Hippias Minor or The Art of Cunning by Plato, trans. Sarah Ruden

Paperback, 144 pages
Publisher: Badlands Unlimited (June 2015)
Language: English
Selected by Tank

Hippias Minor, or the Art of Cunning, has previously been translated as “On Lying”. This publication, by Badlands Unlimited, is a more sympathetic and entirely new translation of this early work by Plato. Hippias argues that Achilles can be believed when he says he hates liars, but Odysseus is resourceful because he is so adept at lying. This Socratic dialogue explores perceived and entirely subjective notions of superiority, and the new translation muddies the moralistic slant often imposed by earlier translations. Socrates would be proud. 

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Eucidus But you, Socrates – how about it? Why aren’t you saying anything? Hippias has given such a great presentation, and you won’t join in praising anything that’s been said – and you won’t put him to the test if something doesn’t seem fine to you? A special reason for you to speak up is that it’s actually just us on our own here, the people most entitled to claim a share in the pursuit of ideas. 

Socrates Well, in fact, Eudicus, there are some things Hippias was saying just now concerning Homer that I’d enjoy asking him about. It just so happens that your father, Apemantus, used to say that Homer’s Iliad is a finer poem than the Odyssey, and that it’s finer in asmuch as Achilles is superior to Odysseus – given that one of the two compositions concerns Odysseus, and the other, Achilles. So on this issue I’d enjoy questioning Hippias thoroughly, if he’s willing, as to his opinion about these two men. Which one does he say is superior? He has, you see, presented for our benefit all sorts of other things, about Homer as well as other poets. 

Eucidus Naturally! I’m certain Hippias won’t hold out but will answer anything you ask him. Isn’t that so, Hippias? If Socrates asks you something, will you answer? What else would you do? 

Hippias Quite right, Eudicus! It would be terrible if I didn’t answer. I go to Olympia to the festival of all the Greek states during the Olympic games; every time, I go back there from my home in Elis, and I enter the sanctuary and make myself available to give any speech anyone wants – out of the ones I’ve prepared to present – and I answer any question anyone wants to ask me. It would be terrible for me to run away now from Socrates’s questioning. 

Socrates This is a blessed fate you’ve found, Hippias, if at each Olympiad you’re so sanguine, when you arrive at the sanctuary, about the way your character serves your intelligence. I would marvel if any athlete comes to that place as fearless and full of conviction about his means of contending – the body, that is – as you are about your thinking. 

Hippias It stands to reason, Socrates, that this is what I’ve found, since from the time I started to contend at the Olympics, I never encountered anyone with more mastery than I had. 

Socrates I guess, Hippias, that you’re saying this renown of yours for intelligence is a fine offering to the city and to your parents too. Fair enough, but what have you got to say to us about Achilles and Odysseus? Which one is superior, and what do you say makes him superior? When a lot of us were indoors there, you know, and you were making your presentation, I lost track of what you were saying. I shrank from asking question after question, because there was a big crowd in there and I didn’t want to get in the way of your presentation with my queries. But now, because there are fewer of us, and Eudicus here urges me to ask, do say, and instruct us clearly: what did you mean about those two men? How were you distinguishing between them?

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  • Hippias Minor