Plato Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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...

(The entire section is 724 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Born in Athens in 427 b.c.e. and named Aristocles, the famous philosopher whose nickname, Plato (PLAY-toh), means “broad forehead” was the son of Ariston and Perictione, Athenian aristocrats. The family of Ariston traced its descent to Codrus, presumably the last king of Athens, and Perictione was a descendant of Solon, the Athenian lawgiver. Plato probably enjoyed a comfortable boyhood as the youngest member of a wealthy family. He had two brothers, Glaucon and Adeimantus, and a sister, Potone.{$S[A]Aristocles;Plato}

When Plato was still a child his father died, and his mother then married Pyrilampes, an active supporter of the policies of Pericles. His uncle, Charmides, and another relation, Critias, were also involved in the political life of the time and were prominent in the oligarchy that came into power at the end of the Peloponnesian War in 404 b.c.e. Under these circumstances it was natural for Plato to regard political life as one of the duties of the conscientious citizen and the philosophy of politics as one of the scholar’s noblest pursuits.

From his boyhood Plato was acquainted with Socrates, and his friendship with the elderly philosopher convinced him that the search for truth, which the Greeks called “philosophy” (“the love of wisdom”), was essential to any effective political life. Plato’s early ambition to be a statesman was encouraged by Charmides and his friends, but when Plato observed that the thirty rulers of Athens, among them his relatives and associates, were even more vicious in their governmental practices than their predecessors, and, furthermore, that they were attempting to involve Socrates in the illegal arrest of a fellow citizen, he began to have qualms about a career in politics. His misgivings were confirmed when the leaders of the democracy that followed the oligarchy charged Socrates with impiety and corrupting the youth of Athens; Socrates was brought to trial, condemned, and executed. Plato decided that until philosophers became kings, or kings became philosophers, there was no practical value to be gained if an honest man entered political life.

In all probability, Plato was more than once engaged in active military service. He possibly entered service when he was eighteen and may have spent five years in the cavalry during the last years of the Peloponnesian War. He may also have served in 395 b.c.e., when Athens was once more at war....

(The entire section is 1029 words.)