The Ancient Library

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Operumfragmenta, Berlin, 1843, 8vo, containing elaborate dissertations on the life and writings of Democritus. The student may also consult Burchardt, Comment. Crit. de Democriti de sensibus philosophia, in two programmes, Minden, 1830 and 1839, 4to ; Burchardt, Fragmente der Moral des Demokrit, Minden, 1834, 4to ; Heimsoth, Demo­criti de anima doctrina, Bonn, 1835, 8vo ; Orelli, Opusc. Gr&c. sent., vol. i., p. 91, seqq.; Hitter, Gesch. d. Philos., vol. i., p. 559, seqq. (vol. i., p. 544, seqq., Eng. transl.), and the article of Brandis in Smith's Biographical .Dictionary, s. v. Concerning the spurious works and letters of Democritus, consult Fabricius, Bill. Gr., i., p. 683, seqq.; ii., p. 641, &c.


I. It is well known that the term o-o^io-r^s at first had an honorable meaning, and was synonymous with <ro(b6s, a sage, a scholar in the widest sense, for even artists were comprehended in it. Protagoras was the first who adopted the name of o-o^io-r^s, to distinguish more decidedly one who makes others wise, especially one who taught eloquence, the art of governing, politics, or, in short, any kind of practical knowledge. From that time the word " sophist" acquired that odious meaning which it retains at the present day. Afterward, in the time of the Roman emper­ors, the name of sophist again became, for a while, an honorable appel­lation, and was applied to the rhetoricians or teachers of eloquence.1

II. The race of Sophists, whose enmity to Socrates, their great oppo­nent, has perhaps been the principal cause of their celebrity, was not without influence on the philosophy and literature of Greece. They were a class of men who went about Greece discoursing and debating, and sometimes educating the youthful sons of rich and noble families. The cause of their success lay in the very nature and habits of the Greek people, who were so much addicted to talk and so little to study, who were so passionately fond of and so easily led by rhetoric ; and the easy triumph which a fluent talker can always obtain, by a rapid and artful confusion of words and ideas, must also have operated in their favor.

III. The period at which the Sophists flourished was one of obsolete creeds, one lifeless from the want of some vivifying faith. Religion was attacked by open skepticism; the whole sect of the Eleatics, with the exception of Empedocles, if he, in truth, belonged to them, appear to have handled the history of the gods with arbitrary and allegorizing bold­ness. Even the pious Pythagorean adopted the old religion merely in a peculiar sense of his own. Heraclitus argued against its probability; Anaxagoras understood it allegorically ; and, lastly, Hippo was regarded as an open and avowed atheist. Every thing human and divine had lost its earnest nature, and came to be regarded as an art, a mere exercise of ingenuity. The art of the Sophists was oratory, and their boast was that by it they could make the worse appear the better cause. Their doc­trines, indeed, closely resembled those of the Skeptics, since they equally denied the possibility of truth, and even interdicted inquiry into it; but the distinction between these sects consisted in the Sophists' not mask­ing their arrogance under doubt, but boldly and distinctly averring that there was no truth at all, and seeking to communicate this wisdom to others, to save them the trouble of investigation.2

1 Penny Cyclop., xxii., 257, 3 Ibid,

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