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Hippias of Elis (Greek: Ἱππίας; late 5th century BCE) 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
Hippias was born at Elis in the
mid 5th-century BC (ca. 460 BCE) and was thus a younger
contemporary of Protagoras and Socrates. He lived at least as late as
Socrates (399 BCE). He was a disciple of Hegesidamus. Owing
to his talent and skill, his fellow-citizens availed themselves of
his services in political matters, and in a diplomatic mission to
Sparta. 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. 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.
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; 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, as well
works on as grammar, music, rhythm, harmony, and a variety of other subjects. 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. An
epigram of his is preserved in Pausanias.
Plato, Hippias major, 281a, 286a; Philostratus, Vit.
Soph. i. 11.
Plato, Hippias major, 285c, Hippias minor, 368b,
Protagoras, 315c; Philostratus, Vit. Soph. i.
11.; Themistius, Orat. xxix. p. 345. d.
Plat. Hippias minor, 363
Plato Hippias minor, 368
Plato, Hippias major, 285ff; comp. Philostratus, Vit.
Soph. i. 11.; Plutarch, Num. 1, 23; Dio Chrysostom,
Athenaeus, xiii. 609
Pausanias, v. 25
This article incorporates text from the public domain
of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology by William Smith