(Πλάτων). The greatest of the Athenian philosophers. He was born May 26 (the seventh of Thargelion), B.C. 428, probably at Athens, though some say at Aegina ( Diog. Laert.iii. 2Diog. Laert., 6). He was of an aristocratic family, his father Aristo claiming descent from Codrus, the last of the Athenian kings, and his mother Periction being of the family of Sohn. His name was originally Aristocles, after his grandfather, but he was subsequently called Πλάτων, in consequence of his fluency of speech, or, as others say, because of his broad (πλατύς) forehead or his broad shoulders ( Diog. Laert.iii. 4). The traditions that have come down regarding his birth and career are largely mythical, and are given by Diogenes Laertius. One story makes him the son of Apollo, and another tells how bees settled on his lips when a child, thus foreshadowing his honeyed eloquence ( Div.i. 46 Div., 78). Plutarch relates that he was humpbacked, but this, perhaps, was not a natural defect; it may have first appeared late in life as a result of his severe studies ( De Audiend. Pot. 26, 53). Other ancient writers, on the contrary, speak in high terms of his manly and noble mien. The only authentic bust that we have of him is at present in the gallery at Florence. It was discovered near Athens in the fifteenth century, and purchased by Lorenzo de' Medici. In this bust the forehead of the philosopher is remarkably large. Plato first learned grammar, that is, reading and writing, from Dionysius. In gymnastics, Ariston was his teacher; and he excelled so much in these physical exercises that he entered, as is said, a public contest at the Isthmian and Pythian Games ( Diog. Laert.iii. 4). He studied painting and music under the tuition of Draco, a scholar of Damon , and Metellus of Agrigentum; but his favourite employment in his youthful years was poetry. The lively fancy and powerful style which his philosophical writings so amply display must naturally have impelled him, at an early period of life, to make some attempts at versification, which were assuredly not without influence on the beautiful form of his later works. After he had enjoyed the instruction of the most eminent teachers of poetry in all its forms, he proceeded himself to make an attempt in heroic verse; but when he compared his production with the masterpieces of Homer, he consigned it to the flames. He next tried lyric poetry, but with no better success; and finally turned his attention to dramatic composition. He elaborated four pieces, or a tetralogy, consisting of three separate tragedies and one satyric drama; but an accident induced him to quit this career, for which he was not probably fitted. A short time before the festival of Dionysus, when his pieces were to be brought upon the stage, he happened to hear Socrates conversing, and was so captivated by the charms of his manners as from that moment to abandon poetry, and apply himself earnestly to the study of philosophy. But, though Plato abandoned his poetic attempts, he still attended to the reading of the poets, particularly Homer, Aristophanes, and Sophron, as his favourite occupation; and he appears to have derived from them, in part, the dramatic arrangement of his dialogues. He had already heard the instructions of Cratylus, a disciple of the school of Heraclitus (Aristot. Metaphys. i. 6), and was now twenty years of age when he became acquainted with Socrates. He continued a professed disciple of that philosopher for the space of eight years, until the death of the latter. During all this period Socrates regarded him as one of his most faithful pupils, and Plato always cherished a deep affection and esteem for his master, so that when the latter was brought to trial he undertook to plead his cause; but the partiality and violence of the judges would not permit him to proceed. After the condemnation he presented his master with money sufficient to redeem his life, which, however, Socrates refused to accept. During his imprisonment Plato attended him, and was present at a conversation which he [p. 1272]
held with his friends concerning the immortality of the soul, the substance of which he afterwards committed to writing in the dialogue entitled Phaedo, not, however, without interweaving his own opinions and language. Upon the death of his master he withdrew, with several other friends of Socrates, to Megara, where they were hospitably entertained by Euclid, and remained till the meute at Athens subsided. Brcker thinks that Plato received instruction in dialectics from Euclid. Cicero relates that the Megarean philosopher drew many of his opinions from Plato (Academ. Quaest.4 Quaest., 42).
Desirous of making himself master of all the wisdom and learning which the age could furnish, Plato, after this, travelled into every country which was so far enlightened as to promise him any recompense for his labour. He first visited that part of Magna Graecia where a celebrated school of philosophy had been established by Pythagoras. It is commonly believed that Plato formally became a scholar of the Pythagoreans, and many persons are expressly named as his teachers in the doctrines of that sect of philosophy. But this multitude of teachers is of itself sufficient to excite suspicion; and, besides, Plato must then have been at least thirty years old, and was undoubtedly acquainted with the Pythagorean system long before his Italian voyage. How long Plato remained in Italy cannot be determined, since all the accounts relative to this point are deficient. But so much is certain, that he did not leave this country before he had gained the entire friendship of the principal Pythagoreans, of which they subsequently gave most unequivocal proofs. From Italy Plato went to Cyren, the celebrated Greek colony in Africa. It is not certain whether he visited Sicily in passing. According to Apuleius, the object of his journey was to learn mathematics of Theodorus. This mathematician, whose fame perhaps surpassed his knowledge, had given instruction to the youth of Athens in this branch of science; and Plato, in all probability, merely wished now to complete his knowledge on this subject. From Cyren he proceeded to Egypt, and, in order to travel with more safety upon his journey to the last-named country, he assumed the character of a merchant, and, as a seller of oil, passed through the kingdom of Artaxerxes Mnemon. Wherever he came, he obtained information from the Egyptian priests concerning their astronomical observations and calculations. It has been asserted that it was in Egypt that Plato acquired his opinions concerning the origin of the world, and learned the doctrines of transmigration and the immortality of the soul; but it is more than probable that he learned the latter doctrine from Socrates, and the former from the school of Pythagoras. It is not likely that Plato, in the habit of a merchant, could have obtained access to the sacred mysteries of Egypt; for, in the case of Pythagoras, the Egyptian priests were so unwilling to communicate their secrets to strangers that even a royal mandate was scarcely sufficient in a single instance to gain this permission. Little regard is therefore due to the opinions of those who assert that Plato derived his system of philosophy from the Egyptians (Iamblich. Myst. Aeg. i. 2, p. 3). That Plato's stay in Egypt extended to a period of thirteen years, as some maintain, or even three years, as others state, is highly incredible; especially as there is no trace in his works of Egyptian research, and all that he tells us of Egypt indicates at most a very scanty acquaintance with the subject.
After leaving Egypt, he went to Sicily in order to see the volcano of Aetna, and visited Syracuse at the time when Dionysius the Elder was reigning. At the court of Dionysius Plato became acquainted with Dio , the brother-in-law of the tyrant, and Dio endeavoured to produce an influence upon the mind of Dionysius by the conversation of Plato. But the [figure in text: Plato. (Bust at Florence.)] attempt failed, and had nearly cost the philosopher his life. Dionysius was highly incensed at the result of an argument in which he was worsted by Plato, who took occasion also to advance in the course of it some unpalatable truths; and in the first heat of his passion he would have punished the hardihood of the philosopher with death, had not Dio and Aristomenes together restrained him from it. They conceived, therefore, that Plato could no longer stay at Syracuse without hazard, and accordingly secured passage for him in a ship which was about to carry home Polis, a Lacedaemonian ambassador, or, according to Olympiodorus, a merchant of Aegina. Dionysius heard of it, and bribed Polis to sell him as a slave. He was accordingly sold by the treacherous Polis on the island of Aegina, which was then involved in war with Athens. According to some writers he was sold by the Aeginetans. A certain Anniceris, from Cyren, ransomed him for twenty or thirty minae. Plato's friends and scholars (according to some, Dio alone) collected this sum in order to indemnify Anniceris, who, however, was so noble-minded that with the money he purchased a garden in the Academ, and presented it to the philosopher. When Plato had completed his travels, and had reached the end of his various dangers and calamities, he returned to Athens, and began publicly to teach philosophy in the Academy. He had inherited here a garden, which was purchased for five hundred drachmae. This garden remained the property of the philosophic school that he had founded. His memory was honoured by the Athenians and by foreigners with monuments and statues. Diogenes states that Plato taught philosophy first in the Academy, and also in a garden at Colonus. His Academy soon became celebrated, and was numerously attended by high-born and noble young men; for he had already, by means of his travels, and probably by some publications, acquired a distinguished name. Among these disciples, from whom he exacted no fee, were his nephew Speusippus, Xenocrates of Chalcedon, Aristotle, Heraclides of Pontus, Hestiaeus of Perinthus, and Philippus the Opuntian, while others, who were not regularly enrolled among his immediate followers, numbered such men as Iphicrates, Timotheus, Phocion, Lycurgus, Hyperides, Isocrates, and possibly Demosthenes ( Cic. De Orat.i. 20Cic. De Orat., 89).
Plato taught in the Academy for twenty-two years prior to his second journey to Syracuse, which he undertook at the instigation of Dio , who hoped, by the lessons of the philosopher, to influence the character of the new ruler of Syracuse. This prince, it is said, had been brought up by his father wholly destitute of an enlightened education, [p. 1273] and it was now the task of Plato to form his mind by philosophy. It seems, at the same time, to have been the plan of Dio and Plato to bring about, by philosophical instruction, a wholesome reform of the Sicilian constitution, by giving it a more aristocratic character. But, whatever may have been their intentions, they were all frustrated by the weak and voluptuous character of Dionysius. Dio became the object of the tyrant's suspicion, and was conveyed away to the coast of Italy, without, however, forfeiting his possessions. In this condition of affairs, Plato did not long remain in Syracuse, where his position would at best have been ambiguous. He returned to Athens, but, in consequence of some fresh disagreement between Dionysius and Dio , with respect to the property of the latter, he was induced to take a third journey to Syracuse. The reconciliation, which it was his object to effect, completely miscarried; he himself came to an open rupture with Dionysius, and only obtained a free departure from Sicily through the active interposition of his Pythagorean friends at Tarentum. It does not appear that he took any part in the later conduct of Sicilian affairs, though his nephew and disciple Speusippus and others of the Academy, rendered personal assistance to Dio , in a warlike expedition against Dionysius. From this time Plato seems to have passed his old age in tranquillity in his garden, near the Academy, engaged with the instruction of numerous disciples, and the prosecution of his literary labours. He died while yet actively employed about his philosophical studies, in B.C. 347.
The philosophical writings of Plato have come down to us complete, and have always been admired as a model of the union of artistic perfection with philosophical acuteness and depth. They are in the form of dialogue; but Plato was not the first writer who employed this style of composition for philosophical instruction. (See Dialogus.) Zeno the Eleatic had already written in the form of question and answer. Alexamenus the Teian and Sophron in the mimes had treated ethical subjects in the same form. Xenophon, Aeschines, Antisthenes, Euclides, and other Socratics had also made use of the dialogical form; but Plato has handled this form not only with greater mastery than any one who preceded him, but, in all probability, with the distinct intention of keeping by this very means true to the admonition of Socrates, not to communicate instruction, but to lead to the spontaneous discovery of it. Moreover, the dramatic form gives great force and liveliness to the teaching, and was used by Plato with so much ability as to lead to the grouping of the dialogues into trilogies and tetralogies as though they had been actual dramas. The dialogues of Plato are closely connected with one another, and various arrangements of them have been proposed. Schleiermacher divides them into three series or classes. In the first he considers that the germs of dialectic and of the doctrine of ideas begin to unfold themselves in all the freshness of youthful inspiration; in the second those germs develop themselves further by means of dialectic investigations respecting the difference between common and philosophical acquaintance with things, respecting notion and knowledge (δόξα and ἐπιστήμη); in the third they receive their completion by means of an objectively scientific working out, with the separation of ethics and physics. The first series embraces, according to Schleiermacher, the Phaedrus, Lysis, Protagoras, Laches, Charmides, Euthyphron, and Parmenides; to which may be added as an appendix the Apologia, Crito, Ion, Hippias Minor, Hipparchus, Minos, and Alcibiades II. The second series contains the Gorgias, Theaetetus, Meno, Euthydemus, Cratylus, Sophistes, Politicus, Symposium, Phaedo, and Philebus; to which may be added as an appendix the Theages, Erastae, Alcibiades I., Menexenus, Hippias Major, and Clitophon. The third series comprises the Republic, Timaeus, Critias, and the Laws. This arrangement may be accepted as a matter of convenience, but scholars long ago ceased to think it possible to discover in the dialogues any satisfactory evidence of the order of their composition. The genuineness of many of the dialogues has been questioned, and the following are undoubtedly spurious: Alcibiades II., Axiochus, Clitophon, Demadocus, Epinomis, Erastae, Eryxias, Hipparchus, De Iust., Minos, Sisyphus, Theages, De Virtute. The following are probably spurious: Hippias Minor, Alcibiades I., Menexenus. The Letters are perhaps forgeries. (See Gudeman in Classical Studies in Honour of Henry Drisler, pp. 61-66 [New York, 1894].) The following are cited by Aristotle as having been written by Plato: Republic, Timaeus, Laws, Phaedrus, Symposium, Gorgias, Meno, Hippias I.; but obviously his silence as to the rest proves nothing.
It is impossible within any reasonable limits to give a satisfactory account of the Platonic philosophy. His attempt to combine poetry and philosophy (the two fundamental tendencies of the Greek mind) gives to the Platonic dialogues a charm which irresistibly attracts us, though we may have but a deficient comprehension of their subject matter. Plato, like Socrates, was penetrated with the idea that wisdom is the attribute of the Godhead; that philosophy, springing from the impulse to know, is the necessity of the intellectual man, and the greatest of the blessings which he possesses. When once we strive after Wisdom with the intensity of a lover, she becomes the true consecration and purification of the soul, adapted to lead us from the night-like to the true day. An approach to wisdom, however, presupposes an original communion with Being, truly so called; and this communion again presupposes the divine nature or immortality of the soul, and the impulse to become like the Eternal. This impulse is the love which generates in Truth, and the development of it is termed Dialectics. Out of the philosophical impulse which is developed by Dialectics, not only correct knowledge, but also correct action, springs forth. Socrates's doctrine respecting the unity of virtue, and that it consists in true, vigorous, and practical knowledge, is intended to be set forth in a preliminary manner in the Protagoras and the smaller dialogues attached to it. They are designed, therefore, to introduce a foundation for ethics by the refutation of the common views that were entertained of morals and of virtue; for although not even the words ethics and physics occur in Plato, and even dialectics are not treated of as a distinct and separate province, yet he must rightly be regarded as the originator of the threefold division of philosophy, inasmuch as he had before him the decided object to develop the Socratic method into a scientific system of dialectics, that should supply the grounds of our knowledge as well as of our moral action (physics and ethics), [p. 1274]
and therefore he separates the general investigations on knowledge and understanding, at least relatively, from those which refer to physics and ethics. Accordingly, the Theaetetus, Sophistes, Parmenides, and Cratylus are principally dialectical; the Protagoras, Gorgias, Politicus, Philebus, and the Politics principally ethical; while the Timaeus is exclusively physical. Plato's dialectics and ethics, however, have been more successful than his physics. Plato's doctrine of ideas (ἰδέαι) was one of the most prominent parts of his system. He maintained that the existence of things, cognizable only by means of conception, is their true essence, their idea. Hence he asserts that to deny the reality of ideas is to destroy all scientific research. He departed from the original meaning of the word idea (namely, that of form or figure), inasmuch as he understood by it the unities (ἑνάδες, μονάδες) which lie at the basis of the visible, the changeable, and which can only be reached by pure thinking. He included under the expression idea every thing stable amid the changes of mere phenomena, all really existing and unchangeable definitudes, by which the changes of things and our knowledge of them are conditioned, such as the ideas of genus and species, the laws and ends of nature, as also the principles of cognition and of moral action, and the essences of individual, concrete, thinking souls. His system of ethics was founded upon his dialectics, as is remarked above. Hence he asserted that, not being in a condition to grasp the idea of the good with full distinctness, we are able to approximate to it only so far as we elevate the power of thinking to its original purity.
The best MS. of the greater part of Plato is the Codex Clarkianus, secured in Patmos by Daniel Clarke, an Englishman, and now in the Bodleian Library (Oxford). It dates from A.D. 896, and does not include the Republic, of which the best copy is a Paris codex (Codex Parisinus A) of the eleventh century.
Bibliography.The principal editions of Plato are those of Aldus (Venice, 1513); H. Stephanus (Lausanne, 1587), from which the citations of Plato by page and letter are usually made; convenient texts by Stallbaum (1881 foll.), Orelli (1839), Hirschig (1873), K. F. Hermann (last ed. 1885 foll.); and a critical one is that of Schanz, not yet (1895) completed. Good editions of the separate dialogues with English notes are those of the Protagoras by Sihler (1881), the Philebus by Badham (1878), the Theaetetus by Campbell (1882), the Phaedoby Geddes (1885) and Andrew Hind (1883), the Euthydemus and Symposium by Badham (1866), the Sophistes and Politicus by Campbell (1867), the Phaedrusby Thompson (1868), the Apology by Wagner (1869) and by Riddell (1877), the Gorgias by Thompson (1871), the Parmenides by Maguire (1882) and by Waddell (1894), the Republic (bks. i.-v.) by Warren (1888), and complete by Jowett and Campbell (1894). There are notes on the Cratylus in French by Lenormant (1861), and on the Republic by Charpentier (1877).
The great translation of all of Plato's works into English, by Prof. Jowett (2d ed. Oxford, 1890), is itself a classic. There is a Lexicon Platonicum by Ast (1838) and a Wrterbuch der Platonischen Philosophie by Wagner (Gttingen, 1799). There is an immense mass of literature dealing with the Platonic philosophy, of which it is possible here to mention only the following for the general student: the introduction to the several dialogues in Jowett's translation; Grote's Plato (giving analyses of all the dialognes); Zeller, Plato and the Old Academy (Engl. trans. 1876); Stein, Zur Geschichte des Platonismus (1862-75); Auffarth, Die Platonische Ideenlehre (Berlin, 1883); Fouille, La Philosophie de Platon, 4 vols. (Paris, 1888-89); Pater, Plato and Platonism (1895); and the chapters on Plato in the histories of philosophy by Ueberweg and Schwegler. See Philosophia.