Who's Who Ancient Greece: Plato

Plato (427-347 BC)

PlatoHis real name was Aristoklis, his grandfather’s name, with the name Plato given him later because he had wide shoulders (‘platos’, the Greek word for ‘width’ or ‘breadth’.

Son of an aristocratic family, he was educated as such, and wrote dramatic and lyric poetry early on, though later, especially after meeting Socrates at the age of 20, he turned to philosophy, attending ‘lessons’ for nine years.

After Socrates’ death, Plato went with others who had followed him to the philosopher Euclid of Megara and stayed for four years. After that he studied geometry and astronomy in Egypt, mathematics in Cyrene, in North Africa, with the mathematician Theodhoros, and then went on the Magna Graecia (southern Italy and Sicily), where he was most likely drawn by the Pythagorean communities which combined philosophy with political theory and power.

He founded a school of philosophy in Athens in 387 BC, in a grove named Academus, from which his school took the name, Academy, where philosophy was taught, along with mathematics, astronomy. Plato lived in this beautiful setting for twenty years, teaching, writing and publishing his workds, and discussing his ideas, as had his adored Socrates.

His works that have survived number 36, almost all of them in the form of the dialogue, the director of the discussion almost always Socrates, and usually named for the person with whom he is having the dialogue.

The subjects of these dialogues includes problems of deepest concern to human beings, written in the graceful language of contempory Athenians, and including the origin of the world and cosmology, the human soul, immortality, knowledge, beauty, government, language, society, the division of labor, art, education, mathematics, and more. His Apologia was written for Socrates to be use for his defense of himself in court.

At the heart of Plato’s philosophy was his teaching that the world perceived by humans is not the real world, in the sense of ultimate existence, which belong only to ‘Ideas’. These Ideas were seen the eternal and pre-existing prototypes of all that is perceived by the senses, standing behind them, as it were, in their many diverse manifestations. These Ideas were seen by Plato not only as cause of the material perceived world, but also of immaterial values and attributes such as beauty, love, goodness, etc, the highest of these being deemed, the Good, believed by him to be of divine nature.

In the dialogue ‘Timaeus’, written by Plato when he was seventy, he laid out his cosmology in the form of a mythical narration, in which the creator made the world, in which the eternal Ideas took on varied and visible form and became visible objects. In this work he also explained the mathematical proportions of according to which beings are formed.

His political ideas as put forth in his ‘Republic’, have gotten much attention, especially his central assertion that a perfect republic, which must be based on the principle of justice, cannot be established by unjust men, and that the creation of such men (women having no legal power in the Athens of his time) was only to be achieved with education.