Protean Socrates: Mythical Figures in the Euthydemus

  • Mary Margaret McCabe
Part of the The New Synthese Historical Library book series (SYNL, volume 64)
At the midpoint of the Euthydemus Socrates tries to calm Ctesippus who is enraged by the twin sophists’ arguments about truth and contradiction:

Ctesippus, I say the very same things to you as I said just now to Cleinias,1 that you don’t recognise the amazing nature of our visitors’ wisdom. But they are not prepared to give us a serious demonstration; instead they imitate Proteus the Egyptian sophist, and cast spells on us.2 So let us imitate Menelaus, and not let these chaps go until they manifest to us their serious side.3 For I think that something quite beautiful in them will appear once they start to be serious. So let us beg and advise and pray them to make themselves manifest. Indeed, I think I should begin by giving a pointer to what sort of persons they will, I pray, clearly turn out to be. (Plato, Euthydemus 288b-c)

You might be immediately sceptical of my title. This image of sophists – as slippery shape-shifters – is exactly what we should expect of Plato4; surely it is not Socrates, but the sophists, who are Protean in this tale? And surely there is little more to be got from the mythical image than a point which is already being made in the arguments: that these characters really can’t be tied down to a single definitive thesis, can’t be persuaded to stay the same even for a moment, are quite disqualified from entering upon serious5 dialectical exchange?


Intentional Object Walk Away Ancient Philosophy Literary Aspect Philosophical Content 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mary Margaret McCabe
    • 1
  1. 1.King’s College LondonUK

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