The word virtue (arete) means [excellence] in Greek and it has a long history with many meanings. Some of these historical uses have little to do with what we consider ethics and morality. Homer used the word to describe the fighting spirit of warriors; other authors applied the term to animals and even to things.
By the end of the fifth century B.C.E., one important meaning of excellence designated becoming a good citizen and achieving success in public life, especially in politics and in the judicial system. The Sophists claimed that they could teach people how to achieve excellence in these areas and soon began attracting as students young men who wanted to succeed in Athenian life. The Sophists, in other words, began teaching virtue in Athens.
The leading Sophists, however, did not, indeed most of them could not, practice what they taught because they were not citizens of Athens, an autonomous city-state. Protagoras came from Thrace, a region that once extended over eastern Greece and western Turkey, Prodicus came from an island in the Aegean, and Gorgias came from Sicily. These foreigners became successful in Athens not by becoming good citizens and succeeding in public life, something foreigners could not do, but by charging money for teaching Athenian youth how to achieve the excellence needed to succeed in Athenian life.
As their educational efforts expanded and enjoyed considerable success their teaching also became controversial. Their emphasis on rhetorical skill to win over juries or to persuade people