Protagoras Biography


(Literature and the Ancient World, Critical Edition)


Protagoras (proh-TAG-uh-ruhs), one of the earliest Sophists (itinerant teachers of rhetoric), was reputed to have been the first to accept fees for teaching. He traveled throughout Greece and to Sicily and in Athens was associated with the political leader Pericles. In 444 b.c.e., he was appointed to write laws for Thurii, an Athenian colony, perhaps at Pericles’ request. Of many written works attributed to him, only fragments remain; however, he seems to have covered a wide range of subjects including grammar, theology (he was agnostic), and philosophy (his aphorism “the human is the measure of all things” earned him a reputation as a relativist). In the dialogue Prōtagoras (399-390 b.c.e.; Protagoras, 1804) by Plato, a long speech on the origins of society may closely resemble one of Protagoras’s actual works. He has been called “the father of debate” because he said that “there are two contrary accounts [dissoi logoi] about everything.” Though Protagoras was clearly a controversial figure, Plato contradicts a story that he was tried at Athens and banished.


Protagoras’s most important accomplishment was probably in making argument and debate functional within the early democracies of the city-states.

Further Reading:

Balaban, Oded. Plato and Protagoras: Truth and Relativism in Ancient Greek Philosophy. Lanham, Md.:...

(The entire section is 473 words.)