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PLATO
Form: Gr. Platon,
who shares with Aristotle the first place among the philosophers of antiquity, was born at Athens 428 B.C. (according to the story, on the 21st of May, the birthday of Apollo). His father, Ariston, traced his descent from king Codrus; his mother, Perictione, belonged to the same family as Solon. Originally called after his grandfather Aristocles, he afterwards obtained the name of Plato (said to have been given by Socrates) either from the breadth of his shoulders or from the ample flow of his speech. His youth falls in the time of the Peloponnesian War, when Athens, though already entering on the decline of its political greatness,was still distinguished by the greatest activity in all intellectual paths. He had an education befitting his rank and including, according to Athenian custom, both gymnastic and musical culture; but from the first he consistently held aloof from public life, in spite of the numerous advantages which his birth and connexions would have insured him in such a career. Critias, for instance, who was afterwards the leader of the Thirty, was his mother's cousin. After at first devoting himself to poetical studies, and himself composing poetry, he soon took up philosophy. In this subject he is said to have received the instructions of Cratylus, a follower of Heraclitus. At the age of twenty he entered the circle of Socrates' disciples, and soon took a prominent position among them. In 399, after Socrates' death (at which he was prevented by illness from being present) he went to Megara, to his old fellow disciple Euclides, and thence is said to have travelled to Cyrene and Egypt. He certainly spent some time in Magna Graecia with the Pythagoreans, Archytas of Tarentum and Timaeus of Locri, and thence visited Syracuse on the invitation of the elder Dionysius his strong independence, however, and his intimate friendship with Dionysius' brother-in-law , the noble Dion, soon drew upon him the mistrust of the tyrant. The story relates that he was sold as a slave, into Aegina by order of Dionysius, and ransomed by a friend. Returning to Athens about 388, he established in a garden near the Academy (a gymnasium so named after the hero Academus), in the north-west part of the city, a philosophical school, over which he presided for forty years. Here he lived unmarried, taking no part in the affairs of State, but devoting his energies exclusively to the pursuit of knowledge, interrupted only by two journeys to Sicily. The first of these he undertook in 367, on the accession of the younger Dionysius, in order, in conjunction with Dion, to win the young ruler to the cause of philosophy and induce him to convert the tyranny into a constitutionally organized monarchy. This attempt completely failed; and the only result was the banishment of Dion. His second jonmey was in 362. His object was to reconcile Dionysius with Dion, but in this he was equally unsuccessful; in fact, his own life was in danger, and he was only saved by the intercession of Archytas of Tarentum. However, the accounts of these last two journeys are little to be depended upon. Besides the narrower circle of his immediate pupils-among whom the most celebrated are Aristotle, Speusippus, his sister's son, and Xenocrates,-the Academy was also frequented by a large number of educated men, and even women. It is said that Plato's advice in political matters was asked, not only by statesmen at home, but even by foreign States. His teaching was given partly in the shape of informal conversation, partly in consecutive and systematic lectures on philosophical subjects. Even to his old age his activity was unwearied; and he was carried off by an easy death (it is said, while actually engaged in composition), in the eighty-first year of his life (348). He was buried in the neighbourhood of the Academy, where his tomb still existed in the 2nd century A.D. His plot of land remained nearly a thousand years in the possession of the Platonic school. As works of Plato, thirty-six writings in fifty-six books (the thirteen letters being reckoned as one), have been handed down to us. These were divided by Thrasyllus, a Neo-Pythagorean of the time of Tiberius, into nine tetralogies, as follows; (1) Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito, Phaedo.(2) Cratylus, Theaetetus, Sophistes, Politicus. (3) Parmenides, Philebus, Symposium, Phaeedrus. (4) Alcibiades I and II, Hipparchus, Anterastae. (5) Theages, Charmides, Laches, Lysis. (6) Euthydemus, Protagoras, Gorgias, Meno. (7) Hippias I and II, Ion, Menexemus. (8) Clitopho, Republic (ten books), Timaeus, Critias. (9) Minos, Laws (twelve books), Epinomis, Letters. Besides these, eight other writings bear his name; but these were marked as spurious even in ancient times. Of the genuine writings of Plato none have been lost, owing to the fact that the study of them was kept up without a break through all the intervening centuries; but a number of the above-mentioned are of more or less doubtful authenticity, though there is not in all cases sufficient evidence to prove their spuriousness. Besides the Letters and the Epinomis (an appendix to the Laws composed by Plato's pupil Philippus of Opus), the writings of the fourth tetralogy as well as the Theages, the Minos., and the Clitopho, are reckoned as undoubtedly spurious. Of questionable genuineness also is a series of epigrams which has been handed down under Plato's name. Many attempts have been made to arrange the Platonic writings in the order of time, but unanimity on the subject has never been attained. An old, though disputed, tradition reckons the Phaedrus as the first, while the Laws, which is said to have been published by the aforesaid Philippus after the author's death, are generally acknowledged to be the last; the Republic also belongs, at any rate, to the later writings. The writings of Plato are among the greatest productions, not only of Greek literature, but of the literature of the world. They are equally admirable in matter and in form, combining, as they do, fulness and depth of thought with the highest mastery of style, while at the same time they are penetrated by the noblest spirit. The form is throughout that of dialogue; and in the dialogues Plato himself never appears as a speaker, but he makes his master, Socrates, the interpreter of his views. The dramatic setting and execution, the delineation of the characters, the language, perfectly adjusted to the personality of the speakers and to the circumstances supposed, -- now faithfully reproducing the simple manner of expression usual in conversation, now giving clear expression to the thought with all the incision of dialectics, now rising to poetic elevation,--all show the most consummate art and make it doubtful, whether in Plato we should rather admire the artist and the poet, or the philosopher. On his teaching and his school, see PHILOSOPHY.
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