Plato - An insight into the Life of the Philosopher #3
Plato's call as philosopher precedes him all the way to southern Italy. Many decades earlier Pythagoras had settled there and founded his famous Pythagorean school. His students were mainly concerned with mathematics, music and the belief in transmigration of souls adopted from eastern religions.
This mixture of rigorous rationality and mysticism is a great attraction on records. In intensive conversations and many discussions the Greek philosopher exchanges himself with the Pythagoreans during his journey. He gets impressions and views that will shape him forever.
On the same journey, 389 before Christ, he arrived in Syracuse at the court of Dionysius the first. He abolished democracy in his government district and replaced it with a military state. He maintains close ties with Sparta. This fits perfectly with Plato's own anti-democratic stance. In Dionysius Plato believes to have found a ruler according to his ideas.
Dionysius likes to surround himself with philosophers and has many conversations with Plato. To demonstrate his philosophical education, the ruler of Syracuse calls his three daughters Virtue, Justice and Prudence. Terms that are of immense importance in the philosophy of those days.
For about two years Plato was a guest at the Syracuse court, but what he experienced there was in stark contrast to the conversations he had with Dionysius. The ruler is by no means wise and just, on the contrary, nightly binge drinking and debauchery characterize life in the palace.
Plato is horrified and tries to lead Dionysius back to the path of virtue. He wants to achieve that theory and practice, i.e. the words and actions of the ruler are in harmony. This leads to a clash between the two. Dionysius makes no secret of the fact that the conversations with the philosopher were pure pastimes for him and that he has no intention whatsoever of being given advice by a thinker on state leadership.
Disappointed, Plato leaves Syracuse. But the ship on which he embarks on his journey home is steered by Dionysius' men to Aegina, a city that is at war with Athens at that time. All Athenian citizens entering Aegina are treated as prisoners of war and enslaved. Plato does not know what is happening to him. Suddenly he finds himself a prisoner on a slave market.
By chance a friend discovers him there and buys him free. So Plato can return to Athens. Despite the outrageousness that Dionysius has done to him, Plato does not want to realize that he cannot convert the Syracuse ruler. Twice in the coming years he travels back to Syracuse to look for the conversation with Dionysius and each time the stay ends in quarrel.
The sobering experiences Plato has had over and over again do not stop him from passing on his views to his students.