So, I was browsing Wikipedia today, and I came across this article, detailing a lawsuit in Ancient Greece. Basically, what had occurred was that a man, Protagoras, had entered into a contract with another, Euathlus, to provide him with training in oratory and law, in exchange for a sum of money that was to be paid upon Euathlus's first win in court. After this training was provided, Euathlus decided not to go into the legal profession, so eventually Protagoras elected to sue Euathlus for the sum owed to him.

The two men made the following arguments:

Protagoras stated that regardless of the court's decision, he would be paid the money he was owed, since if the court found in his favor, he was be paid the money the court awarded him, and if Euathlus won, then the terms of the contract would have been met and he would be obligated to pay the money.

Euathlus rebutted, however, that he would owe no money, regardless of the court's decision: if he won, then the court would have ruled in his favor and annulled the debt, and if he lost, then he wouldn't have won any cases yet, and thus wouldn't owe any money to him in accordance to the terms of the contract.

What I was wondering was what would have happened if this case were to be tried in a modern-day courtroom? Has thousands of years of legal development created a resolution to the paradox?

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    Whoever VTC, you really should articulate why you believe this question "should" be closed. Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 11:09
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    The logical conclusion to me is that Euathlus wins the case (since he hasn't won any cases at the time of the lawsuit), but this then gives him a win and so if Protagoras sued a second time he would be successful.
    – rlms
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 11:19
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    What was the outcome of the original proceedings?
    – stackzebra
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 18:31
  • @stackzebra See the OP's comment & reference in that regard, although I posit that it was merely a recourse for purposes of narrative and/or debate, not a realistic/actual limitation of the Greek intellectuals of that time. Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 19:05
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    I don't understand Euathlus' position at all. The case would be to decide whether Euathlus can leave the contract simply by not pursuing a career in law. If the court decides in his favor, the original contract still stands, and he has won, so he must be paid. If the court decides against him, the original terms of the contract don't matter at all, the court has made its decision. Right?
    – Nacht
    Commented Sep 16, 2019 at 1:56

2 Answers 2


What would happen if Protagoras v Euathlus were heard in court today? what would have happened if this case were to be tried in a modern-day courtroom?

Generally speaking, Protagoras's position would prevail under contract law.

Protagoras and Euathlus entered a contract in which the exchange of considerations involves tutoring and compensation therefor.

Since the agreement nowhere portrays compensation as contingent on Euathlus not declining to exercise as lawyer, the most reasonable inference is that the parties' understanding at the time of the formation of their contract implicitly ruled out that scenario.

Or at least that risk, which is under Euathlus's control, was not disclosed to Protagoras. Thus, the contingency cannot be said to be knowingly entered by Protagoras (contract law is premised, inter alia, on all the conditions being entered knowingly and willfully by the parties).

The paradox conveys that Euathlus changed his mind "after been trained". Even if ruling out Euahtlus's change of mind is viewed as a mistake of both parties which could make their contract voidable, Protagoras would entitled to restitution for the performance of his duties. See Restatement (Second) of Contracts at § 152(2).

The condition that compensation be made after Euathlus's first win in court can be interpreted twofold; namely, as:

  1. Protagoras's acting as creditor towards Euathlus while the latter obtains funds with which to pay the tutoring; or

  2. Protagoras's form of guarantee that the tutoring he provides to Euathlus is effective, since winning a case in court may be taken as evidence (again, if we assume that nowadays courts are "all integrity and honesty") of having received competent training.

Both interpretations strengthen Protagoras's legal position, as these evidence his commitment to the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, respectively. By contrast, Euathlus only benefited from both standpoints without giving anything in return to Protagoras.

Furthermore, Euathlus's eventual decision not to work as lawyer amounts to forfeiting the aforementioned guarantee, since his unilateral decision precludes testing the effectiveness of the tutoring he received.

Has thousands of years of legal development created a resolution to the paradox?

The Paradox of the Court is more of a philosophical challenge for beginners that stays there and leaves out many (im-)practicalities and legal issues. But an assumption that the Ancient Greeks would not have considered these aspects in a real-life controversy would be naive and oversimplistic, especially if we bear in mind the great intellectual development they achieved.

Here I only cited the Restatement (Second) of Contracts, which is frequently cited by U.S. courts deciding contract disputes. But I can assure you that many of these principles as well as issues of impracticalities were essentially (and perhaps similarly) addressed by Aristotle.

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    This answer assumes that Euathlus misrepresented to Protagoras an intention to enter the law - an assumption that is not evident on the facts. That Protagoras assumed this is not relevant - Euathlus must have induced that assumption.
    – Dale M
    Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 12:30
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    @DaleM "This answer assumes that Euathlus misrepresented to Protagoras an intention to enter the law". Is that why you downvoted? You are ignoring the principles reflected in Restatement (Second) of Contracts at § 153-155 in that only Protagoras --as the inadvertently & adversely affected party-- would be allowed to void the contract, and the court may permit a reformation of the agreement ultimately to avoid injustice regarding Protagoras's uncompensated performance. Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 12:47
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    i think linking to a vaguely unhinged looking blogspot detracts from your answer's credibility
    – user371366
    Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 19:48
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    @dn3s The posts to which you refer contain --and are premised on-- publicly verifiable resources such as a police report, a prosecutor's letter reporting the judge's offense, court records, judicial opinions, etc. Regardless, I would be surprised if your disagreement with those posts impeded you --or anyone-- to follow and/or corroborate the points about contract law developed here. There is nothing cryptic or esoteric about contract law or about this answer that would require any credibility for the audience to grasp either. Commented Sep 15, 2019 at 21:43
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    I've Accepted this answer because it sounds better-argued to me, and it's more upvoted than the other one.
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 17, 2019 at 9:59

Euathlus would win

At the time of the case, Euathlus has not won a case so he has no obligation to pay Protagoras. Under contract law, the court would find there is no obligation to pay.

But now that Euathlus won a case Protagoras can just bring the suit again, right? Sadly, no. Protagoras cannot bring suit again under the doctrine of res judicata.

Now Protagoras can win but not in the way he's trying to do - he can bring a different suit (for anything) that Euathlus is bound to win. Euathlus wins that and Protagoras can then claim his payment.

This is on the facts as stated.

However, if Euathlus had represented to Protagoras an intention to enter the law (rather than Protagoras just assuming this because Euathlus wanted to learn law) then the contract could be declared void for misrepresentation. Protagoras could then seek compensation through an equitable remedy such as promissory estoppel or quantum meruit. Of course, he would need to run this argument at the same time as the contract law one as red judicata would prevent him running it later.

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    It is quite a stretch to say that "the contract is [...] discharged by the ruling". (1) The focus of the ruling would be whether or not Euathlus has de facto defaulted on his payment, not whether Euathlus's declining voids the contract. (2) The allusion to Euathlus's 1st win in court shifts to him the burden of overcoming or superseding the presumption --at the formation of the contract-- that his intent was to practice law. (3) The agreement is in terms of "after [winning the 1st case]", which is open-ended and encompasses any future success if Euathlus ever decides to practice law. Commented Sep 14, 2019 at 13:15

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