Thrasymachus (Θρασύμαχος) (ca. 459-400 BCE) was a sophist of Ancient Greece best known as a character in Plato's "Republic".

The Historical Thrasymachus

Thrasymachus was a citizen of Chalcedon, on the Bosphorus. His career appears to have been spent as a sophist, at Athens as far as we know, though there is no concrete evidence that he was a sophist. He is credited with an increase in the rhythmic character of Greek oratory, especially the use of the paeonic rhythm in prose; also a greater appeal to the emotions through gesture.

Aristophanes makes what is the most precisely dateable of references to Thrasymachus, in a passing joke from a lost play dated to 427. [Father: Well, you'll get your come-uppance in time, my lad! Son: Ha! That 'get your come-uppance' is from the rhetoricians. Father: Where will all these fine phrases of yours land you in the end? Son: 'Land you in the end' - you got that from Alcibiades! Father: Why do you keep making insinuations ("hypotekmairei") and slandering people who are just trying to practise decency? Son: Oho, ho! O Thrasymachus! Which of the law-men came up with that piece of Jargon? cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=205 Hypotekmairei is a hapax legomenon, and occurs nowhere else in surviving literature. Dillon and Gergel assume that the word had some technical definition, possibly given to it by Thrasymachus] Nils Rauhut of the "Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy" concludes from this passage that Thrasymachus must have been teaching in Athens for several years before this point.cite web|url= |title=Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Thrasymachus |accessmonthday=September 2 |accessyear=2006 |last=Rauhut |first=Nils |year=2006] A further fragment, this time from Clement of Alexandria provides some further context, by placing Thrasymachus contrary to the Macedonian Archelaus. "And while Euripides says in the "Telephus", 'Shall we who are Greeks be slaves to barbarians?', Thrasymachus says in his speech "For the People of Larisa", 'Shall we become slaves to Archelaus, Greeks as we are, to a barbarian?'" [Clement of Alexandria, "Stromateis" VI 1. In cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=213] Rauhut therefore declares it evident that Thrasymachus became most prominent in the last three decades of the fifth century. Dillon and Gergel posit the alternate possibility that the speech was composed by the second-century AD Herodes Atticus, of whom we have extracts similar in spirit to Clement's fragment, and sound authentically fifth-century, exhibiting detailed knowledge of Thessalian politics. [cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=212]

A fragment of his work "On Constitutions" survives, which contains the maxim that the "ancestral constitution is common to all". The meaning of this is debatable; one suggestion is that every orator can claim to speak for it, no matter what he is advocating.

There is a man by the same name mentioned in Aristotle's "Politics" who overthrew the democracy at Cyme, but nothing is known of this event, nor can it be said with any degree of certainty that they are the same man. [Aristotle, [ "Politics" V, 1304b-1305a.] ] Aristotle mentions a Thrasymachus again in his "De Sophisticis Elenchis", where he credits him with a pivotal role in the development of rhetorical theory. Quoting the W. A. Pickard-Cambridge text: "For it may be that in everything, as the saying is 'the first start is the main part'... This is in fact what has happened in regard to rhetorical speeches and to practically all the other arts: for those who discovered the beginnings of them advanced them in all only a little way, whereas the celebrities of to-day are the heirs (so to speak) of a long succession of men who have advanced them bit by bit, and so have developed them to their present form, Tisias coming next after the first founders, then Thrasymachus after Tisias, and Theodorus next to him, while several people have made their several contributions to it: and therefore it is not to be wondered at that the art has attained considerable dimensions." [Aristotle, "On Sophistical Refutations" 183b22-34. In cite book |last=Pickard-Cambridge |first=W. A. |editor=Richard McKeon |title=The Basic Works of Aristotle, De Sophisticis Elenchis ("On Sophistical Refutations") |origyear=1941 |year=2001 |publisher=Modern Library |location=New York |id=ISBN 0-375-75799-6 |pages=211] Dillon and Gergel are cautious not to read this as stating that this makes Thrasymachus a student of Tisias, just as it does not make Theodorus a student of Thrasymachus. [cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=383, n.7]

Writing more specifically in the "Rhetoric", Aristotle attributes to Thrasymachus a witty simile. "A simile works best when it is in effect a metaphor, for it is possible to say that a shield is "like" the drinking-cup of Ares, or that a ruin is "like" the tattered rag of a house, and to say that Niceratus is "like" a Philocreres bitten by Pratys - the simile made by Thrasymachus when he saw Niceratus, who had been beaten by Pratys in a recitation competition, still going around with his hair uncut and unkempt." [Aristotle, "Rhetoric" III 11, 1413a5-10 = A5, extended. In cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=205] A further reference to Thrasymachus in the "Rhetoric" finds Herodicus punning on Thrasymachus' name. "Herodicus said of Thrasymachus, 'You are always bold in battle ("thrasymakhos")!'" [Aristotle, "Rhetoric" II 23, 1400b17-23 = A6, extended. In cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=206] Dillon and Gergel suggest that this might explain Plato's choice of Thrasymachus as the "combative and bombastic propounder of the 'might is right' theory" for his "Republic". [cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=206]

Plato mentions Thrasymachus as a successful rhetorician in his "Phaedrus", but attributes nothing significant to him. [Plato, [ "Phaedrus" 266c.] ] The Byzantine Suda gives a brief description of Thrasymachus affirming his position as a rhetorical theorist. "A Chalcedonian sophist, from the Chalcedon in Bithynia. He was the first to discover period and colon, and he introduced the modern kind of rhetoric. He was a pupil of the philosopher Plato and of the rhetor Isocrates. He wrote deliberative speeches; an Art of Rhetoric; paegnia; Rhetorical Resources." ["Suda", s.v. Thrasymakhos. [,462 Θ, 462] . Tr. Ada Adler, 1928-1938] Dillon and Gergel state that the second sentence is a "preposterous statement, both as concerns Plato and Isocrates." They further declare that emending 'pupil' "(mathêtês)" for 'teacher' "(kathêgêtês)" is equally foolish. They themselves suggest a lacuna in the text, wherein Thrasymachus is declared the pupil of another, and a rival of Plato and Isocrates. [cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=383, n.3]

Dionysius of Halicarnassus praises Thrasymachus for various rhetorical skills in his "On Isaeus", finding Thrasymachus "pure, subtle, and inventive and able, according as he wishes, to speak either with terseness or with an abundance of words." Dionysus but still found Thrasymachus a second-rate orator beside the "incisive" and "charming" Lysias, because he left no forensic speeches to posterity, only handbooks and display-speeches. [Dionysus of Halicarnassus, "On Isaeus" 20. In cite book |last=Dillon |first=John |coauthors=Gergel, Tania |title=The Greek Sophists |year=2003 |publisher=Penguin Group |location=Great Britain |id=ISBN 0-14-043689-8 |pages=209]

In Plato

Thrasymachus' current importance derives mainly from his being a character in Plato's dialogue. He is noted for his unabashed, even reckless, defense of injustice and for his famous blush at the end of Book 1, after Socrates has tamed him. The meaning of this blush, like that of Socrates' statement in Book 6 that he and Thrasymachus "have just become friends, though we weren't even enemies before" (498c), is a source of some dispute.

There is a long philosophical tradition of exploring what exactly Thrasymachus meant in "Republic I", and of taking his statements as a coherent philosophical assertion, rather than as Plato's straw man.

In the "Republic I", Thrasymachus violently disagreed with the outcome of Socrates' discussion with Polemarchus about justice. Demanding payment before speaking, he claims that "justice is the advantage of the stronger" (338c) and that "injustice, if it is on a large enough scale, is stronger, freer, and more masterly than justice'" (344c). Socrates counters by forcing him to admit that there is some standard of wise rule — Thrasymachus does claim to be able to teach such a thing — and then arguing that this suggests a standard of justice beyond the advantage of the stronger. The rest of the dialogue is occasioned by Glaucon's dissatisfaction with Socrates' refutation.

His name means "fierce fighter", which may have influenced his role in the dialogue.

In Leo Strauss's interpretation, Thrasymachus and his definition of justice represent the city and its laws, and thus are in a sense opposed to Socrates and to philosophy in general. As an intellectual, however, Thrasymachus shared enough with the philosopher to potentially act to protect philosophy in the city.


338c: polytonic|Ἄκουε δή, ἦ δ᾽ ὅς. φημὶ γὰρ ἐγὼ εἶναι τὸ δίκαιον οὐκ ἄλλο τι ἢ τὸ τοῦ κρείττονος συμφέρον. συμφέρον. [] (“Listen—I say that justice is nothing other than the advantage of the stronger.”)

344c: polytonic|οὕτως, ὦ Σώκρατες, καὶ ἰσχυρότερον καὶ ἐλευθεριώτερον καὶ δεσποτικώτερον ἀδικία δικαιοσύνης ἐστὶν ἱκανῶς γιγνομένη, καὶ ὅπερ ἐξ ἀρχῆς ἔλεγον, τὸ μὲν τοῦ κρείττονος συμφέρον τὸ δίκαιον τυγχάνει ὄν, τὸ δ᾽ ἄδικον ἑαυτῷ λυσιτελοῦν τε καὶ συμφέρον. [] ("Thus, Socrates, injustice on a sufficiently large scale is a stronger, freer, and a more masterful thing than justice, and, as I said in the beginning, it is the advantage of the stronger that is the just, while the unjust is what profits man's self and is for his advantage.")


External links

* [ Project Perseus reference articles on Thrasymachus]
* [ Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, with bibliographic sources]
* [ Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Callicles and Thrasymachus]
* [,pageNum-86.html Cliff note on Thrasymachus]

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