« PreviousContinue »
Socrates himself, by engrafting upon the doctrine and precepts of the latter a class of opinions derived from sources totally distinct." He never failed, however, in the zealous attachment, nor changed from the devoted veneration, which he justly regarded his master as eminently entitled to deserve. Plato attended during the trial of Socrates, was one of those who offered to speak in his defence, (though refused leave by the judges to proceed,) and to be bound as a security for the payment of the fine: he attended him during his imprisonment, and was present at the discourse which occupied the last moments of Socrates, on the Immortality of the Soul."
It is supposed, with good reason, that during the life-time of Socrates, Plato had written the dialogues called the Lysis, Phædrus, the Banquet, and probably the Protagoras. Soon after the death of the philosopher, and the dispersion of his disciples, he withdrew to Megara, where he remained till the ferment subsided at Athens. During his sojourn there he is believed to have composed the Apology of Socrates, the Crito, and the Phædo, those affecting and beautiful dialogues which are so intimately connected with his master's history and its unhappy close.
At Megara he and the surviving friends of Socrates were hospitably entertained at the house of Euclid, under whom Plato studied the art of reasoning, and probably increased his natural zeal for disputation.
Anxious to obtain all the information which an acquaintance with the wisdom and learning, and an insight into the habits and manners of civilized countries could afford, he proceeded from Megara on a course of travels, and first visited that part of Italy called Magna Græcia, where he found the two philosophical schools of Heraclitus and Pythagoras, in direct opposition of system and
"The Memoirs of Socrates, written by Xenophon, afford a much more accurate idea of the opinions of Socrates and his manner of teaching, than the Dialogues of Plato, who every where mixes his own conceptions and diction, and those of other philosophers, with the ideas and language of his master. It is related that when Socrates heard Plato recite his Lysis, he said, "How much does this young man make me say which I never conceived." Enf. Phil. vol. i. b. 2. c. 4. b Plato, however, for obvious reasons, denies this himself. and the conjecture of Forster in loc.
See in Phæd. c. 2.
principle to each other; and in full repute and daily collision as, on the one hand, physical analysts and annihilators of existence, and as metaphysical realists and assertors of eternal relations on the other. Plato adopted the doctrines of Heraclitus as far as they related to physics, but was distinctly and decidedly opposed to the sceptical inferences by which those doctrines were accompanied as a necessary result. He embraced the notions of the Pythagoreans as to the permanence of essences, but he modified the doctrine considerably, by incorporating it with those notions of a moral system and an organizing Providence, which he had inherited from Socrates as part of the purer creed of Anaxagoras. In another important particular also he qualified the metaphysical system of Pythagoras: he considered the intellectual world as being in some degree embodied in the visible one. Instead of inferring, as the Pythagoreans had done, that things related were a semblance of the abstract relations, he thought that they participated in those relations. Some other differences subsisted between his notions and those of the Pythagoreans, on the origin and nature of numbers, which are involved in considerable obscurities, and on which it would be impossible to enter here.
He next visited Cyrene, where he became the pupil of Theodorus, under whom he studied mathematics, and from hence he is said to have travelled into Egypt; but there is no information which can be depended on, either as to the circumstances of his visit, or the length of his stay in that country. According to some accounts he assumed the character of a merchant, that he might travel with safety, and passed through the whole kingdom of Artaxerxes Mnemon as a seller of oil. Others relate that he visited the priests there, and was initiated in their profoundest mysteries.d
Encyclop. Metropol. Art. Plat. Arist Metaph. I. i. c. 6. Oi μèv yàp Пvðaɣóρειοι μίμησιν τὰ ὄντα φασὶν εἶναι τῶν ἀριθμῶν· Πλάτων δὲ μέθεξιν, τοὔνομα μεταβαλών τὴν μὲν τοί γε μέθεξιν ἢ τὴν μίμησιν ἥτις ἂν εἴη τῶν εἰδῶν ἀφεῖσαν ἐν κοινῷ ζητεῖν.
Ancient writers vary so widely in their accounts of the life of Plato, that it is impossible to attempt to reconcile them. Diogenes Laertius asserts, that Plato visited Cyrene first, whence he proceeded to Italy, and from thence to Egypt. e Diog. Laert.
But Plato himself speaks of the reserve maintained in Egypt towards strangers with regard to the peculiar institutions of the country, and asserts, that, so far from their mysteries being accessible to foreigners, "the animals of the Nile used to drive foreigners away by their meats, sacrifices, and rude proclamations."a
The most likely reason of his visit, besides general curiosity, is that stated by Cicero, that he went for the purpose of completing his mathematical studies, and becoming acquainted with their astronomical systems. It must be attributed to the ignorance or vanity of the Alexandrians of a later period, that they insist upon Plato's having been indebted to the sages of Egypt for his earliest knowledge, and for those treasures of moral and political wisdom which he afterwards imparted to his countrymen. Plato's own authority is decisive on this point, which is to the effect, that though the abstract sciences were cultivated in Egypt with great success, the other liberal sciences were but indifferently attended to.
a De Legg. lib. xii. p. 953. E. It has been asserted that Pythagoras learned his cosmogony in Egypt; the doctrine of transmigration, and the immortality of the soul. But it is more likely that he adopted the latter from Socrates, and the former from Pythagoras. It is not probable that Plato, in the habit of a merchant, could obtain access to the sacred mysteries of Egypt; for when Pythagoras was introduced by the recommendation of Polycrates, tyrant of Samos, to Amasis, king of Egypt, a great patron of all learned men, that he might the more easily obtain access to the colleges of the priests, the king himself could scarcely, with all his authority, prevail upon the priests to consent to the admission of a stranger, or to permit his being made acquainted with their mysterious rites. Herodot. l. ii. c. 172. Diodor. Sic. 1. i. c. 2. Enf. Phil. b. ii. c. 12. s. 1.
b"Cum Plato Egyptum peragravit ut a sacerdotibus barbaris numeros et cœlestia acciperet." de Fin. v. 29. upon which the author of the able and eloquent article in the Encyclop. Metropol. observes, that it is strange how this passage has been misinterpreted, and what latitude has been given to the term coelestia here, even by some writers who were acquainted with another passage of Cicero, which is the best commentary on this, if indeed it stood in need of any. "Socrates mihi videtur, id quod constat inter omnes, primus a rebus occultis, et ab ipsa natura involutis, in quibus omnes ante eum philosophi occupati fuerant, evocavisse philosophiam, et ad vitam communem adduxisse, ut de virtutibus et vitiis, omninoque de bonis rebus et malis quæreret: cœlestia autem vel procul esse a nostra cognitione censeret, vel si maxime cognita essent, nihil tamen ad bene vivendum conferre."
Cf. de Legg. lib. v. p. 746. B.
There are no better grounds, either, for supposing that during his residence in Egypt, Plato became acquainted with the doctrine of the Hebrews, and introduced into his own system the principles and precepts of their sacred books. This opinion has been eagerly maintained by several Jewish and Christian writers, but it has been satisfactorily proved to have had no other foundation than mere conjecture, and may be supposed to have originated in that zeal for the honour of revelation which would assign the Hebrew Scriptures or traditions as the source of all Gentile wisdom.
On his return to Greece, richly stored with the philosophical treasures of distant countries, Plato settled in Athens, and took possession of a small house and garden, which he purchased for three thousand drachmas, adjoining the groves and grounds which had been bequeathed by Academus, or Ecademus, to the public, and as it would appear within one common enclosure. There Plato put in execution a design, in contemplation doubtless long before, of forming a new school for the instruction of youth in the principles of philosophy. In this delightful retreat, accordingly, which, from its situation and scenery, was admirably calculated to charm and tranquillize the mind, and which harmonized so well with the study of philosophy and the muses, he opened the academy, and placed above the door of his school, to testify his high sense of the importance of mathematics as a necessary step to higher speculations, the celebrated inscription,
ΟΥΔΕΙΣ ΑΓΕΩΜΕΤΡΗΤΟΣ ΕΙΣΙΤΩ.
* Cf. Enf. Phil. b. ii. c. 8. s. 1. where this opinion is examined and refuted at length.
The sources of Plato's philosophy have been ascertained with some degree of precision to be as follows: his Dialectics he borrowed from Euclid of Megara; the principles of natural philosophy he learned in the Eleatic school from Hermogenes and Cratylus; and combining these with the Pythagorean doctrine of natural causes, he framed from both his system of metaphysics. Mathematics and astronomy he was taught in the Cyrenaic school, and by the Egyptian priests. From Socrates he imbibed the pure principles of moral and political wisdom; but he afterwards obscured their simplicity by Pythagorean speculations. Enf. Phil.
Ex Ægypto reversus Deliis exposuit sensum oraculi quod Græcos jussit aram, quæ in Delo erat, cubica ratione duplicare. J. A. Fabric. For an account of the
This new school soon obtained an extensive celebrity, to which the travels and reputation of Plato contributed not a little among his Socratic brethren. None of these had ventured to institute a school at Athens, except Aristippus, who had confined his instructions almost entirely to ethical subjects, and had brought himself into some discredit by the freedom of his manners. Plato, consequently, remained alone to inherit the patrimony of public esteem which Socrates had bequeathed to his disciples; and he was not deficient in the talent and energy which enabled him to extend the study of philosophy beyond the limits in which his master had enclosed it. The result was, that his school was crowded with pupils of the first distinction; even women are said to have attended his lectures, disguised in male attire. Among the illustrious names. which appear in the catalogue of his followers are Dion, the Syracusan prince, and the orators Hyperides, Lycurgus, Demosthenes, and Isocrates.
His political wisdom stood so high that several states applied for his assistance in new modelling their respective forms of government. He rejected proposals of this nature from the Arcadians and Thebans, because they refused to adopt the plan of his republic, which required an equal distribution of property. He gave his advice in the affairs of Elis and other Grecian states, and furnished a code of laws for Syracuse; he was also in great esteem with several crowned heads, amongst others, Archelaus, king of Macedon, and Dionysius, the tyrant of Sicily.
Plato is said to have visited the court of this latter prince at three different periods.b. The professed object of his first visit, which happened in the fortieth year of his age, is stated to have
circumstance here alluded to, and the mechanical duplication of the cube, see Dr. Lardner's Elements of Euclid, book vi. prop. 13. (586,) (587.)
Enf. Phil. Athen. 1. vii. p. 279. 1. xi. p. 546. Fabric. Bib. Græc. v. ii. p. 69. b It seems well established that Plato, at some period, visited the court of Dionysius at Syracuse. One visit only of his is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus; but the spurious letters which have passed under the name of Plato, have given rise to very circumstantial accounts of three different visits. Of that visit which really took place, little can be satisfactorily said. Encyc. Metr. Art. Plat. Compare with this, Mitford, Grec. Hist. vol. v. 469. and note; vi. 7.