Timeline of Plato (427 - 347 BC)

The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929

Not far from the Academy is the monument of Plato, to whom heaven foretold that he would be the prince of philosophers. The manner of the foretelling was this. On the night before Plato was to become his pupil Socrates in a dream saw a swan fly into his bosom. Now the swan is a bird with a reputation for music, because, they say, a musician of the name of Swan became king of the Ligyes on the other side of the Eridanus beyond the Celtic territory, and after his death by the will of Apollo he was changed into the bird. I am ready to believe that a musician became king of the Ligyes, but I cannot believe that a bird grew out of a man. Pausanias

    (427BC) Plato was probably born at Athens. His real name was Aristocles. His family was wealthy; his father, Ariston, traced his ancestry to one of the kings of Athens (Codrus), and his mother, Perictione, was a descendent of )

  • (407 BC)Plato’s initial reasons for associating with Socrates were undoubtedly political. He says that he once "cherished the hope &hellip of embracing a political career" (Letter VII). Like many young men who associated with Socrates and others (the Sophists), he was seeking a better preparation for a political career, which, because of his family, he could surely have.

    Diogenes Laertius gives us this story (3.5): "It is stated that Socrates in a dream saw a swan on his knees, which all at once put forth plumage, and flew away after uttering a loud sweet note. (There is a version that the swan was flying towards him) And the next day Plato was introduced as a pupil, and thereupon he recognized in him the swan of his dreams."

  • (404-403) Eventually Plato became disgusted with politics. He says in one of his letters that he became associated with Athenian politics when the aristocrats seized power. Two of his cousins (uncles), Charmides and Critias, were involved in the coup. He had first hand experience of much of the duplicitous dealings. He says:

    thirty came into power as supreme rulers of the whole state. … young as I was, I cherished the belief that they would lead the city from an unjust life.… I saw in a short time that these men made the former government look in comparison like an age of gold. Among other things they sent an elderly man, Socrates, a friend of mine, who I should hardly be ashamed to say was the justest [sic] man of his time … against one of the citizens to fetch him forcibly to be executed. Socrates … refused … to become their partner in wicked deeds…. When I observed all this—and some other matters of similar importance—I withdrew in disgust from the abuse of those days. [After the thirty lost power] some of those in control brought against this associate of mine, Socrates … a most sacrilegious charge, which he least of all men deserved. They put him on trial for impiety and the people condemned and put to death the man who had refused to take part in the wicked arrest of one their friends. (Letter VII)

  • (399) Undoubtedly the final straw came when Socrates was put to death by the oligarchy. Eventually Plato came to believe that the only hope for politics was to found a school and create a new kind of political character.
  • (400) According to Hermodorus, Plato initially fled to Megara with other Socratic followers, guests of the philosopher Euclid (not the geometer who lived in Alexandria but a disciple of Socrates). Nothing is known for certain about Plato’s life for the twelve years from the death of Socrates to when he was 40. It is said he traveled extensively, perhaps to Egypt and , where he made friends with Dion, the brother-in-law and member of the court of Syracuse’s tyrant,