A sophist (Greek: σοφιστής, sophistes) was a specific kind of teacher in ancient Greece, in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE. Many sophists specialized in using the tools of philosophy and rhetoric, though other sophists taught subjects such as music, athletics, and mathematics. In general, they claimed to teach arete ("excellence" or "virtue", applied to various subject areas), predominantly to young statesmen and nobility.

The term originated from Greek σόφισμα, sophisma, from σοφίζω, sophizo "I am wise"; confer σοφιστής, sophistēs, meaning "wise-ist, one who does wisdom," and σοφός, sophós means "wise man".


The Greek σοφός (sophos), related to the noun σοφία (sophia), had the meaning "skilled" or "wise" since the time of the poet Homer and originally was used to describe anyone with expertise in a specific domain of knowledge or craft. For example, a charioteer, a sculptor, or a warrior could be described as sophoi in their occupations. Gradually, the word also came to denote general wisdom and especially wisdom about human affairs, for example, in politics, ethics, or household management. This was the meaning ascribed to the Greek Seven Sages of 7th and 6th century BCE (such as Solon and Thales), and it was the meaning that appears in the histories of Herodotus.

From the word σοφός (sophos) is derived the verb σοφίζω (sophizo), which means "to instruct or make learned," and in the passive voice means "to become or be wise," or "to be clever or skilled in a thing." From this verb is derived the noun σοφιστής (sophistes), which originally meant "a master of one's craft" but later came to mean "a prudent man" or "wise man".[1] The word for "sophist" in various languages comes from sophistes.

The word "sophist" could be combined with other Greek words to form compounds. Examples include meteorosophist, which roughly translates to "expert in celestial phenomena"; gymnosophist (or "naked sophist," a word used to refer to Indian philosophers, deipnosophist or "dinner sophist" (as in the title of Athenaeus's Deipnosophistae), and iatrosophist, a type of physician in the later Roman period.


Few writings from and about the first sophists survive. The early sophists charged money in exchange for education and providing wisdom, and so were typically employed by wealthy people. This practice resulted in the condemnations made by Socrates through Plato in his dialogues, as well as by Xenophon in his Memorabilia and, somewhat controversially, by Aristotle. As a paid tutor to Alexander the Great, Aristotle could be accused of being a sophist. Aristotle did not actually accept payment from Philip, Alexander's father, but requested that Philip reconstruct Aristotle's home town of Stageira as payment, which Philip had destroyed in a previous campaign, terms which Philip accepted). James A. Herrick wrote: "In De Oratore, Cicero blames Plato for separating wisdom and eloquence in the philosopher's famous attack on the sophists in Gorgias."[2] Through works such as these, sophists were portrayed as "specious" or "deceptive", hence the modern meaning of the term.

The classical tradition of rhetoric and composition refers more to philosophers such as Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian than to the sophists. Owing largely to the influence of Plato and Aristotle, philosophy came to be regarded as distinct from sophistry, the latter being regarded as specious and rhetorical, a practical discipline. Thus, by the time of the Roman Empire, a sophist was simply a teacher of rhetoric and a popular public speaker. For instance, Libanius, Himerius, Aelius Aristides, and Fronto were sophists in this sense. However, despite the opposition from philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, it is clear that sophists had a vast influence on a number of spheres, including the growth of knowledge and on ethical political theory. Their teachings had a huge influence on thought in the fifth century BCE. The sophists focused on the rational examination of human affairs and the betterment and success of human life. They argued that divine deities could not be the explanation of human action.

5th century BCE

In the second half of the 5th century BCE, particularly in Athens, "sophist" came to denote a class of mostly itinerant intellectuals who taught courses in various subjects, speculated about the nature of language and culture, and employed rhetoric to achieve their purposes, generally to persuade or convince others. "Sophists did, however, have one important thing in common: whatever else they did or did not claim to know, they characteristically had a great understanding of what words would entertain or impress or persuade an audience."[3] Sophists went to Athens to teach because the city was flourishing at the time. It was good employment for those good at debate, which was a specialty of the first sophists, and they received the fame and fortune they were seeking. Protagoras is generally regarded as the first of these professional sophists. Others include Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, Thrasymachus, Lycophron, Callicles, Antiphon, and Cratylus. A few sophists claimed that they could find the answers to all questions. Most of these sophists are known today primarily through the writings of their opponents (particularly Plato and Aristotle), which makes it difficult to assemble an unbiased view of their practices and teachings. In some cases, such as Gorgias, original rhetorical works are extant, allowing the author to be judged on his own terms, but in most cases knowledge about what individual sophists wrote or said comes from fragmentary quotations that lack context and are usually hostile.

Sophists could be described both as teachers and philosophers, having traveled about in Greece teaching their students various life skills, particularly rhetoric and public speaking. These were useful qualities of the time, during which persuasive ability had a large influence on one's political power and economic wealth. Athens became the center of the sophists' activity, due to the city's freedom of speech for non-slave citizens and its wealth of resources. The sophists as a group had no set teachings, and they lectured on subjects that were as diverse as semantics and rhetoric, to ontology, and epistemology. Most sophists claimed to teach arête (“excellence” or “virtue”) in the management and administration of not only one’s affairs, but the city’s as well. Before the fifth century BCE, it was believed that aristocratic birth qualified a person for arête and politics. However, Protagoras, who is regarded as the first sophist, argued that arête was the result of training rather than birth.

1st century CE

From the late 1st century CE the Second Sophistic, a philosophical and rhetorical movement, was the chief expression of intellectual life. The term "Second Sophistic" comes from Philostratos, who rejecting the term "New Sophistic" traced the beginnings of the movement to the orator Aeschines in the 4th century BCE. But its earliest representative was really Nicetas of Smyrna, in the late 1st century CE. Unlike the original Sophistic movement of the 5th century BCE, the Second Sophistic was little concerned with politics. But it was, to a large degree, to meet the everyday needs and respond to the practical problems of Greco-Roman society. It came to dominate higher education and left its mark on many forms of literature. Lucian, himself a writer of the Second Sophistic, even calls Jesus "that crucified sophist".[4] This article, however, only discusses the Sophists of Classical Greece.

Major figures

Most of what is known about sophists comes from commentaries from others. In some cases, such as Gorgias, some of his works survive, allowing the author to be judged on his own terms. In one case, the Dissoi logoi, an important sophist text survived but knowledge of its author has been lost. However, most knowledge of sophist thought comes from fragmentary quotations that lack context. Many of these quotations come from Aristotle, who seems to have held the sophists in slight regard.


Protagoras was one of the best known and most successful sophists of his era; however, some later philosophers, such as Sextus Empiricus[5] treat him as a founder of a philosophy rather than as a sophist. Protagoras taught his students the necessary skills and knowledge for a successful life, particularly in politics. He trained his pupils to argue from both points of view because he believed that truth could not be limited to just one side of the argument. Protagoras wrote about a variety of subjects and advanced several philosophical ideas, particularly in epistemology. Some fragments of his works have survived. He is the author of the famous saying, “Man is the measure of all things,” which is the opening sentence of a work called Truth.[6]


Gorgias was a well-known sophist whose writings showcased his ability to make counter-intuitive and unpopular positions appear stronger. Gorgias authored a lost work known as On the Non-Existent, which argues that nothing exists. In it, he attempts to persuade his readers that thought and existence are different.[7] He also wrote Encomium of Helen in which he presents all of the possible reasons for which Helen could be blamed for causing the Trojan War and refutes each one of them.


Many sophists taught their skills for a price. Due to the importance of such skills in the litigious social life of Athens, practitioners often commanded very high fees. The sophists' practice of questioning the existence and roles of traditional deities and investigating into the nature of the heavens and the earth prompted a popular reaction against them. The attacks of some of their followers against Socrates prompted a vigorous condemnation from his followers, including Plato and Xenophon, as there was a popular view of Socrates as a sophist. For example, the comic playwright Aristophanes criticizes the sophists as hairsplitting wordsmiths, and makes Socrates their representative.[8] Their attitude, coupled with the wealth garnered by many of the sophists, eventually led to popular resentment against sophist practitioners and the ideas and writings associated with sophism.


As only small portions of the sophists’ writings have survived they are mainly known through the works of Plato. Plato's dialogs present his generally hostile views on the sophists’ thought, due to which he is largely responsible for the modern view of the sophist as a avaricious instructor who teaches deception. Plato depicts Socrates as refuting some sophists in several of his dialogues, depicting sophists in an unflattering light. It is unclear how accurate or fair Plato's representation of them may be; however, Protagoras and Prodicus are portrayed in a largely positive light in Protagoras (dialogue).


The comic playwright Aristophanes, a contemporary of the sophists, criticized the sophists as hairsplitting wordsmiths. Aristophanes, however, made no distinction between sophists and philosophers, and showed either of them as willing to argue any position for the right fee. In his comedic play The Clouds, Strepsiades seeks the help of Socrates (a parody of the actual philosopher) in an effort to avoid paying his debts. In the play, Socrates promises to teach Strepsiades' son to argue his way out of paying his debts.


An ongoing debate is centered on the difference between the sophists, who charged for their services, and Socrates, who did not.[9] Instead of giving instruction Socrates professed a self-effacing and questioning posture, exemplified by what is known as the Socratic method, although Diogenes Laërtius wrote that Protagoras — a sophist — invented this method.[10][11]) Socrates' attitude towards the sophists was by not entirely oppositional. In one dialogue Socrates even stated that the sophists were better educators than he was,[12] which he validated by sending one of his students to study under a sophist.[13] W. K. C. Guthrie classified Socrates as a sophist in his History of Greek Philosophy.[13]

Before Plato, the word "sophist" could be used as either a respectful or contemptuous title, much like the word "intellectual" can be used today. It was in Plato’s dialogue, Sophist, that the first record of an attempt to answer the question “what is a sophist?” is made. Plato described sophists as paid hunters after the young and wealthy, as merchants of knowledge, as athletes in a contest of words, and purgers of souls. From Plato's assessment of sophists it could be concluded that sophists do not offer true knowledge, but only an opinion of things. Plato describes them as shadows of the true, saying, "...the art of contradiction making, descended from an insincere kind of conceited mimicry, of the semblance-making breed, derived from image making, distinguished as portion, not divine but human, of production, that presents, a shadow play of words—such are the blood and the lineage which can, with perfect truth, be assigned to the authentic sophist". Plato sought to distinguish sophists from philosophers, arguing that a sophist was a person who made his living through deception, whereas a philosopher was a lover of wisdom who sought the truth. To give the philosophers greater credence, Plato gave the sophists a negative connotation.[14]

Plato depicts Socrates as refuting sophists in several dialogues. These texts often depict the sophists in an unflattering light, and it is unclear how accurate or fair Plato's representation of them may be; however, Protagoras and Prodicus are portrayed in a largely positive light in Protagoras (dialogue). Protagoras argued that "man is the measure of all things", meaning man decides for himself what he is going to believe.[15] The works of Plato and Aristotle have had much influence on the modern view of the "sophist" as a greedy instructor who uses rhetorical sleight-of-hand and ambiguities of language in order to deceive, or to support fallacious reasoning. In this view, the sophist is not concerned with truth and justice, but instead seeks power.

Some scholars, such as Ugo Zilioli[16] argue that the sophists held a relativistic view on cognition and knowledge. However, this may involve the Greek word "doxa", which means "culturally shared belief" rather than "individual opinion". The sophists' philosophy contains criticisms of religion, law, and ethics. Although many sophists were apparently as religious as their contemporaries, some held atheistic or agnostic views (for example, Protagoras and Diagoras of Melos).



The sophists' rhetorical techniques were useful for any young nobleman looking for public office. The societal roles the sophists filled had important ramifications for the Athenian political system. The historical context provides evidence for their considerable influence, as Athens became more and more democratic during the period in which the sophists were most active.[17]

Even though Athens was already a flourishing democracy before their arrival, the cultural and psychological contributions of the sophists played an important role in the growth of Athenian democracy. Sophists contributed to the new democracy in part by espousing expertise in public deliberation, the foundation of decision-making, which allowed — and perhaps required — a tolerance of the beliefs of others. This liberal attitude would naturally have made its way into the Athenian assembly as sophists began acquiring increasingly high-powered clients.[18] Continuous rhetorical training gave the citizens of Athens "the ability to create accounts of communal possibilities through persuasive speech".[19] This was important for the democracy, as it gave disparate and sometimes superficially unattractive views a chance to be heard in the Athenian assembly.

In addition, sophists had a great impact on the early development of law, as the sophists were the first lawyers in the world. Their status as lawyers was a result of their highly developed skills in argument.[20]



The sophists the first formal teachers of the art of speaking and writing in the Western world. Their influence on education in general, and medical education in particular, has been described by Seamus Mac Suibhne.[21] The sophists "offer quite a different epistemic field from that mapped by Aristotle", according to scholar Susan Jarratt, writer of Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured.


During the Second Sophistic, the Greek discipline of rhetoric heavily influenced Roman education. During this time Latin rhetorical studies were banned for the precedent of Greek rhetorical studies. In addition, Greek history was preferred for educating the Roman elites above that of their native Roman history.[22]

Many rhetoricians during this period were instructed under specialists in Greek rhetorical studies as part of their standard education. Cicero, a prominent rhetorician during this period in Roman history, is one such example of the influence of the Second Sophistic on Roman education. His early life coincided with the suppression of Latin rhetoric in Roman education under the edicts of Crassus and Domitius. Cicero was instructed in Greek rhetoric throughout his youth, as well as in other subjects of the Roman rubric under Archias. Cicero benefited in his early education from favorable ties to Crassus.[22]

In his writings, Cicero is said to have shown a "synthesis that he achieved between Greek and Roman culture" summed up in his work De Oratore. Despite his oratorical skill, Cicero pressed for a more liberal education in Roman instruction which focused more in the broad sciences including Roman history. He entitled this set of sciences as politior humanitas (2.72). Regardless of his efforts toward this end, Greek history was still preferred by the majority of aristocratic Romans during this time.[23]

Modern usage

In modern usage, sophism, sophist and sophistry are used disparagingly. A sophism is a fallacious argument, especially one used deliberately to deceive.[24][25] A sophist is a person who reasons with clever but fallacious and deceptive arguments.[26][27]

See also


  1. ^ A Lexicon Abridged from Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon, Oxford: Clarendon, 1996, s.v.v. σοφίζω and σοφιστής.
  2. ^ Herrick, James (2005). The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Bacon. p. 103. ISBN 978-0-205-41492-5.
  3. ^ Plato protagoras, intro by N Denyer, p1, cambridge up, 2008
  4. ^ Lucian, Peregrinus 13 (τὸν δὲ ἀνεσκολοπισμένον ἐκεῖνον σοφιστὴν αὐτὸν), cited by Guthrie p.34.
  5. ^ 'Outlines of Pyrrhonism' Book I, Chapter 32.
  6. ^ Vaulker, Aashish (2012). Markets and measurements in nineteenth-century Britain. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 218–228.
  7. ^ Gaines, Robert N. (1997). Philosophy & Rhetoric. Pennsylvania: Penn State University Press. pp. 1–12.
  8. ^ Aristophanes' "clouds"; Aeschines 1.173; Diels & Kranz, "Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker",80 A 21
  9. ^ Blank, David L. (1985-01-01). "Socratics versus Sophists on Payment for Teaching". Classical Antiquity. 4 (1): 1–49. doi:10.2307/25010822. JSTOR 25010822.
  10. ^ Jarratt, Susan C. Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991, p. 83
  11. ^ Sprague, Rosamond Kent, The Older Sophists, Hackett Publishing Company (ISBN 0-87220-556-8), p. 5
  12. ^ Guthrie, W. K. C. Vol. 3 of History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969, p. 399
  13. ^ a b Guthrie, W. K. C. Vol. 3 of History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969, p. 401
  14. ^ Shiappa, Edward. "Protagoras and Logos" (University of South Carolina Press, 1991) 5
  15. ^ Versenyi, Laszlo (1962-01-01). "Protagoras' Man-Measure Fragment". The American Journal of Philology. 83 (2): 178–184. doi:10.2307/292215. JSTOR 292215.
  16. ^ Waterfield, Robin (2009). "Protagoras and the Challenge of Relativism: Platos Subtlest Enemy. By Ugo Zilioli". The Heythrop Journal. 50 (3): 509–510. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2265.2009.00484_1.x.
  17. ^ Blackwell, Christopher. Demos: Classical Athenian Democracy. 28 February 2003. The Stoa: a Consortium for Scholarly Publication in the Humanitiez. 25 April 2007.
  18. ^ Sprague, Rosamond Kent, The Older Sophists, Hacker Publishing Company (ISBN 0-87220-556-8), p. 32
  19. ^ Jarratt, Susan C. Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991, p. 98
  20. ^ Martin, Richard. "Seven Sages as Performers of Wisdom". Cultural Poetics in Archaic Greece. New York: Oxford, 1988. 108–130.
  21. ^ Mac Suibhne, Seamus (Jan 2010). "Sophists, sophistry, and modern medical education". Medical Teacher. 32 (1): 71–5. doi:10.3109/01421590903386799. PMID 20095778.
  22. ^ a b Clarke, M.L. (April 1968). "Cicero at School". Greece & Rome. Second Series. Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association. 15 (1): 18–22. doi:10.1017/s001738350001679x. JSTOR 642252.
  23. ^ Eyre, J.J. (March 1963). "Roman Education in the Late Republic and Early Empire". Greece & Rome, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press. 10 (1): 47–59. doi:10.1017/s0017383500012869. JSTOR 642792.
  24. ^ Sophism | Define Sophism at
  25. ^ Sophism | Definition of Sophism by Merriam-Webster
  26. ^ Sophists | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  27. ^ The Sophists (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)


  • Blackwell, Christopher. Demos: Classical Athenian Democracy. 28 February 2003. The Stoa: a Consortium for Scholarly Publication in the Humanities. 25 April 2007.
  • Clarke, M.L. "Cicero at School". Greece & Rome, Second Series, Vol. 15, No. 1 (Apr., 1968), pp. 18–22; Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of The Classical Association; JSTOR 642252
  • Eyre, J.J. "Roman Education in the Late Republic and Early Empire". Greece & Rome,Second Series, Vol. 10, No. 1 (Mar., 1963), pp. 47–59,Published by: Cambridge University Press; JSTOR 642792
  • Guthrie, W. K. C. Vol. 3 of History of Greek Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969
  • Jarratt, Susan C. Rereading the Sophists: Classical Rhetoric Refigured. Carbondale and Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1991.
  • Kerferd, G. B., The Sophistic Movement, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 1981 (ISBN 0-521-28357-4).
  • Mac Suibhne, Seamus (Jan 2010). "Sophists, sophistry, and modern medical education". Medical Teacher. 32 (1): 71–5. doi:10.3109/01421590903386799. PMID 20095778.
  • Rosen, Stanley, Plato's 'Sophist', The Drama of Original and Image, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 1983.
  • Sprague, Rosamond Kent, The Older Sophists, Hackett Publishing Company (ISBN 0-87220-556-8).
  • Herrick, James A. The History and Theory of Rhetoric: An Introduction. Boston: Allyn and Beacon, 2005. Print
  • McKay, Brett, and Kate McKay. "Classical Rhetoric 101: A Brief History." The Art of Manliness RSS. The Art of Manliness, 30 Nov. 2010. Web. 03 Oct. 2013.

Further reading

  • Corey, D. 2002. "The Case against Teaching Virtue for Pay: Socrates and the Sophists." History of Political Thought 23:189–210.
  • Dillon, J., and T. Gergel. 2003. The Greek Sophists. London: Penguin.
  • Gibert, J. 2002. "The Sophists." In The Blackwell Guide to Ancient Philosophy. Edited by C. Shields, 27–50. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Montiglio, S. 2000. "Wandering Philosophers in Classical Greece." Journal of Hellenic Studies 120:86–105.
  • Robinson, E. 2007. "The Sophists and Democracy beyond Athens." Rhetorica 25:109–122.

External links

Antioch on the Maeander

Antioch on the Maeander or Antiochia on the Maeander (Greek: Ἀντιόχεια τοῦ Μαιάνδρου; Latin: Antiochia ad Maeandrum), earlier Pythopolis, was a city of ancient Caria, in Anatolia. The city was situated between the Maeander and Orsinus rivers near their confluence. Though it was the site of a bridge over the Maeander, it had "little or no individual history". The scanty ruins are located on a hill (named, in Turkish, Yenişer) a few km southeast of Kuyucak, Aydın Province, Turkey, near the modern city of Başaran, or the village of Aliağaçiftliği. The city already existed when Antiochus I enlarged and renamed it. It was home to the sophist Diotrephes.It has not been excavated, although Christopher Ratte and others visited the site in 1994 and produced a sketch plan.

Antiphon (orator)

Antiphon of Rhamnus (; Greek: Ἀντιφῶν ὁ Ῥαμνούσιος) (480–411 BC) was the earliest of the ten Attic orators, and an important figure in fifth-century Athenian political and intellectual life.

There is longstanding uncertainty and scholarly controversy over whether the Sophistic works of Antiphon and a treatise on the Interpretation of Dreams were also written by Antiphon the Orator, or whether they were written by a separate man known as Antiphon the Sophist. This article only discusses Antiphon the Orator's biography and oratorical works.

Apollonius the Sophist

Apollonius the Sophist (Greek: Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Σοφιστής) was a famous grammarian, who probably lived towards the end of the 1st century AD and taught in Rome in the time of Tiberius. He was born in Alexandria, the son of another grammarian, Archibius of Alexandria (or was possibly Archibius's father).

He was the author of a Homeric dictionary (Λέξεις Ὁμηρικαί), the only work of this kind existent today. His chief authorities were Aristarchus of Samothrace and Apion's Homeric glossary (although some sources cite Apion as a disciple of Apollonius). The surviving text of this dictionary is an epitome, that is, it is a shortened summary of the original. In the original version, Apollonius apparently supplied at least one quotation in each entry.It was edited for the first time by Villoison (1773, 2 vol. in quarto) from a manuscript of Saint Germain, and also by I. Bekker (1833).

Asterius of Cappadocia

Asterius of Cappadocia (Ἀστέριος; died c. 341) was an Arian Christian theologian from Cappadocia. Few of his writings have been recovered in their entirety; the latest edition is by Markus Vinzent). He is said to have been a pupil of Lucian of Antioch, but it is unclear to what extent this was the case. He is said to have relapsed into paganism during the persecution under Maximian in 304 and thus, though received again into the church by Lucian and supported by the Eusebian party, never attained to ecclesiastical office. He as present at the synod of Antioch in 341.Fragments of his Syntagmation are preserved by Athanasius of Alexandria and Marcellus of Ancyra.

His extant works include a commentary on the Psalms, a letter to Eusebius, the Syntagmation, and a few fragments.Asterius was a firm defender of Arianism and Eusebius of Caesarea's theology, emphasising the derivative nature of the Son as a spontaneous manifestation and generation of the Father's will.

Demodocus (dialogue)

Demodocus (; Greek: Δημόδοκος) is purported to be one of the dialogues of Plato. The dialogue is extant and was included in the Stephanus edition published in Geneva in 1578. It is now generally acknowledged to be a fabrication by a late sophist or rhetorician.

It appears to be a combination of two separate works. The first part is a monologue (addressed to Demodocus) which argues against collective decision-making. There then follows a trilogy of dialogues (with anonymous participants) which raise three elements of doubt against common sense.

Dionysodorus (sophist)

Dionysodorus (Greek: Διονυσόδωρος, Dionysódōros, c. 430 – late 5th century or early 4th century BCE) was an ancient Greek sophistic philosopher and teacher of martial arts, generalship, and oration. Closely associated with his brother and fellow sophist Euthydemus, he is depicted in the writing of Plato and Xenophon.

List of ancient Greek philosophers

This list of ancient Greek philosophers contains philosophers who studied in ancient Greece or spoke Greek. Ancient Greek philosophy began in Miletus with the pre-Socratic philosopher Thales and lasted through Late Antiquity. Some of the most famous and influential Greek philosophers of all time were from the ancient Greek world, including Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Abbreviations used in this list:

c. = circa

fl. = flourished

List of speakers in Plato's dialogues

The following is a list of the speakers found in the dialogues traditionally ascribed to Plato, including extensively quoted, indirect and conjured speakers. Dialogues, as well as Platonic Epistles and Epigrams, in which these individuals appear dramatically but do not speak are listed separately.

Unnamed speakers

Lycophron (sophist)

Lycophron (; Greek: Λυκόφρων) was a sophist of Ancient Greece.

The central point about Lycrophron as attacked in the Politics of Aristotle, is that Lycrophron rejected the idea that the state exists to make people "just and good", instead holding the view that justice and law is about preventing people violating the bodies and goods of each other. This is the only reference to Lycrophron in the Politics.

The details of his life remain obscure, other than a number of references in the works of Aristotle. Lycophron was probably among the students of Gorgias, and is mentioned as a sophist by Aristotle. He rejected the supposed value of an aristocratic birth, claiming that Now the nobility of good birth is obscure, and its grandeur a matter of words.

meaning that there is no factual difference between those well-born and those low-born; only words and opinion assign value to these different circumstances of birth. This statement may indicate that Lycophron shared the beliefs of Antiphon, that (regardless of their ancestry) both Greeks and barbarians are born with the same capacities: An egalitarian belief that was a minority view in the 5th century BC. He is also known for his statement (reproduced by Aristotle, in the latter's Politics, 1280b10), that "law is only a convention, a surety to another of justice". Also translated as "a guarantor of men's rights against one another". He thus believed that law is a matter of agreement, a social convention and not a natural or universal standard (there is no evidence that Lycophron rejected the idea that law is a universal standard - indeed his view appears far more universalist than that of Aristotle, in that Lycophron proposes a single standard, what would now be called the non aggression principle, in relation to all states). In this respect his views on law are similar to those of Protagoras. This means that he treats law as a mere means, in the context of a (perhaps primitive) social contract theory, without considering it as something special, in contradistinction to, e.g., Plato but similar to both Thrasymachus and Callicles, albeit that their theories have – as far as can be ascertained from the information available about them – more specific characteristics.While Lycophron is considered one of the first proponents of a social contract theory, this is mostly a conjecture based on his theory of law. His few surviving quotes do not include a theory on the emergence of society from agreements. Such ideas did exist, however, in the works of his contemporary Protagoras. These 5th-century BC ideas viewed society and morality as human creations, both aiming to protect the lives and safety of the community members. The laws were subject to change, reflecting the changing views of a society. There was no "unchanging standard of righteousness". In other words, Protagoras and like-minded thinkers were precursors of Utilitarianism.In Metaphysics, Lycophron is quotted as claiming that "knowledge is a communion of knowledge and of soul". And also that the communion is the cause of the unity of knowledge and the soul. In Physics, it is mentioned that when Lycophron discussed "whether the part and the whole are one or more than one" he avoided using the singular form of the verb "to be". In Rhetoric, Aristotle examines several peculiar expressions used by Lycophron, such as "the many-visaged sky of the mighty-peaked earth", "the narrow-passaged promontory", calling Xerxes "a monster of a man" and Sciron "a human destroyer". The same work includes another reference to a Lycophron, though it fits poorly with what is known of the sophist. Aristotle reports that an opponent of Lycophron and Peitholaus stated in a law-court that "These men used to sell you when they are at home, and now they have come here and bought you." There is no context given to this phrase, though modern scholars suspect this is a reference to a case involving Lycophron I of Pherae, a tyrant.In Sophistical Refutations, Aristotle mentions Lycophron as an example of changing the subject of a conversation when one has nothing to state on the original subject. He reports that once Lycophron was compelled by certain persons to speak in praise of the lyre. He reportedly found himself at a loss for words on this subject. So he offered a few words on the musical organ and then switched the topic to Lyra, the constellation named after it. Being more knowledgeable in this topic, he had much more to say.

Paradox of the Court

The Paradox of the Court, also known as the counterdilemma of Euathlus, is a paradox originating in ancient Greece. It is said that the famous sophist Protagoras took on a pupil, Euathlus, on the understanding that the student pay Protagoras for his instruction after he wins his first court case. After instruction, Euathlus decided to not enter the profession of law, and Protagoras decided to sue Euathlus for the amount owed.Protagoras argued that if he won the case he would be paid his money. If Euathlus won the case, Protagoras would still be paid according to the original contract, because Euathlus would have won his first case.

Euathlus, however, claimed that if he won, then by the court's decision he would not have to pay Protagoras. If, on the other hand, Protagoras won, then Euathlus would still not have won a case and would therefore not be obliged to pay.

The question is: which of the two men is in the right?

The story is related by the Latin author Aulus Gellius in Attic Nights.


Philostratus or Lucius Flavius Philostratus (; Greek: Φλάβιος Φιλόστρατος; c. 170 – 247/250), called "the Athenian", was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period. His father was a minor sophist of the same name. He was born probably around 170, and is said by the Suda to have been living in the reign of emperor Philip the Arab (244–249). His death possibly occurred in Tyre c. 250 AD.

Philostratus of Lemnos

Philostratus of Lemnos (Greek: Φιλόστρατος ὁ Λήμνιος; c. 190 – c. 230 AD), also known as Philostratus the Elder to distinguish him from Philostratus the Younger who was also from Lemnos, was a Greek sophist of the Roman imperial period. He was probably a nephew of the sophist Philostratus of Athens, and is credited with two books formerly attributed to his uncle.


Protagoras (; Greek: Πρωταγόρας; c. 490 BC – c. 420 BC) was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. He is numbered as one of the sophists by Plato. In his dialogue Protagoras, Plato credits him with inventing the role of the professional sophist.

Protagoras also is believed to have created a major controversy during ancient times through his statement that, "Man is the measure of all things", interpreted by Plato to mean that there is no absolute truth but that which individuals deem to be the truth.

Although there is reason to question the extent of the interpretation of his arguments that has followed, that concept of individual relativity was revolutionary for the time, and contrasted with other philosophical doctrines that claimed the universe was based on something objective, outside human influence or perceptions.

Protagoras (dialogue)

Protagoras (; Greek: Πρωταγόρας) is a dialogue by Plato. The traditional subtitle (which may or may not be Plato's) is "or the Sophists". The main argument is between the elderly Protagoras, a celebrated Sophist, and Socrates. The discussion takes place at the home of Callias, who is host to Protagoras while he is in town, and concerns the nature of Sophists, the unity and the teachability of virtue. A total of twenty-one people are named as present.

Richard Rufus of Cornwall

Richard Rufus (Latin: Ricardus Rufus, lit. "Richard the Red"; d. c. AD 1260) was a Cornish Franciscan scholastic philosopher and theologian.

Sophist (dialogue)

The Sophist (Greek: Σοφιστής; Latin: Sophista) is a Platonic dialogue from the philosopher's late period, most likely written in 360 BC. Its main theme is to identify what a sophist is and how a sophist differs from a philosopher and statesman. Because each seems distinguished by a particular form of knowledge, the dialogue continues some of the lines of inquiry pursued in the epistemological dialogue, Theaetetus, which is said to have taken place the day before. Because the Sophist treats these matters, it is often taken to shed light on Plato's Theory of Forms and is compared with the Parmenides, which criticized what is often taken to be the theory of forms.

Like its sequel, the Statesman, the dialogue is unusual in that Socrates is present but plays only a minor role. Instead, the Eleatic Stranger takes the lead in the discussion. The fact that Socrates is present but silent makes it difficult to attribute the views put forward by the Eleatic Stranger to Plato, beyond the difficulty inherent in taking any character to be an author's "mouthpiece."

Sophistic works of Antiphon

The name Antiphon the Sophist (; Greek: Ἀντιφῶν) is used to refer to the writer of several Sophistic treatises. He probably lived in Athens in the last two decades of the 5th century BC, but almost nothing is known of his life.It has been debated since antiquity whether the writer of these Sophistic treatises was in fact none other than Antiphon the Orator, or whether Antiphon the Sophist was indeed a separate person. This remains an active scholarly controversy; of recent editors, Gagarin, and Laks and Most, believe there to be only one Antiphon, whereas G. J. Pendrick argues for the existence of two separate individuals.The most important of these treatises was On Truth, whose surviving fragments cover many different subjects, from astronomy and mathematics to morality and ethics. Fragments have also been preserved of the treatises On Concord and Politicus; these fragments have sometimes been attributed to the Orator rather than to the Sophist.It is also not known for certain whether the treatise on the Interpretation of Dreams under the name of Antiphon was written by Antiphon the Sophist, or whether this was written by yet another different Antiphon. The editions of Pendrick and of Laks and Most proceed on the basis that this treatise was written by the same Antiphon as the Sophistic works.

Statesman (dialogue)

The Statesman (Greek: Πολιτικός, Politikós; Latin: Politicus), also known by its Latin title, Politicus, is a Socratic dialogue written by Plato. The text depicts a conversation among Socrates, the mathematician Theodorus, another person named Socrates (referred to as "Socrates the Younger"), and an unnamed philosopher from Elea referred to as "the Stranger" (ξένος, xénos). It is ostensibly an attempt to arrive at a definition of "statesman," as opposed to "sophist" or "philosopher" and is presented as following the action of the Sophist.

The Sophist had begun with the question of whether the sophist, statesman, and philosopher were one or three, leading the Eleatic Stranger to argue that they were three but that this could only be ascertained through full accounts of each (Sophist 217b). But though Plato has his characters give accounts of the sophist and statesman in their respective dialogues, it is most likely that he never wrote a dialogue about the philosopher.

Theodorus of Cyrene

Theodorus of Cyrene (Greek: Θεόδωρος ὁ Κυρηναῖος) was an ancient Libyan Greek and lived during the 5th century BC. The only first-hand accounts of him that survive are in three of Plato's dialogues: the Theaetetus, the Sophist, and the Statesman. In the former dialogue, he posits a mathematical theorem now known as the Spiral of Theodorus.

Sophists of the 5th century BC

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