427–347 BC

Plato, the great Athenian philosopher, was born in 427 B.C., and lived to the age of eighty. He is still one of the most famous and influential philosophers of all time, and much of what is known of the great Socrates, who was a teacher of Plato, is known through his writings. He was descended from old Athenian families on both his mother and father's side. He was born near the beginning of the Peloponnesian War, and in his youth was a devoted student and friend of Socrates. As a young man he witnessed some of the worst excesses of the democratic government of Athens, and the thirty tyrants who ruled after the war. After the war, he founded a philosophical school at a grove called Academus, and which came to be called the Academy. Aristotle was his most famous student, but his works and writings soon became well known within the ancient world.

He is thought to have traveled in his later life, to Cyrene, Egypt and other destinations, but the precise dates and details of these trips are not known. One of the most well known stories about his later life involves three visit to Sicily during the reigns of Dionysius I. and Dionysius II. of Syracuse. Both of these tyrants fancied themselves patrons of art and literature, and invited Plato to their courts, but in neither case did his philosophical instruction make a great impression. He had a close friendship with Dion, a courtesan at Syracuse, and had great influence with him, but Dion was killed a few years after returning to Syracuse.

Most of what is known about Plato however, is that of his interior life, as depicted in his writings. He is most famous for his dialogues, in which characters from Ancient Athens discuss important issues of the day, both political, and philosophical. The primary character in many of his dialogues is Socrates, but other famous Athenians are often present. In most of his dialogues, he is not a participant however, but an observer, yet scholars are fond of trying to discern from this writing, which character represents his position. Another of his famous works is The Republic in which he postulates what a perfect government, run by philosopher-kings, might be like. In addition to this, there are many philosophical tracts in which he ruminates on the political and moral philosophy, ethics, epistemology, and metaphysics. The dating of most of his works however, is uncertain, and there is much speculation about the order and dates at which they were written.

Key events during the life of Plato:

  Student of Socrates.
404 BC
Reign of the thirty tyrants in Athens begins.
399 BC
Trial and death of Socrates.
398 BC
Traveled for twelve years in Egypt, Cyrene, Italy and Sicily.
387 BC
Returned to Athens and founded the "Academy".
366 BC
Aristotle arrives at Plato's Academy and remains for 20 years.
  Second and Third Trips to Syracuse at behest of Dion.
347 BC
Death of Plato.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Willing Prisoner  in  Pictures from Greek Life and Story  by  Alfred J. Church
Death of Socrates  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Dion and Dionysius  in  The Story of the Greeks  by  H. A. Guerber
Socrates  in  Famous Men of Greece  by  John H. Haaren and A. B. Poland
Plato in  Back Matter  by  books/horne/artists/_back.html
Alcibiades Praises Socrates  in  The Story of Greece  by  Mary Macgregor
The Man Called "The Broad"  in  Stories of the Ancient Greeks  by  Charles D. Shaw
When Sparta Ruled  in  The Story of the Greek People  by  Eva March Tappan
Two Philosophers, Socrates and Plato  in  Old World Hero Stories  by  Eva March Tappan

Image Links

Plato: From a bronze bust at Naples.
 in Pictures from Greek Life and Story

The School of Plato, Knille
 in Famous Men of Greece

Philosophers of Athens, Raphael
 in Famous Men of Greece

Celebrated Greeks—I.
 in Greatest Nations - Greece

School of Athens (Plato with Aristotle beside him is lecturing)
 in The Story of the Greek People

Short Biography
Socrates First moral philosopher, immortalized by Plato.
Aristotle Renowned scientist and philosopher. Cataloged all types of knowledge. Tutor to Alexander the Great.
Dion Brother-in-law of the Tyrant Dionysius of Syracuse; helped to overthrow him.
Dionysius the Elder From humble origins, arose to become Tyrant of the city of Syracuse.
Dionysius the Younger Continued tyrannical reign in Syracuse after the death of his father; student of Plato, overthrown by Dion.
Phocion Athenian statesmen who tried to avoid war between Athens and Macedonia. Sometimes opposed Demosthenes.
Xenocrates Follower of Plato, and teacher at the Academy.
Critias A relative of Plato, who was the leader of the thirty Tyrants of Athens.