78. Hippias Minor, by Plato (c.399-387 BC)

Plot: A very brief dialogue (< 20 pages) between Socrates and the sophist Hippias on the ability and disposition to lie. Hippias initially compares Homer’s heroes Achilles and Odysseus (The Iliad and The Odyssey) with Achilles as the better man due to his honesty, while Odysseus is crafty, complex and deceitful. Socrates demonstrates that anyone expert in their field can choose to be honest or deceitful, so therefore these two traits can exist in the same person, and Achilles could tell lies just as Odysseus can tell truths, so questions Hippias further on why Achilles is the better man. The dialogue ends by comparing intentional versus unintentional wrongdoing, with Socrates claiming that their argument has led them to the impasse that only good people can be criminals.

My thoughts:  Hippias is again shown as arrogant and immodest in his claims of his own superior knowledge in every subject, making Socrates’ badgering even more humorous. Yet Socrates’ claims of his own ignorance and slow-wittedness are really also a form of immodesty, as the reader is left in no doubt that Socrates thinks pretty highly of himself, and wears this thin cloak of modesty to not seem to openly insult Hippias and encourage him to continue the debate. I must admit to a certain fondness for Hippias the boaster over Socrates’ smug and dishonest posturing and “intellectual bullying”, but then I am reacting to the characters more than the argument.

Diversions and digressions:  Another 4

Next :   Wrapping up Plato’s early Socratic dialogues with Euthydemus

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