Why Did Protagoras Use Poetry in Education?

  • Paul WoodruffEmail author
Part of the Philosophical Studies Series book series (PSSP, volume 125)


Like Plato, Protagoras held that young children learn virtue from fine examples in poetry. Unlike Plato, Protagoras taught adults by correcting the diction of poets. In this paper I ask what his standard of correctness might be, and what benefit he intended his students to take from exercises in correction. If his standard of correctness is truth, then he may intend his students to learn by questioning the content of poems; that would be suggestive of Plato’s program in Republic III. But his standard is more likely to be the accurate use of language; in that case he would intend his students to learn to express their thoughts clearly enough that their audience would understand what they were saying. That standard would be independent of the truth of what they are saying; and that would be a precursor to modern techniques by which we try to teach speaking and writing. Truth is not so easy to escape, however, and we shall see that Protagoras’ exercise must assume that the poet is trying to tell the truth.


Grammatical Gender Good Harmony Present Passage False View Poetic Device 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Adam, J., and Adam, A.M. 1921. Platonis Protagoras, with Introduction, Notes, and Appendices. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Bett, R. 1989. The Sophists and Relativism. Phronesis XXXIV: 139–169. reprinted in Terence Irwin, ed., Classical Philosophy: Collected Papers, vol.2 (Garland Publishing, 1995), 189–219.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Burnyeat, M. 1976. Protagoras and Self-Refutation in Plato’s Theaetetus. The Philosophical Review LXXXV: 172–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Classen, C.J. 1959. Sprachliche Deutung als Triebkraft platonischen und sokratischen Philosophierens. Munich: Verlag C. J. Beck.Google Scholar
  5. Fehling, D. 1965. Zwei Untersuchuingen zur griechischen Sprachphilosophie: I. Protagoras und die oQdoeneia. Reinisches Museum für Philologie 108: 212–217.Google Scholar
  6. Gagarin, M. 2000. Did the Sophists Aim to Persuade? Rhetorica 19: 275–291.Google Scholar
  7. Guthrie, W.K.C. 1969. The Sophists. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Koller, D. 1958. Die Anfange der griechischen Grammatik. Glotta 37: 5–40.Google Scholar
  9. Pfeiffer, R. 1968. History of Classical Scholarship. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  10. Taylor, C.C.W. 1976. Plato’s Protagoras, Translated with Notes. Oxford: Clarendon.Google Scholar
  11. Woodruff, P. 2013. Euboulia as the Skill Protagoras Taught. In Protagoras of Abdera: The Man, His Measure, ed. Johannes M. van Ophuijsen, Marlein van Raalte, and Peter Stork, 179–193. Leiden: Brill.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The University of Texas at AustinAustinUSA

Personalised recommendations