Socrates encounters Hippias whom, he remarks, he hasn’t seen for some time. The celebrated sophist, famous for his ‘extraordinary powers of memory’ and for his discourses on such varied topics as ‘geometry, astronomy, music, and rhythms’ as well as on painting and the art of sculpture, says he’s been preoccupied with state diplomacy. Self-importantly Hippias explains: ‘whenever Elis needs to have any business transacted with any of the states, she always comes to me fi rst of her citizens and chooses me as an envoy, thinking that I am the ablest judge and messenger of the words that are spoken by the several states.’ Socrates plays up to him. He calls him ‘a truly wise and perfect man’, a ‘man to be held in high repute among the many’, since in his private capacity he is ‘able to earn much money from the young and [ . . . ] confer upon them still greater benefi ts’ than he receives, and in public affairs he benefi ts his state. However, he then asks him why ‘those men of old’, e.g. Thales or Anaxagoras, refrained from applying their knowledge politically. Hippias retorts that their wisdom was probably too restricted to encompass both public and private matters. He agrees with Socrates’ mischievous suggestion that the art of speaking has so much progressed that now the ancients’ wisdom would be comparatively worthless and they themselves, if they came back to life, a laughing-stock. Continuing his theme of modern-day sophists highly respected for their competence in both public and private matters, Socrates mentions Gorgias, Prodicus, and Protagoras and the fact that they earned ‘a great deal of money’, ‘a marvellous sum of money’, certainly more money from their wisdom ‘than any artisan from his art’. Ironically he suggests that the sophist’s art must truly have progressed, ‘since none of those ancients ever thought fi t to exact money as payment for his wisdom or to give exhibitions among people of various places; so simple-minded were they, and so unconscious of the fact that money is of the greatest value’. Oblivious to Socrates’ deception, convinced that he knows ‘nothing of the beauties’ of his art, Hippias boasts about his earnings: ‘if you were to know how much money I have made, you would be amazed.’ He cites an occasion in Sicily when his earnings even outperformed those of the older and better known Protagoras. Recollecting his father’s and other citizens’ amazement, he proudly claims:
‘I pretty well think I have made more money than any other two sophists together.’ Admitting that the ancients seemed careless with the money they did have, Socrates apparently concedes the argument to Hippias: ‘So this seems to me fi ne testimony you adduce for the wisdom of men of today as compared with the earlier men, and many people agree with me that the wise man must be wise for himself specially; and the test of this is, who makes the most money’ (Plato 2002a: 336-343, 281A-283B; cf. Philostratus 1998: 34-37).