Plato's Life

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Plato's Life

Plato was born in Athens, about 427 B.C., and died there about 347 B.C. In early life Plato saw war service and had political ambitions. However, he was never really sympathetic to the Athenian democracy and he could not join wholeheartedly in its government. He was a devoted follower of Socrates, whose disciple he became in 409 B.C., and the execution of that philosopher by the democrats in 399 B.C. was a crushing blow. He left Athens, believing that until “kings were philosophers or philosophers were kings” things would never go well with the world. ( He traced his decent from the early kings of Athens and perhaps he had himself in mind).

For several years he visited the Greeks cities of Africa and Italy, absorbing Pythagorean notions, and then in 387 B.C. he returned to Athens. ( En route, he is supposed to have been captured by pirates and held for ransom.) There, the second half of his long life, he devoted himself to philosophy. In the western suburbs he founded a school that might be termed the first university. Because it was on the grounds that had once belonged to a legendary Greek called Academus, it came to be called the Academy, and this term has been d for schools ever since.

Plato remained at the Academy for the rest of his life, except for two brief periods in the 360s. At that time he visited Syracuse, the chief city of Sicily, to serve as tutor for the new king, Dionysus II. Here was his chance to make a king a philosopher. It turned out very badly. The king insisted on behaving like a king and of course make the Athenians democrats look good by comparison. Plato managed only with difficulty to return safely to Athens. His end was peaceful and happy, for he is supposed to have...

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...l the centuries since his time, down to the very present day – thousands who have never read his dialogue of absorbed a sentence of his serious teachings – nevertheless believed with all their hearts in the reality of Atlantis. ( To be sure, recent evidence of an Aegean island that exploded volcanically in 1400 B.C. may have given rise to legends, that inspired Plato’s fiction).

Plato’s influence extended long past his own life and, indeed, never died. The Academy remained a going institution until A.D. 529, when the Eastern Roman Emperor, Justinian, ordered it closed. It was the last stronghold of paganism in a Christian world.

Plato’s philosophy, even after that date, maintained a strong influence on the thinking of the Christian Church throughout the early Middle Ages. It was not until the thirteenth century that the views of Aristotle gained dominance.
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