Plato #

Introduction #

by William Smith

Πλάτων, the philosopher.

Life of Plato #

Of the history of Plato and his life and education we have only very unsatisfactory accounts. He mentions his own name only twice, in Phaedo and the Apology, and then it is for the purpose of indicating the close relation in which he stood to Socrates; and, in passing, he speaks of his brothers, Adeimantus and Glaucon, as sons of Ariston (in The Republic). The writer of the dialogues retires completely behind Socrates, who conducts the investigations in them. Moreover, Plato’s friends and disciples, as Speusippus in his eulogium, appear to have communicated only some few biographical particulars respecting their great teacher; and Alexandrian scholars seem to have filled up these accounts from sources which are, to a great extent, untrustworthy. Even Aristoxenus, the disciple of Aristotle, must have proceeded in a very careless manner in his notices respecting Plato, when he made him take part in the battles at Tanagra, B. C. 426, and Delium, B. C. 424.

Plato is said to have been the son of Ariston and Perictione or Potone, and to have been born at Athens on the 21st day of the month of May, B. C. 430; or, according to the statement of Apollodorus, which we find confirmed in various ways, in 428, that is, in the (Olympic) year in which Pericles died; according to others, he was born in the neighboring island of Aegina. His paternal family boasted of being descended from Codrus; his maternal ancestors of a relationship with Solon. Plato mentions the relationship of Critias, his maternal uncle, with Solon. Originally, we are told, he was named after his grandfather Aristocles, but in consequence of the fluency of his speech, or, as others have it, the breadth of his chest, he acquired that name under which alone we know him.

Plato was instructed in grammar, music, and gymnastics by the most distinguished teachers of that time. At an early age he had become acquainted, through Cratylus, with the doctrines of Heracleitus; through other instructors, or by means of writings, with the philosophical dogmas of the Eleatics and of Anaxagoras.

In his 20th year he is said to have betaken himself to Socrates, and from that time onwards to have devoted himself to philosophy. The intimacy of this relation is attested, better than by hearsay accounts and insufficient testimonies, by the enthusiastic love with which Plato not only exhibits Socrates as he lived and died—in the Banquet and the Phaedo,—but also glorifies him by making him the leader of the investigations in the greater part of his dialogues; not as though he had thought himself secure of the assent of Socrates to all the conclusions and developments which he had himself drawn from the few though pregnant principles of his teacher, but in order to express his conviction that he had organically developed the results involved in the Socratic doctrine. It is therefore probable enough that, as Plutarch relates, at the close of his life he praised that dispensation which had made him a contemporary of Socrates. After the death of the latter he betook himself, with others of the Socratics, as Hermodorus had related, in order to avoid threatened persecutions, to Eucleides at Megara, who of all his contemporaries had the nearest mental affinity with him. That Plato during his residence in Megara composed several of his dialogues, especially those of a dialectical character, is probable enough, though there is no direct evidence on the subject.

Friendship for the mathematician Theodorus is said to have led Plato next to Cyrene. Through his eagerness for knowledge he is said to have been induced to visit Egypt, Sicily, and the Greek cities in Lower Italy. Others, in inverted order, make him travel first to Sicily and then to Egypt, or from Sicily to Cyrene and Egypt, and then again to Sicily. As his companion we find mentioned Eudoxus, or Sitmiias, or even Euripides. More distant journeys of Plato into the interior of Asia, to the Hebrews, Babylonians, and Assyrians, to the Magi and Persians, are mentioned only by writers on whom no reliance can be placed. Even the fruits of his better authenticated journeys cannot be traced in the works of Plato with any definiteness.

After his return to Athens, probably in B.C. 389 or 388, he began to teach, partly in the gymnasium of the Academy and its shady avenues, near the city, between the exterior Cerameicus and the hill Colonus Hippius, partly in his garden, which was situated at Colontis. Respecting the acquisition of this garden again, and the circumstances of Plato as regards property generally, we have conflicting accounts. Plato taught, gratuitously, and agreeably to his maxims, without doubt mainly in the form of lively dialogue; yet on the more difficult parts of his doctrinal system he probably also delivered connected lectures; at least in the accounts of his lectures, noted down by Aristotle and other disciples, on the Good (see below) there appears no trace of the form of dialogue. Themistius also represents him as delivering a lecture on the Good in the Peiraeeus before an audience which gradually dwindled away. The more narrow circle of his disciples (the number of them, which can scarcely have remained uniform, is stated at 28) assembled themselves in his garden at common, simple meals, and it was probably to them alone that the inscription said to have been set up over the vestibule of the house, “let no one enter who is unacquainted with geometry,” had reference. From this house came forth his nephew Speusippus, Xenocrates of Chalcedon, Aristotle, Heracleides Ponticus, Hestiaeus of Perinthus, Philippus the Opuntian, and others, men from the most different parts of Greece. To the wider circle of those who, without attaching themselves to the narrower community of the school, sought instruction and incitement from him, distinguished men of the age, such as Chabrias, Iphicrates, Timotheus, Phocion, Hyperides, Lycurgus, Isocrates, are said to have belonged. Whether Demosthenes was of the number is doubtful. Even women are said to have attached themselves to him as his disciples.

His vocation was more that of founding the science of politics by means of moral principles than of practicing it in the struggle with existing relations. From the time when he opened the school in the Academy we find him occupied solely in giving instruction and in the composition of his works. He is said to have died while writing in the 81st, or according to others the 84th year of his age. According to Hermippus he died at a marriage feast. According to his last will his garden remained the property of the school, and passed, considerably increased by later additions, into the hands of the Neo-Platonists, who kept as a festival his birthday as well as that of Socrates. Athenians and strangers honored his memory by monuments. Yet he had no lack of enemies and enviers, and the attacks which were made upon him with scoffs and ridicule, partly by contemporary comic poets, as Theopompus, Alexis, Cratinus the younger, and others, partly by one-sided Socratics, as Antisthenes, Diogenes. and the later Megarics, found a loud echo among Epicureans, Stoics, certain Peripatetics, and later writers eager for detraction. Thus, even Antisthenes and Aristoxenus charged him with sensuality, avarice, and sycophancy; and others with vanity, ambition, and envy towards other Socratics. Others again accused him of having borrowed the form and substance of his doctrine from earlier philosophers, as Aristippus, Antisthenes, Protagoras, Epicharmus, Philolaus. But as the latter accusation is refuted both by the contradiction which it carries in itself, and by comparison of the Pythagorean doctrine with that of Plato, so is the former, not only by the weakness of the evidence brought forward in its favor, but still more by the depth and purity of moral sentiment, which, with all the marks of internal truth, is reflected in the writings of Plato.

Writings of Plato #

These writings, by a happy destiny, have come down to us complete, so far as appears, in texts comparatively well preserved, and have always been admired as a model of the union of artistic perfection with philosophical acuteness and depth. Plato was by no means the first to attempt the form of dialogue. Zeno the Eleatic had already written in the form of question and answer. Alexamenus the Teian and Sophron in the mimes had treated ethical subjects in the form of dialogue. Xenophon, Aeschines, Antisthenes, Eucleides, and other Socratics also had made use of the dialogical form; but Plato has handled this form not only with greater mastery than any one who preceded him, and, one may add, than anyone who has come after him, but, in all probability, with the distinct intention of keeping by this very means true to the admonition of Socrates, not to communicate instruction, but to lead to the spontaneous discovery of it. The dialogue with him is not merely a favorite method of clothing ideas, handed down from others, as has recently been maintained, but the mimetic dramatic form of it is intended, while it excites and enchains the attention of the reader, at the same time to give him the opportunity and enable him to place himself in the peculiar situations of the different interlocutors, and, not without success, with them to seek and find. But with all the admiration which from the first has been felt for the distinctness and liveliness of the representation, and the richness and depth of the thoughts, it is impossible not to feel the difficulty of rendering to oneself a distinct account of what is designed and accomplished in any particular dialogue, and of its connection with others. And yet again it can hardly be denied that each of the dialogues forms an artistically self-contained whole, and at the same time a link in a chain.

That the dialogues of Plato were from first to last not intended to set before any one distinct assertions, but to place the objects in their opposite points of view, could appear credible only to partisans of the more modern skeptical Academy. Men who took a deeper view endeavored, by separating the different kinds and classes of the dialogues, or by arranging together those which had a more immediate reference to each other, to arrive at a more correct understanding of them. With reference to the first, some distinguished dramatic, narrative, and mixed dialogues, others investigating and instructing dialogues, and again such as investigated gymnastically (maieutically or peirastically,) and agonistically (endeictically or anatreptically); as also dialogues which communicated instruction theoretically (physically or logically), and practically (ethically or politically). With regard to the second point, attention was especially directed to the dramatic character of the dialogues, and, according to it, the Alexandrian grammarian Aristophanes of Byzantium arranged a part of them together in trilogies (Sophistes, Politicus, Cratylus—Theaetetus, Euthyphron, Apology—Politeia, Timaeus, Critias—the Laws, Minos*, Epinomis—Criton, Phaedon, Letters*), the rest he left unarranged, though on what grounds he was led to do so it is not easy to discover. At the basis of these there lies the correct assumption, that the insight into the purport and construction of the separate Platonic dialogues depends upon our ascertaining the internal references by which they are united with each other.

The understanding of many of the dialogues of Plato, however, is rendered difficult by this circumstance, that a single dialogue often contains different investigations, side by side, which appear to be only loosely connected, and are even obscured by one another; and these investigations, moreover, often seem to lead to no conclusion, or even to issue in contradictions. We cannot possibly look upon this peculiarity as destitute of purpose, or the result of want of skill. If, however, it was intended, the only purpose which can have been at the bottom of it must have been to compel the reader, through his spontaneous participation in the investigations proposed, to discover their central point, to supply intermediate members that are wanting, and in that way himself to discover the intended solution of the apparent contradictions. If the reader did not succeed in quite understanding the individual dialogue by itself, it was intended that he should seek the further carrying out of the investigations in other dialogues, and notice how what appeared the end of one is at the same time to be regarded as the beginning and foundation of another.

However groundless may be the Neo-platonic assumption of a secret doctrine, of which not even the passages brought forward out of the insititious Platonic letters contain any evidence, the verbal lectures of Plato certainly did contain an extension and partial alteration of the doctrines discussed in the dialogues, with an approach to the number-theory of the Pythagoreans; for to this we should probably refer the “unwritten assumptions” (ἄγραφα δόγματα), and perhaps also the divisions (διαιρέσεις), which Aristotle mentions. His lectures on the doctrine of the good, Aristotle, Heracleides Ponticus, and Hestiaeus, had noted down, and from the notes of Aristotle some valuable fragments have come down to us. The Aristotelic monography on ideas was also at least in part drawn from lectures of Plato, or conversations with him.

The present editions #


This is a trilingual edition of Plato’s Euthyphro in Classical Greek, Classical Armenian and English, with word by word grammatical parsing of the Armenian text. The dialogue is also known by the title, On Holiness (Η Περι Οσιου, Յաղագս Սրբոյ), and is the first of four works concerning the trial and death of Socrates. The Classical Greek and English texts are from the 1914 Loeb edition translated by Harold North Fowler. The Armenian text, composed in the so-called «յունաբան» (Hellenic) style, is from the 1887 edition published at the Monastery of San Lazzaro and based on a manuscript of unknown date and origin that arrived by way of New Julfa. The date of the translation and the translator of this work are also, as yet, unknown. Estimates range from C6th to C12th, with Grigor Magistros considered as the latest likely candidate (Arevshatyan, 1971; Conybeare, 1889; 1891; Tinti, 2022). In the present edition, parts of the Classical Armenian text have been rearranged to synchronize with the Classical Greek and English. Additionally, some sentences that were missing from the Classical Armenian were translated by Beyon Miloyan.


This is a trilingual edition of Plato’s Minos in Classical Greek, Classical Armenian and English, with word by word grammatical parsing of the Armenian text. The dialogue is also known by the title On Law (Περι Νομου, Յաղագս Օրինաց), and is the shorter of Plato’s two dialogues on law, though some have disputed its authenticity. The Classical Greek and English texts are from the 1927 Loeb edition translated by Walter Lamb. The Armenian text, composed in the so-called յունաբան (Hellenic) style, is from the 1890 edition published at the Monastery of San Lazzaro and based on a manuscript of unknown date and origin that arrived by way of New Julfa. The date of the translation and the translator of this work are also, as yet, unknown, with estimates ranging from C6th to C12th, and Grigor Magistros considered as the latest likely candidate (Arevshatyan, 1971; Conybeare, 1889; 1891). This edition features certain updates to the Classical Armenian text from the 1890 edition: instead of presenting the dialogue as a series of questions («հարցումն») and answers («պատասխանի»), we adopt the convention of the Classical Greek and English texts and use the names Socrates and Companion; we reorder parts of the Classical Armenian translation to synchronize with the Classical Greek and English texts used here; and lastly, we implement several corrections to the Classical Armenian text as suggested by Fr. Karekin of San Lazzaro in his footnotes to the 1890 edition. Additionally, some sentences that were missing from the Classical Armenian were translated by Beyon Miloyan.

References #

  1. Smith, W. (1849). Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology. London: John Murray.

  2. Arevshatyan, S. (1971). Պղատոնի երկերի հայերէն թարգմանության ժամանակը. Banber Matenadarani, 10, 7-20.

  3. Conybeare, F. (1889). On the ancient Armenian versions of Plato. The Classical Review, 3, 340-343.

  4. Conybeare, F. (1891). On the ancient Armenian version of Plato. The American Journal of Philology, 12, 193-210.

  5. Plato. (1877). Պղատոնի իմաստասիրի տրամախօսութիւնք: Եւթիփռոն, Պաշտպանութիւն Սոկրատայ եւ Տիմէոս. (Ed. A. Sukrean). Venice: The Monastery of San Lazzaro.

  6. Plato. (1914). Euthyphro. Apology. Crito. Phaedo. Phaedrus. (Trans. Harold North Fowler). Loeb Classical Library 36. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  7. Tinti, I. (2022). On the indirect tradition and circulation of the ancient Armenian Platonic translations. In F. Alpi, R. Meyer, I. Tinti, & D. Zakarian. Armenia Through the Lens of Time: Multidisciplinary Studies in Honour of Theo Maarten Van Lint (pp. 213-233). Brill.

Additional Resources #

  1. Kraut, R. “Plato”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2022 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL =

  2. Ziolkowski, J. Plato’s Similies: A Compendium of 500 Similies in 35 Dialogues. URL =