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CHAPTER VII.

PLATO AND THE OLD ACADEMY. ·

The birth of this great philosopher was nearly coincident with the most important era of Grecian history, the commencement of the Peloponnesian war. His parents, Ariston and Perictione, were amongst the Athenian colonists sent to occupy the island of Ægina, whence they were shortly afterwards expelled by the Lacedæmonian army ; this circumstance has originated a doubt, whether Athens, or Ægina, ought to possess the honour of Plato's birth; the period of which is generally fixed at B.C. 429. His father was descended from Codrus, his mother from Solon, and his original name of Aristocles we find superseded by that of Plato, siguifying broad, in consequence of his athletic frame, whereby be excelled in all gymnastic exercises. The beauty of his style— Jess

famous for its imagery, than for the sweetness of its poetic prose-as in the case of Pythagorashas blended his name with much of fictitious legend. When a babe, sleeping on Mount Hymettus, bees, it is said, dropped honey on his lips; and Socrates himself is made to contribute to the fame of his pupil, by a dream, in which he fancied that a young swan from the grove of Academus came and nestled in his bosom, and thence, sweetly singing, soared up into the air; when, at the very moment of the philosopher's telling his vision, Ariston presented his son, and the sage, struck with the coincidence, received Plato as his predicted pupil.

His early education comprised music, poetry, and the best scientific literature of his time; to which may be added, gymnastics, and these he practised with great attention, in the true spirit of a Greek, under Ariston the Argive. It is to be lamented that, previous to his joining Socrates, at the age of twenty, he destroyed, in disgust, most of his poetical works; since of the few epigrams preserved, some are very beautiful. It appears also, from Aristotle, that from his youth he had been acquainted with the cpinions of Cratylus, and those of Heraclitus; while his own works are ample proof of his

early conversance with the systems of Pythagoras, Parmenides, Zeno, and the teachers of the Ionic school. On no mind could the peculiar method of Socrates, who was his instructor for ten years, produce a more beneficial effect. With quick aptitude of thought, he entered as much into the eager spirit of inquiry induced by the doubts of his master, as he delighted in those sublime views which he put forward in the clearer portions of his teaching. Where the master paused, the pupil was instigated to proceed; the practical knowledge of mankind was at once open to his view ; it remained for him but to corroborate it by erudition and knowledge of books, in which his instructor was deficient.

On the death of Socrates, and the general dispersion of his followers, Plato first betook himself to Euclid at Megara, thence to Cyrenewhere he studied geometry under Theodorusand successively to Egypt and the Greek settlements on the Italian coast; like Pythagoras, Solon, "and the great of old," enlarging his experience by observation of men, under every aspect and character. Archytas, who was flourishing at Tarentum, is said to have admitted him into the secret discipline of the Pythagoreans; and so elevated is the order of his philosophy, that it has even given rise to the report that, when in Egypt, he had access to an existing Greek version of the Old Testament; a notion probably founded upon the indisputable fact, that the Egyptian priests, themselves, unconsciously derived portions of truth from the sacred oracles, which they obscured by

-- Solemn fraud and mystic muinmery." Intending to travel into Persia and India, his plan was hindered by the disturbed state of those countries, so that he returned homewards after an absence of several years; and being subsequently desirous to explore Mount Etna, he crossed into Sicily, where, through Diona young man whom he had reclaimed, and whose sister Dionysius had married-he became a guest at the court of the latter. From some circumstance, however-probably Plato's firmness in rebuking the tyrant's vices-he became an object of such aversion to Dionysius, that, but for the intercession of his friend Dion, the former would have slain him : as it was, he secretly commanded Pollis, the Spartan ambassador, in whose ship Plato was to leave Sicily, to put him to death, or sell him as a slave,

which last, Pollis is said to have done. He was, however, set free by Anniceris at Ægina, who refused to receive back the twenty minæ paid for his redemption, observing, that “his friends were not the only parties interested in Plato's welfare :" the whole story, however, is much questioned, neither do we find any certain account of the philosopher's movements until after his arrival at Athens, where he bought and planted a beautiful spot in the Ceramicus, near the Academy, whence his school derived its name.

Here he passed his life, which terminated at the age of eighty-one, having only quitted his peaceful abode twice during that period, upon two voyages to Sicily, whither he was summoned by the younger Dionysius. In these beauteous groves, for forty years, he inculcated the lessons of practical wisdom, after the model of his own rigid moderation, to listeners drawn from the most influential statesthemselves the influential spirits over the fortunes of their respective countries. It was, indeed, à galaxy of intellectual brightness seldom beheld above the horizon of human thought. Xenocrates, Demosthenes, and Aristotle--Polemon, Speusippus, and Hyperides

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