Plato was a classical Greek philosopher and mathematician, more so known as the student of Socrates and writer of philosophical dialogues. He founded the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his teacher Socrates and his student, Aristotle, he led the foundation of Western philosophy and science. His sophistication as a writer was evident from his important work, “Socratic Dialogues” which includes thirty-six dialogues and thirteen letters assigned to Socrates. His dialogues have been used to teach a wide range of subjects, including philosophy, logic, ethics, rhetoric, and mathematics.
Plato Childhood and Early Life
The exact location and time of Plato’s birth are still unknown but it is believed that he belonged to an aristocratic and influential family. Based on some ancient sources, he is believed to be born in Athens around 428/427 BC. His father, Ariston was a descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus. His mother Perictione was the sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants. According to his notes, Plato had three siblings, two brothers, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a sister Potone. As per popular sources, his father is believed to have died when Plato was very young. Eventually, his mother married Pyrilampes, an ambassador to the Persian court several times. He was also the friend of Pericles, the leader of the democratic faction in Athens. Antiphon was his half-brother, son of his mother and Pyrilampes. Plato grew up in the household of six children which included a stepbrother, a sister, two brothers and a half-brother.
According to Diogenes, Plato was named after his grandfather Aristocles. Later his wrestling coach dubbed him, “Platon” based on his broad and strong figure. Diogenes said that Plato derived his name either from the breadth of his eloquence or because of the wide width of his forehead. Plato received the common Athenian education, both physical and mental. He was taught grammar, music, painting, and gymnastics by the most distinguished teachers in the Athens. According to Dicaearchus, Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games and performed well. It was even said that he went for a public contest at the Pythian Games. He also attended courses of philosophy. In his youth, Plato took the profession of poetry. At first he wrote dithyrambs and then turned into writing lyric poems and tragedies. Later when he met Socrates, he burnt his poems and turned to philosophy.
Socrates and Plato
The actual relationship between Socrates and Plato is still an area of debate. From Apology of Socrates, we can derive that Plato was the most devoted young follower of Socrates. In the dialogues, he is mentioned along with Crito, Critobolus, and Apollodorus as offering to pay a fine of 30 minas on Socrates’ behalf, in lieu of the death penalty proposed by Meletus. From the dialogue, Phaedo, we learn that there was a list of people present in the prison on Socrates’ last day, but Plato was absent as he was ill. One of the characteristics of his dialogues was that Pluto himself never spoke in his dialogues. The Second Letter famously declares, “no writing of Plato exists or ever will exist, but those now said to be his are those of a Socrates become beautiful and new”. Historians like Xenophon and Aristophanes present a different image of Socrates unlike the one shown by Plato.
According to the Seventh Letter, Plato thought of making a career in public affairs.