Plato's Life There is an ancient story (very likely a true one) that Plato was originally named Aristo cles, but acquired the nickname Plato ("broad" or "wide" in Greek) on account of his broad shoulders. Both of Plato's parents were from distinguished aristocratic families. Plato himself, because of family connections and expectations as well as personal interest, looked forward to a life of political leadership. Besides being born into an illustrious family, Plato was born into an illustrious city.

He was born in the wake of Athens' Golden Age, the period that had witnessed Athens emergence as the strongest Greek power (particularly through its leadership in repelling the invasions of Greece by the Persians), the birth of classical Athenian architecture, drama, and arts, and a florescence of Athenian cultural, intellectual, and political life. By the time of Plato's youth, however, the military and cultural flower that had bloomed in Athens had already begun to fade. A few years before Plato's birth, Athens and Sparta-its rival for Greek supremacy-had engaged their forces and those of their allies in the Peloponnesian War. It was also at an early age, probably in adolescence, that Plato began to hear Socrates, who engaged a variety of people in Athens in philosophical discussion of important questions. It could fairly be said that Plato fell under the spell (or at least the influence) of Socrates.

When, as a consequence of losing the Peloponnesian War to Sparta, an oligarchy was set up in Athens in place of the former democracy, Plato had the opportunity to join those in power, but he refused. Those in power, who later became known as the "Thirty Tyrants," soon proved to be ruthless rulers; they even attempted to implicate Socrates in their treachery, although Socrates would have no part in it. A democratic government was soon restored, but it was under this democracy that Socrates was brough to trial, condemned to death, and executed. This was the last straw for Plato.

He never lost his belief in the great importance of political action, but he had become convinced that such action must be informed by a philosophical vision of the highest truth. He continued to hold back from political life, devoting himself instead to developing the kind of training and instruction that every wise person-and political people especially, since they act on a great social stage-must pursue. Plato maintained that people would not be able to eliminate evil and social injustice from their communities until rulers became philosophers (lovers of wisdom) -or until philosophers became rulers.