Early life of Plato

Plato (ancient Greek: "Polytonic|Πλάτων", "Plátōn", "wide, broad-shouldered") (c. 428/427 BC–c. 348/347 BC) was an ancient Greek philosopher, the second of the great trio of ancient Greeks–Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle–who between them are said to have laid the philosophical foundations of Western culture.cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|date=2002]

Little can be known about Plato's early life and education due to the very limited accounts. The philosopher came from one of the wealthiest and most politically active families in Athens. Ancient sources describe him as a bright though modest boy who excelled in his studies. His father contributed all which was necessary to give to his son a good education, and, therefore, Plato must have been instructed in grammar, music, gymnastics and philosophy by some of the most distinguished teachers of his era.

Birthdate and birthplace

The exact birthdate of Plato is not known. Based on ancient sources, most modern scholars estimate that Plato was born on 428 BC. The grammarian Apollodorus argues in his "Chronicles" that Plato was born in the first year of the eighty-eighth Olympiad (427 BC), on the seventh day of the month Thargelion; according to this tradition the god Apollo was born this day.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", II] According to another biographer of him, Neanthes, Plato was eighty-four of age at his death. If we accept Neanthes' version, Plato was younger than Isocrates by six years, and therefore he was born in the second year of the 87th Olympiad, the year Pericles died (429 BC). [F.W. Nietzsche, "Werke", 32]

The "Chronicle" of Eusebius names the fourth year of the 88th Olympiad as Plato's, when Stratocles was archon, while the "Alexandrian Chronicle" mentions the eighty-ninth Olympiad, in the archonship of Isarchus.W.G. Tennemann, "Life of Plato", 315] According to Suda, Plato was born in Aegina in the 88th Olympiad amid the preliminaries of the Peloponnesian war, and he lived 82 years.cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Suda] Sir Thomas Browne also believes that Plato was born in the 88th Olympiad.T. Browne, "Pseudodoxia Epidemica", XII] Renaissance Platonists celebrated Plato's birth on November 7.D. Nails, "The Life of Plato of Athens", 1] Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff estimates that Plato was born when Diotimos was archon eponymous, namely between July 29 428 BC and July 24 427 BC.U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, "Plato", 46] Greek philologist Ioannis Kalitsounakis believes that the philosopher was born on May 26 or 27 427 BC, while Jonathan Barnes regards 428 BC as year of Plato's birth.cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|date=2002
*cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedic Dictionary The Helios Volume V (in Greek)|date=1952] For her part, Debra Nails asserts that the philosopher was born in 424/423 BC.

Plato's birthplace is also disputed. Diogenes Laertius states that Plato "was born, according to some writers, in Aegina in the house of Phidiades the son of Thales". Diogenes mentions as one of his sources the "Universal History" of Favorinus. According to Favorinus, Ariston, Plato's family, and his family were sent by Athens to settle as cleruchs (colonists retaining their Athenian citizenship), on the island of Aegina, from which they were expelled by the Spartans after Plato's birth there.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", III] Nails points out, however, that there is no record of any Spartan expulsion of Athenians from Aegina between 431 and 411 BC.D. Nails, "Ariston", 54] On the other hand, at the Peace of Nicias, Aegina was silently left under Athens' control, and it was not until the summer of 411 that the Spartans overran the island.Thucydides,
* Thucydides, ] Therefore, Nails concludes that "perhaps Ariston was a cleruch, perhaps he went to Aegina in 431, and perhaps Plato was born on Aegina, but none of this enables a precise dating of Ariston's death (or Plato's birth)". Aegina is regarded as Plato's place of birth by Suda as well.


Plato's father was Ariston, the son of Aristocles, of the deme of Colytus. According to a tradition, reported by Diogenes Laertius but disputed by Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, Ariston traced his descent from the king of Athens, Codrus, and the king of Messenia, Melanthus.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", III
* U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, "Plato", 46] That claim is not however exploited in the philosopher's dialogues.D. Nails, "Ariston", 53] Plato's mother was Perictione, whose family boasted of a relationship with the famous Athenian lawmaker and lyric poet Solon.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", I] Perictione was sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both prominent figures of the Thirty Tyrants, the brief oligarchic regime, which followed on the collapse of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian war (404-403 BC).W. K. C. Guthrie, "A History of Greek Philosophy"', IV, 10
* A.E. Taylor, "Plato", xiv
* U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, "Plato", 47]

Besides Plato himself, Ariston and Perictione had three other children; these were two sons, Adeimantus and Glaucon, and a daughter, Potone, the mother of Speusippus (the nephew and successor of Plato as head of his philosophical Academy). According to the "Republic", Adeimantus and Glaucon were older than Plato; the two brothers distinguished themselves in the Battle of Megara, when Plato could not have been more than 5 years old.Plato, "Republic", 2. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168;query=section%3D%23191;layout=;loc=2.368b 368a]
* U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, "Plato", 47] Nevertheless, in his Memorabilia, Xenophon presents Glaucon as younger than Plato. [Xenophon, "Memorabilia", 3.6. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0208&layout=&loc=3.6.1 1] ]

Ariston appears to have died in Plato's childhood, although the precise dating of his death is difficult.D. Nails, "Ariston", 53
* A.E. Taylor, "Plato", xiv] When Ariston died, Athenian law forbade the legal independence of women, and, therefore Perictione was given to marriage to Pyrilampes, her mother's brotherCref|a (Plato himself calls him the uncle of Charmides),Plato, "Charmides", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176&query=section%3D%23376&layout=&loc=Charm.%20157e 158a]
* D. Nails, "Perictione", 53] who had served many times as an ambassador to the Persian court and was a friend of Pericles, the leader of the democratic faction in Athens.Plato, "Charmides", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0176&query=section%3D%23376&layout=&loc=Charm.%20157e 158a]
* Plutarch, "Pericles", ] Pyrilampes had a son from a previous marriage, Demus, who was famous for his beauty. [Plato, "Gorgias", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0178;query=section%3D%23620;layout=;loc=Gorg.%20481c 481d] and [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0178;query=section%3D%23778;layout=;loc=Gorg.%20513chttp://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0178;query=section%3D%23620;layout=;loc=Gorg.%20481c 513b]
* Aristophanes, "Wasps", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0044;query=card%3D%233;layout=;loc=54 97]
] Perictione gave birth to Pyrilampes' second son, Antiphon, the half-brother of Plato, who appears in "Parmenides", where he is said to have given up philosophy, in order to devote most of his time to horses.Plato, "Parmenides", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0174;query=section%3D%233;layout=;loc=Parm.%20126b 126c] ] Thus Plato was reared in a household of at least six children, where he was number five: a stepfather, a sister, two brothers and a half-brother.D. Nails, "The Life of Plato of Athens", 4]

In contrast to his reticence about himself, Plato used to introduce his distinguished relatives into his dialogues, or to mention them with some precision: Charmides has one named after him; Critias speaks in both "Charmides" and "Protagoras"; Adeimantus and Glaucon take prominent parts in the "Republic".W. K. C. Guthrie, "A History of Greek Philosophy", IV, 11] From these and other references one can reconstruct his family tree, and this suggests a considerable amount of family pride. According to Burnet, "the opening scene of the "Charmides" is a glorification of the whole [family] connection ... Plato's dialogues are not only a memorial to Socrates, but also the happier days of his own family".C.H. Kahn, "Plato and the Socratic Dialogue", 186]


According to Diogenes, the philosopher was named after his grandfather "Aristocles", but his wrestling coach, Ariston of Argos, dubbed him "Platon", meaning "broad" on account of his robust figure.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", IV] Diogenes mentions three sources for the name of Plato (Alexander Polyhistor, Neanthes of Cyzicus and unnamed sources), according to which the philosopher derived his name from the breadth ("platutês") of his eloquence, or else because he was very wide ("platus") across the forehead. All these sources of Diogenes date from the Alexandrian period of biography which got much of its information from its Peripatetic forerunners.A. Notopoulos, "The Name of Plato", 135] In the 21st century some scholars disputed Diogenes, and argued that "Plato" was the original name of the philosopher, and that the legend about his name being "Aristocles" originated in the Hellenistic age. W.K.C. Guthrie points out that "Ρlato" was a common name in ancient Greece, of which 31 instances are known at Athens alone.W. K. C. Guthrie, "A History of Greek Philosophy", IV, 10
* L. Tarán, "Plato's Alleged Epitaph", 61]


According to certain fabulous reports of ancient writers, Plato's mother became pregnant from a divine vision: Ariston tried to force his attentions on Perictione, but failed of his purpose; then the ancient Greek god Apollo appeared to him in a vision, and, as a result of it, Ariston left Perictione unmolested. When she had given birth to Plato, only then did her husband lie with her. Plato's father had also introduced himself to Perictione .Apuleius, "De Dogmate Platonis", 1
* Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", I
* cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Suda] Another legend related that, while he was sleeping as an infant on Mount Hymettus in a bower of myrtles (his parents were sacrificing to the Muses and Nymphs), bees had settled on the lips of Plato; an augury of the sweetness of style in which he would discourse philosophy. [Cicero, "De Divinatione", I, 36]


Apuleius informs us that Speusippus praised Plato's quickness of mind and modesty as a boy, and the "first fruits of his youth infused with hard work and love of study".Apuleius, "De Dogmate Platonis", 2] According to Diogenes, later Plato himself would characterize as gifts of nature the facility in learning, the memory, the sagacity, the quickness of apprehension and their accompaniments, the youthful spirit and the magnificence in soul.Plato, "Republic", 6. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168;query=section%3D%23807;layout=;loc=6.503d 503c]
* U. von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff, "Plato", 47] The philosopher's education, like any other Athenian boy's, would be physical as well as mental; he must have been instructed in grammar (that is, reading and writing), music,Cref|b painting, and gymnastics by the most distinguished teachers of his time.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", IV
* W. Smith, "Plato", 393] He excelled so much in physical exercises that Dicaearchus went so far as to say, in the first volume of his "Lives", that Plato wrestled at the Isthmian games and did extremely well and was well known.Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato", V] Apuleius argues that the philosopher went also into a public contest at the Pythian games. Plato had also attended courses of philosophy; before meeting Socrates, he first became acquainted with Cratylus (a disciple of Heraclitus, a prominent pre-Socratic Greek philosopher) and the Heraclitean doctrines.Aristotle, "Metaphysics", 1. [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0052&query=section%3D%2315&layout=&loc=1.987b 987a] ]

According to the ancient writers there was a tradition that Plato's favorite employment in his youthful years was poetry. He wrote poems, dithyrambs at first, and afterwards lyric poems and tragedies (a tetralogy), but abandoned his early passion and burnt his poems when he met Socrates and turned to philosophy. [E. Macfait, "Remarks on the Life and Writings of Plato", 7-8
* P. Murray, "Introduction", 13
* W.G. Tennemann, "Life of Plato", 315
] There was also a story that on the day Plato was entrusted to him, Socrates said that a swan had been delivered to him. There are also some epigrams attributed to Plato, but these are now thought by some scholars to be spurious.A.E. Taylor, "Plato", 554] Modern scholars now believe that Plato was probably a young boy when he became acquainted with Socrates. This assessment is based on the fact that Critias and Charmides, two close relatives of Plato, were both friends of Socrates.cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|date=2002
* P. Murray, "Introduction", 13
* D. Nails, "The Life of Plato of Athens", 2] The only written records on Socrates teaching were not written by Socrates himself, but his student Plato.

Public affairs

According to the Seventh Letter, whose authenticity has been disputed, as Plato came of age, he imagined for himself a life in public affairs.Plato (?), "Seventh Letter", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164&query=letter%3D%237 324c] ] He was actually invited by the regime of the Thirty Tyrants (Critias and Charmides were among their leaders) to join the administration, but he held back; he hoped that under the new leadership the city would return to justice, but he was soon repelled by the violent acts of the regime.Plato (?), "Seventh Letter", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164&query=letter%3D%237 324d] ] He was particularly disappointed, when the Thirty attempted to implicate Socrates in their seisure of the democratic general Leon of Salamis for summary execution.Plato (?), "Seventh Letter", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164&query=letter%3D%237 324e] ]

In 403 BC, the democracy was restored after the regrouping of the democrats in exile, who entered the city through the Piraeus and met the forces of the Thirty at the Battle of Munychia, where both Critias and Charmides were killed.Xenophon, "Hellenica", ] In 401 BC the restored democrats raided Eleusis and killed the remaining oligarchic supporters, suspecting them of hiring mercenaries.Xenophon, "Hellenica", ] After the overthrow of the Thirty, Plato's desire to become politically active was rekindled, but Socrates' condemnation to death put an end to his plans.Plato (?), "Seventh Letter", [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0164&query=letter%3D%237 325c] ] In 399 BC, Plato and other Socratic men took temporary refuge at Megara with Euclid, founder of the Megarian school of philosophy.




Primary sources (Greek and Roman)

*Apuleius, "De Dogmate Platonis", I. "See original text in [http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/apuleius/apuleius.dog1.shtml Latin Library] ".
*Aristophanes, "The Wasps". "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0043:line=1 Perseus program] ".
*Aristotle, "Metaphysics. "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0051:book=1:section=980a Perseus program] ".
*Cicero, "De Divinatione", I. "See original text in [http://www.thelatinlibrary.com/cicero/divinatione1.shtml Latin library] ".
*Diogenes Laertius, "Life of Plato". "Translated by [http://www.classicpersuasion.org/pw/diogenes/dlplato.htm C.D. Yonge] ".
*Cite wikisource|Charmides|Plato. See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0175:text=Charm.:section=153a Perseus program] .
*Cite wikisource|Gorgias|Plato. "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0177:text=Gorg.:section=447a Perseus program] ".
*Plato, "Parmenides". "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0173:text=Parm.:section=126a Perseus program] ".
*Cite wikisource|The Republic|Plato. See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168 Perseus program] .
*Plato, "Seventh Letter". "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0163:letter=7:section=323d Perseus program] ".
* . See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0181:text=Per.:chapter=39:section=1 Perseus program] .
*Cite wikisource|History of the Peloponnesian War|Thucydides, V, VIII. "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0199 Perseus program] ".
*Cite wikisource|Hellenica|Xenophon. See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0168 Perseus program] .
*Xenophon, "Memorabilia". "See original text in [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0205:book=1:chapter=1:section=1 Perseus program] ".

econdary sources

*cite book|last=Browne|first=Sir Thomas|title= [http://penelope.uchicago.edu/pseudodoxia/pseudo412.html#b26 Pseudodoxia Epidemica] |year=1646-1672 | IV.xii
*cite book|last=Guthrie|first=W.K.C.|title=A History of Greek Philosophy: Volume 4, Plato: The Man and His Dialogues: Earlier Period |year=1986 | publisher=Cambridge University Press| id=ISBN 0-521-31101-2
*cite book|last=Kahn|first=Charles H.|title=Plato and the socratic dialogue: The Philosophical Use of a Literary Form |year=2004 | publisher=Cambridge University Press| id=ISBN 0-521-64830-0| chapter=The Framework
*cite book|last=Macfait|first=Ebenezer|title=Remarks on the life and writings of Plato |year=1760 (digitized Aug 10, 2006) | publisher=Oxford University
*cite book|last=Murray|first=Penelope|title=Plato on Poetry: Ion; Republic 376e-398b9; Republic 595-608b10 |year=1996 | publisher=Cambridge UniversityPress| id=ISBN 0-521-34182-5| chapter=Introduction
*cite book|last=Nails|first=Debra|title=A Companion to Plato edited by Hugh H. Benson |year=2006 | publisher=Blackwell Publishing| id=ISBN 1-405-11521-1|chapter=The Life of Plato of Athens
*cite book|last=Nails|first=Debra|title=The People of Plato: A Prosopography of Plato and Other Socratics |year=2002 | publisher=Hackett Publishing| id=ISBN 0-872-20564-9|chapter=Ariston/Perictione
*cite book|last=Nietzsche|first=Friedrich Wilhelm|title=Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (in German) |year=1967 | publisher=Walter de Gruyter| id=ISBN 3-110-13912-X|chapter=Vorlesungsaufzeichnungen
*cite journal|last=Notopoulos|first=A.|title=The Name of Plato|journal=Classical Philology|volume=34|issue=No.2|pages=135–145|date=April 1939|url=http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0009-837X(193904)34%3A2%3C135%3ATNOP%3E2.0.CO%3B2-V|accessdate=2007-01-26|publisher=The University of Chicago Press|doi=10.1086/362227
*cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedia Britannica|date=2002
*cite encyclopedia|title=Plato|encyclopedia=Encyclopaedic Dictionary The Helios Volume XVI (in Greek)|date=1952
*cite encyclopedia|title= [http://www.stoa.org/sol-bin/search.pl?search_method=QUERY&login=guest&enlogin=guest&page_num=1&user_list=LIST&searchstr=Plato&field=hw_eng&num_per_page=25&db=REAL Plato] |encyclopedia=Suda|date=10th century
*cite book|last=Smith|first=William|title=Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology |year=1870 | url=http://www.ancientlibrary.com/smith-bio/2725.html| chapter=Plato
*cite book|last=Tarán|first=Leonardo|title=Collected Papers 1962-1999 |year=2001 | publisher=Brill Academic Publishers | id= ISBN 9-004-12304-0.
*cite book|last=Taylor|first=Alfred Edward|title=Plato: The Man and his Work |year=2001 | publisher=Courier Dover Publications| id=ISBN 0-486-41605-4
*cite book|last=Tennemann|first=W.G.|title=Selections from German Literature edited by Bela Bates Edwards, Edwards Amasa Park |year=1839 | publisher=Gould, Newman and Saxton|chapter=Life of Plato
*cite book|last=Wilamowitz-Moellendorff|first=Ulrich von|title=Plato: his Life and Work (translated in Greek by Xenophon Armyros |year=2005 (first edition 1917) | publisher=Kaktos| id=ISBN 960-382-664-2

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