Introduction to the Greater Hippias

Introduction to the Greater Hippias

The Greater Hippias presents the great sophist of Elis as a distinguished representative of his profession, thoroughly imbued with self-confidence and self-importance, and utterly unable to meet the questionings of Socrates. The ostensible subject of the dialogue is The Beautiful, which Socrates asks Hippias to define. Every definition is found to be unsatisfactory, so that the final result is negative. The real purpose of the dialogue seems to be to portray the personality of Hippias and the pertinacity of Socrates in pursuing every question—or rather every answer—until the discomfiture of his interlocutor is complete.

The dialogue is generally (and, in my opinion, rightly) regarded as not the work of Plato. The somewhat frigid humour of Socrates, in pretending that he persists in his interrogations because a “certain man” is sure to find the faults in the definitions proposed, does not necessarily preclude Plato as the author, though nothing closely resembling it is to be found in the dialogues universally accepted. The style resembles that of Plato, though in some particulars it is peculiar. In the Phaedrus Plato himself imitates the style of Lysias so closely that the discourse on the lover


Introduction to the Greater Hippias

non-lover has sometimes been regarded as a genuine work of Lysias, and it would not be very difficult for another to write in a style as similar to Plato’s as is that of this dialogue. The apparent reference (286 b) to the Lesser Hippias proves nothing as to the genuineness of either this dialogue or that. On the whole, there is little probability that this is Plato’s work. If it is his, it must be one of his earlier dialogues.

The Greek word καλός has a broader field of application than the English word “beautiful,” and it is, therefore, occasionally difficult to render a passage satisfactorily; for though we may speak of a beautiful act, we can hardly apply the word “beautiful” to laws and constitutions, for example. Then, too, there is no English opposite of “beautiful” which has, even approximately, the widely extended signification of the Greek αἰσχρός. Occasionally, therefore, the direct opposition of καλός and αἰσχρός fails to appear adequately in the English version.

DOI: 10.4159/DLCL.plato_philosopher-greater_hippias.1926