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Prodikus of Ceos

Page history last edited by TG Pelham 14 years, 5 months ago

Prodikus(465-c to 395 BCE this is a guess--scholars think Prodikus died sometime after Socrates) was one of the most popular sophists who taught in Athens.  He “was born in the city of Iulis, in the island of Ceos, an Athenian colony off the coast of Attica (Bernard). Several sources report that Prodikus had as many as 50 students, and that studying with him was very expensive—Socrates complains in the Cratylus (384b) that he could not afford the fifty drachma fee. (In this exchange, Socrates is making a joke about Prodikus’ lecture on how to arrive at the correct name for something. However, Prodikus is usually mentioned favorably by Plato.) Prodikus is reputed to have been one of Isocrates teachers, and his lectures were attended by Euripides and Thucydides (Pernot p28). His fame in Athens was such that Aristophanes referred to him simply by name in the Clouds (Bernard).

    Red figure vase depicting  teacher 

                             of rhetoric

Laurent Pernot claims that synonyms were Prodikus’ area of specilization (p14).  And John and Takis Poulakos summarize Prodikus’s role in the Protagoras saying “Plato shows Prodicus …making distinctions between such synonymous terms as debate and dispute, esteem and praise, satisfaction and pleasure” (p70). Furthermore, in the Protagoras (347a), Prodikus makes an argument regarding the proper form of refutation in a dialog, in support of Socrates pursuit of truth, he suggests that arguments should not be eristic. Clearly Prodikus and Socrates share an affinity for distinctions.  This attention to meaning may have been a central feature of Prodikus’ lectures, however, in the Phaedrus, Plato includes Prodikus in the list of sophists who were teaching forensics i.e. courtroom arguments.  So while he may have specialized in definitions, his teaching probably included all areas of rhetoric.  


Prodikus’ extant lecture is known as The Choice of Herakles. This retelling of the Herakles myth depicts the hero in his moment of uncertainty regarding what kind of life to lead.  In his quest to choose a path in life, he is visited by two female guides who promise to lead Herakles to manhood.  One guide is Virtue and the other is Vice.  Vice (by far the more alluring guide) recommends a path of sensuous pleasure, carefree leisure, and luxury produced by the labor of others.  Virtue suggests the path of service to the gods, community, country and friends, a large helping of hard labor, and subordinating the body to the will.  Biesecker argues that what is unique in Prodikus’ telling of the myth is not his siding with Virtue, but in the dialectical presentation of Vice and Virtue.  Prodikus writes their parts in a dialog so that Vice and Virtue present competing interpretations of the same terms—pleasure, enjoyment, and satisfaction.  Myths usually narrate virtue.  The deeds of the hero are presented for emulation.  Bieseker’s analysis is that by privileging rhetoric Prodikus shifts the agency from a narrator to the audience.  In retelling the myth, Prodikus doesn’t resolve the debate, he lets the story end with the speeches of Vice and Virtue, thus leaving it up to us to decide who is right.  


Works Cited

Bernard, Suzanne.  “Character of Plato’s Time and Dialogues: Prodicus of Ceos.”  http://plato-dialogues.org/tools/char/prodicus.htm

Biesecker, Susan L. “Rhetorical Discourse and the Constitution of the Subject: Prodicus’ The Choice of Heracles.” Argumentation vol 5: 159-169, 1991.

Pernot, Laurent.  Rhetoric in Antiquity. trans W.E. Higgins. Washington D.C.: Catholic UP, 2005.

Poulakos, John and Takis Poulakos.  Classical Rhetorical Theory. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999.







Comments (1)

jousas@... said

at 11:07 am on Sep 28, 2009

I find this interesting in that Aristotle would later write that pleasure, which Prodikus would attribute to Vice, is actually a good, and part of Virtue. Aristotle does note that anything not done in excess is a good, but he specifically details pleasure, "sensuous experiences" as a good and to do good or to have good done to you is virtuous.

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