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PAGE 3

Plato
by [?]

That we could not devote five years of our time to purely esthetic exercises, to the exclusion of practical things, without very great risk, is now well known. And when I refer to practical affairs, I mean the effort which Nature demands we should put forth to get a living. Every man should live like a poor man, regardless of the fact that he may have money. Nature knows nothing of bank-balances. In order to have an appetite for dinner, you must first earn your dinner. If you would sleep at night, you must first pay for sweet sleep by physical labor.

* * * * *

Plato was born on the Island of AEgina, where his father owned an estate. His mother was a direct descendant of Solon, and his father, not to be outdone, traced to Codrus.

The father of Socrates was a stonecutter and his mother a midwife, so very naturally the son had a beautiful contempt for pedigree. Socrates once said to Plato, “Anybody can trace to Codrus–by paying enough to the man who makes the family-tree.” This seems to show that genealogy was a matter of business then as now, and that nothing is new under the sun. Yet with all his contempt for heredity, we find Socrates often expressing pride in the fact that he was a “native son,” whereas Plato, Aspasia, the mother of Themistocles, and various other fairly good people, were Athenian importations.

Socrates belonged to the leisure class and had plenty of time for extended conversazione, so just how much seriousness we should mix in his dialogues is still a problem. Each palate has to season to suit. Also, we can never know how much is Socrates and how much essence of Plato. Socrates wrote nothing, and Plato ascribes all of his wisdom to his master. Whether this was simple prudence or magnanimity is still a question.

The death of Socrates must have been a severe blow to Plato. He at once left Athens. It was his first intention never to return. He traveled through the cities of Greece, Southern Italy and down to Egypt, and everywhere was treated with royal courtesies.

After many solicitations from Dionysius, Tyrant of Syracuse, he went to visit that worthy, who had a case of philosophic and literary scabies. Dionysius prided himself on being a Beneficent Autocrat, with a literary and artistic attachment. He ruled his people, educated them, cared for them, disciplined them.

Some people call this slavery; others term it applied socialism. Dionysius wanted Syracuse to be the philosophic center of the world, and to this end Plato was importuned to make Syracuse his home and dispense his specialty–truth.

This he consented to do.

It was all very much like the arrangement between Maecenas and Horace, or Voltaire and Frederick the Great. The patron is a man who patronizes–he wants something, and the particular thing that Dionysius wanted was to have Plato hold a colored light upon the performances of His Altruistic, Beneficent, Royal Jackanapes. But Plato was a simple, honest and direct man: he had caught the habit from Socrates.

Charles Ferguson says that the simple life does not consist in living in the woods and wearing overalls and sandals, but in getting the cant out of one’s cosmos and eliminating the hypocrisy from one’s soul.

Plato lived the simple life. When he spoke he stated what he thought. He discussed exploitation, war, taxation, and the Divine Right of Kings. Kings are very unfortunate–they are shut off and shielded from truth on every side. They get their facts at second hand and are lied to all day long. Consequently they become in time incapable of digesting truth. A court, being an artificial fabric, requires constant bracing. Next to capital, nothing is so timid as a king. Heine says that kings have to draw their nightcaps on over their crowns when they go to bed, in order to keep them from being stolen, and that they are subject to insomnia.