Plato's biography is mainly drawn from the work of other ancient writers and a few of Plato's own letters. He was born in Athens around 428 BC to an aristocratic family with a long and esteemed history of political leadership in the state. According to an anecdote of dubious veracity, Plato was originally named Aristo cles, but was quickly dubbed, "Platon," meaning "broad," by schoolmates impressed with his broad shoulders -- shoulders that would one day burden themselves with the foundational weight of Western thought. Plato's father, Ariston, descended from the early kings of Athens, and his mother, Perictone, from a distinguished line that included 6 th Century BC legislator Solon. Plato's father died when Plato was a young child; his mother, unable to support Plato, his two older brothers Adeimantus and Glaucon, and his young sister Pot one on her own, remarried to Pyrilampes, an associate of the statesman Pericles.

Plato had political ambitions as a young man and appeared destined to continue in the family tradition. His disillusionment with Athenian politics, however, was inevitable. Both the Empire and its politics had begun to decline since the onset of the Peloponnesian War several years before Plato's birth. Outside the political sphere, Plato enjoyed success in athletics, winning the Isthmian wrestling competition, and wrote various forms of poetry and drama. Aristotle reports that during his youth, Plato also became familiar with the teachings of Cratylus, a student of Heraclitus, and other Pre socratic thinkers, such as Pythagoras and Parmenides, providing the young philosopher with a worthy introduction to the foundations of Greek metaphysics and epistemology.

At about this time, Plato came to know the man who, because of his uncouth habits and intellectual unorthodoxy, was already an infamous figure in the city of Athens. Plato probably met Socrates around 409 through close relatives Critias (Plato's mother's uncle) and Charmides (his mother's brother), who were friends with Socrates. Plato immediately became his devoted follower and a dedicated student of philosophy. Socrates has been credited with teaching Plato basic philosophy along with his dialectic style of debate, in which the truth is elucidated through a series of questions and answers.

It is also thought that Socrates directed his disciple's inquiries toward the question of virtue and how it manifested itself into the nobility of human character. If there is a broader context under which Plato's philosophy developed, eventually unifying to some extent metaphysics, epistemology, aesthetics, politics, and ethics, it is the pursuit of virtue. Following the end of the Peloponnesian war, an oligarchic tyranny, called the "Thirty Tyrants," ruled Athens for eight months from 404-403. Critias and Charmides, members of the regime that seized the estates of wealthy citizens and resident aliens and executed numerous others, invited Plato to join them. The junta, however, had dissolved as a result of civil war before Plato could decide. But the Thirty also tried to enlist Socrates by ordering him to arrest Leon of Salamis.

Although Socrates refused to comply -- escaping punishment only because the Thirty were promptly replaced by a new and radical democracy.