret their meaning:

οὕτω δὲ καὶ αἱ τοιαίδε συνουσίαι, ἐὰν μὲν λάβωνται ἀνδρῶν οἷοίπερ ἡμῶν οἱ πολλοί φασιν εἶναι, οὐδέν δέονται ἀλλοτρίας φωνῆς οὐδὲ ποιητῶν, οὓς οὔτε ἀνερέσθαι οἷόν τ᾽ ἐστὶν περὶ ὧν λέγουσιν, ἐπαγόμενοί τε αὐτοὺς οἱ πολλοὶ ἐν τοῖς λόγοις οἱ μὲν ταῦτά φασιν τὸν ποιητὴν νοεῖν, οἱ δ’ ἕτερα, περὶ πράγματος διαλεγόμενοι ὃ ἀδυνατοῦσι ἐξελέγξαι· ἀλλὰ τὰς μὲν τοιαύτας συνουσίας έῶσιν χαίρειν, αὐτοὶ δ’ ἑαυτοῖς σύνεισιν δι’ ἑαυτῶν, ἐν τοῖς ἑαυτῶν λόγοις πεῖραν ἀλλήλων λαμβάνοντες καὶ διδόντες.
In the same way gatherings like our own, if they consist of men such as most of us claim to be, call for no extraneous voices, not even of poets. No one can interrogate poets about what they say, and most often when they are introduced into the discussion some say the poet’s meaning is one thing and some another, for the topic is one on which nobody can produce a conclusive argument. The best people avoid such discussions, and entertain each other from their own resources, testing one another’s mettle in what they have to say themselves.

Although Socrates condemns poets (his contemporaries) in the Apology for not being able to explain the meaning of their own works and claims that others can discuss the poems better than the poets themselves, [52] he does not find fault with the poets in the above passage from the Protagoras. In this instance, he blames ‘the majority’ (οἱ πολλοί) who, in contrast to educated men, refer to poets during their conversation and present different interpretations of a poet’s intent (347e4-7). Clearly Socrates is alluding here to Protagoras’ introduction of the Simonides poem into the current conversation. In other words, Protagoras has not behaved in a manner befitting an ‘educated gentleman’ (a καλὸς κἀγαθός), since he, like the vulgar majority, discusses the poets even though he is incapable of proving one way or another what the poets actually meant.

Socrates’ concluding remarks about the manner in which he and Protagoras should continue their conversation is not surprising in light of his usual “dialogue” style as fashioned by Plato. The give-and-take method of argumentation among interlocutors, which he recommends in 348a2, is the familiar Socratic method of ἔλεγχος, the preferred mode of philosophical discourse. Although the term ἔλεγχος does not appear in the passage under consideration, doubtless it is what Socrates has in mind when he says that Protagoras and he should emulate men who, ‘putting the poets aside, make conversation with one another by means of their own words and test the truth as well as themselves’ (348a4-6). The discussion of poetry now ends and the conversation reverts to Socrates’ questioning of Protagoras on the nature of ἀρετή.
Although Socrates’ interpretation of the Simonides poem in the Protagoras can be seen as a comic interlude within an otherwise serious discussion on the nature of virtue, [53] Plato’s purpose is serious, since the interpretation of the poem is not basically unsound in light of the possibility of various interpretations for a single poem. Since Socrates felt obliged to defend Simonides from Protagoras’ charge of self-contradiction and since Hippias was ready but not permitted to offer another interpretation of the poem, this episode is important insofar as Plato has Socrates take advantage of the situation. Consequently, the interpretation of poetry becomes the medium for promoting philosophical tenets. When it becomes obvious that the discussion of poetry is an inadequate means of investigating not only a given poet’s intent but also ‘truth’ (348a5: ἀλήθεια) as a whole, the Socratic preference for philosophical discourse, exemplified by the ἔλεγχος, is reconfirmed. In addition, Protagoras’ sophistry becomes Socrates’ target: Simonides, regardless of his poem’s meaning, is given more credibility than Protagoras, the self-proclaimed teacher of ἀρετή.


[ back ] 1. Gentili 1964.274 ff. offers a full bibliography on Simonides’ poem. For more recent treatments, see Parry 1965.297-320, Donlan 1969.71-95, Dickie 1978.21-33, Most 1989.103, and Carson 1992.110-130. Recent philosophical (rather than philological) studies include Goldberg 1983.156- 220, Frede 1986.729-753, and Scodel 1986.25-27.
[ back ] 2. Throughout my discussion, I print Simonides’ lines as they appear in the OCT edition of the dialogue.
[ back ] 3. The English translation of select passages of the Protagoras is that of W. K. C. Guthrie in Hamilton and Cairns (eds.) 1961.308-52, used with permission of Penguin Books, Ltd.
[ back ] 4. Protagoras’ condemnation of Simonides’ logic is explicit in 339d. That Protagoras was fond of criticizing poets is attested by Aristotle (Poet. 1456b15) who regards Protagoras’ pedantic criticism of the Iliad’s first line as unfounded.
[ back ] 5. Note Socrates’ use of the ethical dative ἡμῖν when he refers to Protagoras’ “destruction” of Simonides, a matter involving both Socrates and Prodicus: ἀτὰρ καὶ ἐγὼ σὲ παρακαλῶ, μὴ ἡμῖν ὁ Πρωταγόρας τὸν Σιμωνίδην ἐκπέρσῃ (340a6-7).
[ back ] 6. Cf. Protagoras 340a, 340c, 358a, 358d; Meno 75e; Laches 197b-d; Charmides 163b-d; and Euthydemus 277e-278a.
[ back ] 7. Cf. Hesiod, Works and Days 289-292:

τῆς δ᾽ ἀρετῆς ἱδρῶτα Θεοὶ προπάροιθεν ἔθηκαν
ἀθάνατοι· μακρὸς δὲ καὶ ὄρθιος οἶμος ἐς αὐτὴν
καὶ τρηχὺς τὸ πρῶτον· ἐπὴν δ’ εὶς ἄκρον ἵκηται,
ῥηιδίη δὴ ἔπειτα πέλει, χαλεπή περ ἐοῦσα

The immortal gods have placed sweat on the path to virtue;
the path is long and steep,
and rough at first. When one reaches the top,
the road, which before had been difficult, becomes easy

to the Simonides fragment (PMG 579):

ἐστί τις λόγος
τὰν Ἀρετὰν ναίειν δυσαμβάτοισ’ ἐπὶ πέτραις,
†νῦν δέ μιν θοαν† χῶραν ἁγνὸν ἁμφέπειν·
οὐδὲ πάντων βλεφάροισι θνατῶν
ἔσοπτος, ὧι μὴ δακέθυμος ἱδρὼς
ἔνδοθεν μόληι,
ἵκηι τ᾽ ἐς ἄκρον ἀνδρείας.

There is a story
that Virtue dwells on rocks which are hard to climb,
[…] looks after the holy ground,
She is not visible to the eyes of all mortal men,
but only to him whose heart-eating sweat comes from within,
the one who attains the peak of manliness.

[ back ] 8. Socrates’ statement at 343c7-9 implies that Protagoras quoted from the very beginning of the poem. However, τὸ πρῶτον τοῦ ᾄσματος need not refer specifically to the poem’s first line.
[ back ] 9. See 338e6-339a3 for Protagoras’ opinion on what it means to be περὶ ἐπῶν δεινός.
[ back ] 10. Cf. 334c8-335c7 for Socrates’ complaint against Protagoras’ μακροὶ λόγοι. Parry 1965.318-320 provides a discussion of the theme of makrologia as found in the Protagoras along with a conjecture “that a disparagement of the makros logos occurred somewhere in Simonides’ poem” (p. 320).
[ back ] 11. 343a1-b3 is the earliest extant reference to a list of seven sages whose membership varies in the ancient sources. See RE s.v. “Die Sieben Weisen” for other extant references.
[ back ] 12. Protagoras also can be described as φιλότιμος…ἐπὶ σοφίᾳ (343c1) when he charges Simonides with self-contradiction. As Woodbury 1953.137 points out, the sophists customarily tried to subvert the authority of the poets by arguing that their views were self-contradictory.
[ back ] 13. Taylor 1991.145, for example, views Socrates’ interpretation here as not impossible—i.e., Socrates understands the lines to mean “it is rather (men) becoming good which is difficult, not (de) being good”—but finds it as strained as the immediately following treatment of ἀληθῶς (343d6- 344a6).
[ back ] 14. Cf. Frede 1986.740-41. Wilamowitz 1913.165, however, found no difference in meaning between Simonides’ γενέσθαι and Pittacus’ ἔμμεναι. Socrates had made the distinction already at 340c4-7.
[ back ] 15. See Taylor 1991.145 and Donlan 1969.79 for dismissals of Socrates’ assertions. Frede 1986.740-41 defends Socrates “rather implausible claim” as a “tortuous reading…designed to stress the distinction between ‘becoming good’ and ‘being good’.”
[ back ] 16. Cf. Arist. Nic. Ethic. 1100b20-22: τὰς τύχας οἴσει κάλλιστα καὶ πάντῃ πάντως ἐμμελῶς ὅ γ’ ὡς ἀληθῶς ἀγαθὸς καὶ τετράγωνος ἄνευ ψόγου (a probable allusion to Simonides’ poem). Cf. also Rhet. 1411b26 for another reference to the ‘foursquare’ man. Gregory Nagy has brought it to my attention that the adjective ‘foursquare’ has an analogue in the “symmetrically’’ sculpted kouroi-figures of the archaic period whose bodies stand in a rigid position on a squarish plane (cf. Svenbro 1976.154ff. and Gentili 1988.255). See Rodis-Lewis 1983.274 for a similar observation: “le couros du Musée d’Agrigente, solide et net, n’évoque-t-il pas le vers de Simonide: ‘L’homme vraiment bon est carré de corps et d’esprit?’’
[ back ] 17. Socrates’ diction here is noteworthy. He uses a term usually found in the context of philosophy to describe the motivation of a lyric poet such as Simonides.
[ back ] 18. For the most part, I share the opinion of Frede 1986.737: “apart from the comic (and sometimes, admittedly, silly) elements, I want to maintain that Socrates’ interpretation of Simonides is basically sound (with some other commentators) and contains some important Socratic/Platonic tenets….” Giuliano 1991 also offers a sympathetic treatment of Socrates’ philosophical, rather than philological, exegesis.
[ back ] 19. Agathos is used in lieu of Pittacus’ esthlos. See note 27 below.
[ back ] 20. It is not clear from the text whether Socrates is paraphrasing or incorrectly re-quoting the line he mentioned in 341e2. Cf. Arist. Metaph. Α 982b29
[ back ] 21. Cf. Taylor 1991.146 for a discussion of the two meanings of this phrase.
[ back ] 22. The argument of Donlan (1969.82-83) claiming that κακός and ἀμήχανος συμφορά are both “moral” terms is unconvincing. His translation of the latter as “a natural defect of human nature” (p. 83) goes beyond the demands of the poem’s context.
[ back ] 23. Note Socrates’ transference of the adjective ἀμήχανος to refer to the ‘resourceless’ victim (344d2-4).
[ back ] 24. Socrates makes this clear in 345b5-8: ὁ δὲ κακὸς ἀνὴρ οὐκ ἄν ποτε γένοιτο κακός – ἔστιν γὰρ ἀεί – ἀλλ’ εἰ μέλλει κακὸς γενέσθαι, δεῖ αὐτὸν πρότερον ἀγαθὸν γενέσθαι.
[ back ] 25. This is a hexameter line. The thought herein reminds one of gnomological poetry, especially Hesiod and Theognis.
[ back ] 26. Cf. 344c1-3 to 344e4-6 (a hypothetical conversation between Simonides and Pittacus provides the setting for the vocative ὦ Πιττακέ found in these two passages).
[ back ] 27. See Frede 1986.742-43 for a useful discussion of this passage (345a-b).
[ back ] 28. For a different view of Simonides’ meaning, see Donlan 1969.83: “The poet says in effect that these words [agathos-esthlos, kakos] should no longer be used to describe man in his external fortunes, but rather in terms of his internal worth.” The Theognidea clearly demonstrates that these words can apply to both the character of a man (i.e., his “internal’’ state) and his social status determined by the possession of external qualities such as courage, good looks, and wealth.
[ back ] 29. The phrase appears in small type in PMG 542 (lines 19-20).
[ back ] 30. Note the emphatic position of the adjective (used at the beginning of the line). Another cognate of μέμφομαι occurs at 346c (φιλόμωμος). Socrates quotes Simonides who refuses to blame a ὑγιὴς ἀνήρ (346c4-5): οὔ μιν ἐγὼ μωμήσομαι.
[ back ] 31. Cf. Semonides, fr. 4 W: πάμπαν δ’ ἄμωμος οὔ τις οὐδ’ ἀκήριος. A discussion of its meaning in relation to Simonides’ poem is offered by Dickie 1978.23-24. Along with Dickie, I think that “Simonides does no more than give expression to the common Greek belief that no man is fortunate in all respects” (p. 24) in the lines quoted by Socrates.
[ back ] 32. The text at 345c11 is uncertain. Burnet’s edition of the Protagoras has ἐπὶ θ’ at 345c11 and 346d5 while two of the manuscripts (B, T) contain ἔπειθ’. Page 1962 emends the manuscripts’ reading metri causa to ἐπὶ δ’ ὑμίν.
[ back ] 33. 345d1-2 (οὕτω σφόδρα καὶ δι᾽ ὅλου τοῦ ᾄσματος ἐπεξέρχεται τῷ τοῦ Πιττακοῦ ῥήματι). Cf, 345d6 (καὶ τοῦτ’ ἐστὶ πρὸς τὸ αὐτὸ τοῦτο εἰρημένον) for further repetition of what is said at 345c4-5 (and previously at 344b4-5).
[ back ] 34. As Taylor 1991.147 points out, “Socrates’ claim that his thesis is universally accepted is ironical, as it was generally regarded as outrageously implausible (e.g., Gorg. 475e).”
[ back ] 35. Since Aeolic forms are not uncommon in Greek lyric, Socrates’ explanation of Simonides’ rationale seems somewhat “tongue in cheek.”
[ back ] 36. An ironical foreshadowing of the Simonidean phrase linking praise and love (employed by Socrates throughout 346a-b) occurs at 335e when Socrates says to Callias that he ‘now praises and loves’ (νῦν ἐπαινῶ καὶ φιλῶ) the latter’s love of learning.
[ back ] 37. See 346b5-8.
[ back ] 38. Although Frede 1986.746 interprets Socrates’ intent as mischievous insofar as he is mocking encomiastic poets, I am reluctant to dismiss the significance of his elaborate disquisition on praise and blame in the passage under discussion. Perhaps Socrates is doing more than just mocking Simonides since he turns this indirect attack against Simonides on its head and employs it in defense of the poet. Socrates may be serious when he states that ‘good’ men do not blame those who wrong them. His opinions regarding his relationship to the laws of Athens in the Crito resemble what he interprets as Simonides’ own belief regarding the ideal behavior of the καλὸς κἀγαθός (cf. 345e6-346a3). Even though Socrates appears to attack poets like Simonides because they praised tyrants, at the same time he is attributing his own notion of ideal conduct to the poet. In other words, I do not think that this passage is meant only as an indictment of Simonides; Socrates again insinuates his own “philosophy” here.
[ back ] 39. It is unclear which words are Socrates’ and which belong to Simonides’ poem. Page, for example, in PMG 542 adds his own conjecture inserting οὐκ εἰμὶ φιλόψογος as a clause preceding ἐπεὶ (understood as part of the poem) ἔμοιγε ἐξαρκεῖ. In addition, he prints †μὴν† rather than Schleiermacher’s conjecture, μιν.
[ back ] 40. See LSJ s.v. ‘ἀπάλαμνος’ for references.
[ back ] 41. For example, Wilamowitz 1913.175 considers it synonymous with ὑβριστής. Taylor 1991.147 argues that ‘wicked’ is a better translation than ‘helpless’ because it “fits the context better, esp. the contrast with justice.” I think it contrasts just as easily with the adjective qualifying ‘justice’: ὀνησίπολις.
[ back ] 42. Woodbury 1953.161 offers convincing arguments for its meaning ‘helpless’ rather than ‘wrongful’. Unlike Donlan 1969.89, I do not think that “Simonides is referring to a state of moral helplessness.”
[ back ] 43. Although this may be the earliest use of ὑγιής in the sense of ‘sound in mind’ (cf. Taylor 1991.147), it is possible that Simonides meant both physical and mental soundness in the context since the first lines quoted by Protagoras refer to a man’s being ‘foursquare in hands, feet, and mind’.
[ back ] 44. Cf. Pindar fr. 181 Snell-Maehler for a similar notion that praise can become ‘mixed’ into blame: ὁ γὰρ ἐξ οἴκου ποτὶ μῶμον ἔπαινος κίρναται.
[ back ] 45. Worthy of note is Socrates’ use of τα μέσα to designate average behavior. Although the theme of following the mean is common enough (cf. Theognis 335-336: πάντων μέσ’ ἄριστα, followed, incidentally, by this statement to Kurnos which recalls the first lines quoted from Simonides’ poem: καὶ οὕτως, / Κύρν’, ἕξεις ἀρετήν, ἥντε λαβεῖν χαλεπόν), it would be in keeping with the geometrical terminology already employed in the poem (cf. ‘foursquare’) if Socrates used the phrase here in its sense as “the mean terms in a proportion.” The proportion under discussion would then be one of what is considered τὰ καλά and what is not.
[ back ] 46. Note that Socrates seems inconsistent in his terminology. However, I do not think that the point he is making, even if it is unsubstantiated, should be discarded on the grounds of faulty logic. Rather, it should be regarded in the context of a clumsy Socratic attempt to be “sophistic.”
[ back ] 47. Socrates claims that Simonides would say to Pittacus: σὲ οὖν, καὶ εἰ μέσως ἔλεγες ἐπιεικῆ καὶ ἀληθῆ, ὦ Πιττακέ, οὐκ ἄν ποτε ἔψεγον (346e4- 347a 1). The use of the adverb μέσως here is part of Socrates’ attempt to give cohesion to his interpretation; cf. 346d3-7 for references to ‘middle’ states.
[ back ] 48. Hippias’ words as quoted by Plato demonstrate this notion that more than one interpretation of ᾆσμα is plausible if not if not equally ‘good’ (347a7-b2: ἔστιν μέντοι, ἔφη, καὶ ἐμοὶ λόγος περὶ αὐτοῦ εὖ ἔκων, ὃν ὑμῖν ἐπιδείξω, ἂν βούλησθε).
[ back ] 49. Cf. 348a6-7 for Socrates’ supposed willingness to accept Protagoras as his questioner.
[ back ] 50. Note the scornful way in which Socrates refers to the flute-girls whom ‘common men deem worthy of honor (347c7-d1). Socrates obviously does not share their respect for entertainers hired to play music or to dance at symposia. Alcibiades displays a similar attitude in the Symposium when he refers to a flute-girl as being ‘cheap’ (215c4: φαύλη αὐλητρίς) in contrast to a ‘virtuoso’ flutist (ἀγαθὸς αὐλητής). Earlier in the same dialogue, Eryximachus dismisses a flute-girl so that the symposiasts can spend their time in conversation (176e6-9: εἰσηγοῦμαι τὴν μὲν ἄρτι εἰσελθοῦσαν αὐλητρίδα χαίρειν ἐᾶv …, ἡμᾶς δὲ διὰ λόγων ἀλλήλοις συνεῖναι τὸ τήμερον); his preference for discussion is comparable to the views offered by Socrates in the Protagoras regarding the proper way for educated men to behave at a similar type of gathering.
[ back ] 51. As Frede 1986.747 notes, Socrates’ words are reminiscent of the description of the Symposium. However, her argument claiming that this is a deliberate reference to the Symposium seems unconvincing, especially because it necessitates the conjecture that Plato later added the section containing Socrates’ exegesis of Simonides (and his negative comments on discussions about poetry) to a postulated Proto-Protagoras in order “to stress the aporetic character of the dialogue” (p. 751).
[ back ] 52. Cf. Apology 22a8-c8.
[ back ] 53. Verdam 1928.306, for example, describes this section of the dialogue in these words: “Serius esse Plato nolebat, sed ioculabatur et artem interpretandi ad absurdum deducebat, Si ita judicabimus, locus de carmine Simonideo non absurdus erit, sed festivissimus.”