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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [1]

one of the most eminent of the Greek philosophers. He was by far the most illustrious of the pupils of Socrates, completely eclipsing all his fellow students, so that St. Augustine justly remarks, "Inter discipulos Socrates, non quidem immerito, excellentissima gloria claruit, qui omnes caeteros obscuraret, Plato" (De Civ. Dei, 8, 4). He was the earliest of the systematic scholars, or founders of permanent schools, in which the doctrines of the original master, with more or less of development and change, continued to be expounded through successive generations. His fame and influence on antiquity transcended the renown and authority of any other teacher, and may have suggested, in connection with the character of his doctrine and the mode of its exposition, the declaration of Labeo, that he was to be accounted a god rather than a man. "Hunc Platonern Labeo inter semideos commemorandum putavit, sicut Herculem, sicut Romulum; semideos autem heroibus anteponit, sed utrosque inter numina collocat" (Augustine, ibid. 2. 14). His influence was increased, rather than diminished, during the long and ardent struggle between rising Christianity and expiring Paganism-both combatants receiving his impulse, claiming his alliance, and submitting to his philosophical ascendency. Though the oblivion of the Greek language and the dogmatic character of mediaeval speculation turned intellectual activity into widely divergent channels, yet the revival of letters was attended by the resurrection of Plato; and the Medicean Academy of Florence under the direction of Marsilius Ficinus (q.v.), renewed the prominence of his name and of his philosophy. Since that period, the beginning of the 16th century, Plato has enjoyed an augmented authority in the domain of metaphysical inquiry; has animated successive schools of brilliant reputation and of extensive rule; and has been the late progenitor of the most famous systems which have given to modern Germany its marvelous predominance in transcendental metaphysics.

I. Life And Times. The notices of Plato's life which have come down to us are few and scanty and for the most part unauthenticated. Legend early fastened upon his name, and incrusted it over with myths as striking and as unreal as any employed by himself for the exemplification of his tenets. He transformed the rugged honesty of his teacher, Socrates: he was himself transfigurated by the wild fantasy of his own followers, and was Translated in equal degree with Bully Bottom, though in dissimilar mode. But, if little is known of the real circumstances and incidents of the life of the philosopher, there is abundant information in regard to the troubled and motley times in which he lived. The ancient authorities for the life of Plato which have been transmitted to us are few, late, and untrustworthy. His biography by his pupil, companion, and successor, Xenocrates, was early lost. Of the numerous writers contemporaneous with him, or living in the next centuries, who treated his life, professedly or incidentally, scarcely any available memorials survive. Our fullest authorities are Diogenes Laertius, Apuleius, Olympiodorus, in the life prefixed to most editions of the Opera Platonis, and an anonymous biographer. These writers, Diogenes Laertius especially, may have had trustworthy materials at command, but they have commingled, or rather inundated them, with the legendary growth which sprang up after Plato's death-a growth which should not be entirely neglected, as it exhibits the manner in which Plato was regarded by his admiring disciples, arising out of his own imaginative expositions, and anticipating the fantastic reveries of the Neo-Platonic Thaumaturgists.

Plato was born a full Athenian citizen, of Athenian parents, but, apparently, not within the limits of Attica. His birthplace seems to have been the island of AEgina, where his father owned a cleruchy, or colonial estate. There are dissonances in regard to the year of his birth, but it fell within the first half of the Decennial War, or earlier portion of the Peloponnesian War. Grote assigns his nativity to May, B.C. 427, just before the surrender of Plataea; Clinton to May, B.C. 429, four or five months before the death of Pericles; and Diogenes Laertius to B.C. 428, the year in which Anaxagoras died. Taking Grote's date for convenience, as this is no place for the investigation of such chronological problems, the philosopher's birth was synchronous with the first exhibitions of the comedian Aristophanes, whom, throughout life he so greatly admired, and whose works he kept habitually under his pillow. Both the parents of Plato were of noble blood; a circumstance which affected equally his political inclinations and his speculative views. His father was Ariston, the son of Aristocles, and traced his descent from Codrus and the god Poseidon. His mother's name was Perictione. She was descended from a collateral branch of the family of Solon the Lawgiver; was nearly related to Critias the chief of the Thirty Tyrants, and was the sister of Charmides, who was at the same time one of the ten governors of the Piraeus. The genealogical table is given by Ueberweg. Legend, which is traced back to Speusippus, the nephew of Plato, ascribed the paternity of Plato to the god Apollo; and, in the form in which the story is told by Olympiodorus, closely imitates the record in regard to the nativity of Christ. A similar origin was assigned to Servius Tullius, to Pythagoras, to Alexander the Great, to Scipio Africanus, to Apollonius of Tvanma, to the seventh ancestor of Genghiz-Kahn, to Buddha, and to many other notable personages. The story of Hercules is well known, and furnished occasion for the apt sarcasm of Tertullian: "Herculem de fabula facis Christum" (Adv. Marc. 4, 2). It was an old- world tale, often repeated in many ages and in many lands. As it was traced back to Speusippus, the translation of Plato into a supernatural being must have commenced immediately after his death. The transcendentalism of his doctrine may have suggested the fiction of his original divinity. The latter was recognized in the inscription on the tomb erected to his memory by the Athenians:

Soon after his birth he was carried to Mount Hymettus by his father and mother, that they might perform on his account the due sacrifices to the enchorial deities Pan, the Nymphs, and the Nomian Apollo. As the infant lay sleeping on the flowers, the bees settled upon his lips, and filled his mouth with honey and the honeycomb, that Homer's verse might be accomplished, says Olympiodorus:

Τοῦ Καὶ Ἀπὸ Γλώσσης Μέλιτος Γλυκίων Ῥέεν Ἀνδή ( Ii. 2, 249). According to Greek usage, the child was called Aristocles, after his paternal grandfather. The name of Plato was imposed on him by Ariston of Argos, his instructor in gymnastics, on account of the breadth of his shoulders or of his forehead, or in consequence of the compass and fluency of his speech. He excelled so far in athletic sports as to gain the reputation of having contended in the Isthmian and other games. He began his education at an early age by studying grammar under Dionysius, and continued it by prosecuting the wide circle of knowledge then called music under Draco, a distinguished pupil of the more distinguished Damon. At some period of his youth he also gained an acquaintance with the philosophy of Heraclitus, under the guidance of Cratylus, after whom he has named one of his Dialogues. As a boy, he is said to have been quick in apprehension, eager, diligent, grave, and modest. His first ambition, as with most young men of lively genius, seems to have been for literary renown. He wrote lyrics, dithyrambs, epigrams, and tragedies; and is even said to have composed a tetralogy for competition in the Dionysiac festival. In the estimation of antiquity he was universally accomplished, and his writings attest a wide range of acquirement. After he entered into intimate relations with Socrates, he burned up his juvenile poems; but throughout his career he was attended by the poetic afflatus. The acquaintance with Socrates seems to have begun about his twentieth year (B.C. 407), and was probably incited by the same causes which induced other wealthy, elegant, and ambitious Athenians to frequent the company of the ceaseless disputant the desire of skill in debate, and dexterity in public harangues. Plato, or the author of the Seventh Epistle attributed to Plato, acknowledges that in youth "he was animated, like other young men, to devote himself, as soon as he was his own master, to the affairs of the commonwealth." Other attractions arose, and the association with Socrates became closer and closer with the passing years, till his venerable master was removed from him by the fatal cup of hemlock, after eight years of communion.

The twentieth year of Plato, according to Grote's chronology, coincides with the return of Alcibiades to Athens, the commission of Lysander as commander of the Peloponnesian fleet, and the appointment of Cyrus to the satrapy of Asia two years later came the decisive overthrow of the Athenians at Egospotami the siege the starvation the surrender the dismantling and the humiliation of Athens. During these disastrous and sorrowing years the age of Plato would keep him employed, during the season of military operations, in the fleet, the infantry, or, more probably from his social station, in the cavalry. He is said to have participated in three engagements at Tanagra, at Delium, and at Corinth. These exploits are wild imaginations, springing from the acknowledgment of Plato's service in the field, which an active, healthy youth could not have avoided, in such days of agony, without incurring the degradation of Λειποταξία . Plato might have been present at Corinth, but Delium was fought when he was only three years old; Tanagra, when he was only one, or, if the principal action of that name be regarded, thirty years before his birth. There is no reason to doubt Plato's military service, but the scenes of that service are wholly conjectural. His intimate connection with Chabrias, in whose defense he once spoke, perhaps arose from old Camaraderie.

The subjugation of Athens and the usurpation of the Thirty opened to Plato the public career which appeared barred against him during the reckless rule of the Demus. Critias, the leader of the Thirty, a man of splendid and various talent, of high culture, of daring energy, and of unscrupulous ambition, was a cousin; Charmides, one of the Ten at Piraeus, who fell in the battle with Thrasybulus, was an uncle. The gates of the political stadium were thrown wide open to him and the prospect of rapid advancement invited his eager activity. Accepting the Seventh Epistle as genuine, we have his own declaration that he promptly seized the opportunity afforded. His relatives, his friends, his party, so long excluded from office, were at length in power; and he entered as an aspirant along

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [2]

The great philosopher, born in Athens, of noble birth, the year Pericles died, and the second of the Peloponnesian War; at 20 became a disciple of Socrates, and passed eight years in his society; at 30, after the death of Socrates, quitted Athens, and took up his abode at Megara; from Megara he travelled to Cyrene, Egypt, Magna Græcia, and Sicily, prolonging his stay in Magna Græcia, and studying under Pythagoras, whose philosophy was then at its prime, and which exercised a profound influence over him; after ten years' wandering in this way he, at the age of 40, returned to Athens, and founded his Academy, a gymnasium outside the city with a garden, which belonged to his father, and where he gathered around him a body of disciples, and had Aristotle for one of his pupils, lecturing there with undiminished mental power till he reached the advanced age of 81; of his philosophy one can give no account here, or indeed anywhere, it was so unsectarian; he was by pre-eminence the world-thinker, and though he was never married and left no son, he has all the thinking men and schools of philosophy in the world as his offspring; enough to say that his philosophy was philosophy, as it took up in its embrace both the ideal and the real, at once the sensible and the super-sensible world (429-347 B.C.).