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Monday, 13 March 2017



The exact time of Plato's birth is unknown, but it is believed that he was born in Athens between 429 and 423 BC.

The philosopher came from one of the wealthiest and most politically active families in Athens, who claimed descent from the early Athenian kings. His father was named Ariston and his mother Perictione.

Portrait bust by Silanion for the Academia in Athens (c. 370 BC)

Ariston died in Plato's childhood, and Perictione then married Pyrilampes, her mother's brother.

Pyrilampes had served many times as an ambassador to the Persian court and was a friend of Pericles, the leader of the democratic faction in Athens.

Plato became a pupil of Socrates in his youth, and — at least according to his personal account — he attended his master's trial, though not his execution.


The Greek philosopher was nicknamed the Athenian Bee as it is said that when he was a baby, a swarm of bees landed on his mouth. As a result Plato spoke with the sweetness of honey.

Plato devoted his early working life to politics, In 399 BC, disillusioned by the death of Socrates he retired from politics.

Between 398-386, Plato traveled round the Mediterranean. He returned to Athens at the age of forty, where he founded his academy and wrote and lectured for the rest of his life.

Plato in his academy, drawing after a painting by Swedish painter Carl Johan Wahlbom

Plato's followers were known as Academics, where the phrase was first coined. In his lifetime he was probably the most celebrated teacher of his day.

Trolling dates all the way back to the time of Plato. People began following the philosopher around and would making flatulent noises after everything he said.

Plato wrote his most famous work The Republic, around 380BC, in which he described a Utopian society.

Throughout his later life, Plato became entangled with the politics of the city of Syracuse in Sicily. Plato initially visited Syracuse while it was under the rule of Dionysius and during this trip Dionysius's brother-in-law, Dion of Syracuse, became one of Plato's disciples, but the tyrant himself turned against Plato. Plato was sold into slavery, but  Anniceris bought the Greek philosopher's freedom for twenty minas and sent him home.

After Dionysius's death, Dion requested Plato return to Syracuse to tutor Dionysius II and guide him to become a philosopher king.

Dionysius II expelled Dion and Plato left Syracuse. Dion later returned to overthrow Dionysius and ruled Syracuse for a short time before being usurped by Calippus, a fellow disciple of Plato.


Plato founded one of the earliest known organised schools in Western civilization when he was 40 years old on a plot of land in the Grove of Academe north west of Athens.

The Grove of Academe was a large enclosure of ground which named after its former owner, a citizen of Athens named Academus.

Plato founded his academy his in order to train a new ruling class after Socrates' death. His students would exercise in the Gymnasium paraded as soldiers. When they rested they would debate.

Plato considered the abstract speculations of pure mathematics to be the highest form of thought for the human mind. This was summed up by the plaque over the entrance of  his Academy which said "Let no one ignorant of Mathematics enter here."

Many intellectuals were schooled at Plat's Academy, the most prominent being Aristotle.

Plato (left) and Aristotle (right), a detail of The School of Athens, a fresco by Raphael

The Academy ran for a thousand years until it was closed by Justinian I of Byzantium in AD 529.


Plato formulated a system of philosophy based on contemporary experience in which the idea of Forms or ideas were central to his teaching. These immovable Forms could be an abstract quality such as beauty or truth or an actual physical reality such as a goat or a table. They existed in a higher realm outside the everyday world but were the only true reality, even though our physical senses were only able to partially perceive them. This thinking influenced the Gnostics and other Christian heretics who believed physical reality to be merely an illusion.

Plato believed there was only one single Form for truth. In an age of multi gods this was the closest so far the Ancient Greeks had got to a unified, monotheistic belief.

The Euthyphro dilemma, found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, finds Socrates asking Euthyphro the question: "Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?"

Plato's four natural virtues were justice, fortitude, prudence and temperance.

Plato praised as standing "above and surpassing all ... the pursuit of wild animals by the hunter in person." By racing, fighting, slinging, and chasing, the hunter showed his deep concern with "the ideals of manhood."

Part of Plato's teachings was that the ideal state ought to begin in the body of man, which must be made strong through sport. "Sport is where men become gods", he once wrote.

Plato taught that the essence of human beauty lay in the belief that all things beautiful could be divided into thirds. A brow one third of the way from the hairline. A mouth one third of the way from the brow. A point of chin one third of the way from the mouth.

Plato considered sex to be bad. Children, slaves and women he taught were unreasoning beings, and in his Utopian republic the family was abolished by state nurseries.


Unlike Socrates, Plato wrote down his philosophical views and left a considerable number of manuscripts. He was deeply affected by the city's treatment of Socrates and much of his early work records his memories of his teacher.

Plato and Socrates in a medieval depiction

About 36 dialogues survive- the first text books of philosophical thinking. In them Plato asks questions (in his earlier one Socrates is the questioner) and traps the students into contradicting themselves. His aim is to prove that the mind is more important than matter and material objects are imperfect copies of abstract ideas.

The Republic, Plato's most well-known work, describes a utopia, where philosophers would be rulers. This was the first time a form of communism had been suggested.

The Republic is split into Morals Parts 1 and 5. Politics and Society 2,4 and 6. Education 3 and 8. Philosophy Part 7 and 10. and Religion part 9.

The Symposium is a philosophical text by Plato dated c. 385–370 BC. In the work Socrates, the comedian Aristophanes and tragedian Agathon argue that true poetry is the unification of comedy and tragedy and each gives a tribute to love as they get themselves drunk.

Plato's Symposium (Anselm Feuerbach, 1873)

The Symposium concerns itself at one level with the genesis, purpose and nature of love. In the work, Plato coined the phrase "platonic love" meaning a nonphysical relationship. The philosopher originally used the phrase to describe the pure loving interest Socrates took in the young men of his time.

Phædo, also known to ancient readers as On Immortality, is one of the best-known dialogues of Plato's middle period. In the work an eye witness, Phaedo, discusses Socrates' last day in prison and immortality and debates with fellow philosophers. This book taught that life is a preparation for death and Plato stressed the idiocy of throwing away eternal happiness for a limited period of pleasure.

The first regular sales of literary work were carried on by students of Plato; they sold or rented transcripts of his lectures.


Plato taught that art should represent what is beyond appearances, the inner truth, the feeling of the artist etc. However wrong ideas must not be suggested.

Plato wrote in The Republic that rhythm and melody accompanied by dance are the barbarous expressions of the soul and that too much music over-relaxes the intellectual facilities. "Musical innovation is full of danger to the state for when modes of music change the laws of the State always change with them."

Title page of the oldest manuscript: Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Gr. 1807 (9th century)

Plato felt theater had no merit as it requires actors to be representing other people. "One man plays one part only." was his philosophy. He feared it might give his Republic wrong ideas.

Pato disliked poetry as he felt the works originated from inspiration which was inferior to wisdom. He banned Homer and other poetry from his Utopia. However Plato himself wrote a few poems.


The Greek philosopher was a fine wrestler and his academy in Athens contained a gymnasium.

Plato's own real name was "Aristocles" however his nickname, Plato, originated from wrestling circles. It was a miniker meaning "broad," given to him by his gym teacher to describe either his broad shoulders or broad forehead. Some claim Plato is the ancient equivalent of “tubby”.

By Tetraktys, Wikipedia Commons

Plato never married. In his Utopia he described the abolishment of marriages and families.

The Greek philospher did not have a very spiritual temperament, instead Plato was sober, retiring and fastidious.

Plato enjoyed nibbling olives, indeed his Academy contained a grove of olive trees.

Being near the sea, Plato probably ate much squid and octopus, turbot and salted or marinated tuna.

Plato pictured the ideal state in The Republic where men lived to a healthy old age on wholemeal bread ground from a local wheat, cheese, fruit, vegetables and, yep, olives.


Plato died aged 80 at a wedding feast in around 347 BC.

His last words were "I thank the guiding providence and fortune of my life that I was born a man and a Greek, not a Barbarian, nor a brute; and next that I happened to live in the age of Socrates."

The founder of Platonism, for 2000 years there was a battle between Plato and Aristotle's theories. Plato theories were foundational for Gnostics.

Source Food For Thought by Ed Pearce

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