Plato (PLAY-toh) was born in Athens, Greece, around 427 b.c.e. The eighty-year span of his life covered one of the most dramatic and tumultuous periods in Greek history. During his boyhood and youth, for example, his homeland witnessed the last stages of the Peloponnesian War, a struggle for dominance between the city-state of Athens and her arch-rival, Sparta. Plato’s father, Ariston, and his mother, Perictone, both came from distinguished families, and as a member of the aristocracy Plato was reared in the most favorable surroundings and enjoyed the best education available. Given this background and the many natural talents that he displayed as a youth, it seemed inevitable that he would one day enter public life and distinguish himself in politics.
In fact, his life was to take an entirely different course. The more closely Plato observed the world of politics, the less inclined he was to become involved in it. One event in particular was to have a lasting effect on him, and that was the trial, condemnation, and execution of Socrates in 399 b.c.e. Socrates had been Plato’s teacher, and Plato had profound respect for him. That his supposedly enlightened city could have killed so noble a man as Socrates was, for Plato, shocking and disillusioning. It was this event that turned him to philosophy, following in his great teacher’s footsteps.
Plato left Athens after the death of Socrates and apparently stayed away from the city for about ten years. He resided for a time in the city of Megara, and he may also have traveled to Egypt and Cyrene. It was during this period that he began to write. The dialogue form, in which he recorded his ideas, is like a transcription of a conversation...
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