Plato, History, and the Dreams of Philosophy


Forms of Social Organization in Greece: Economic, Political, Military

property classes and shift from redistributive economy

oikos– genos (clan) – phyle (tribe)

deme – trittyes – phyle (tribe) - polis

monarchy – oligarchy – democracy

interstate alliances

Hellenic League

Peloponnesian League

Delian League

Boeotian League

Arcadian League

Second Athenian League

aristocrat's raids to citizen hoplites to professional mercenaries

land empires and naval empires

redefinition of arete:

competitive and cooperative excellences

nomos vs. physis


Plato and a view of the past from Athens after the Peloponnesian War

Plato  (427/8 - 347/8) - Athenian of aristocratic family, pupil of Socrates, founder of the Academy

Leaders in Athens before Plato's Time





Leaders during the Peloponnesian War






The Case of Syracuse

Deinomenid tyrants, backed by Gamoroi aristocratic clans:

Gelon of Gela and his brother Hieron 485-466

War against Carthage - 480

Democracy during 5th century fails against Carthage 409




Dionysius the Elder - tyrant of Syracuse, of non-aristocratic lineage

Dion - nephew of Dionysius I, of aristocratic family

Dionysius the Younger - ousted by Dion, later returned but ousted again

Archytas of Tarentum - Pythagorean philosopher, elected General of Tarentum seven times despite the one-term limit


Competition for rulership of Greece

Dionysius or Dion of Syracuse

Jason or Alexander of Pherae

Second Athenian League and the Social War –357-355

Athenian generals: Chabrias, Chares, Timotheus, Iphicrates

Mausollos of Caria helps Chios, Rhodes and Cos rebel - 357

Artaxerxes III and enforced peace - 355


Timeline of Events

(all dates BCE)

594                      Solon's democratic reforms at Athens

561, 550, 540                 The tyrannies of Pisistratos

508                      Cleisthenes' democratic reforms at Athens

490                      Battle of Marathon, Athenians defeat Persians

478                      Delian League formed, growth of Athenian empire

469                      Birth of Socrates

460-429                Periclean Age in Athens

431                      Start of Peloponnesian War

430/429               Plague in Athens, death of Pericles

431-421                Archidamian War, Cleon prominent in Athens

427/428               Birth of Plato

421                      Peace of Nicias; dramatic date of the Republic

415                      Sicilian expedition, defection of Alcibiades

413                      Athenian army slaughtered in Sicily

413-404                Decelean War

411                      Brief Oligarchic Coup in Athens; democracy restored

404                      Athenian surrender to Sparta, Thirty Tyrants installed

403                      Athenian exiles remove Thirty Tyrants

401                      Democracy restored

399                      Trial and execution of Socrates

388                      Plato's first trip to Syracuse and Dionysius I

386                      Plato founds the Academy

375                      Probable date Republic is written

371                      Thebes defeats Sparta at Leuctra, end of Spartan hegemony

371-362                Theban hegemony of Greece

367                      Plato's second trip to Syracuse; Dionysius II

362                      Plato's third trip to Syracuse

354                      Assassination of Dion

347/348               Death of Plato

338                      Battle of Chaeronea, Macedonian hegemony




There was a time when the life of men was unordered, bestial and the slave of force, when there was no reward for the virtuous and no punishment for the wicked.  Then, I think, men devised retributory laws, in order that Justice might be dictator and have arrogance as its slave, and if anyone sinned, he was punished.  Then, when the laws forbade them to commit open crimes of violence, and they began to do them in secret, a wise and clever man invented fear (of the gods) for mortals, that there might be some means of frightening the wicked, even if they do anything or say or think it in secret.  Hence he introduced the Divine (religion), saying that there is a God flourishing with immortal life, hearing and seeing with his mind, and thinking of everything and caring about these things, and having divine nature, who will hear everything said among mortals, and will be able to see all that is done.  And even if you plan anything evil in secret, you will not escape the gods in this; for they have surpassing intelligence.   (Critias fr. 25 DK)


Dion's arguments to Plato to come to Syracuse - Seventh Letter 327e-328a

'What combination of circumstances,' said he, 'more promising than that which is at this moment offered us by a sort of miracle, are we to wait for?'  Then he mentioned Italy and Sicily under one government, his own influential position in that government, Dionysius young and interested, emphasizing his own situation in respect to philosophy and education.  Furthermore his own nephews and kindred might readily be won over to the doctrine and the way of life that I always preach, and they would be just the persons to help win over Dionysius.  'Now, if ever, then' said he, 'will be realized any hope there is that the world will ever see the same man both philosopher and ruler of a great city.'



Plato the Poet?:  Epigram attributed to Plato on the death of Dion

The Fates spun out a fate of tears for Hekabe and the women of Troy when they were born, but for you, O Dion, having achieved the prize of noble deeds, the gods spilled away the wide hopes, and you lie in your spacious fatherland, honored by the cities of men.  O Dion, you drove my spirit mad with love.

Plato's reaction to the Thirty Tyrants - Plato's Seventh Letter 324b - 325a

When I was a young man I felt as many people do, I thought that as soon as I became my own master I would go immediately into public affairs.  It so happened that matters fell out as follows:  there was revolution from the then widely derided constitution, and of this revolution ... thirty men took charge with full powers.  Some of these were as it happened relatives and acquaintances of mine, and so they immediately invited me in, suggesting that this was the proper occupation for me.  What I felt was not so surprising, allowing for my youth:  I thought they were going to lead the city away from injustice into some just way and so administer the city, and so I paid close attention to see what they would do.  What I saw was them very quickly making the previous constitution appear a kind of golden age -- in particular they sent for my older friend Socrates, whom I would not hesitate to call the most just man of the time, and sent him with others after one of the citizens so that that man should be arrested and executed, in order that Socrates be implicated, willy-nilly, in their politics.  He would not consent, but was ready for any risk rather than to share in their unjust acts -- when I saw all this and some other pretty significant things, I was disgusted and recoiled from the vices of that time.


The Problem: Republic 365a

And now when the young hear all this said about virtue and vice, and the way in which gods and men regard them, how are their minds likely to be affected, my dear Socrates -- those of them, I mean, who are quickwitted, and, like bees on the wing, light on every flower, and from all that they hear are prone to draw conclusions as to what manner of persons they should be and in what way they should walk if they would make the best of life? Probably the youth will say to himself in the words of Pindar:  "Can I by justice or by crooked ways of deceit ascend a loftier tower which may be a fortress to me all my days?"  For what men say is that, if I am really just and am not also thought just, profit there is none, but the pain and loss on the other hand are unmistakable. But if, though unjust, I acquire the reputation of justice, a heavenly life is promised to me. Since then, as philosophers prove, appearance tyrannizes over truth and is lord of happiness, to appearance I must devote myself. I will describe around me a picture and shadow of virtue to be the vestibule and exterior of my house; behind I will trail the subtle and crafty fox, as Archilochus, greatest of sages, recommends.

But I hear someone exclaiming that the concealment of wickedness is often difficult; to which I answer, Nothing great is easy. Nevertheless, the argument indicates this, if we would be happy, to be the path along which we should proceed. With a view to concealment we will establish secret brotherhoods and political clubs. And there are professors of rhetoric who teach the art of persuading courts and assemblies; and so, partly by persuasion and partly by force, I shall make unlawful gains and not be punished.


New Religious Ideas on the Nature of the Gods - Republic 380cd

"Now then," I said, "this would be one of the laws and models concerning the gods, according to which those who produce speeches will have to do their speaking and those who produce poems will have to do their making: the god is not the cause of all things, but of the good."

            "And it's very satisfactory," he said.

            "Now what about this second one Do you suppose the god is a wizard, able treacherously to reveal himself at different times in different ideas, at one timeactually himself changing and passing from his own form into many shapes, at another time deceiving us and making us think such things about him?  Or is he simple and does he least of all things depart from his own idea?

 For Next Week:


Buckley ch. 25 - 26

Demosthenes, Philippic II, III


What might Demosthenes' reaction be to the ideas of Plato and Isocrates?  What solutions does he propose to Athens' political difficulties?


Contrast Philip of Macedon with the other potential leaders of Greece in this period.  What factors helped Philip succeed where others had failed?


How does Philip manipulate the form of the Greek league of states to consolidate his power?  How does the League of Corinth differ from earlier leagues and alliances?


What are the problems with the sources for Philip and Alexander of Macedon?  How can we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of these sources?