Last updated

Hippias of Elis ( /ˈhɪpiəs/ ; Greek : Ἱππίας ὁ Ἠλεῖος; late 5th century BC) was a Greek sophist, and a contemporary of Socrates. With an assurance characteristic of the later sophists, he claimed to be regarded as an authority on all subjects, and lectured on poetry, grammar, history, politics, mathematics, and much else. Most of our knowledge of him is derived from Plato, who characterizes him as vain and arrogant.



Hippias was born at Elis in the mid 5th-century BC (c. 460 BC) and was thus a younger contemporary of Protagoras and Socrates. He lived at least as late as Socrates (399 BC). He was a disciple of Hegesidamus. [1] Owing to his talent and skill, his fellow-citizens availed themselves of his services in political matters, and in a diplomatic mission to Sparta. [2] But he was in every respect like the other sophists of the time: he travelled about in various towns and districts of Greece for the purpose of teaching and public speaking. The two dialogues of Plato, the Hippias major and the Hippias minor characterize him as vain and arrogant. The Hippias major (the authorship of this work by Plato is sometimes doubted) concerns the question about the beautiful, and purposely puts the knowledge and presumption of Hippias in a ludicrous light. The Hippias minor discusses the deficiency of our knowledge, and characterizes Hippias as ridiculously vain.


Hippias was a man of very extensive knowledge, and he occupied himself not only with rhetorical, philosophical, and political studies, but was also well versed in poetry, music, mathematics, painting and sculpture, and he claimed some practical skill in the ordinary arts of life, for he used to boast of wearing on his body nothing that he had not made himself with his own hands, such as his seal-ring, his cloak, and shoes. [3] On the other hand, his knowledge always appears superficial, he does not enter into the details of any particular art or science, and is satisfied with certain generalities, which enabled him to speak on everything without a thorough knowledge of any. This arrogance, combined with ignorance, is the main cause which provoked Plato to his severe criticism of Hippias, as the sophist enjoyed a very extensive reputation, and thus had a large influence upon the education of the youths of the higher classes. A mathematical discovery ascribed to Hippias is sometimes called the quadratrix of Hippias.

His great skill seems to have consisted in delivering grand show speeches; and Plato has him arrogantly declaring that he would travel to Olympia, and there deliver before the assembled Greeks an oration on any subject that might be proposed to him; [4] and Philostratus in fact speaks of several such orations delivered at Olympia, and which created great sensation. If such speeches were published by Hippias, then no specimen has come down to us. Plato claims he wrote epic poetry, tragedies, dithyrambs, and various orations, [5] as well works on as grammar, music, rhythm, harmony, and a variety of other subjects. [6] He seems to have been especially fond of choosing antiquarian and mythical subjects for his show speeches. Athenaeus mentions a work of Hippias under the title Synagoge which is otherwise unknown. [7] An epigram of his is preserved in Pausanias. [8]

Natural law

Hippias is credited with originating the idea of natural law. This ideal began at first during the fifth century B.C. According to Hippias, natural law was never to be superseded as it was universal. [9] Hippias saw natural law as a habitual entity that humans take part in without pre-meditation. He regarded the elite in states as indistinguishable from one another and thus they should perceive each other as so. Because of this they should consider and treat each other as a society of a unanimous state. These ideas were passed on through Cynicism and Stoicism later being the foundation for turning Roman law in legislation. [10] Along with natural law, Hippias also wrote about self-sufficiency as a binding principle. He used this principle in his teachings as he gathered knowledge in numerous subjects so as to be never outwitted or have his reputation questioned. [11]

See also


  1. Suda, Hippias
  2. Plato, Hippias major, 281a, 286a; Philostratus, Vit. Soph. i. 11.
  3. Plato, Hippias major, 285c, Hippias minor, 368b, Protagoras, 315c; Philostratus, Vit. Soph. i. 11.; Themistius, Orat. xxix. p. 345. d.
  4. Plat. Hippias minor, 363
  5. Plato Hippias minor, 368
  6. Plato, Hippias major, 285ff; comp. Philostratus, Vit. Soph. i. 11.; Plutarch, Num. 1, 23; Dio Chrysostom, Orat. lxxi.
  7. Athenaeus, xiii. 609
  8. Pausanias, v. 25
  9. Kainz, Howard P. (2004). Natural Law: An Introduction and Re-examination. Chicago: Open Court. ISBN   0812694546.
  10. "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy" . Retrieved 17 February 2014.
  11. Diels, Hermann; Sprague, Rosamond Kent (1972). The Older Sophists: A Complete Translation by Several Hands of the Fragments in Die Fragmente Der Vorsokratiker. Columbia: University of South Carolina. ISBN   0872205568.

Related Research Articles

Plato Classical Athenian philosopher, founder of Platonism

Plato was an Athenian philosopher during the Classical period in Ancient Greece, founder of the Platonist school of thought and the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.


Protagoras was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher and rhetorical theorist. He is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with inventing the role of the professional sophist.

A sophist was a teacher in ancient Greece in the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Sophists specialized in one or more subject areas, such as philosophy, rhetoric, music, athletics, and mathematics. They taught arete – "virtue" or "excellence" – predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.

The Theaetetus is one of Plato's dialogues concerning the nature of knowledge, written circa 369 BCE.


Prodicus of Ceos was a Greek philosopher, and part of the first generation of Sophists. He came to Athens as ambassador from Ceos, and became known as a speaker and a teacher. Plato treats him with greater respect than the other sophists, and in several of the Platonic dialogues Socrates appears as the friend of Prodicus. One writer claims Socrates used his method of instruction. Prodicus made linguistics and ethics prominent in his curriculum. The content of one of his speeches is still known, and concerns a fable in which Heracles has to make a choice between Virtue and Vice. He also interpreted religion through the framework of naturalism.

Gorgias was an ancient Greek sophist, pre-Socratic philosopher, and rhetorician who was a native of Leontinoi in Sicily. Along with Protagoras, he forms the first generation of Sophists. Several doxographers report that he was a pupil of Empedocles, although he would only have been a few years younger. "Like other Sophists, he was an itinerant that practiced in various cities and giving public exhibitions of his skill at the great pan-Hellenic centers of Olympia and Delphi, and charged fees for his instruction and performances. A special feature of his displays was to ask miscellaneous questions from the audience and give impromptu replies." He has been called "Gorgias the Nihilist" although the degree to which this epithet adequately describes his philosophy is controversial.

Isocrates Ancient Athenian rhetorician

Isocrates, an ancient Greek rhetorician, was one of the ten Attic orators. Among the most influential Greek rhetoricians of his time, Isocrates made many contributions to rhetoric and education through his teaching and written works.

Ancient Greek philosophy Philosophical origins and foundation of western civilization

Ancient Greek philosophy arose in the 6th century BC, marking the end of the Greek Dark Ages. Greek philosophy continued throughout the Hellenistic period and the period in which Greece and most Greek-inhabited lands were part of the Roman Empire. Philosophy was used to make sense of the world using reason. It dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including astronomy, epistemology, mathematics, political philosophy, ethics, metaphysics, ontology, logic, biology, rhetoric and aesthetics.

Dio Chrysostom Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian (c. 40 – c. 115)

Dio Chrysostom, Dion of Prusa or Dio Cocceianus, was a Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. Eighty of his Discourses are extant, as well as a few Letters and a funny mock essay "In Praise of Hair", as well as a few other fragments. His surname Chrysostom comes from the Greek chrysostomos (χρυσόστομος), which literally means "golden-mouthed".

Protagoras is a dialogue by Plato. The traditional subtitle is "or the Sophists". The main argument is between Socrates and the elderly Protagoras, a celebrated sophist and philosopher. The discussion takes place at the home of Callias, who is host to Protagoras while he is in town, and concerns the nature of sophists, the unity and the teachability of virtue. A total of twenty-one people are named as present.

Meno is a Socratic dialogue by Plato. Meno begins the dialogue by asking Socrates whether virtue is teachable. In order to determine whether virtue is teachable or not, Socrates tells Meno that they first need to determine what virtue is. When the characters speak of virtue, or rather arete, they refer to virtue in general, rather than particular virtues, such as justice or temperance. The first part of the work showcases Socratic dialectical style; Meno, unable to adequately define virtue, is reduced to confusion or aporia. Socrates suggests that they seek an adequate definition for virtue together. In response, Meno suggests that it is impossible to seek what one does not know, because one will be unable to determine whether one has found it.

In mathematics, a quadratrix is a curve having ordinates which are a measure of the area of another curve. The two most famous curves of this class are those of Dinostratus and E. W. Tschirnhaus, which are both related to the circle.

Callias was an ancient Athenian aristocrat and political figure. He was the son of Hipponicus and the daughter of Megacles, an Alcmaeonid and the third member of one of the most distinguished Athenian families to bear the name of Callias. He was regarded as infamous for his extravagance and profligacy.

Hippias Major is one of the dialogues of Plato, although its authenticity has been doubted. It belongs to the early dialogues, written while the author was still young. Its precise date is uncertain, although a date of c. 390 BC has been suggested.

Hippias Minor, or On Lying, is thought to be one of Plato's early works. Socrates matches wits with an arrogant polymath, who is also a smug literary critic. Hippias believes that Homer can be taken at face value, and he also thinks that Achilles may be believed when he says he hates liars, whereas Odysseus' resourceful (πολύτροπος) behavior stems from his ability to lie well (365b). Socrates argues that Achilles is a cunning liar who throws people off the scent of his own deceptions and that cunning liars are actually the "best" liars. Consequently, Odysseus was equally false and true and so was Achilles (369b). Socrates proposes, possibly for the sheer dialectical fun of it, that it is better to do evil voluntarily than involuntarily. His case rests largely on the analogy with athletic skills, such as running and wrestling. He says that a runner or wrestler who deliberately sandbags is better than the one who plods along because he can do no better.

Lycophron was a sophist of Ancient Greece.

This page is a list of topics in ancient philosophy.

Publius Anteius Antiochus, or Antiochus of Aegae, was a sophist—or, as he claimed to be, a Cynic philosopher—of ancient Rome, from the Cilician port city of Aegeae. He lived around the 2nd century AD, during the reigns of the Roman emperors Septimius Severus and Caracalla, and is known from a number of inscriptions that indicate him to have been a student of Philostratus, as well as a Syrian named Dardanus and a certain Milesian named Dionysius.

The name Antiphon the Sophist is used to refer to the writer of several Sophistic treatises. He probably lived in Athens in the last two decades of the 5th century BC, but almost nothing is known of his life.

The Ancient Tradition of Geometric Problems is a book on ancient Greek mathematics, focusing on three problems now known to be impossible if one uses only the straightedge and compass constructions favored by the Greek mathematicians: squaring the circle, doubling the cube, and trisecting the angle. It was written by Wilbur Knorr (1945–1997), a historian of mathematics, and published in 1986 by Birkhäuser. Dover Publications reprinted it in 1993.