I. Life and Works
Plato (picture) was born in Athens in the year 428 or 427 B.C.E. He was of a noble family and was related through his father to Codrus and on his mother's side to Solon. His real name was Aristocles, but he was called Plato by his instructor in gymnastics because of his broad shoulders. Physically perfect, he had an artistic and dialectical temperament which remained with him through his whole life and made of him the philosopher-poet.
He was at first in the school of Cratylus, a follower of Heraclitus and the Sophists, and from him received his start in the study of poetry and an understanding of the philosophers.
At the age of twenty he came under the tutelage of Socrates; he felt profoundly the ethical influence of his master during the eight years he spent in his companionship. During his entire life he remained attached to Socrates, having a profound admiration for him because of the teaching he had received from the master and also because of personal friendship. "I thank the gods for having been born a Greek and not a foreigner, a man and not a woman, free and not a slave, but above all for having been born during the time of Socrates."
We do not know whether Plato was in Athens during the trial of Socrates. It is certain that if not before that time then shortly afterward he left Athens where, after the demise of the great master, the air was not healthy for his disciples. With some friends Plato retired to Megara, to the school of Euclid.
Between 390 and 388 B.C.E. Plato began long voyages in order to place himself in contact with the principal schools which flourished at that time. He visited Egypt, whose venerable antiquity and political stability he admired. He also went to southern Italy, where he was in contact with the Pythagoreans and studied their doctrines. He then went to Sicily and was at the court of Dionysius the Elder, the tyrant of Syracuse. There he formed a friendship with Dion, brother-in-law of the tyrant.