PLATO

, one of the most celebrated among the ancient philosophers, being the founder of the sect of the Academics, was the son of Aristo, and born at Athens, about 429 years before Christ. He was of a royal and illustrious family, being descended by his father from Codrus, and by his mother from Solon. The name given him by his parents was Aristocles; but being of a robust make, and remarkably broad-shouldered, from this circumstance he was nick-named Plato by his wrestling-master, which name he retained ever after.

From his infancy, Plato distinguished himself by his lively and brilliant imagination. He eagerly imbibed the principles of poetry, music, and painting. The charms of philosophy however prevailing, drew him from those of the fine arts; and at the age of twenty he attached himself to Socrates only, who called him the Swan of the Academy. The disciple profited so well of his master's lessons, that at twenty-five years of age he had the reputation of a consummate sage. He lived with Socrates for eight years, in which time he committed to writing, according to the custom of the students, the purport of a great number of his master's excellent lectures, which he digested by way of philoso-| phical conversations; but made so many judicious additions and improvements of his own, that Socrates, hearing him one day recite his Lysis, cried out, O Hercules! how many fine sentiments does this young man ascribe to me, that I never thought of! And Laertius assures us, that he composed several discourses which Socrates had no manner of hand in. At the time when Socrates was first arraigned, Plato was a junior senator, and he assumed the orator's chair to plead his master's cause, but was interrupted in that design, and the judges passed sentence of condemnation upon Socrates. Upon this occasion Plato begged him to accept from him a sum of money sufficient to purchase his enlargement, but Socrates peremptorily refused the generous offer, and suffered himself to be put to death.

The philosophers who were at Athens were so alarmed at the death of Socrates, that most of them fled, to avoid the cruelty and injustice of the government. Plato retired to Megara, where he was kindly entertained by Euclid the philosopher, who had been one of the first scholars of Socrates, till the storm should be over. Afterwards he determined to travel in pursuit of knowledge; and from Megara he went to Italy, where he conferred with Eurytus, Philolaus, and Archytas, the most celebrated of the Pythagoreans, from whom he learned all his natural philosophy, diving into the most profound and mysterious secrets of the Pythagoric doctrines. But perceiving other knowledge to be connected with them, he went to Cyrene, where he studied geometry and other branches of mathematics under Theodorus, a celebrated master.

Hence he travelled into Egypt, to learn the theology of their priests, with the sciences of arithmetic, astronomy, and the nicer parts of geometry. Having taken also a survey of the country, with the course of the Nile and the canals, he settled some time in the province of Sais, learning of the sages there their opinions concerning the universe, whether it had a beginning, whether it moved wholly or in part, &c; also concerning the immortality and transmigration of souls: and here it is also thought he had some communication with the books of Moses.

Plato's curiosity was not yet satisfied. He travelled into Persia, to consult the magi as to the religion of that country. He designed also to have penetrated into India, to learn of the Brachmans their manners and customs; but was prevented by the wars in Asia.

Afterwards, returning to Athens, he applied himself to the teaching of philosophy, opening his school in the Academia, a place of exercise in the suburbs of the city; from whence it was that his followers took the name of Academics.

Yet, settled as he was, he made several excurfions abroad: one in particular to Sicily, to view the fiery ebullitions of Mount Etna. Dionysius the tyrant then reigned at Syracuse; a very bad man. Plato however went to visit him; but, instead of flattering him like a courtier, reproved him for the disorders of his court, and the injustice of his government. The tyrant, not used to disagreeable truths, grew enraged at Plato, and would have put him to death, if Dion and Aristomenes, formerly his scholars, and then favourites of that prince, had not powerfully interceded for him. Dionysius however delivered him into the hands of an envoy of the Lacedemonians, who were then at war with the Athenians: and this envoy, touching upon the coast of Ægina, sold him for a slave to a merchant of Cyrene: who, as soon as he had bought him, liberated him, and sent him home to Athens.

Some time after, he made a second voyage into Sicily, in the reign of Dionysius the younger; who sent Dion, his minister and favourite, to invite him to court, that he might learn from him the art of governing his people well. Plato accepted the invitation, and went; but the intimacy between Dion and Plato raising jealousy in the tyrant, the former was disgraced, and the latter sent back to Athens. But Dion, being taken into favour again, persuaded Dionysius to recall Plato, who received him with all the marks of goodwill and friendship that a great prince could give. He sent out a fine galley to meet him, and went himself in a magnificent chariot, attended by all his court, to receive him. But this prince's uneven temper hurried him into new suspicions. It seems indeed that these apprehensions were not altogether groundless: for Ælian says, and Cicero was of the same opinion, that Plato taught Dion how to dispatch the tyrant, and to deliver the people from oppression. However this may be, Plato was offended and complained; and Dionysius, incensed at these complaints, resolved to put him to death: but Archytas, who had great interest with the tyrant, being informed of it by Dion, interceded for the philosopher, and obtained leave for him to retire.

The Athenians received him joyfully at his return, and offered him the administration of the government; but he declined that honour, choosing rather to live quietly in the Academy, in the peaceable contemplation and study of philosophy; being indeed so desirous of a private retirement that he never married. His fame drew disciples from all parts, when he would admit them, as well as invitations to come to reside in many of the other Grecian states; but the three that most distinguished themselves, were Spusippus his nephew, who continued the Academy after him, Xenocrates the Caledonian, and the celebrated Aristotle. It is said also that Theophrastus and Demosthenes were two of his disciples. He had it seems so great a respect for the science of geometry and the mathematics, that he had the following inscription painted in large letters over the door of his academy; LET NO ONE ENTER HERE, UNLESS HE HAS A TASTE FOR GEOMETRY AND THE Mathematics!

But as his great reputation gained him on the one hand many disciples and admirers, so on the other it raised him some emulators, especially among his fellowdisciples, the followers of Socrates. Xenophon and he were particularly disaffected to each other. Plato was of so quiet and even a temper of mind, even in his youth, that he never was known to express a pleasure with any greater emotion than that of a smile; and he had such a perfect command of his passions, that nothing could provoke his anger or resentment; from hence, and the subject and style of his writings, he acquired the appellation of the Divine Plato. But although he was naturally of a reserved and very pensive disposition; yet, according to Aristotle, he was affable, courteous, and perfectly good-natured; and sometimes would conde-| scend to crack little innocent jokes on his intimate acquaintances. Of his affability there needs no greater proof than his civil manner of conversing with the philosophers of his own times, when pride and envy were at their height. His behaviour to Diogenes is always mentioned in his history. This Cynic was greatly offended, it seems, at the politeness and sine taste of Plato, and used to catch all opportunities of snarling at him. Dining one day at his table with other company, when trampling upon the tapestry with his dirty feet, he uttered this brutish sarcasm, “I trample upon the pride of Plato:” to which the latter wisely and calmly replied, “with a greater pride.”

This extraordinary man, being arrived at 81 years of age, died a very easy and peaceable death, in the midst of an entertainment, according to some; but, according to Cicero, as he was writing. Both the life and death of this philosopher were calm and undisturbed; and indeed he was finely composed for happiness. Beside the advantages of a noble birth, he had a large and comprehensive understanding, a vast fund of wit and good taste, great evenness and sweetness of temper, all cultivated and refined by education and travel; so that it is no wonder he was honoured by his countrymen, esteemed by strangers, and adored by his scholars. Tully perfectly adored him: he tells us that he was justly called by Panætius, the divine, the most wise, the most sacred, the Homer of philosophers; thinks, that if Jupiter had spoken Greek, he would have done it in Plato's style, &c. But, panegyric aside, Plato was certainly a very wonderful man, of a large and comprehensive mind, an imagination infinitely fertile, and of a most flowing and copious eloquence. However, the strength and heat of fancy prevailing over judgment in his composition, he was too apt to soar beyond the limits of earthly things, to range in the imaginary regions of general and abstracted ideas; on which account, though there is always a greatness and sublimity in his manner, he did not philosophize so much according to truth and nature as Aristotle, though Cicero did not scruple to give him the preference.

The writings of Plato are all in the way of dialogue, where he seems to deliver nothing from himself, but every thing as the sentiments and opinions of others, of Socrates chiefly, of Timæus, &c. His style, as Aristotle observed, is between prose and verse: on which account some have not scrupled to rank him among the poets: and indeed, beside the elevation and grandeur of his style, his matter is frequently the offspring of imagination, instead of doctrines or truths deduced from nature. The first edition of Plato's works in Greek, was printed by Aldus at Venice in 1513: but a Latin version of them by Marsilius Ficinus had been printed there in 1491. They were reprinted together at Lyons in 1588, and at Francfort in 1602. The famous printer Henry Stephens, in 1578, gave a beautiful and correct edition of Plato's works at Paris, with a new Latin version by Serranus, in three volumes folio.

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Entry taken from A Mathematical and Philosophical Dictionary, by Charles Hutton, 1796.

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PLANETARIUM
PLANETARY
PLANIMETRY
PLANISPHERE
PLATFORM
* PLATO
PLATONIC
PLATONISM
PLATONISTS
PLEIADES
PLENILUNIUM