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A History of Philosophy in Epitome by Schwegler

And the character of the young Dionysius


HIS YEARS OF TRAVEL.--After the death of Socrates 399 B. C, in the thirtieth year of his age, Plato, fearing lest he also should be met by the incoming reaction against philosophy, left, in company with other Socraticists, his native city, and betook himself to Euclid, his former fellow-scholar, the founder of the Megaric school (_cf._ Sec. XIII. 4) at Megara. Up to this time a pure Socraticist, he became greatly animated and energized by his intercourse with the Megarians, among whom a peculiar philosophical direction, a modification of Socraticism, was already asserted. We shall see farther on the influence of this residence at Megara upon the foundation of his philosophy, and especially upon the elaboration and confirmation of his doctrine of Ideas. One whole period of his literary activity and an entire group of his dialogues, can only be satisfactorily explained by the intellectual stimulus gained at this place. From Megara, Plato visited Cyrene, Egypt, Magna-Grecia and Sicily. In Magna-Grecia he became acquainted with the Pythagorean philosophy, which was then in its highest bloom. His abode among the Pythagoreans had a marked effect upon him; as a man it made him more practical, and increased his zest for life and his interest in public life and social intercourse; as a philosopher it furnished him with a new incitement to science, and new motives to literary labor. The traces of the Pythagorean philosophy may be seen through all the last period of his literary life; especially
his aversion to public and political life was greatly softened by his intercourse with the Pythagoreans. While in the Theataetus, he affirmed most positively the incompatibility of philosophy with public life, we find in his later dialogues, especially in the Republic and also in the Statesman--upon which Pythagoreanism seems already to have had an influence--a returning favor for the actual world, and the well-known sentence that the ruler must be a philosopher is an expression very characteristic of this change. His visit to Sicily gave him the acquaintance of the elder Dionysius and Dion his brother-in-law, but the philosopher and the tyrant had little in common. Plato is said to have incurred his displeasure to so high a degree, that his life was in danger. After about ten years spent in travel, he returned to Athens in the fortieth year of his age, (389 or 388 B. C.)

4. PLATO AS HEAD OF THE ACADEMY; HIS YEARS OF INSTRUCTION.--On his return, Plato surrounded himself with a circle of pupils. The place where he taught was known as the academy, a gymnasium outside of Athens where Plato had inherited a garden from his father. Of his school and of his later life, we have only the most meagre accounts. His life passed evenly along, interrupted only by a second and third visit to Sicily, where meanwhile the younger Dionysius had come to the throne. This second and third residence of Plato at the court of Syracuse abounds in vicissitudes, and shows us the philosopher in a great variety of conditions (_cf._ Plutarch's _Life of Dion_); but to us, in estimating his philosophical character, it is of interest only for the attempt, which, as seems probable from all accounts, he there made to realize his ideal of a moral state, and by the philosophical education of the new ruler to unite philosophy and the reins of government in one and the same hand, or at least in some way by means of philosophy to achieve a healthy change in the Sicilian state constitution. His efforts were however fruitless; the circumstances were not propitious, and the character of the young Dionysius, who was one of those mediocre natures who strive after renown and distinction, but are capable of nothing profound and earnest, deceived the expectations concerning him which Plato, according to Dion's account, thought he had reason to entertain.

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