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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

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













Page 25



[1] A full account οf the sources is given by Leisegang, RE 2342-7. See also Gaiser, ‘Testt. Platonica’, in Ρ.’s Ungeschr. Lehre (separately printed), p. 446.

[2] This has never seemed to me to call for any particular explanation, but if any find it, as Ludwig Edelstein did, one of the most vexing problems raised by the dialogue form, they will find a number of suggested reasons, all somewhat speculative, in his article ‘Platonic Anonymity’ (AJP 1962).

[3] D.L. 3.2. (For other reff. not given here see Leisegang, l.c.) For the Pythagorean precedent see vol. I, 148f. (Plato himself in establishing his school, probably had the model of the Pythagorean societies in mind: Field, Ρ. and Contemps. 34). Field (o.c. 2) remarks on the curious fact that the Greeks, who produced the first scientific historians, had little οr no idea of applying historical methods to individual biographies.

[4] The attacks, which are quite vicious and absurd, occur mainly at Ath. 5.215 c ff. and 11.506 a ff. For Ἡρόδικος ὁ Κpατήτειος see 215 f.; θεόπομπος ν τῷ κατὰ τῆς Πλάτωνος διατριβῆς 508 c. (See also RE VIII, 975 f. and 2. Reihe, x. Halbb. 2185.)

[5] Professor Finley (Aspects of Antiquity, 77f) wrote: ‘Whenever later writers report anything about Plato in Sicily, as Plutarch does, for example, in his life οf Dion, they take their infοrmatiοn directly or indirectly from these two letters [Plato’s 7th and 8th].’ It would be diffιcult to substantiate this statement. Setting aside historians like Timaeus and Ephorus (Plut. Diοn 35 etc.), Ρlut. also quotes Timonides, who, he says, helped Dion in his struggle from the beginning and wrote about it to Speusippus (Plut. Dion 35, D.L. 4.5). He was also a philosopher (Ρlut. 22), i.e. presumably like Speusippus a member of the Academy. Ι do not see why some of the information about Plato’s activities should not have come from him. More important perhaps is ch. 20, where Ρlut. reports what ‘they say’ about Plato’s dismissal from the Sicilian court and adds: ‘But Plato’s own words do not quite agree with this account.’ (The ref is to Εp. 7.349-50.) Nor did the story οf ΡΙato’s being sold into slavery, which is told in one form οr another by Plut. (Diοn 5), Diod. (15.7), and D.L. (3.19 from Favorinus), whether οr not it be true, originate in Plato’s letters. Note how Ρlut., after naming the ransom at 20 minae, adds ‘Other authorities say 30.’ Ιt is in any case amusing to note that Ε. Meyer used the fact that many statements in Ρlut. are openly drawn from the letters as a weapon against those who reject them. See Taylor, PMW 14.

[6] D.L. 3.2 quotes Apollodorus for his birth but Hermippus, Plato’s own pupil, for his death in the first year of the 108th Olympiad, 348-7 B.C. Others suggest an unimportant discrepancy of two or three years in the date οf his birth. For details see Ueberweg-Praechter 1, 181, Zeller 2.1.390 n. 1.

[7] From Rep. 368a it appears that they were old enough to fight in a battle at Megara, as early as 424 (Burnet, Τ. to Ρ. 207) or else in 409 (Wilamowitz, Pl. 1, 35: neither gives reasons for his choice). For the actions in question see Hammond, Ηist. 368 and 413. Apol. 34a also makes it likely that Adeimantus was older than ΡΙato.

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