Plato Was Born In Athens Theology Religion Essay Example
Plato Was Born In Athens Theology Religion Essay Example

Plato Was Born In Athens Theology Religion Essay Example

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  • Pages: 17 (4478 words)
  • Published: September 17, 2017
  • Type: Autobiography
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People can be compared to soil, as they have the ability to either nourish and help one grow as an individual or hinder their growth and cause them to wither and die. These famous and witty quotes, however, did not make their author popular with the general public.

However, the intensity of such criticism, the anger it provokes, and the introspection it triggers in any self-respecting individual is enough to recognize the depth of the ideas presented. The author in question is Plato, a prominent figure from Classical times who made significant contributions to Western thought and modern psychology. He is known as "The Student of a Great Master, Master of a Great Student" because of his passionate devotion to Socrates and his mentorship of Aristotle, both esteemed Athenian philosophers. These three individuals are now celebrated as the greatest Athenian thinkers who revoluti


onized Western ideologies.

Plato stated that every person has the choice to help or harm their fellow citizens. The reason behind Plato's statement is clear. He lived in a time of political and social turmoil in Athens. The Hellenic empire was facing decay and eventual absorption by stronger military powers like the Spartans, Romans, and Turks, who frequently attacked the republic-state. Young people were dying on battlefields or from deadly diseases like plagues.

Moral values in Athens were deteriorating rapidly, leading to the reviling, trial, and execution of Socrates. He was accused of sedition for corrupting the youth with unconventional ideas and thoughts. Plato expressed his growing dissatisfaction with the social and political unrest by describing democracy as a government that brings both variety and chaos, and provides equal treatment to both peers and the

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unequal. Fueled by the injustice of Socrates' execution, the young Plato desired to challenge the dying Athenian traditions, regardless of the dangers involved.


Plato was born in Athens in 424BC in a noble household. His father was Ariston, related to the Athenian royal family of King Codrus of Messenia. His mother, Perictione-I was the sister of Charmides and niece of Critias, both of whom formed the Thirty Tyrants that briefly ruled Athens for only over a year, from 404 BC to 403BC. When he was born, Plato was named Aristocles, after his grandfather. He acquired the nickname Plato, meaning "robust" due to his athletic physique and regal gait. He had two brothers, AdeimantusA andA Glaucon, and a sister, Potone.

Early life and Education:

When Plato was about seven years old, his father Ariston passed away and his mother Perictione-I married Pyrilampes, her first cousin who was also the Athenian ambassador to Persia. In some of his extant works, Plato states that he had a happy childhood and enjoyed the company of other noble children as friends. He lived with his three biological siblings, a stepbrother from Pyrilampes' earlier marriage, and later with two half-brothers born to Perictione-I and Pyrilampes.

Plato was an exceptionally bright student and received his education at the Gymnasium, an exclusive educational institute for early and advanced learning for children of Athenian nobility and royalty.

Historians state that Plato's dedication and attention to detail in his studies were admired by childhood instructors, who predicted he would become one of the greatest Athenian scholars. As a young student, Plato immersed himself in traditional subjects like music,

poetry, religion, and history. His remark that "Death is not the worst that can happen to men" during a grand funeral procession near the Gymnasium revealed his destiny for greatness. Plato believed many mourners were feigning grief, which puzzled his peers and teachers. They speculated whether Plato was referring to the death of his father, Ariston since he deeply missed him while Pyrilampes served as Athens' diplomat to Persia.

One of Plato's instructors was questioned about what happens to the soul of a deceased person. The instructor provided all possible explanations, but Plato was dissatisfied. As Plato grew older, his curiosity about the soul and its intentions increased.

The quintessential teenager:

Joy and sadness are feelings experienced by all teenagers, including Plato.

Despite his thoughtful nature when contemplating complex aspects of life, society, and administration, Plato was always well-dressed and elegant, reflecting his noble lineage. He never missed an opportunity to boast about his royal descent to gain access to exclusive spheres such as intellectual debates and discussions, or to strike up friendships with aristocrats in order to gain insight into local politics. At the same time, he also befriended many women, mostly from noble families, who were attracted to his good looks, knowledge of esoteric subjects, and worldly charm. "Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back."

According to Plato, those who desire to sing become vocalists. Furthermore, when love touches the heart, every individual transforms into a poet. These thoughts were shared by Plato with a specific woman he was romantically involved with.

The origin of "platonic":

It is believed that Plato had attracted multiple women, which led him to state that love

is a severe mental ailment. At that time, it was particularly challenging to find available young men since most of them were either serving as soldiers in the Athenian military or disabled from the war or had sacrificed their lives fighting for their country.

In Athens, the strict moral code that demanded celibacy and limited interactions with animals was openly disregarded. Plato's female followers multiplied and developed different types of relationships. Some women were drawn to Plato due to his idiosyncrasies and conduct, giving rise to the term 'platonic', which denotes a non-romantic connection between individuals of opposite genders without any sexual desires from either party. Nevertheless, Plato stayed devoted to his studies.

Higher education:

Plato pursued extensive studies in politics, law, and civic administration with the goal of making a difference in Athens. During his youth, he laid the groundwork for metaphysics and delved into subjects like intrinsic theory and epistemology. He drew inspiration from mathematicians and thinkers such as Cratylus, Pythagoras, and Parmenides to explore the limitations of human knowledge. Unfortunately, Athenian law cut short his further studies as all young individuals were required to serve in the military after reaching puberty. At that time, Athens was constantly under siege from the Spartan empire and its allies during the long-lasting Peloponnesian War that began in 431BC.

Plato's military service:

Consequently, at around age 15 in 409BC, Plato joined the Athenian military alongside other young people of his generation due to conscription policy implemented by Athens.

Plato received training in the use of arms, war tactics, and combat from excellent trainers. He participated in various battles, but he did

not receive any notable recognition as a soldier. Historians believe this is because Plato came from a noble lineage, and his commanding officers did not want to expose him to excessive danger. Moreover, Plato had a distaste for killing as he believed it went against all principles of virtue.

However, despite possessing fewer arms than the Spartans, some Athenian companions were promoted by Plato due to their alliance with the Persian and other empires. In order to boost the morale of the Athenian military personnel, Plato famously stated, "We are twice armed if we fight with religion." It was evident from his actions that Plato disliked war and found the loss of life meaningless. A confident officer once addressed Plato and his companions, assuring them that he would witness the end of the Peloponnesian war as a way to uplift the courage of the Athenian soldiers. Once the pep-talk ended, Plato approached this officer and remarked, "Only the dead have seen the end of war."

Tax return to Athinais:

Plato's viewpoint shifted after serving in the military during the Peloponnesian War. His exposure to death and devastation sparked his fascination with genuine knowledge and the notion of an "indestructible soul". In order to delve into these concepts, he penned the 'Story of Er', a fictional piece incorporated within his later publication, 'Republic'.

The Athenians suffered defeat in the Peloponnesian War against Sparta and its Allies. Plato and other survivors from the Athenian military came back to their homeland, hoping to restore whatever reputation remained of the once-famous democracy renowned globally as a hub of advanced education. However, Plato's aspirations to revive Athens and bring back its former glory quickly


Rule of the Thirty Tyrants:

Athens experienced significant political, social, and economic crises upon Plato's return. Various unfavorable events were occurring at that time.

The Spartans, having won the Peloponnesian War, faced pressure from their ally, the Corinthian land, to eliminate Athens. The Spartan leaders were in a dilemma because they lacked the naval skills to counter the Corinthians, who possessed a formidable naval force. The Spartans were concerned that destroying Athens would result in Corinth becoming a dominant regional power. Instead of completely destroying Athens and engaging in a massacre of its citizens, the Spartans reached a compromise: they established a group of pro-Sparta allies known as the 'Thirty Tyrants' as the rulers of the democracy.

The Thirty Tyrants, who were oligarchic or absolute rulers, eliminated all forms of democracy from Athens at every level. Plato had familial connections to two of these tyrants, including his mother's cousin, Charmides, and his uncle, Critias.

Plato's encounter with Socrates:

Plato's time on the battlefield greatly influenced and shaped his beliefs.

At around 19 years old, Plato was becoming disillusioned with Athenian politics and wanted to bring about change. Though unsure of how he could contribute to a significant transformation in Athens, he believed that higher powers, such as God, destiny, or nature, often act in mysterious ways beyond human comprehension. Plato had the opportunity to attend a royal feast organized by the Thirty Tyrants due to his family's close relationship with two members of the group.

Socrates, an outspoken critic of Athenian regulation and policies, was engaging in passionate discussions with guests, praising Sparta and expressing his own theories about knowledge. He often repeated his famous quote: "I am the wisest man because

I know one thing. And that is, I know nothing." This teaching of Socrates was reminiscent of the characteristics possessed by Er, a fictional soldier created by Plato during his time in the Athenian military. Plato was appalled by the death, destruction, plunder, and senseless acts of cruelty he witnessed.

Despite his youth, Plato was drawn to Socrates, who was often viewed as either crazy or brilliant. Captivated by Socratic ideas, Plato listened attentively and found a connection with Socrates' philosophy. Recognizing Plato's exceptional intelligence and thirst for knowledge, Socrates became his mentor and invited him to participate in his public gatherings.

  • Socrates advised Plato to exercise caution when forming friendships, but once he did so, he should remain loyal and steadfast.
  • Encouraged by his mother Perictione, Plato became a silent supporter of Socrates and enrolled as his student.
  • Plato's education, military experience, and noble lineage made it inevitable for him to be involved in Athenian politics.
  • Critias and Charmides, who were members of the group called the Thirty Tyrants that seized power in Athens after the Peloponnesian War, were Plato's uncles.
  • Despite having reservations about becoming a senior official and advisor to the Thirty Tyrants, Plato still had concerns.

The dislike of Plato came about because he was a faithful Athenian of noble lineage. His father, Ariston, had served the Athenian government dutifully. However, his family became involved in politics. Plato also believed that he could help Athens during the difficult time when pro-Sparta rulers were in control. When his noble friends rejected him for joining the oligarchic rulers, Plato justified his involvement in Athenian politics by saying: "One of the consequences of refusing to participate in politics is that you

end up being governed by your inferiors." Deep down, he hoped that the Thirty Tyrants would be removed from power soon by a capable Athenian.

The hasty emergence of political conflicts:

Plato quickly denounced the Athenian political scene due to the oppressive rule of the Thirty Tyrants and their associates. These despotic rulers subjected the citizens of the former empire to severe restrictions for a brutal eight-month period. The Thirty Tyrants employed manipulative tactics and systems to amass wealth, often through gangs who terrorized the local population and forcefully took their belongings. In his writings, the renowned playwright Lysias, whose family had recently relocated to Athens before the downfall of democracy, vividly describes the tyrannical rule of the Thirty Tyrants. He recounts how these cohorts stormed into their home, brutally executed Lysias' brother in front of elderly individuals, men, women, and children from their family. Prior to leaving, they looted Lysias' home, taking every valuable item and violently removing his sister's gold earrings, causing her severe injuries.

The Thirty Tyrants executed opposing voices with extreme brutality, forcing many prominent Athenians into self-imposed exile. They also implemented and enforced various forms of taxes, which proved to be too burdensome for most Athenians. Horrified by these atrocities, Plato chose to resign from politics. When asked to continue in office and offered a generous share of the spoils, Plato cavalierly told his uncle Critias that an income tax would unfairly burden the lower-income individuals. Plato risked execution or exile by refusing to work for the oppressive regime, but ultimately his family relented, possibly due to the urging of his mother Perictione-I, who was also intellectually inclined

and wanted her talented son to pursue his preferred path.

The Thirty Tyrants were defeated:

The Athenians rebelled against the government of the Thirty Tyrants. At the same time, General Thrasybulus and his Athenian ground forces successfully besieged Athens. This surprised the Spartans, who believed they had already defeated the Athenians. The Spartans' soldiers were intoxicated and unable to put up a fight when they were besieged. Within hours, General Thrasybulus and his forces entered Athens and overthrew the government of the Thirty Tyrants. Some of the tyrants managed to escape, but those who did not were brutally decapitated by the victorious Athenians as punishment.

Plato criticized the Athenians for their unrestrained revelry, stating that self-control is the greatest triumph. However, despite his disapproval, General Thrasybulus invited Plato to hold a high office in the newly restored democracy of Athens in 403BC. Plato politely declined the offer but assured the general of his moral support in rebuilding Athens. During their meeting, Plato emphasized the importance of creating a state that prioritizes the well-being of everyone, rather than just one social class.

He explained to the general that individuals should not be chosen for high positions in any government based solely on their noble lineage, but rather on their merits. Plato's teachings laid the foundation for modern democracy. However, he also cautioned General Thrasybulus about the dangers of excessive democracy, which can lead to a leader becoming intoxicated with power. He stated, "Dictatorship naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of dictatorship and slavery arises out of the most extreme liberty." He skillfully informed the general that Athens suffered significant losses during

the Peloponnesian War and the subsequent rule of the Thirty Tyrants.

Hence, it was essential to reconstruct democracy in Athens without personal pursuits and aspirations that could lead to dictatorial regulation. Plato advised the general to govern Athens wisely, with wisdom and knowledge. Because Plato had other aspirations, which would ultimately bring him greater success than simply being a wealthy government official.

Plato becomes a follower of Socrates:

For most young men of the time, serving the Athenian democracy in a high position would be a coveted dream for the social status, financial gains, and other benefits such jobs offered. However, Plato was different.

Plato rejected General Thrasybulus' proposal and chose to follow Socrates instead, who was seen by Athenians as either a brilliant genius or a completely insane wanderer. Nevertheless, Plato was fascinated by Socratic teachings. He gave up his comfortable life and accompanied Socrates everywhere, listening attentively to every wise word spoken by the master. At the same time, he developed his own ideas that were inspired by Socratic teachings. Plato had a deep and profound understanding of Socrates and his teachings, which led Socrates' followers to believe that Plato would be his rightful successor.

Despite being one of the youngest followers, Socrates encouraged Plato by stating: "An honest man is always a child." The master advised Plato to expand his knowledge by reading works by various writers, as Socrates believed that their mistakes would help his exceptional student learn about false beliefs. On one occasion, Socrates was upset when ridiculed by a group of royals for diminishing the prevailing Athenian systems, and he expressed his anger publicly through a verbal outburst. To console Socrates, Plato said: "A

hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but a complete one may not be found even among a hundred thousand men," expressing his personal admiration for the great teacher.

Plato's bachelorhood:

Despite his noble lineage and education, Plato never married for reasons he never explains.

Some historians argue that Plato's disinterest in marriage can be attributed to his alleged same-gender relationship with Socrates, while others disagree. They believe that Plato's thoughts about marriage were influenced by his father Ariston's premature death and the lack of proper parental attention from his step-father Pyrilampes. Additionally, Plato opposed any marital commitments due to the impoverished conditions in Athens after almost thirty years of wars. As a member of the aristocracy, he could not take on casual employment and was unwilling to work for the state, as it might require compromising his principles. Plato also desired to further study and develop his own philosophy based on Socratic thought, which necessitated living a rigorous life dedicated to learning.

According to Plato, when his mother Perictione-I expressed worry about his bachelorhood, he told her, "No adult male should convey kids into the universe if he is unwilling to persist to the terminal in their nature and instruction." Plato was a dedicated and exceptional student of Socrates, absorbing every piece of wisdom from his teacher. His mother, Perictione-I, also supported him in learning from and teaching her son's mentor, especially in the art of political rhetoric, which was exclusive to the elite classes at that time. Plato's decision against marriage was influenced by Socrates' tendency to attract anger from rulers and leaders with his unique philosophy, which was considered

foreign at the time. Socrates openly criticized Athens, praised its enemy Sparta, engaged in same-gender relationships with some of his young students, and acted like a madman. Plato had a feeling that Socrates and his followers might soon face trouble with the local laws for criticizing existing Athenian ideas during a time when the democracy was recovering from the Spartans' attack.

An angry Plato warned Socrates about openly criticizing the Athenian court, saying that justice means focusing on one's own concerns and not interfering with others' affairs. Despite Plato's warning, Socrates did not pay attention.

The trial of Socrates:

Plato, who had connections in the civil order, became aware of the impending threat of a trial and possible execution of Socrates. He warned his teacher, saying that good people do not need laws to act responsibly, while bad people will find a way around them. Plato's wise words were ignored by Socrates. Eventually, in 399BC, Plato's worst fears came true as Socrates was charged with sedition against the Athenian democracy.

The main accusations against Socrates were made by three individuals: Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. They sought legal action against him for inciting young Athenians to rebel against the state and for secretly supporting Sparta, Athens' archenemy, through public speeches. Meletus, a poet, held a personal grudge against Socrates for criticizing his profession and referring to poets as individuals who flattered unworthy lords for personal gain. Anytus, a local politician, had a reputation for participating in the removal of the Thirty Tyrants, during which he suffered significant personal losses. However, he chose not to seek compensation from Athens for those losses. Lycon's son Callias was a student of Socrates,

leading to suspicions of a close relationship between the two and motivating the father to settle matters with Socrates.

Plato's involvement in the trial:

Plato was enraged by the charges brought against Socrates and attended the entire trial, which took place at a public court in Athens. During one part of the trial, Socrates attempted to explain his position by using the famous 'gadfly' or Socratic Method. This method involves responding to questions with more questions. One of the accusers accused Socrates of evading direct answers.

Plato forcefully interjected, stating that "Knowledge without justness should be called cunning instead of wisdom." The test concluded with the jury of around 500 Athenians, without the guidance of an experienced judge, passing a guilty verdict against Socrates. The humiliated accusers, embarrassed by Socrates in public, would have preferred to settle by punishing his mind with a small fine, which they believed would be enough to control any further adventures. Socrates was asked to choose his own punishment. Instead of a reasonable settlement, Socrates demanded free meals for life at the Prytaneum, an Athenian public dining hall, arguing that he had contributed to Athens by proving that its rulers falsely believed themselves to be wise. A divided jury sentenced Socrates to death but granted him the choice of how he would like to die.

Plato and his equal, Xenophon, both tried to persuade the jurors and accusers. Plato addressed the jurors, challenging their mistaken belief that a good decision is based on numbers rather than knowledge. However, the jurors were mostly ordinary people who had no understanding of what Plato meant.

Last days with Socrates:

Socrates was imprisoned for a month before his

imminent execution. Plato, along with Xenophon and another student from a noble family named Apollodorus, spent as much time as possible with their teacher. The three of them also made efforts to rescue Socrates from his imprisonment and death sentence, but he arrogantly rejected any such attempts.

Socrates, as a loyal citizen of Athens, believed it was his duty to uphold the law and therefore accepted the death sentence imposed by the court. On the day of Socrates' execution, Plato was unable to attend as he was ill. However, Socrates' mother, Perictione-I, visited him in prison. In his later work titled "Apology," Plato described Socrates' execution by consuming a lethal dose of the herbal poison called Hemlock, drawing extensively from the accounts of Xenophon and Apollodorus. Plato was deeply disturbed by the way Athens had handled the trial, imprisonment, and eventual execution of Socrates. In discussions with his fellow followers of Socrates, he expressed that true justice in the actions and conduct of the State can only exist if it first resides within the hearts and souls of its citizens.


Travels to distant lands:

Plato and other loyal followers of Socrates, feeling that Athens had treated Socrates unjustly, made the decision to leave the democracy and explore foreign countries. They believed that these nations, which were looking to reform their educational, societal, and political systems, would be more receptive to Socratic principles. After Socrates' death, Plato and his clique embarked on a 12-year journey. They visited Megara, a city in Corinth, then made their way to Cyrene in present-day Libya, which was a Greek settlement at the time. From there, they continued

their travels to the Roman Empire and eventually arrived in Egypt, which was under the rule of the Persians.

During their journeys, the group explored various subjects including psychological science, thought, geometry, uranology, and other topics. They studied Pythagorean rules from the Romans as well as diverse philosophies propounded by contemporary minds. It was during this time that Plato developed his own philosophy, which remains preserved in his existing writings. Plato and some notable Pythagorean teachers formed friendships and corresponded through letters, a friendship that played a crucial role in saving Plato's life on at least one occasion.

Plato begins writing:

Following Socrates' death and while traveling with his peers, Plato started documenting his reflections on Socratic teachings and his master's life. He also included his personal observations and theories derived from diverse experiences. Most of Plato's existing writings are written in the form of dialogues, with only a few exceptions that are believed to be letters exchanged between him and other intellectuals.

Within these dialogues, with the exception of one, Plato portrays his mentor Socrates with considerable energy. Plato's body of work consists of 36 dialogues that can be categorized into three groups - early, middle, and late. The sequencing of these dialogues is determined by the style and subject matter they contain. As Socrates himself never wrote anything, Plato took on the monumental task of recording their discussions. These dialogues are regarded as an interpretation of Socratic thinking and techniques, as understood by Plato from his earliest encounters with his mentor until the end.

Early 'Dialogues '

Plato's early dialogues focus on the Socratic method, which involves simplifying and analyzing various concepts and their

assumptions. An example of this is the "dialogue" titled 'Euthyro', in which Socrates questions a religious leader using his famous 'gadfly' method of questioning and asking further questions based on the answers given, until no more knowledge can be obtained. In 'Euthyro', the religious leader admits to Socrates that he lacks true knowledge about piety and therefore cannot fully understand or practice it. Plato further explains that this method encourages students to create a theoretical model based on common objects such as nature or artificial items, using their perceptions of aesthetics and experiences to make judgments based on their virtues.

Middle 'dialogues' ... the most important:

The 'dialogues' of the middle period deviate slightly from Socratic teachings.

Plato's ideas in these 'dialogues' are not presented directly, but they originated from Socratic ideas. For example, during his lifetime, Socrates stated that all romantic desires can be channeled into true friendship, devoid of physical desires but based on a divine understanding of each other. As a handsome young man, Plato experienced this form of romance since many women admirers never engaged in a fully developed relationship with him. Instead, he admired them while seeking pure friendship without any bodily pleasures, which led to the creation of the term 'Platonic love'. Plato's words can be studied in his existing text called the 'Symposium'.

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