Plato of Athens: A Life in Philosophy (2023)

Waterfield, Robin
Oxford University Press
Pages: 255

Plato of Athens is the first-ever biography of the world-famous philosopher. Born into a well-to-do family, Plato grew up in the gloom of wartime Athens at the end of the fifth century BCE. In his teens he honed his intellect by attending lectures by the many thinkers who passed through Athens and toyed with the idea of writing poetry. He decided to go into politics but became disillusioned, especially after the Athenians condemned his teacher, Socrates, to death. Instead he turned to writing and teaching, focusing especially on political theory, metaphysics, and ethics. In 383 he founded the Academy, the world’s first higher-educational research and teaching establishment. He also returned after a while to practical politics and spent a considerable amount of time trying to create a constitution for Syracuse in Sicily that would reflect his political ideals. The attempt failed, and Plato’s disappointment can be traced in his later political works. In his lifetime and after, Plato was considered almost divine. This led to the invention of tall tales about him, by both those who adored him and those who wanted to dethrone him. Plato of Athens steers a judicious course among these stories, debunking some but accepting a kernel of truth in others. As well as tracking the events of his life, considerable attention is paid to his written works—his “dialogues,” as they are called: they are summarized and discussed. Clearly and engagingly written throughout, Plato of Athens is the perfect introduction to the man and his work.