Published online by Cambridge University Press: 28 March 2008
The century following the Persian Wars has often been referred to as the age of the Greek enlightenment, for some of its leading thinkers demonstrate a rationalism in viewing man and his world and an enthusiasm for intellectual experiment suggestive of the eighteenth century. The heady victory of civilization over barbarism doubtless contributed to this, for it heightened hopes that the world was not an unreasonable place and that man could develop within it new institutions of government and society and new forms of thought and art to fit his needs. The so-called sophists were spokesmen for this intellectual position. Sophist basically means wise man and is the word used by Herodotus of Solon and Pythagoras, but when Hermes hurls it at Prometheus it has already an ironic force, and the presence of sophistic concepts and catchwords in Prometheus vinctus suggests that the movement was already well under way at least by the early 450s. In the later fifth century, however, sophist might often be translated ‘expert’ and was the accepted title of those professors of eristic, rhetoric and civics who travelled to the leading Greek cities giving exhibitions of their mental and verbal cleverness. Attendance on the sophists was fashionable and exciting. It was also expensive, and their followers were often the younger members of wealthy families, not always to the delight of older and conservative relations.