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W.K.C. Guthrie, Life of Plato and philosophical influences

From, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. IV, Plato: the man and his dialogues, earlier period,
Cambridge University Press, 19896, pp. 8-38. 

(Ι) LIFE  |||  (a) Sources  |||  (b) Birth and family connexions  |||  (c) Early years  |||  (d) Sicily and the Academy  |||  (2) PHILOSOPHICAL INFLUENCES  \ Greek Fonts \ Plato Home Page

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Page 2

   All these early writings are lost, and the earliest extant life is by Apuleius in the second century A.D., who followed the earlier encomiasts in making his subject a typical hero-figure. Not much later is the book devoted to Plato in the Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers of Diogenes Laertius, and finally we have from the sixth century lives by the Neoplatonic commentator Olympiodorus and an anonymous author, who carry the supernatural element to even further lengths. The most valuable is Diogenes, who, if his critical standards as a biographer are not what we would accept today, is nevertheless exceptional in conscientiously mentioning his sources, and they include a number οf Plato’s and Aristotle’s contemporaries. Some of these are cited for sober statements of historical fact. He may quote Speusippus and Clearchus for the story of Plato’s divine birth, but we also owe to him the knowledge that Plato’s retirement to Megara to stay with Euclides after the execution of Socrates is vouched for by Hermodorus.

   Not all who wrote about Plato were eulogists. In the miscellany of Athenaeus, a near contemporary of Apuleius, there are lively traces of a hostile tradition which did not hesitate to accuse Plato of such faults as pride, greed, plagiarism, jealousy, gross errors, self-contradiction, lying and flattery of tyrants. For these accusations Athenaeus cites a certain Herodicus, described as a follower of Crates but probably living little more than a century before Athenaeus, and the historian Theopompus, which takes us back to the fourth century B.C.[4]

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