Friends in High Places
As an itinerant instructor, Protagoras traveled from Abdera to Athens, where he befriended the famous Greek statesman Pericles (PEAR-i-kleez, c. 495–429 BC).
Pericles' name means “surrounded by glory.” A few nights before he was born, his mother dreamt she gave birth to a lion. 🦁
Born with an unusually large skull that made Pericles a target for ridicule—comedians nicknamed him “Squill-head.”
He grew from a introverted, studious youth … into a charismatic orator who had a ferocious impact upon Athenian history.
Rhetoric in Action
So great was his skill in the art of rhetoric, one opponent complained that even if he defeated Pericles in a fight, Pericles could convince the audience that he had won ... and they would celebrate Pericles as the victor.
Philosophy & Law
Noted to be the first politician who acknowledged the great importance of philosophy, he studied and socialized with several philosophers, including Anaxagoras, Zeno of Elea, and Protagoras
After a competitor in an athletic contest accidentally struck and killed a fellow competitor with a javelin, Pericles and Protagoras spent the day discussing who should be held responsible:
- The javelin?
- The man who threw it?
- Or the directors of the games?
Impressed by Protagoras, in 444 BC, Pericles invited Protagoras to draft a constitution for the newly founded Athenian colony of Thurii.
Sophistical Skill & Politics
Using funds embezzled from the alliance's treasury, Pericles undertook an ambitious building program which included construction of the Parthenon, a massive golden statute of Athena, and many temples previously destroyed by the Persians.
When an opponent publicly charged him with misappropriating funds, Pericles' shrewd response enabled him to deflectcriticism and remain in office:
He offered to pay for the construction from his own resources and have the inscriptions dedicated to himself.
Keep the Public Entertained.
Pericles' decrees—equivalent to modern day executive order—provided the basis for unassailable political strength.
He used public funds to pay for the poor to watch theatrical plays, granted poor citizens rights previously reserved for property owners, and initiated a generous wage for citizens who served on the supreme court of Athens.
In so doing, he ushered in a radical form of democracy.
Scorned by "Socrates"
The philosopher Plato wrote several sophist dialogues. In one, he used Socrates as his mouthpiece to complain that:
“Pericles had made Athenians lazy, cowardly, babbling money lovers.”