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PAGE 2

Plato
by [?]

* * * * *

Socrates was a street preacher, with a beautiful indifference as to whether people liked him or not. To most Athenians he was the town fool. Athens was a little city (only about one hundred fifty thousand), and everybody knew Socrates. The popular plays caricatured him; the topical songs misquoted him; the funny artists on the street-corners who modeled things in clay, while you waited, made figures of him.

Everybody knew Socrates–I guess so!

Plato, the handsome youth of nineteen, wearing a purple robe, which marked him as one of the nobility, paused to listen to this uncouth man who gave everything and wanted nothing.

Ye gods! But it is no wonder they caricatured him–he was a temptation too great to resist.

Plato smiled–he never laughed, being too well-bred for that. Then he sighed, and moved a little nearer in.

“Individuals are nothing. The State is all. To offend the State is to die. The State is an organization and we are members of it. The State is only as rich as its poorest citizen. We are all given a little sample of divinity to study, model and marvel at. To understand the State you must KNOW THYSELF.”

Plato lingered until the little crowd had dispersed, and when the old man with the goggle-eyes and full-moon face went shuffling slowly down the street, he approached and asked him a question.

This man Socrates was no fool–the populace was wrong–he was a man so natural and free from cant that he appeared to the triflers and pretenders like a pretender, and they asked, “Is he sincere?”

What Plato was by birth, breeding and inheritance, Socrates was by nature–a noble man.

Up to this time the ambition of Plato had been for place and power–to make the right impression on the people in order to gain political preferment. He had been educated in the school of the Sophists, and his principal studies were poetry, rhetoric and deportment.

And now straightway he destroyed the manuscript of his poems, for in their writing he had suddenly discovered that he had not written what he inwardly believed was true, but simply that which he thought was proper and nice to say. In other words, his literature had been a form of pretense.

Daily thereafter, where went Socrates there went Plato. Side by side they sat on the curb–Socrates talking, questioning the bystanders, accosting the passers-by; Plato talking little, but listening much.

Socrates was short, stout and miles around. Plato was tall, athletic and broad-shouldered. In fact, the word, “plato,” or “platon,” means broad, and it was given him as a nickname by his comrades. His correct name was Aristocles, but “Plato” suited him better, since it symbols that he was not only broad of shoulder, but likewise in mind. He was not only noble by birth, but noble in appearance.

Emerson calls him the universal man. He absorbed all the science, all the art, all the philosophy of his day. He was handsome, kindly, graceful, gracious, generous, and lived and died a bachelor. He never collided with either poverty or matrimony.

* * * * *

Plato was twenty-eight years old when Socrates died. For eight years they had been together daily. After the death of Socrates, Plato lived for forty-six years, just to keep alive the name and fame of the great philosopher.

Socrates comes to us through Plato. Various other contemporaries mention Socrates and quote him, some to his disadvantage, but it was left for Plato to give us the heart of his philosophy, and limn his character for all time in unforgetable outline.

Plato is called the “Pride of Greece.” His contribution to the wealth of the world consists in the fact that he taught the joys of the intellect–the supreme satisfaction that comes through thinking. This is the pure Platonic philosophy: to find our gratifications in exalted thought and not in bodily indulgence. Plato’s theory that five years should be given in early manhood to abstract thought, abstaining from all practical affairs, so as to acquire a love for learning, has been grafted upon a theological stalk and comes down to our present time. It has, however, now been discarded by the world’s best thinkers as a fallacy. The unit of man’s life is the day, not the month or year, much less a period of five years. Each day we must exercise the mind, just as each day we must exercise the body. We can not store up health and draw upon it at will over long-deferred periods. The account must be kept active. To keep physical energy we must expend physical energy every day. The opinion of Herbert Spencer that thought is a physical function–a vibration set up in a certain area of brain-cells–is an idea never preached by Plato. The brain, being an organ, must be used, not merely in one part for five years to the exclusion of all other parts, but all parts should be used daily. To this end the practical things of life should daily engage our attention, no less than the contemplation of beauty as manifest in music, poetry, art or dialectics. The thought that every day we should look upon a beautiful picture, read a beautiful poem, or listen for a little while to beautiful music, is highly scientific, for this contemplation and appreciation of harmony is a physical exercise as well as a spiritual one, and through it we grow, develop, evolve.