Centuries of slander have been leveled against Plato, the
man who stands at the foundation of the humanist tradition and whose work has
inspired every development in that tradition in the 2,300 years since his death.
Especially in this century, the so-called classical scholars at Britain's Oxford
and Cambridge Universities have described Plato as the father of fascism and
totalitarianism, as a reactionary spokesman for a decaying aristocracy,
embittered by his failure to influence the politics of his time. As a result of
political disappointments, say these intellectual apologists for the British
oligarchs who now threaten the world with a new dark age, Plato became an
effete, ivory tower figure, capable at best of stimulating high ideals, but
lacking any relationship to the requirements of practical politics. At worst,
Plato is charged with being the author of the bible for twentieth century
fascist dictators, a vile slander against his great dialogue the
This article will expose these and similar claims as
monstrous lies, lies maintained through suppression and distortion of the facts
of Plato's life and thought by those who tremble at the power of his ideas.
Through this examination of Plato's life and work, we will show that Plato was
the product and the highest development of a three-hundred-year long tradition
of humanist development. We will meet a few of the scientists, founders of
cities, philosophers, and political leaders who were Plato's predecessors,
teachers, and collaborators, and who laid the basis for our western
We will see that Plato and the other leaders of his era
were united in a struggle to defend the achievements of Greek civilization by
ridding the world of the oligarchical elite of Babylonia and Persia which
remains the model for the British oligarchy of today. It is this battle that is
reflected in Plato's own life history, as well as his writings. To create flanks
in their battle against the oligarchy, Plato and his associates traveled
throughout the Mediterranean world, sometimes fighting for the minds of rulers,
sometimes with arms and bold strategems.
The picture that will emerge here of Plato and his times is
in the sharpest contradiction to the standard account of Greek history peddled
in British and American universities. Only because of this relentless
falsification of history do the lies circulated about Plato have any force.
The means through which this history is falsified is familiar
to our reader of any daily newspaper: the isolation of events from the actual
strategic context in which they unfold. Just as today's news commentators serve
up explanations of crisis in the Middle East or Latin America without ever
displaying the British oligarchy's hand behind the events, so, too, the
strategic context of ancient history is totally suppressed.
Any attempt to study the history of the Greeks through the
local developments within Greece itself can only be a failure. There is no history
of Greece per se, but only a history of the battle in the ancient world between the
proponents of scientific and economic progress, chiefly associated with
classical Greek culture, against the oligarchical Mesopotamian empires of
Babylonia and Persia.
One important example illustrates the widespread fraud of
twentieth century classical studies. Virtually every school child has been
taught that the United States owes its constitutional principles of government
to the Greeks of the Golden Age of Pericles. Plato, by contrast, is
represented as an implacable foe of democracy, an aristocrat and apologist for
tyrants. The truth is that the so-called democracy of fifth and fourth century
B.C. Athens was identical to the French Revolution's Jacobin mob rule which our
founding fathers castigated as the opposite of the democratic republic which
they had established on the basis of an educated American citizenry.
Just as the French Jacobins were in the ultimate employ of
the British Oligarchy, so the Athenian democracy was a bought-and-paid-for
political instrument of the Persian court. Its function was to use demagogy and
a vast array of bribes and sinecures to manipulate the mass of Greek commoners
against the traditional anti-oligarchist leadership of their city-states -- the
leadership out of which Plato emerged. The democratic party of Pericles itself
functioned as the administrative arm of Persia within Greece, and, at Persia's
instigation, plunged Greece into suicidal wars and military adventures. The
Greek democracy's conscious role was the destruction of Greek humanist culture,
and only Plato's opposition prevented the Persia-sponsored democrats from
The actual author of our conception of republican
government and Citizenry was Plato himself. We will see that Plato's actual
political doctrine, which has been obfuscated by malign distortions including
deliberately false translations of his major works, was born in the battle
against the oligarchy, and was fundamentally reformulated as the requirements
and conditions of that battle changed.
Contrary to those who say that in Plato we have an ideal
system, subject to elaboration but never development, we will find that his
scientific method also underwent decisive advance as his political strategy
evolved. The explication of both this scientific method and his political theory
are inextricable, precisely because the scientific method serves as a concrete
program for educating the statesmen needed to establish the conditions for
scientific progress. This is why the characters in virtually every one of
Plato's dialogues are real historical people, usually popular figures as well
known to the reader of a Platonic dialogue in the fourth or third century B.C.
as the politicians and military leaders of World War I and World War II are to
Plato's thought grew out of a battle for civilization--a
battle without which civilization would have been smothered in its cradle. We
have before us both the opportunity and the obligation to complete Plato's work,
in science, in epistemology, and most of all in defeating the oligarchist
descendants of Persia in our own time. To do this, we must bring before us the
In this article, the first in a two-part series, we will
develop the historical background essential to understanding Plato. We will see
Greek civilization emerging as a rebirth of science and culture after a
protracted dark age. We will see the Mesopotamian oligarchs, the cultist masters
of Babylon and Persia, attempt to destroy that civilization. We will watch as
Plato's political and intellectual forebears mobilize to defend Greece against
the Persian onslaught in the Persian Wars, and win a victory over an
overwhelmingly more powerful army. We will look on as Persia, realizing that
their vast conscript army could never defeat the highly cultured Greek citizen
militias, turn instead to subversion and sabotage, resulting in the suicidal
Against this background, we will see the young Plato grow
to manhood, taking his place among the fighters against the Persian oligarchy,
as the Greeks renew their initiative against Persia in a series of campaigns
that come within inches of destroying the Persian menace forever. Following the
collapse of these campaigns, we will see Plato, coming into his own as the
leader of the international anti-Persian forces, create new political flanks and
weapons for the struggle -- weapons which humanity wields against the forces of
bestialism to this day.
Greece Before Plato
The Greek civilization that produced Plato saw a tumultuous
expansion in the centuries before his birth. After a centuries-long dark
age so profound that even archaeology can tell us little about it, Greek
mariners began once again to urbanize the Mediterranean. Athens, Plato's
birthplace, experienced a florescence in the crafts and manufactures. New
technologies spread quickly into the Greek colonies of Ionia, located along the
Mediterranean shores of what is today Turkey, and into the colonies of the
islands of the Aegean Sea. By the seventh century B.C., Ionia had become the
workshop of the Greek world, and was supplying textiles, metal products, and
other industrial goods to the rest of the Mediterranean. Ionia's standard of
living became proverbial on the mainland: It was known as "sweet Ionia."
The industrial revolution was accompanied by a cultural
florescence, spurred by the development sometime before 700 B.C. of the Greek
alphabet out of the script used by the leading traders of the earlier period,
the Phoenicians. The Greeks, who had lost the use of written language by 1000
B.C., at first used this regained tool for recording commercial transactions.
But within not more than a few decades, the new written language produced an
outpouring of literature. First, songs which dated back to the era before the
dark ages, preserved by being passed from generation to generation by minstrels,
were collected and written down. These are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey,
epics celebrating the Greek genius for city building and exploration. Soon a
new lyric poetry followed the Homeric example.
The lasting significance of the Greek achievement, however,
was not commerce and industry, or even epic poetry, although it was founded on
these activities. It was the birth of science, properly so-called. It is in the
Greek colonies of Ionia that we find the first recorded understanding that the
significance of scientific discovery is its disclosure of the coherence between
the human mind and the laws of the universe. Ionian physikoi, or natural
scientists, were the first to recognize the interrelatedness of the laws
governing both mind and nature as the proper subject of scientific inquiry.
In Thales of Miletus, the earliest of these physikoi
whose name has come down to us, we see the type of thinker created by the
Ionian scientific revolution. Thales declared that "all is water," thereby
asserting that one common substance, manifesting itself in differentiated states
of matter, was everywhere subject to the same laws of nature. Thales was the
first Greek to predict and explain eclipses of the sun, hitherto mysterious and
Thales was one of the great thinkers of ancient Greece
known as the Seven Sages. Perhaps the most important of these sages for the
development of Athens, the city where Plato was to found his Academy, was Solon
the lawgiver. A political intimate of Thales, Solon took the leadership of a
crisis-ridden Athens in 594 B.C. and reorganized the city's economy and
government around the first set of written laws to be framed on a "republican"
conception of the city-state.
Solon's economic reforms included the first debt moratorium
in history, which saved thousands of small farmers from bankruptcy, and the
outlawing of the sale of free men into slavery to pay their debts. Solon
stressed the role of the craftsmen and their industry for the city's prosperity,
and chided the landed aristocracy for demeaning the crafts, which he cited as a
high expresson of human achievement and the basis for the greatness of Athens.
But Solon was no populist. He rejected the demands of the
popular party for the redistribution of the aristocracy's landholdings,
believing that Athens needed a political elite that could train and educate
leadership for the coming generations. His constitution, which was celebrated in
popular songs and posted on stone tablets in the Athenian marketplace, the first
to embody the notion that the good of the individual citizen, as well as the
good of the different classes of society, lies in the development of the economy
and the culture shared by all.
[sidebar in original]
720 B.C. Iliad composed
700 B.C. Odyssey composed
595 B.C. Solon promulgates code of law in Athens; Thales
550 B.C. Persia conquers Media
547 B.C. Persia conquers Lydia
539 B.C. Persia conquers Babylon at invitation of Marduk
499 B.C. Rebellion of Ionia
490 B.C. Persians invade Greece, beginning of Persian War;
Greeks defeat Persians at Marathon
484 B.C. Aeschylus wins 1st prize for tragedy
480 B.C. Persia's King Xerxes invades Greece; defeated at
469 B.C. Socrates born
449 B.C. Peace of Callias ends Persian War
431 B.C. Peloponnesian War begins
427 B.C. Birth of Plato
413 B.C. Alkibiades' Sicilian expedition; Athenian army and
406 B.C. Athenian navy wins battle of Arginuse; Conon
indicts generals despite opposition of Socrates
404 B.C. Sparta defeats Athens in Peloponnesian War with
Persian aid; government of the Thirty Tyrants installed in Athens
403 B.C. Expulsion of the Thirty
401 B.C. Rebellion of Persia's Cyrus against his brother
Artaxerxes; March of the Ten Thousand against Persia
400 B.C. Artaxerxes negotiates revival of Athenian naval
power with Conon
399 B.C. Socrates tried and condemned to
398 B.C. Plato arrives in Egypt
396 B.C. Sparta's Agesilaus assumes leadership of
anti-Persian military drive
395B.C. Agesilaus routs Artaxerxes' troops; Corinthian War
394 B.C. Agesilaus recalled to Sparta
The Persian Marcher Lord
While Greece and its allies took the forward strides in the
sciences, arts, and government that are recognized as the basis of modern
western civilization, Mesopotamia toiled under the yoke of the evil Babylonian
Empire. The nature of the Babylonian system is best understood by examining the
priesthood that controlled it: the cult of the ancient god Marduk.
Babylonian literature tells us that the Marduk priesthood
dated its god-given right to enslave and tax the populations of the
Mediterranean to the days before the flood. In the middle of the sixth century
B.C., the central temple of the ancient Marduk cult-masters in Babylon
controlled a network of tax-collecting temples spanning what is today the Middle
East from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent. Organizing social and economic life
around the tax-farming requirements of the temple, the Marduk priests ruled the
theocracy that mired Babylonians in rural backwardness. The "black-headed ones,"
as the priests called the Babylonians, were little more than slaves: the temple
owned their land and most of their labor, and collected their gifts of grain to
Marduk after every harvest.
The priesthood augmented this iron grip on the empire's
economy with virtually complete control over its foreign and military policy as
well. This they accomplished through the offices of their high priests, oracles,
whose prophecies were considered to be the infallible expression of the will of the
gods. No Babylonian king made war, or peace, without first consulting the
oracles of the Marduk temple.
In 550 B.C., the Marduk priesthood began preparations in
earnest to destroy the trading and manufacturing city-states in the Greek orbit.
Realizing that their own policies of over-taxation, enforced backwardness, and
undermining of the secular nobility had left them militarily impotent, the
Marduk priests searched for a surrogate marcher lord. They found King Cyrus of
Persia, who in 550 B.C. overran the small neighboring kingdom of Media. Under
Marduk's sponsorship, Cyrus was to rise from ruler of the then-insignificant
Persian kingdom to conquer the world from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas.
The rich kingdom of Lydia's King Croesus was the first
target for Marduk's new Persian marcher lord. Despite his close alliance with
mainland Greece, Croesus was crushed by Cyrus's army in 547 B.C.
The subjugation of the nearby Ionian cities followed
within the year. By 546 B.C., the entire eastern Mediterranean coast had fallen
In the conquest of Lydia and Ionia, Cyrus and the priests
of Marduk enlisted, for the first time but by no means the last, the services of
the famed Oracle of Apollo. Located in the city of Delphi on mainland Greece,
the oracle was at the center of a network of temples which worshipped the god
Apollo and spanned the Greek world.
Just like the temple of Marduk, whose priests created and
spread the Apollo cult, the Delphi temple was no religious shrine. It was a
political intelligence operation of an enemy oligarchy. This oligarchy had
insinuated the cult of Apollo first along the shores of Ionia and then into
Greece itself before the dark ages.
That the oracle of Apollo was a Persian intelligence
operation is a fact well known to and frequently acknowledged by every classical
scholar--a profession itself largely dominated by British intelligence agents.
However, the consequences of this fact for ancient history have never before
been fully drawn out, and are completely excised from any popular treatment of
The cult of Apollo originated in the east, under the
direction of the Marduk priesthood, with whom the Apollo priests maintained
continuous contact. Again and again, it shamelessly intervened in Greece
on behalf of Persia's policy interests. It destroyed the Greek-allied kingdom of
Lydia; it derailed Ionia's resistance to Persian invasion; it countered Athenian
intervention to aid Ionia against Persia; it attempted to sabotage Greek
resistance in the Persian War; it sparked and fanned the flames of the suicidal
The Apollo temples were the wealthiest banking centers in
the Mediterranean world, accepting deposits "under the protection of the god"
and extending loans and bequests where Persia's interest deemed. As a cult
center in touch with Apollo temples throughout the Greek world, its information
was limitless, and was passed on as a secret history from generation to
generation of priests.
Its famous prophecies worked very simply. A petitioner for
the god's advice would come to Delphi and make his contribution. The petitioner
would be led into the presence of the chief priestess of Apollo, the Pythoness,
named after the snake. Sitting on a stool above a steaming geyser, the Pythoness
would utter nonsense syllables, billed as the language of the god. The priests
translated these utterances into prophecies aimed at shaping the petitioner's
course of action.
The tie between the Apollo cult and oriental despotism was
well known to the Greeks. In Homer, Apollo appears as the patron of oriental
despotism against Greek civilization. He is the builder of the walls of Troy,
the city that stood at the mouth of the Black Sea, barring the Greeks of the
twelfth century B.C. from trading along its shores. He is the "free shooter" who
rains arrows on the Greeks; his very name means "destroyer."
Lydia's King Croesus came to grief through an oracle of
Apollo which urged an ill-advised preemptive strike against the Persians. After
Croesus's defeat, Apollo's oracles urged the Ionian cities to abandon resistance
to Persia. After a few skirmishes, the Ionians obeyed Apollo, and pledged fealty
to Persia. After these conquests, Marduk brought his marcher lord home. Cyrus's
mandate this time was to conquer the Babylonian King Nabonidus, who had made the
mistake of trying to assert the power of his throne against the prerogatives of
the priests of the temple. In 538 B.C., Cyrus entered Babylon at the invitation
of the priests, and, after dispatching Nabonidus's troops, declared his
submission to Marduk. Thus ended the continuous 1,500 year reign of the
The Persian victory over Babylon's King Nabonidus is a
pivotal event of ancient history, although its significance is universally
misunderstood. For although it marked the end of the Babylonian Empire, the
reality was that the oligarchical priesthood that stood behind the throne of
Babylon, having bled one empire dry, continued to rule through the agency of the
kingdom of Persia. The priesthood had strengthened its grip on the Middle East
through this vigorous new stooge, which was to become, in turn, the bitter enemy
of Socrates, Plato, and Alexander the Great.
The Cult of Democracy
With the fall of the Ionian city-states, Persia held the
last remaining mercantile centers of Asia Minor in its jaw. The navies of both
Ionia and Phoenicia, to the south, were now under its control. Cyrus threatened
to conquer mainland Greece at his pleasure. The Persian king's most powerful
weapon in his campaign to destroy Greece proved not to be the military forces
brought under his control with the defeat of Ionia, or even the vast Persian
army itself. It was Persia's instrument of subversion within Ionia and the
Greek city-states themselves: the democratic movement, paid for, and run, by the
empire. The Greek democrats' first successful operation on behalf of the Persian
throne was to destroy the Ionian uprising of 499 B.C., led by the antioligarchist
forces of the Greek world.
By 499 B.C. these anti-Persian forces had organized the
coastal city-states of Ionia to revolt against King Darius, the successor to the
conqueror Cyrus. The leader of the revolt, Aristagoras of Miletus, traveled
throughout Greece seeking support for the rebellion. In Athens, his call was
heeded. The city mobilized to liberate Ionia, sending ships and heavily armed
Greek soldiers, called hoplites.
The following year, most of the Ionian city-states joined
Miletus in revolt, and scored a series of rapid victories. Their offensive
culminated in the capture and sacking of Sardis, the satrapal administrative
center, which cut Persia's lines of communication with its army in the field.
Just as this promising victory was won, the heroic Ionians, powerless to
continue their fight without support from the Greek mainland, were stabbed in
the back. Wielding the knife was Persia's Apollo cult, and the new political
instrument which Persia had created to subvert Greece, the democracy.
Threatened by a combination of Ionian and mainland Greek
military power, the Persians manipulated the democratic faction, which
controlled the masses of Athens, to take sides against plans to aid the Ionians.
Writing the script of the rabble-rousing ultrademocratic movements of today, the
Athenian democrats demagogically attacked their allies in the Ionian leadership
as foreign aristocrats. They went further, taking sides against their own city's
political and international elite. The Council of the Areopagites, the
traditional leadership of Athens, was dragged through the mud as a den of greedy
landlords and enemies of the masses.
Writing fifty years after the defeat of the Ionian
rebellion, the historian Herodotus offered the following account of Persia's
motives for establishing states, called democracies to rule over its satrapies:
The masses have not a thought in their heads.... As for the
democracies, then, let them govern the enemies of Persia, but let ourselves
choose the best men in'our country, and give them political power.
Events of 499-498 B.C. in Athens and Ionia demonstrated the
effectiveness of Persia's formula.
Athens had come to such a pass through the evil
Persian-controlled cult of Apollo. In fact, the rise of Cleisthenes, the first
democratic leader of Athens, in 510 B.C., was accomplished not by any popular
movement or "class struggle," but by the priests of Apollo at Delphi, who
secured intervention from the city-state of Sparta to place him in power.
Cleisthenes' Alcmaeonid family dominated the Athenian democracy for nearly one
hundred years, with the express backing of the Delphi priests.
Cleisthenes didn't hesitate to pay back his sponsors in
full. In 507 B.C. he voluntarily sent to Persia the traditional tokens of
submission, earth and water, marking the first official contact between Persian
imperialism and Greek democracy with a promise of Athens's vassalage to King
Eight years later, the same democracy's sabotage of the
Ionian revolt opened the gate for Persia's pillage of the Greek-settled cities
of Asia Minor. Part of Miletus was destroyed; the male population of military
age was slaughtered; boys were castrated and taken to Persia as court eunuchs,
or sold into slavery; women became the forced-brides of the Persian army or were
taken to the royal harem. Fugitives from the Aegean islands poured into Athens
bringing the same, horrible story: the Persian army had formed a human net and
scoured the islands, dealing with every Greek according to the dictates of
Persia kneaded salt into the political soil as well. In 492
B.C., Mardonius, the son-in-law of King Darius, led an armada of 600 ships in a
"campaign of liberation" against Ionia. Mardonius evicted the conservative
aristocrats who hated Persia from the Ionian cities, installing in their place
not Persian overlords, but democratic stooges.
Plato's Great Grandfathers
With Ionia militarily and politically secured, King Darius
expected only the weakest resistance from his next target: the Greeks on the
mainland. But a small political elite, centered chiefly in Athens and
acting under the constraints of the Persian-backed democracy that ruled the
city, prevented the complete submission of Greece to Persia. This
leadership, the great-grandfathers of the faction Plato would lead three
generations later, battled Persia's Apollo cult and the democracy. They
wrested control from the enemy forces long enough, and at the critical moments,
to prepare the Greek resistance.
This group was identified with the traditional leadership
of Athens, the Council of Areopagus. Somewhat like a supreme court, the
council's duties included the preservation of the laws of Solon and trial in all
capital cases. It was the institutional expression of the republican ethic
established by Solon. The Areopagites were drawn principally from the Athenian
nobility, who described themselves as "the party of the beautiful and the good."
Imbued with a sense of history, these were the men whose ancestors had created
Greek civilization. They cherished this achievement, and they had the keenest
appreciation of the difference between Greeks and "barbarians."
To the Areopagites, "Greek" was not a racial, geographical,
or national distinction. Greeks did not live in a nation or an empire, but in
city-states, independent communities clustered around a city center.
Each city-state had different laws and customs. Even Greek
religion provided little motive for unity. The pantheon of Greek gods known as
the Olympian Twelve was a quarrelsome family. Several, such as Apollo, were not
even Greek in origin. Some, like Athena, were chiefly of local significance, and
elevated to the pantheon because of their city's importance. Each god was served
by a separate cult more or less prominent in different city-states or among
Polyglot in race and religion, scatter-shot throughout the
Mediterranean world, the Greeks of the fifth century B.C. were unified chiefly
by their language, which had been created by Homer and his followers nearly two
centuries earlier. In ancient Greek, the same common noun is used for both
"speech" and "reason." This ambiguity does not reflect a poverty of vocabulary,
but a sense of human activity as a unique manifestation of reason. The Greeks
believed that this activity of reason distinguished them from the
"barbarians," peoples who made noises like "bar-bar" instead of speaking Greek.
To mobilize the Greek city-states against the threat from
Persia, the Areopagites created the most powerful tool for organizing
emotions that had existed up to their time: the classical Greek tragedy. Even
today's reader, whose edition of Aeschylus or Sophocles is carefully sanitized
of any mark of the political crucible in which these dramas were forged, cannot
miss the moral urgency that grips the Greek tragedies. This is the
urgency, still alive in its implications today, of the political battle waged by
In 493 B.C., for example, on the eve of the Persian
war against Greece, the outstanding Areopagite dramatist Phrynichus staged his
Capture of Miletus. Written to commemorate the Ionian uprising of
499 B.C., the drama carried a strong warning to mainland Greeks
that the defeated Ionians' fate would soon be their own if they did not prepare
to repulse the Persians. Like all of Phrynichus's work, this play is now lost.
But there can be no question of the powerful effect it had on its audience,
since the democracy banned it -- the only play ever to be censored in the
history of the politically volatile Greek theater -- because it "called too
strongly to mind the sufferings of the people."
The plays of Aeschylus, successor to Phrynichus, were first
produced while the Persian War was under way. Aeschylus's
Persians, written after the Greek victory, celebrated the historical
experiences of many members of the audience in language ordinarily reserved for
the semi-mythical deeds of the ancient past. His best-known work, the
Oresteia trilogy, directly addressed the question of natural law in a
defense of the Council of the Areopagus. The council was shown to the
audience as elevated by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Aeschylus attacks
Apollo as a rapacious violator of natural law.
The Persian War
In 490 B.C., the feared invasion of mainland Greece took
place. A huge Persian force of 100,000 troops and 600 ships quickly overran
northern Greece, meeting little resistance. The Areopagite faction in
Athens found itself almost entirely alone in its opposition to Persia.
The overwhelming material assets of the Persians, coupled with
demoralization and fear produced by the failure of the Ionian rebellion -- to
say nothing of the intrigue of the priests of Apollo -- rapidly brought the
party favoring capitulation to Persia to the fore almost everywhere.
Nevertheless, Persia was to suffer a defeat at the hands of
the Greeks so humiliating that to this day it is remembered as one of the
greatest victories of a republican citizenry in history -- the Battle of
Under the great Areopagite General Miltiades, 3,000 Greek
hoplites from the cities of Athens and Plataea faced down 60,000 Persians on the
coastal plain of Marathon in western Greece. The Persian troops were led
by the hand-picked crack unit of professional soldiers, known as the 10,000
Immortals. Persia's land forces, legions of mercenaries and slaves
rounded up from all parts of the empire, were backed by a fleet of 300 ships.
The ships were manned, by tragic irony, by impressed Ionians and Phoenicians.
Dramatically demonstrating that a slave army, no matter how
gargantuan, is no match for a disciplined and motivated citizens' militia, the
Greeks drove the Persian forces back to their ships, killing thousands of the
Immortals. Miltiades's forces suffered only 192 casualties.
How greatly the victory of Marathon effected the political
morale of the Greeks can be seen from the fact that Aeschylus, writing his
epitaph forty years later, said nothing about his plays, which guaranteed his
immortality, or about his lifetime as a political organizer for the Areopagites,
but only that he had fought at Marathon.
It was ten years before Persia attempted a new conquest of
Greece. During this time, the Areopagites worked in Athens to create a navy and
a corps of trained sailors, capable of defending against an anticipated naval
assault. Their efforts bore fruit again, as Persia suffered an even more
devastating defeat than Marathon when Darius's successor Xerxes sailed against
the Greek city-states in 480 B.C.
Xerxes proved he had learned little from the defeat at
Marathon. His one innovation was to avoid the treacherous waters off the
peninsula of Chalcidice, where Darius had lost scores of ships, by building a
canal through the straits of Mt. Athos. This gigantic project, carried out by an
army of slave laborers, was coupled with the construction of a bridge across the
Dardanelles Straits, another remarkable engineering feat. Across this bridge
marched a Persian army numbering one million, accompanied by the giant Persian
fleet which passed through the Mt. Athos canal.
Preparing for a Persian assault from the north, the
Athenians evacuated their city, moving civilians and the army onto the outlying
island of Salamis. There, they stationed their ships along both sides of the
channel between the island and the mainland. Athens greeted the Persian army
from a nearly impregnable island position on Salamis; they fought the Persian
navy in the confined waters of the channel and sank Xerxes' fleet. They
greeted the Ionian sailors, impressed to ships' duty by their Persian overlords,
with propaganda posters urging them not to fight their Greek liberators.
Just as at Marathon, the battle of Salamis proved that
Persia was not invincible. The newly built and trained Athenian navy
destroyed most of Xerxes' armada. The Persian despot, stationed atop a
mountain to witness the battle he thought would be the greatest triumph of his
empire, instead watched as his slave army was slaughtered.
Xerxes attempted to reorganize his army but was again
defeated by the Greeks at Plataea and at Mycale. No Persian army would again set
foot in Greece.
The victorious Greeks now took the offensive, creating a
standing force to expel the Persians from Ionia, to assist in the liberation of
Egypt, which had been brought under the Persian yoke in 525 B.C., and
ultimately, to destroy the Persian menace forever. This force for the first time
united the two most powerful cities in Greece, Athens and Sparta, in the
alliance later known as the Delian league, thereby sealing a major aim of
Areopagite foreign policy.
As Plato's father was growing up, Athens faced the next
great threat to its liberty and development, the reign of the Persian agent
Pericles at the head of the democracy from 457 to 428 B.C. Falsely remembered as
the architect of the Golden Age of Athenian culture, Pericles spent his decades
in public life destroying the city and undermining the anti-Persian cause. His
destruction of the traditional leadership of Athens paved the way for Sparta's
break with the Delian league, which quickly became an instrument of Athenian
imperialism instead of Greek resistance to Persia, and plunged Greece into the
nightmarish struggle between Athens and Sparta known as the Peloponnesian War.
Pericles sabotaged the Delian league, the bulwark of Greek
defense against the Persian menace, and alienated Athens' allies by jacking up
membership contributions and manipulating league policy in the partisan
interests of Athens. He eventually removed the league treasury from Delos, the
site of the second most important temple of Apollo on the Greek mainland, and
reestablished it in Athens.
There, league funds were mingled with the city treasury and
used by Pericles, the virtual Mussolini of his day, to fund the most awesome
range and scale of public works projects ever seen on the peninsula, That public
works effort included the rebuilding of the Acropolis, destroyed by the Persians
in the 480 B.C. invasion. (Ironically, the Acropolis, which was designed and
first built in the decades preceding Pericles, is today commonly thought to
symbolize the greatness of Periclean Athens.)
As a meal ticket could always be gotten in Athens, the city
began to swarm with free peasants, who left behind with their life in the
country a mountain of bad agricultural debts and overworked farmland of
declining fertility. With agriculture in collapse, grain and other foodstuffs
for Athens were carried in from the Black Sea, and productive industry in Athens
was reduced to pottery-making and silver mining. The economic collapse brought
on by Pericles brought a shift in the city's policy toward its colonies. Athens
emphasized less and less scientific and commercial interchange, and more and
more the mother city's imperial looting rights in its colonies.
The most pernicious of Pericles' policies, however, was
embodied in his education program. His sponsorship of the so-called sophist
movement was a profound attack on Athens' most precious remaining asset: the
intellectual and moral powers of her citizenry.
For a price, any Athenian who wished his children to
prosper in the city government could have them trained in rhetoric and
"sophistry" -- the art of making the weaker argument appear the stronger -- by a
teacher from Pericles' pool of trained demagogue-orators. Together with this, a
materialist variety of natural science, excluding the human mind as a subject
worthy of inquiry and deprecating mathematics, was promoted by Pericles' chief
To Gorgias, Thrasymachus, and Protagoras, leading sophists
whose world view is scathingly exposed in Plato's dialogues, morality was
strictly a matter of convention. The wise man -- or sophos --rejected as
superstitious the notion that a moral law reigns, asserting that "right" and
"wrong are relative, according to circumstances.
Such was the Golden Age of Pericles in Athens.
War of the Peloponnesus
Persia could regard Pericles as a proven asset. He could be
counted upon to give the empire a free hand in Asia and to suppress a
resurgence of anti-Persian sentiment in Greece. Nevertheless, Persian foreign
policy could not tolerate an independent Greek mainland. The Athenian Empire was
now a formidable military power, much more so than it had been in the days of
Marathon and Salamis. To avert the threat that Athens might ever fall into hands
dedicated to completing the work of Miltiades and the Areopagites, Persia
resolved that Athens must be destroyed, and with it the rest of Greece. This
they nearly succeeded in accomplishing, through the agency of the Peloponnesian
Although the facts are plain to see in the historical
record, the Peloponnesian War has never been accurately explained by any
historian. This Thirty Years War of the ancient world, which raged from
431 to 404 B.C., has for centuries been described as a contest between Sparta
and the Athenian league. In reality, the antagonists were the Greeks, and the
Persian oligarchs, who wielded their time-tested offensive strategy of "divide
Persia funded and intrigued with both Sparta and Athens.
First, it exacerbated the tensions between the two city-states which the
Areopagite faction of Athens had worked for decades to soothe. Then Persia
ignited the conflict, using the Delphi temple priests to entice the reluctant
Spartans into declaring war over an insignificant change of government in a
far-flung Greek city. Throughout the war, Persia played the contending alliances
like a seesaw, leveraging gold, intelligence, and the prophesies of their cults'
oracles to disrupt each of the attempted settlements and to offset any military
superiority capable of winning the war for either side.
In the course of 27 years, the Peloponnesian War came close
to destroying Greek civilization. Within the first two years of the War,
a new and virulent plague struck Athens and killed one quarter of its
population. Potidaea, the scene of a proudly recounted battle of the Persian
War, witnessed the first recorded incident of wartime cannibalism during a
Spartan blockade. The entire male population of Melos, a neutral in the war, was
slaughtered by the Athenians without military pretext. The decision was made on
the basis of the sophists' argument that "justice is the will of the stronger."
In 417 B.C., Athens was strong enough to bring the war to a
close. Instead, the city's leaders chose to follow the pipedreams of Pericles'
ward, the radical democrat Alkibiades, in a strategically suicidal invasion of
Sicily. Appealing to the Athenians well-nurtured cupidity, Alkibiades
represented the riches of Sicily as theirs for the taking. The Athenians
enthusiastically backed the invasion over the opposition of their leading
general Nikias, who is presented in Plato's dialogue Laches discussing
the meaning of courage with Socrates. Alkibiades' expedition resulted in the
decimation of the Athenian army and navy, as tens of thousands of Athenians died
of starvation in caves as captives of Sicily.
Persian subversion had brought the Greeks into a collapse
administered by their own hand.
Plato In His Youth
Plato had been born in 427 B.C., and his childhood and
young manhood coincided with the worst events of the Peloponnesian War. Of his
father, Ariston, we know very little beyond the name. He was certainly very
wealthy, because Plato's mother, Periktione, came from one of the most
prestigious families in Athens. She was related to Solon himself, and could
trace her descent back to the last of the Kings of Athens.
Ariston probably died when Plato was very young. Periktione
later married an Athenian aristocrat named Pyrilampes, a friend and ally of
Pericles and an ambassador to the Persian court in Susa in the negotiations
surrounding the end of the Persian War. Plato remarks in his dialogue
Charmides on the striking figure his stepfather cut as a diplomat.
As a youth, Plato studied music, writing, and
wrestling, as did every Athenian aristocrat of his time. According to historical
tradition, he excelled in gymnastics no less than in his intellectual studies,
and entered the competitions at the Pythian or Isthmian games. Some weight must
be given to this story, inasmuch as the name by which he has been known for
2,500 years is not his given name (which was Aristocles) but the Greek word for
As a teenager, Plato undertook the study of natural science
and philosophy with Cratylus, a student of the Ionian philosopher Heracleitus.
Heracleitus attacked the experience of the senses as a source of knowledge -- on
much the same basis as the earlier philosophers Zeno and Parmenides, who founded
the so-called eleatic school. However, Heracleitus came to opposite
conclusions to those of the eleatics. The eleatics claimed that change was an
illusion, and that the one, true being, is always self, identical and not
subject to modification. Heracleitus held that change itself is reality, and
that nothing is ever the same -- in the strict sense -- from instant to instant.
"You cannot step in the same river twice" is one of his most famous postulates.
Thus, the young Plato was profoundly influenced by each
significant current in science and philosophy prior to his time.
For the young Plato, these were not abstract questions
which could be postponed for solution to a later maturity prepared by decades of
reflection. As a remarkably gifted youth from a family with a tradition of
political rule going back to before Solon, it was Plato's wish to enter public
life. To be a great leader of the Athenians was not only his desire, but his
duty. While the intellectual struggle over the fundamental questions of the
nature of universal law raged inside him, his city was being torn apart by
internecine battles so acute as to be remembered afterward as more horrible than
anything that took place during the Peloponnesian War.
As a condition of the peace ending the war, which was
dictated by the same Persian oligarchy that had provoked and run the war, a
government was installed in Athens under the authority of its wartime adversary
Sparta. Sparta was at that time dominated by Lysander, who had sold his services
to Persia in order to bring about the Spartan victory. The new Athenian
government, called the Thirty, was declared by Lysander himself in the Athenian
assembly, and supported by Spartan arms and Persian gold.
The Thirty were drawn from the extreme oligarchist party, a
neanderthal mockery of the leadership once provided to Athens by the Areopagite
aristocracy. Although the new government attracted at the onset some of the best
elements in Athens (Plato's uncle Critias and his second cousin Charmides were
members of the Thirty), it also attracted the worst. But to seek for clear-cut
factional divisions among the Thirty is not especially edifying, since overall
their policy was dominated by Persia, via Sparta. Under the Thirty, Athens
degenerated into a garrison state almost at once.
The Thirty began to exterminate the city's leading citizens
with a chilling efficiency. An army of informants descended first on the homes
of democrats, then resident aliens, and finally on virtually anyone whose
household treasury was worth plundering.
Thus for Plato the question of universal lawfulness was
immediate and essential to the tasks of statecraft he must master if he were to
save his city. At about 20 years of age he met Socrates, a man who was
leading the efforts to reestablish the city-building Solonic tradition in
Socrates was an intimate of Plato's family circle and the
leading representatives of the philosophical schools to which Plato had been
exposed. The young Plato perhaps met the teacher who was to provoke the
resolution of the issues on his mind in one of the frequent discussions in his
stepfather Pyrilampes' house, which was visited regularly by politicians,
sophists, and philosophers from all over Greece.
Socrates himself was not a member of the Athenian nobility.
His father was a sculptor, a humble profession in Greece at the time, and
Socrates was probably trained in this craft as a youngster. His introduction to
public affairs, however, doubtless came from his father, who was a close friend
of Aristides the Just, the leader of the Athenian Areopagites whose hand had
guided the Greek resistance throughout the Persian War. Socrates himself was
closely associated with the Aristides family, and acted as ward to Aristides'
granddaughter and tutor to his grandson.
Socrates' mother, as he reminds his students repeatedly,
was a midwife, and Socrates tells them that he is the same -- a midwife of
ideas, to whom teaching is the act of giving birth, of bringing forth from
another mind something already there but not yet born.
Socrates abandoned his father's profession to begin his
search for truth in the physical science of his time, a remnant of the Ionian
scientific revolution. He engaged in empirical scientific experiments,
and was perhaps involved in a school of physikoi, or natural scientists,
of the Ionian tradition. He rejected these studies, however, concluding
that the methodological basis for such researches did not proceed from a
standpoint embracing at once the processes of nature and the human mind. The
fundamental universal law he sought required understanding the lawful processes
of mind itself.
Socrates therefore sought out those individuals acclaimed
for wisdom: the eleatic philosophers, the Heracleitians, the sophists, and the
Homeric traditionalists. In each case he found that the wisest represented
themselves well in setting forth their views, but not so well under questioning.
Socrates often found that his self-satisfied interlocutors, sophists like
Protagoras and teachers of rhetoric like Gorgias, were unable to explain
conceptions crucial to their professed areas of competence and suffered from an
inability to think that was the same as an inability to teach. Plato's
dialogues, which have brought many of these discussions between Socrates and the
thinkers of his time down to us, capture like an insect in amber the pretentions
of such men exploded by Socrates.
Socrates' method of bringing the critical political and
moral questions of his day to scrutiny by holding day-to-day decision-making up
for comparison to a universal ethic was attacked as negative and destructive. In
his play The Clouds, the comedian Aristophanes ridicules Socrates,
portraying him as a sophist floating in a basket above the pragmatic concerns of
the city. Plato's Republic depicts the democratic orator Thrasymachus in
another attack on Socrates:
"What nonsense is this, Socrates," he roared, "And why do
you all simple-mindedly concede to one another? But if you really want to know
what the just is, then don't just ask questions, or puff yourself up by
contradicting every answer you get -- since you know that it is easier to ask
questions than to answer them -- but answer yourself and tell us what you say
the Just is. And don't tell me that it is what ought to be, or that which is
useful, or what is due, or profitable, or advantageous, but tell me clearly and
precisely what you have to say. I won't accept it if you say any of this kind of
But for those who shared Socrates' commitment to truth, and
who would wrestle with difficult questions knowing that it is harder to ask them
than to answer, Socrates taught a means for finding the pathway toward truth.
Posing a problem, examining it, and discussing it were all means to finding the
higher standpoint from which it could be solved.
It was part of Socrates' method to disclaim his own
knowledge of the answers to the questions he posed. 'This he did to
ensure that as his students grasped toward, and found a solution, the authority
for the discovery would not arise from Socrates as a matter of doctrine, but
from the authority of the student's own power of mind.
Far from seeking to direct talented youths from influential
families into public life, Socrates sought almost the opposite: to force young
men to examine their fitness to rule. This conversation, from Xenophon's
Memorabilia of Socrates, rings true as an example of Socrates' refusal to
flatter his students:
Glaucon, [Plato's brother] the son of Ariston, though he
was not yet twenty years old, wanted to be a leader in the state and was trying
to address the Assembly. None of his friends or relatives could stop him from
being dragged from the podium and making himself ridiculous. Socrates, who was
interested in Glaucon through [Plato's grandfather] Glaucon's son Charmides and
through Plato, was the only one who succeeded in stopping him. When he met
Glaucon, he first contrived to get him to listen willingly by saying, "Glaucon,
have you decided to be a leader in our state?"
"I have, O Socrates."
"By Zeus, of all the things among mankind, that is fine!
Clearly, if you succeed in holding office, you will have the power to get what
you wish and you will be able to help your friends. You will elevate your
father's household, increase your fatherland, and be famed -- first in the
state, then in Greece, and perhaps, like Themistocles, even among the
barbarians. Wherever you may be, you will be admired by all."
When Glaucon heard this, he was proud and gladly agreed.
Then Socrates added, "Isn't it clear that if you want to receive honor, you must
benefit the state?"
"By the gods," exclaimed Socrates, don't keep it back from
us! Tell us how you will begin to help the state!"
When Glaucon was silent as if thinking then for the first
time how he would begin, Socrates said, "If you wanted to increase the estate of
a friend, you would try to make him richer. Would you try then to make the state
"Would the state be richer if it received more revenue?"
"Then tell us the sources of revenue for the state now, and
how much they yield. For. you must have studied the problem so that you can make
up the difference if the income falls below what is anticipated and so that you
can find new sources of revenue when the old ones lapse."
"But, by Zeus," said Glaucon, "I have not yet studied
Why Socrates Was Murdered
We have touched only briefly on the organizing method by
which Socrates trained his faction's next generation of leaders, the most
outstanding of whom was Plato. Most accounts of Socrates stop short with his
teaching and his philosophy. But the circumstances of the great Athenian's life
-- and death -- make clear that he was on the front lines of the battle against
the Persian oligarchy.
Socrates served in the army of Athens, as did most free men
of his time. Later, he eschewed public office, preferring the freedom of
political activity afforded him as a "gadfly." One detailed account of Socrates
in government, however, has given us much insight into the nature of his
In 406 B.C., two years before the defeat of Athens in the
Peloponnesian War, Conon, the city's leading democratic military man, charged
the entire Athenian general staff with refusing to pick up shipwrecked soldiers
following the battle of Arginusae. Leveling this capital charge was nothing
other than an attempted military coup détat in legal guise. Some of the
generals had themselves been shipwrecked. Others were unable to sail because of
storms, or were not near the wrecks.
Socrates was at this time serving his term in rotation as
president of the Athenian assembly. He stopped the trial, declaring it in
violation of the laws of Athens, and refused to put the question to a vote. The
democratic party howled, and in spite of Socrates' efforts, condemned the
generals to death the following day. The military leadership of Athens was
destroyed, and the way paved to a Persian-dictated Spartan victory over Athens
in less than two years.
This defeat for Socrates and his allies was only one
setback of the Peloponnesian War period. By the end of the 27 years of fighting
among the city-states, offensive action against Persia mounted from within
Greece was impossible. The city-building faction was forced to look elsewhere
for developments that would tip the strategic balance back in their favor.
The turning point came in 401 B.C., when Cyrus, the brother
of the new Persian King Artaxerxes, took to the battlefield to challenge his
brother's rule. We know little for certain of Cyrus's motives. We do know,
however, that he was supported by the anti-Persian faction in Greece, which
raised an army of 10,000 Greek soldiers, principally Spartans, to march behind
the challenger to the Persian throne. With this material backing came
conditions: that a victorious Cyrus would free Ionia from Persian rule, reopen
the Black Sea to unrestrained Greek trade and colonization, and dismantle the
networks of Persian influence in Greece itself.
There is little doubt that Socrates was aware of, and
supported, Cyrus's expedition. He consulted with his intelligence networks
across the Mediterranean on the planned invasion, and sent his pupil Xenophon on
an intelligence probe to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Following this, the
twenty-three year old Xenophon, Socrates' second-most outstanding pupil, was
sent to join the Persian challenger.
Cyrus marched his Greek army into Asia Minor, and, in a
series of lightning raids, established control of the entire eastern
Mediterranean coastal area of Persia. He then prepared to meet Artaxerxes in the
city of Cunaxa, near Babylon, confident of victory as he commanded an army of
vastly superior Greek hoplites against the Persian troops of his brother.
Cyrus made only one military mistake during the course of
his campaign, and it cost him everything. His army won the battle, but lost its
general. Although warned at all costs not to do so, Cyrus rushed into the fray
to wage single combat against Artaxerxes, and was cut down.
The situation now confronting Cyrus's army was bleak.
Although they had achieved military victory, their candidate for the Persian
throne was dead. Immediately, a factional brawl erupted within the army
leadership. A tenuous agreement was reached, and the proposal accepted that a
member of Cyrus's general staff be chosen to serve as king so that military
operations could be continued. However, the Ten Thousand had a traitor in their
midst, the Athenian general Meno, who had a secret deal to betray the entire top
leadership of the Greeks into Artaxerxes' hands.
Meno, whom Plato portrays baiting Socrates in his dialogue
named after the treacherous general, proposed that the army seek a negotiated
settlement, with guarantees of safe conduct on their 1,500 mile march back to
Greece. When Cyrus's general staff arrived at the negotiations, Artaxerxes
seized and killed them all. The Ten Thousand were left leaderless in a hostile,
unfamiliar, and dangerous land. The army could well have disintegrated and
disbanded, but for the leadership of several young men who came forward from its
ranks to lead the Greeks back to Ionia. One of these was Socrates' student,
Xenophon, whose Expedition of Cyrus tells us much of what we know about
this chapter of ancient history.
Although Artaxerxes had survived his brother's challenge,
the expedition of the Ten Thousand left the foreign policy of Persia in complete
disarray. Not only had the expedition come close to success, but the very
ease with which Cyrus's army had cut through the Persian Empire would certainly
invite further attempts. That same army was still intact, and sitting in an
impregnable position in Ionia.
The Persian oligarchs who engineered the Peloponnesian War,
and awarded Sparta the victory in that contest to ensure continued rivalries
among the Greek city-states, now reconsidered their strategy. A Sparta backed by
Persian gold had maintained the army led by Cyrus against Artaxerxes' throne,
and was fast becoming more of a threat to the empire than even the maritime
strength and Areopagite traditions of Athens. Persia concluded that the Spartan
settlement was no longer viable as the cornerstone of its divide-and-conquer
strategy, and resolved to make the Athenian end of the seesaw rise again.
Artaxerxes began negotiations leading to a revival of
Athenian sea-power, hoping to nurture Athenian imperialism and use it to
outflank the Greeks. No doubt, two Athenian leaders figured in these
negotiations: Meno and the Athenian admiral Conon.
Both Meno and his friend Anytus appear in Plato's famous
dialogue. Meno, identified as'the "Guest-Friend of the Great King," a
polite locution for a Persian agent, has been discussing with Socrates whether
virtue can be taught. In the course of the discussion, Socrates makes a number
of attacks on the leading politicians of his day -- and by implication on Meno
himself. A skillful diplomat, Meno does not let down his polite mask. But not so
Anytus, who tells Socrates in no uncertain terms that if he continues to speak
like this he can expect to come to grief.
Plato's Meno gives the informed reader of his time
-- and today -- all the information needed to identify the enemies and assassins
of Socrates. Anytus was Socrates' chief accuser at the trial which cost him his
life, and was rewarded with a career as a leading figure in the Persian-backed
Second Athenian Confederacy. Clearly, Persia had given the word that the success
of the plan to once again set the Greeks against each other depended on
neutralizing Greece's anti-Persian faction. The leader of that faction,
Socrates, must be gotten out of the way.
In 399 B.C., Meno's friend Anytus and two other members of
the democratic faction grouped around Admiral Conon, brought charges against
Socrates on grounds of impiety and corruption of the young.
These charges were not only absurd, but bore no relation to
the grounds on which Socrates was finally condemned. They were designed to call
to the minds of the jurors the decades of calumny directed against the great
thinker--that he was a sophist, that he had sided with the oligarchist
government of the Thirty against the leading democratic families of Athens, that
he was pro-Spartan in the Peloponnesian War.
As he had done hundreds of times through the decades,
Socrates used the charges against him as a springboard for political organizing.
In the Apology, Plato's beautiful account of Socrates' speech in his own
defense, we see Socrates using the trial as a test of the Athenians. Refusing
the appeal to his audience's fear and suspicion, Socrates bluntly compares his
qualities of mind, moral character, and his leadership to that demonstrated by
his opponents. He tells the Athenians that if they prefer the likes of Anytus to
Socrates, it is themselves they are condemning. Regrettably, this is what they
As was customary, Socrates is asked to offer a penalty he
believes fit to pay for his crimes after the guilty verdict is delivered against
him. He replies that a fitting judgment would be to award him free meals for
life, and raises a clamor from the jury with this blunt statement. Plato records
that he offered a money fine, which Socrates accepts, if the jury take it.
But when the final vote is cast, the jurymen instead
condemn Socrates to die by drinking hemlock. Efforts are made by the great
teacher's friends to allow him to escape, but Socrates refuses. Athens is the
city in which he had worked, and which he had called upon to conduct its affairs
in the spirit of the law: he could not now flee that city without destroying his
effectiveness as a teacher and a moral example. The Athenians must suffer the
consequences of their lawlessness by the loss of their best teacher, Socrates.
Moreover, Socrates was by 399 B.C. an old man, over
seventy, and had succeeded in replicating his method in an outstanding pupil
capable of carrying out his work -- Plato.
The death of Socrates has come down in history as one of
the greatest crimes ever to be committed against human reason. Now, at long
last, the cold light of justice is shined on his murderers. It was the
collaborators of the bestialist Persian empire within Athens who condemned
Socrates, and resolved over his dead body that the city would no longer be the
policy-making center for the anti-Persian faction Socrates had led.
New Offensive Against Persia
The Socratic circle fled Athens immediately following
Socrates' death, aware that Persia would seek to undermine every remaining
influence he possessed. For a brief period, they regrouped at the home of
Eucleides of Megara, the leader of the eleatic philosophers, at his estate in
Megara, a Spartan-allied city not far from Athens.
Soon, perhaps within a year, Plato left Greece for a visit
to another great center of opposition to Persia, Egypt. A satrapy of the Persian
Empire since being conquered by King Cambyses in 525 B.C., Egypt had
nevertheless maintained a continuously functioning anti-oligarchist
elite. This elite was centered in the Amon priesthood, which carried on a
centuries-long political interchange with the outstanding leaders of the Greek
anti-Persian faction. In fact, the Athenian law-giver Solon and the Ionian
scientist Thales had traveled to Egypt nearly 200 years earlier to
consult with the Amon priests when the Babylonian-Persian threat first loomed in
the fifth century B.C.
We know that Plato followed Solon's footsteps to Egypt and
we can be quite sure that he involved himself in political conspiracy for the
thirteen years he was there. Although historical sources now extant give us no
specific information on the visit, it is quite clear from the events of the
period that Plato came to Egypt as an emerging leader of the international fight
against the Persian oligarchs, and conducted his campaign on behalf of the
city-builders from this new base of operations.
By the time Plato arrived in Egypt, around 398 B.C., Persia
had brought both Sparta and Athens into its grip. It was Persia's intention to
use the Greek city-states and their military might as enforcers of the empire's
economic and political policy throughout the Mediterranean.
Artaxerxes' agent in Sparta, Lysander, had secured the
ouster of the heir apparent to the Spartan throne and replaced him with his
uncle, Agesilaus. Agesilaus had the look of a readily manipulable Persian puppet
who depended on Lysander's backing to keep the throne. The legitimate monarch
was still living, ready to be used against Agesilaus at any time. Moreover,
Agesilaus himself had exhibited no sign of his extraordinary leadership
capabilities. He had endured the banal military rigors of the typical Spartan
citizen -- a regimen designed to teach men to serve, not to rule. And he was
lame in one leg, a fact sure to lower his prestige in the eyes of Sparta's
Agesilaus's elevation to the throne was a political victory
for both Persia and Lysander, then at the height of his prestige. With Agesilaus
as a figurehead ruler, Lysander planned to conquer Greece as the power behind
the throne and present it as a satrapy to Persia.
But once again, the international city-builders' faction
turned a Persian asset against the empire. No sooner had Lysander placed
Agesilaus on the throne, than Agesilaus announced that he would personally lead
the Ten Thousand, still assembled in their camps in Ionia, in a final assault on
the Persian king. This time, the expedition would be backed by the military
power and authority of Sparta, and its aim would be the destruction of the
Agesilaus, dismissing Lysander as general and taking full
command himself, traveled to Ionia to take over the army that had been kept in
training for two years by lower-level Spartan commanders. There he met Xenophon,
the student of Socrates and associate of Plato, who was to become his trusted
adviser and friend for the rest of his life.
After a series of provisioning raids, Agesilaus prepared
his army for battle against the forces of the Persian king. In 395 B.C.,
Agesilaus and the Ten Thousand completely destroyed Artaxerxes' army. The road
to Susa, Persia's capital and administrative center, was opened. A brief
military campaign was all that was needed, to crush Persia forever.
While Artaxerxes' army was being ripped to shreds on the
battlefields, Persia's strategists were by no means sitting idly by. The agent
Lysander hatched a deal with Persia's cult of Apollo at Delphi, in which certain
prophesies would be promulgated to the effect that Sparta's kings must resign,
and an election thrown open to all citizens. In the faction-ridden Sparta of the
time, especially with Agesilaus and his most trusted men in Asia Minor, such an
election would certainly be manipulated to place Lysander on the throne.
The traitors in Athens also did their part. Admiral Conon
prepared the Athenian navy to join with Persian ships in an offensive to destroy
Spartan control of the Ionian coast. If this territory fell into Persian-allied
hands, Agesilaus would be cut off from his path of return to Greece, and
whatever victories were accomplished inland would be rendered meaningless.
What prevented the destruction of the Agesilaus campaign
was help from an international flank: the Egyptian component of the anti-Persian
alliance, whose actions show the hand of Plato --although the evidentiary
fingerprints have been worn away. For both the threat of internal Spartan
subversion and the military threat of Conon's Persian-financed naval power were
overcome, not from any Greek city, but from Egypt, where Plato was on the scene.
Lysander's plot to capture the Spartan throne was undone by
the priests of the Egyptian cult of Amon, who came forward publicly for the only
time in recorded history, to denounce the Temple of Apollo and Lysander as
conspirators, and demand the expulsion of Lysander from Sparta. The Spartans
refused to expel Lysander; but the priests' disclosures ended the
conspiracy and he was stripped of all influence.
To abet Agesilaus's forces in developing a naval capability
strong enough to withstand the Athenians under Conon, the Egyptian King
Nephertites gave the Spartans materials for the production of one hundred war
ships, and 500,000 measures of grain.
That Plato's principal activity in Egypt during this period
was connected to the Agesilaus campaign is proven by his collaboration in Egypt
with Eudoxus of Cnidos, one of the most outstanding mathematicians of all times
and after Plato himself probably the greatest mind of the century. This
collaboration, which was to last until the end of both men's lives, was not only
one of the most important for the history of science, but for the efforts of the
city-building faction of Plato's era.
Eudoxus is described by his ancient Greek biographer as an
agent of Agesilaus in Egypt. He was also a central figure in another circle of
the anti-Persian conspiracy: the Pythagorean communities of southern Italy and
the Greek city-state of Thebes which were guided by Socrates until his death. In
399 B.C., when Socrates was on trial, representatives of this group flocked to
Athens, seeking to protect Socrates from the Persian front-men and to offer him
exile in their cities.
The political occupation of the Greek mainland by agents of
Persia proved, however, to be the defeat of the city-builders. At the moment of
Agesilaus's triumph over the oligarchy's forces in Persia and Ionia, Artaxerxes
hatched a new flank, one which the anti-Persian conspirators were not able to
counter. Through the bribery of leading politicians in Athens, Corinth, and
Thebes, a hoked-up Corinthian war was declared against Sparta.
When informed of the magnitude of the forces arrayed
against him at home, Agesilaus reluctantly honored his recall, knowing that with
its best troops in Asia, his city would be devastated by the Corinthian
alliance. "I have been driven from Asia by 10,000 archers," the Spartan general
said. He was referring not to any military force, for he could have marched to
Susa without meeting any, but to the gold coin of the Persian realm, the
daric, which was stamped with the image of a bowman.
Suddenly faced with the collapse of their military campaign
against Persia, Plato, and his collaborators had no choice but to build a new
strategic orientation from scratch. Mainland Greece was to be wracked by
Persian-instigated wars for the next twenty years. The heroic Agesilaus would
again have a chance to bloody Persia's nose, but not before the Persian-funded
troops of Thebes nearly captured his native city, and dashed the Spartans' proud
claim that "no Spartan woman had ever seen an enemy's campfires."
In addition to Plato's Dialogues, the following
original sources provide background to the history of classical Greece.
1. Kirk and Raven, The Pre-Socratic
Philosophers. Since the writings of Heracleitus and other pre-Socratic
philosophers have come down to us only in citations by later authors, we must
rely on collections like this one. Ignore the commentary.
2: Herodotus, History of the Persian Wars. The
earliest historical work extant, Herodotus's witty and lively account was
written after his tBra.Cve. ls through Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt in the
3. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War.
Despite its occasional lapses in candor, this is the basic account of the war by
a man who was briefly an Athenian general in its early campaigns.
4. Xenophon, Anabasis (Cyrus's Expedition). This is
the major source for the history of the Ten Thousand by its leader on the return
trip to Ionia. Both a crucial historical document and a thrilling adventure, it
was, prior to this century, the standard text for studying Greek in all grammar
school and secondary school education.
5. Xenophon, Memorabila. This provides a valuable
picture of Socrates in action.
6. Classical Greek Tragedy. Only seven plays each of
Aeschylus and Sophocles survive, less than one-tenth of their known output. The
best introduction to these works is the sole surviving trilogy (the form in
which classical tragedy was presented) of each author: Aeschylus's Oresteia,
consisting of the plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and the
Eumenides; and Sophocles' Theban plays, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus,
7. Plutarch, Lives. Plutarch was active around the
second century A.D. He was a priest of the oracle of Apollo, and his works must
be read with this fact in mind. His position in the temple, however, gave him
access to an enormous amount of otherwise unavailable information. Plutarch's
historical profiles include Solon, Agesilaus, Lysander, Aristides, Pericles,
Nikias, Alkibiades, and Artaxerxes.
1. Bury, J. B., History of Greece. Like all general
histories of Greece, Bury's is entirely fraudulent on strategic and related
questions. But it provides an otherwise readable account of the major events of
2. Olmstead,T. A., History of the Persian Empire.
Olmstead was an admirer of the Persian system, but he is accurate in his
discussion of the Marduk priesthood's control of Cyrus, the activities of the
Apollo oracle, and the consequences of the ancient oligarchy's system of
political economy. This is the only recommendable history of the period,
although it is often rough going for the nonspecialist.
3. Guthrie, W. K. C., The Greeks and Their Gods.
This businesslike survey of the Greeks' gods and mythologies happily eschews
cultish interpretation and is a handy guide for students of the ancient period.
4. Schiller, Friedrich, "The Legislation of Lycurgus and
Solon." This essay, written by the young Schiller, is a valuable introduction to
Greek civilization as its central theme is the relationship of state policy to
The Truth about Plato, part 2
by Charles Tate
In the first part of this article, we demonstrated that, contrary to the lying historiography of Oxford and Cambridge Universities, Plato was a leader of the Mediterranean political faction dedicated to the destruction of the Persian Empire. We showed that this faction existed as a conscious, continuously existing elite from Solon and the Seven Sages in the seventh century B.C., to the time of the great playwright Aeschylus in the fifth century B. C. , and Plato's own teacher Socrates. The history of ancient Greece was the history of the battle between Plato's forebears and the Mesopotamian-based oligarchy, and that struggle was the preoccupation of the outstanding individuals who created the classical civilization which was the basis for our own.
We found that Plato, a young man growing up amid the chaos and destruction of the Peloponnesian War, joined this force as the pupil of Socrates, whose death was later ordered by the Persian court and administered by Persia's political agents in Athens. Following Socrates' execution, Plato left his native Greece for Egypt, another anti-Persian center, traveling as a political agent of King Agesilaus of Sparta. King Agesilaus was at this time in Asia Minor, together with Socrates' pupil Xenophon, waging a war against Persia that came within inches of destroying the oligarchy forever. But victory was snatched from Agesilaus's hands when a Persian-funded attack on his city was mounted by Corinth, Thebes, and Athens, forcing his return home. Plato and his collaborators had to rebuild their political offensive from the ground up.
In this part, we present Plato as the emerging leader of the humanist faction. We will see him as the architect of a bold strategy for the destruction of Persia and the development of civilization on the basis of Greek science and republicanism. We will look over his shoulder as he forms alliances throughout the Mediterranean world--as he forces events, creates flanks, and fights military battles.
This picture contrasts starkly with that presented by the political-intelligence operatives of Cambridge and Oxford Universities. These so-called classicists would have us believe that after early disillusionment with politics, Plato retreated into an ivory tower of speculation, holding himself above practical politics and scorning those involved with such concerns. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, it was Plato's lifelong effort to rid the world of the oligarchy which impelled him to seek new and higher scientific vantage-points through the elaboration of his political and epistemological method presented in his dialogues.
In 394 B.C., Sparta's King Agesilaus was forced to withdraw from his campaign against Persia just as he had achieved victory. Agesilaus's weak flank was not on the battlefield, where he had destroyed the army of Persian King Artaxerxes. It was at home where Persian influence and gold set the city-states of Athens, Corinth, and Thebes at war against Sparta. This Corinthian War, as it was known, was the prelude to decades of warfare on the Greek mainland. Like the twenty-seven year internecine bloodbath of the Peloponnesian War, the new conflicts were designed to destroy the threat of united Greek action against Persia. In a sense, the Peloponnesian War never ended.
Crucial to Persia's time-tested counterthrust of divide and conquer was the city-state of Thebes which continually sparked war on the Greek mainland throughout the first half of the fourth century B.C. Persia underwrote the rise of Thebes as a new garrison state on the mainland because one hundred years of manipulation of Athens and Sparta had shown, in spite of all, that both cities possessed factions which took pride in Greek civilization and detested Persia's bestialism. Thebes, however, was the most backward and cult-ridden of any major Greek city. Located in Boeotia, a district of Greece which literally translates as "cow-town," Thebes' outlook was dominated by the backward peasant culture of its environs rather than by the Greek maritime and city- building impulse. It was near Thebes that the bucolic poet Hesiod wrote his Theogony, a primitive and violent genealogy of the gods, and his Works and Days, an encomium to stoop labor and rural idiocy. Thebes had openly sided with Persia during the Persian War of 490--449 B.C., and remained a Persian pawn throughout its history, the staging ground on the Greek mainland for Persian-sponsored wars and subversion.
Although it never had been an important military power, under Persia's tutelage Thebes developed one of the most hideous military institutions ever seen before the days of the Nazi SS--the so-called Sacred Band. The Sacred Band--a euphemistic tag sometimes used instead of the name erastai, or lovers--was a homosexual military squad trained to fight and die for the glory of Persian-controlled Thebes without mercy for themselves or their opponents. These kamikaze style fighters were even married in bizarre ceremonies to wed them to one another as an invincible fighting unit.
The rise of Thebes dominated the history of mainland Greece for most of Plato's adult life, and continually hampered his freedom of action. Socrates' student Xenophon chronicled with an acid pen in hisHellenica, written fittingly as a continuation of Thucydidies' Peloponnesian War, every twist and turn of Thebes' vicious rise to hegemony over mainland Greece. Years later, when Alexander the Great launched the campaign that at last destroyed the Persian Empire, his first precaution was to level Thebes and execute its entire population.
The destruction of the Agesilaus campaign and the reduction of mainland Greece to internecine warfare forced Plato to create a new flank. In 388 B.C., Plato left Egypt to seek a theater of warfare from which to rebuild the campaign against Persia. Mainland Greece offered no options. For in this same year, negotiations were underway which led to a brief interruption of war through a treaty named after Agesilaus's major opponent in Sparta, the Persian agent Antalcides, but more candidly referred to simply as "The King's Peace." Through the negotiations, Persian King Artaxerxes won complete control of the foreign policy of the Greek cities. He could establish or end alliances among the city-states virtually by fiat, and Greece was in all but name a satrapy of Persia.
Plato journeyed across the Mediterranean to seek council with a wise and experienced ruler, no newcomer to the international struggle against the oligarchy. The man with whom he was to plan the next phase of the battle against the oligarchy was Archytas, the ruler of Tarentum (now Taranto), a major Greek city in southern Italy.
We can well imagine Plato's excitement during his journey across the Mediterranean, preparing to meet a man of whom he had known much for many years. It is likely that Plato, now thirty-six years old, had a sense of reunion with his teacher Socrates, for Socrates and Archytas may well have known and admired each other, if only by reputation.
Archytas is little known today, but he probably more closely met the requirements of what Plato was to call the philosopher-king than any other monarch known to history. He is credited with contributions to music and acoustics, the theory of conic sections, and is said to have been the first to comprehensively study problems of physical mechanics. Plato was undoubtedly already familiar with his work, for Archytas was the teacher of Eudoxus of Cnidus, Plato's lifelong collaborator, and the acknowledged giant among the Greek mathematicians of the fourth century B.C. Eudoxus is said to have been with Plato in Egypt, and is known to have served there later as an agent of King Agesilaus. It is likely that it was through Eudoxus that Plato was sent to meet Archytas.
Tarentum, the city Archytas ruled, was the New World in Plato's day. Settled during the great ninth and eighth century B.C. period of Greek expansion, this part of the Greek world, known as Magna Graecia or greater Greece, is often called the America of the ancient world.
Dionysius II was a young man about twenty years old when he inherited the throne of Syracuse. It was his ambition to surpass the achievements of his father, both as a ruler and in learning. He had learned the rudiments of Platonic teaching from Dion before his father's death. Now his interest in the great philosopher became intense, and Dion was commissioned to call Plato again to Syracuse.
As a statesman, Archytas maintained peace with the native Italian populations around Tarentum, and established the League of Tarentum, a confederation of Greek cities. The league perhaps came closer to functioning as a nation-state than any other associated district in Greece. Under Archytas's rule, Tarentum achieved extraordinary prosperity, making great strides in industry, trade, construction within the cities, and in living standards.
Although it was a New World, where the Greek spirit of science, industry, and colonization burned brightly, Tarentum also bore an old tradition, connected not only to Greece before the days of Persian warfare and subversion but also to Egypt, from which Plato had come. The city, like most of southern Italy, was dominated by the Pythagorean Society, of which Archytas was the leader in his time. The society was founded by the philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, a native of the Aegean island of Samos who had studied with the Egyptian priesthood of Ammon before moving with his followers to the Italian city of Croton. The Pythagoreans were a semisecret political and scientific circle comparable to the freemasons of the eighteenth century. Like the freemasons, the Pythagorean brotherhood contained both scientific and cultist members, working side-by-side, but Archytas represents its enduring positive tradition.
Plato In Syracuse
Together in Tarentum from 388 to 385 B.C., Plato and Archytas prepared a renewed battle against the Persian oligarchy. Mainland Greece, wracked by Persian-instigated wars, could not serve as a base of operations. Nor could Tarentum. Despite its exemplary political organization and formidable military prowess locally, the city was not powerful enough to attract allies against the King of Persia, and Archytas's association with the Pythagoreans was sure to alienate the many cities where the brotherhood was regarded as subversive.
Plato and Archytas set their sights on another prize. The city they would seek to capture as the center for a new attack against Persia was Tarentum's dazzling neighbor to the south, Syracuse, the major city and governmental center in Sicily. Plato's campaign to win Syracuse as the command post for a new assault against Persia would continue for the rest of his life, and more is known of this than any other of Plato's political operations. Much of what we know is from the invaluable source of Plato's own correspondence.
Founded in the fifth century B.C., and brought to greatness by the tyrant Hieron, Syracuse had become by the fourth century B.C. the richest city in all Greece, proverbial for luxury in the way Ionia had been in the fifth century B.C. Like Ionia, it had been colonized by Greeks from the mainland, who had won control from native Italian populations and the trading colonies of Carthage, in northern Africa, itself a colony of Phoenicia.
In many respects, Sicily had recapitulated the Ionian achievement. Strategically located as a trading center, Syracuse was as cosmopolitan as any of the cities of old Greece. Hieron had played host to many of the outstanding Greek poets and scientists, including the great Areopagite playwright Aeschylus, who spent the last part of his life in Sicily in self-imposed exile as Persian domination over his native Athens grew.
Over the previous one hundred years, Syracuse had brought under its domination all but a small western pocket of Sicily, still in Carthaginian hands, and several of the Greek city-states in Italy. During this period, recurring wars against the native Italian population and Carthage, the Athenian invasion of 415 B.C. during the Peloponnesian War, and a series of rebellions and power struggles had undermined stability on the island and resulted in the destruction of numerous cities.
By the time of Plato's visit, however, Syracuse had reached a precarious peace with Carthage, and its ruling dynasty was firmly in command. Despite its wealth and power, however, Syracuse had remained a tangential influence on the Greek mainland. But it had sided in every instance with anti-Persian forces, and had supplied foreign aid to Agesilaus for his Persian campaign. Now, Plato and Archytas concluded, Syracuse was the last remaining power capable of leading a new Hellenic alliance against Persia, and would have to be won as the rallying point and champion of Greek civilization.
However, Archytas and Plato had no interest in launching yet another military expedition against Persia, only to have it wrecked by the empire's familiar methods of sabotage and subversion. Syracusan wealth and military might, though essential as preconditions for a future role as challenger to Persia, were not sufficient to prevent this. The anti-Persian alliance knew well that Persia was defenseless in the field against Greek armies, yet the most promising military victories had been brought to nothing through Persian bribery and subversion. The outlook of even the most outstanding military patriots of the generation before Plato--Nikias, Agesilaus, or Cyrus-- was insufficient to the political task of destroying an empire that was the tool of the ancient Mesopotamian oligarchy and their cults.
It was not that these military leaders were ignorant men: they knew well that the cult of Apollo and its priests at Delphi were Persian creatures, and that the democratic parties installed in the Greek city-states were in Persian pay. What they had not learned was the method to mobilize their citizenries into a sustained and politically conscious fight against the Persian menace. Every offensive planned against Persia would draw troops, conscious that they were fighting for a superior level of culture, but also seeking adventure and plunder. Back at home, these same valiant soldiers would readily fall victim to the blandishments of the democratic orators, or jingoistically back their cities' wars with other Greek cities over issues manufactured and manipulated by Persia.
What Plato and Archytas recognized as the first requirement for reorientation of the anti-Persian faction was a ruler with the political and epistemological skills to raise the population to the level necessary to aid and support them. They sought to replicate nothing less than the elite group gathered around Solon two hundred, and Aeschylus one hundred, years before. To accomplish this, they conspired to create a philosopher-king.
Their candidate for the leadership of the new international political configuration was Dionysius I, the ruler of Syracuse. Dionysius was a redoubtable warrior and dynastic infighter who clawed his way to his position of despotic rule against repeated factional challenges and military threats. In the ancient Greek world such a ruler by fiat was known as a tyrant. Dionysius played the part of the tyrant to the hilt, and his ostentatious display of wealth, power, and force of personality won him fame, if not always admiration, throughout Greece.
His court was magnificent. Kinsmen and retainers assembled fortunes rivaling the riches of rulers of every other Greek city. The court circle led a life like that popularly ascribed to the degenerate courtiers at Versailles before the French Revolution--a never-ending round of feasts, celebrations, and dissipation. Even outside of the court circle, well-to-do Syracusans boasted a luxurious standard of living that became proverbial throughout Greece. A sumptuous banquet anywhere in the world was called a "Syracusan table," and the sybaritic personal habits of the Syracusans were known as the eudaimonos bios, the lucky or happy life, more or less what Americans now call the Good Life, but on a vastly grander scale.
Partly because he had a sense of what was appropriate for a great ruler, and partly because he could not bear the thought that he might be outdone in any way, Dionysius aspired to be a great patron of the arts and sciences. To leaven the revelry of his court with culture, Dionysius gathered a menagerie of sophists and poetasters, sycophants devoted to reminding Dionysius of his greatness in exchange for lavish gifts. Not to be bested by such hirelings, Dionysius conceived the conceit that he himself was a great tragic poet. A famous anecdote recalls how a popular poet visiting the court wriggled out of a potentially dangerous spot when forced to judge Dionysius's lyrics. Sworn to be both frank and respectful to this despot who did not suffer criticism, the poet raised enough good-natured laughter to save his neck when he said Dionysius's reading "moved one to pity." Surviving fragments uphold the poet's verdict, but Dionysius was able to rescue his self-delusion when Athenian judges at the Lenia contest awarded him first prize for tragedy, doubtless out of political motives,
Plato himself did not divulge, even at the end of his life, what political networks worked to make way for his arrival in Syracuse in 385 B.C. In his Seventh Letter, he says only that a "higher power" brought him there. His reception shows that Dionysius had great plans for him. The tyrant hosted state dinners in Plato's honor and accorded him every privilege and mark of favor due to a leading thinker whose presence would mean great blessings for the Syracusans.
Plato calculated that although the tyrant was the victim of pettiness and megalomania, Dionysius's ambition for greatness might be a force for good as well as for evil. With his hands freed for the first time from war and internal opposition, Dionysius was preoccupied with how he might become a leader, not only of his city and his island, but of all the Greeks, a leader who would be honored by future generations as an Agamemnon. It was through this impulse that he sought and, for a time, accepted the counsel of the Athenian Plato, who was beginning to be recognized as not only the intellectual heir of Socrates, but as the outstanding mind of his time.
Plato was quick to take stock of his pupil's talents and his susceptibility to corruption. Clearly, as long as Dionysius remained a glutton for flattery and enamoured of the court life which revolved around him he would come to nothing, or worse. The experience of the anti-Persian faction for more than one hundred years had shown that wherever gold and extravagance counted for more than truth and Greek civilization, Persian subversion would find easy work. Even without such a threat, the Syracusan court, as Plato recounted many years later, was totally inimical to the development of the philosopher- king, the only type of ruler equal to the tasks required for leadership of a new Hellenic alliance.
The scheming and backstabbing of Dionysius's retinue of family members and retainers was also potentially disastrous to Plato's mission in Syracuse. Behind the tyrant's facade of absolute rule his courtiers hatched plot after plot, each seeking personal aggrandizement and the ouster of some momentary court favorite who stood in his way. In this atmosphere of intrigue, Dionysius lived in terror that he would be the victim of conspiracies launched by those jealous of his power, and he sought to forestall such threats, real and imagined, by exiling thousands of those who had lost his favor.
Polemic on Tyranny
Dionysius responded with enthusiasm to Plato's recommendations and was quick to put a number of them into effect. But Plato knew that so long as the Syracusan court was infected with faction and the pursuit of luxury, that all his work could be undone easily. He therefore attacked the institution of tyranny itself, urging Dionysius to transform his court into that of a lawful king.
The institution of the tyranny had taken root in many of the Greek city-states during the sixth century B.C., when both Ionia and mainland Greece were wracked with troubles caused largely by the expansion of agricultural debt. Athens, as we saw in the first part, was embroiled in factional warfare among craftsmen and merchants, small farmers, and the landed aristocracy. There, the reforms of Solon the Lawgiver had preserved the city from internal destruction. Although Athens was to have its own tyranny, the tyrant's hand was stayed by Solon's laws.
Most cities were not so fortunate. Civil wars gave rise to cliques of powerful individuals, usually members of the cities' wealthiest families, who established one man as ruler by fiat. Answerable to no law other than their own whims, these tyrants were hated throughout Greece as assassins and murderers, who maintained their position by killing or exiling any potential opponents, while robbing their people blind to buy the loyalty of their henchmen.
This same process was recapitulated in Syracuse. The House of Dionysius established itself as a tyranny in the mold of earlier tyrants, most of whom had been overthrown by the Persian-installed democracies. (The democracies were more pliable to Persian control than the self-willed tyrants.)
In fairness to Dionysius, he was by no means the worst of tyrants. Far from being emiserated by Dionysius, the average Syracusan shared in the wealth and prosperity of the island. Despite the many exilings of prominent Syracusans, there is no reliable record that he ever executed citizens. Even exiles could usually count on finding their estates intact upon their return, and a shift in the political winds would often find them back in their old positions.
Tyranny, however mild, was nonetheless a lawless form of government. Lacking any code of laws or even traditions of privilege, having no moral basis other than the will of the tyrant, the tyranny was inherently incapable of sustaining the quality of moral leadership needed to establish a political command center of the sort that had existed around Solon or Aeschylus. As opposed to a tyrant, a king was understood by Plato to represent lawful authority, answerable to the good of his subjects, guided by laws and advised by counselors speaking honestly to the best of their abilities. In a dialogue written either during or shortly after his stay in Syracuse, Plato sets forth the arguments he used to persuade Dionysius to destroy the tyranny, and establish himself as a lawful king. Plato describes how the tyrant, contrary to the ignorant opinion of many, is the most miserable and least free among men. That dialogue is the Gorgias, a polemical masterpiece showing Socrates in action in one of the best examples of political organizing ever reported.
Gorgias was a political figure well-known to and despised by Dionysius. As a leader of the democratic party in Leontini, a southern Italian city constantly at war with Syracuse in the late fifth and early fourth centuries B.C., it was Gorgias who convinced the Athenian General Alkibiades to launch the disastrous Syracusan expedition of 415 B.C. That expedition caused terrible suffering to the Syracusans, until they captured and killed the Athenian army and navy to the last man. The memory of the invasion of thirty years before still aroused anger in the Syracusans, and an included purpose of the Gorgias was to document that Athenians Plato and Socrates were of the political faction that opposed the adventure.
To Dionysius, this dialogue was to be a stern warning, which would confront him with a fact he had never faced squarely. All-powerful in name, he was like the lowest rabble in the democratic assemblies--the plaything of his advisers, men who differed in no way from Gorgias, the detestable democrat from hostile Leontini. The tyrant might think himself the envy of the Greek world, perhaps even envied by the Great King of Persia, but he was in fact a degraded, unfree, and pitiable creature.
Putting the matter to him squarely, Plato asked Dionysius: do you not fear your own countrymen? Do you not find yourself virtually the prisoner of your bodyguards, fearing to walk among even your relatives without them? Does not every rumor force you to act in a way that may or may not be in your best interest? And, most important of all for a man who would be the great leader of a renewed assault on Persia: would you not be afraid to leave Syracuse to lead such an expedition, fearing that in your absence persons envious of your power would destroy your government?
The Syracusan courtiers, hearing of Plato's plan to destroy the tyranny and end their influence, plotted against the adviser from Athens, surrounding Dionysius with rumors and tales of Plato's treachery. Before, the Athenians had sent ships to destroy Syracuse, they said. Now, defeated in battle, they send Plato, carrying strange arguments and wild schemes of conquering Persia. Why should Syracuse risk its wealth and power by taking up arms against the Persian Empire? The Persians are no threat to Syracuse, but only to Athens and other cities on the mainland where Plato comes from. Plato means to destroy the tyranny, the courtiers told the suspicious Dionysius, but only because he wants it for himself and his Pythagorean friends.
Dionysius confirmed Plato's worst fears and responded to their pressure campaign in exactly the way the Gorgias predicted that he would if he did not abandon the tyranny. Convinced that Plato was plotting against him, the tyrant had him seized and consigned to a fate never used by the Greeks against one another except in war. Dionysius, slave of his fears and ignorance, sold Plato into slavery.
All the conventional histories of ancient Greece supply the account of Plato's first visit to Syracuse we have outlined above. But there is a story behind the story that has been suppressed.
Plato undertook to educate the tyrant Dionysius, and to lead him toward reforms that would prepare the ruler and his subjects for sustained battle against the Persians. Simultaneously, Plato mobilized the Syracusan leader into action against the Persian Empire's most formidable asset in the Greek world: the priesthood of Apollo. As reported by the first century B.C. historian Diodorus, Plato convinced Dionysius that if he were to liberate Greece, he must destroy the oracle of Apollo at Delphi by military force.
At Plato's urging, in 385 B.C. Dionysius began one of the most ambitious city-building and colonization projects ever conceived. His plan was to establish cities on the Adriatic Sea, to gain control of the passage between Italy and Greece. With this secured, the route to Epirus on the western coast of mainland Greece would come under Syracusan control. Next, Dionysius planned to use these cities as a military staging ground for a great invasion of Delphi, center of the Apollo cult on the mainland.
To secure the cooperation of the semibarbarous Illyrians to the north, the Syracusan court established ties with an exiled faction of Illyrians, and charged them with seizing control of this area and then joining with the Syracusans in their assault on Delphi. With the temple priests destroyed, the financial and political intelligence underpinning of the Persian's Theban-led alliance against Sparta on the Greek mainland would be destroyed. Once freed from battling for its very existence, Sparta and the Spartan leader Agesilaus, backed with a Syracusan fleet and all the gold captured from Delphi, could complete the task begun ten years before and finish off Persia--a task which the Delphi priesthood had undercut on every attempt.
Perhaps we will never learn how far this plan went, for the otherwise intact manuscript reporting these events break off suspiciously at this point. At least five other contemporary accounts of the history of this period existed until probably the second century A.D., but have been totally lost as well. What survives in their place is an evasive cover story designed to convey the stoic moral that "wisdom and great power are incompatible."
Clearly, the priesthood of Apollo at Delphi had learned of Plato's plan and sought to get him out of the way, using their own agents in Dionysius's court. Most probably their agent-in-place was Philistus, chief adviser to Dionysius. Philistus was also a historian of this period whose account, now almost completely lost, served for centuries as the standard anti-Platonic history of Syracuse.
Although Dionysius was no material for Plato's philosopher-king, Plato met a young man at Dionysius's court who had developed a seriousness of mind and aloofness from the evils of the tyranny despite every inducement to mindless dissipation and court intrigues. This was Dion, the brother-in-law of Dionysius, who found in Plato's philosophy the antidote to the disastrous condition of the Syracusan court. Dion, in his early twenties at the time of Plato's visit, had already established so much authority on the basis of his frankness and penetration of mind that he was the only member of the tyrant's household who could safely address him honestly. Unsuccessful in using his influence to protect Plato while at court, Dion secretly arranged to have Plato ransomed out of slavery, and returned to Athens.
Founding of the Academy
Soon after, Dion's intermediaries refused to accept his offer to refund the ransom, and instead bequeathed the funds to Plato with which to purchase a group of temple buildings and athletic fields in a suburb of Athens called the Grove of Academus. On this site, known to modern archaeologists and historians but, astoundingly, never suitably excavated, Plato established what is known to history as the Academy, named after the hero of the grove, the demigod Academus. Here Plato gathered his followers and collaborators from around the world. Eudoxus, Plato's comrade in arms from the days in Egypt, brought his own school from a city on the Black Sea and merged it with the Academy.
Lists of Plato's students have survived which show us that they came from all over the Greek world. These included several women, usually excluded from schools of philosophy. From among these, Plato and Eudoxus trained an elite group, equipping them to be educators of rulers.
We know something of how Plato prepared his leading students for the roles they would play, but we have little information on what the leaders of the Academy did over the next fifteen years. Members of the Academy were received as lawgivers and advisers by rulers throughout Greece, but clearly none of these appointments was the opportunity to change world history that Plato sought. Sparta was still pinned down by Thebes; Athens vacillated between Thebes and its historic rival Sparta. It is likely that the Academy played a role in neutralizing the friends of Thebes in Athens, and thus won the slanderous characterization that is still leveled at Plato of being "pro-Spartan" (not unlike being called "soft on communism" nowadays). However, the opportunity to attack Persia was still not to be found in Athens, or in the far-flung listening posts where the Academy had established ties. The crucial flank was still in Syracuse. For a change there, Plato would have to bide his time.
In 367 B.C., almost twenty years after he had auctioned Plato into slavery, Dionysius I suffered the consequences of the evil life of which Plato had warned him. Dionysius died, under circumstances which strongly suggest poisoning, while rival members of his family intrigued at court.
He was succeeded by his son, Dionysius II, a young man of good instincts, but erratic moral character. The son, so long in his father's giant shadow, was awed and somewhat frightened at the thought of inheriting his father's throne. Plato's friend at court, Dion, seized this chance to prepare the young tyrant for the role his father had proven unable to play.
Since he was the only experienced political leader in the court, Dion rapidly became the virtual regent for the young Dionysius II. Even the court cliques which hated Dion and had conspired against his influence for years were forced to accept his leadership. The peace Dionysius I had secured with Carthage prior to Plato's first visit was now threatened. The Syracusan courtiers, led by Philistus, would have been glad to see war spoils pile into the court treasury. They conceded, however, that no one among them had the stature to lead the city in combat, and the young monarch could inspire no confidence in the army or the city.
Plutarch's account of the first state council held after Dionysius's death describes Dion's alacrity to command:
At the first council which the young Dionysius held with his friends, Dion summed up the political situation and the immediate needs of the state with such authority that the rest of the company gave the impression of being mere children.... But what impressed the council most of all--since they were greatly disturbed by the danger which threatened the kingdom from Carthage--was Dion's undertaking that if Dionysius wanted peace, he would sail at once to Africa and put an end to the war on the best terms he could obtain; but that if he was set on war, Dion would supply fifty fast triremes and maintain them at his own expense.
Plato's arrival was celebrated as a great holiday, with public ceremonies and feasting in anticipation of the good fortune the return of the outstanding mind of the age promised to Syracuse. Dionysius II made numerous gestures to indicate his eagerness to put himself under Plato's tutelage. At one court reception, the priests intoned a traditional prayer for the long life of the tyranny of the House of Dionysius. The young tyrant, remembering that it was Plato's arguments against tyranny that caused his father to expel Plato and sell him into slavery, interrupted the priests and denounced their prayer as a curse. He then announced that he wished to embark immediately on a program of social reforms along the lines indicated by Plato, which would include the abolition of the tyranny.
Dion and Plato were encouraged by the young tyrant's ambition, but regarded him as completely unsuited to real leadership. Although he was attracted to philosophy, he had never steeled his mind in rigorous study, nor had he developed the steadfastness of character to practice the new type of kingship Plato envisioned. He was unprepared to maneuver through the wiles of the court, and still in the grip of the Syracusan good life of feasting, luxury, and dalliance.
Nevertheless, Plato undertook to turn the young ruler into a fit leader. Plato judged Dionysius an excellent mind, and one that could be nurtured through study to become the sought-for philosopher-king. Dion and Plato immersed Dionysius in a demanding course of study of geometry and epistemology, making it clear that until he had mastered these, he would be incapable of carrying the political forms through to completion. Dionysius's initial response was enthusiastic, not only for himself, but for the entire court. According to Plutarch, the palace floors were covered with sand and used to sketch geometric constructions, much as we use blackboards today.
The courtier faction led by Philistus regarded these developments as ominous. The system of tax collection rights, large stipends from the state treasury, and outright gifts from the throne on which the court retainers depended threatened to come to an end. The harem of sophists assembled by Dionysius I also closed ranks against Plato. Most prominent among these was a renegade pupil of Socrates himself, Aristippus, who had sold his intellectual patrimony for a comfortable position as a court fop. His character is revealed by his remark, upon hearing that Plato had refused a great amount of gold from Dionysius I: "such is the wisdom of tyrants, who offer much to those who will not accept, and little or nothing to those who will."
These groups undermined Plato's influence with his royal pupil by playing on the young monarch's appetite for dissipation and love affairs (some not without a hint of blackmail) and on his eagerness for praise for his entirely negligible intellectual accomplishments. Philistus and his faction began to circulate rumors that Dion, assisted by Plato and Eudoxus, sought to overthrow Dionysius and seize power for themselves. Their educational program was described in court circles as a trick to soften the young tyrant with speculative fantasies while the philosophical conspirators took the reins of state into their control.
Dionysius fell increasingly victim to Aristippus and the other flatterers. Had he not shown, they told him, the greatest promise at the earliest lessons Plato taught? Were not the difficulties he later encountered in his studies the result of sophistical riddles propounded by Plato to undermine his ability and confidence in his intelligence? And had he not already committed himself to the reforms Plato and Dion claimed to favor, but now advised him against carrying out until his education was further developed?
Plato recounts the tension this battle for the young tyrant's mind aroused at court in a sharply worded letter to Dionysius II written many years later:
I declare that about twenty days before my departure from Syracuse for home, when Archedemus and Aristocritus were with us in the garden, you brought against me the same reproach that you now make, that I cared more for Heraclides and the rest than I did for you. In their presence you asked me whether I remembered advising you, when I first arrived, to resettle the Greek cities. I admitted that I remembered it, and said I still thought it was the best policy. And I must remind you, Dionysius, of what was said immediately afterwards. I asked, as you remember, whether this was all my advise, or whether there was something more; and you replied, with considerable anger and derision, as you thought (whence it has come about that what you then derided is no longer a dream but reality), and said, with a very forced laugh, "I remember well; you told me to get an education, or leave all projects alone." I replied that your memory was excellent. "And this education," you said, "was to be in geometry, was it not?" I refrained from giving the reply that occurred to me, fearing lest a little word might narrow my prospects of sailing home, to which I was then looking with confidence. (319a-c).
Philistus finally succeeded in turning Dionysius II against Dion by manufacturing a scandal over Dion's efforts to secure a permanent peace with Carthage, the military adversary of Syracuse for decades. Dion was immediately exiled from the City, forbidden to take with him even his wife and child. With Dion went the war-avoidance strategy he had carefully constructed to win the rich Carthaginian naval power for the anti-Persian faction.
Dion made his way to Athens, where he was enrolled in the Academy and was taken into the house of a certain Callipus. Within a year, the war between Carthage and Syracuse Dion had sought to avert had broken out, dashing all hopes for the social reforms Plato and Eudoxus had planned for the city. One favorable consequence did result, however. Since Dion's expulsion, Plato had been held under house arrest because Dionysius feared that the philosopher's report on the Syracusan situation would reflect ill on him in the rest of Greece. With the outbreak of war, Plato was released and allowed to return to Athens.
Plato undertook the composition of a dialogue containing, in the most vivid and comprehensive way, his reflections and conclusions concerning his two battles to establish in Syracuse the new base of operations for the anti-Persian struggle. This dialogue is the well-known, but little understood, Republic.
In the Republic, Plato directly addresses the question of the political leadership needed not only to rid the world of Persia, but to rule it well. Through the dialogue, the curriculum for the development of this new type of leadership was made available for the first time to the larger circle of students and collaborators gathered around the Academy. With an eye to the past, the Republic is the summation of Plato's two decades of political organizing, his reflection on his experience in attempting to recruit the Dionysii as philosophers and leaders of the anti-Persian faction. Looking forward, it lays the basis for the political battles to come, by throwing open the "Royal Road to Knowledge"--the lessons the moral cowardice of the Dionysii prevented them from learning to the political cadre Plato was now training to continue those battles.
The question of political leadership, Plato says, is fundamentally a question of education. In the Republic, Plato puts forward his program for the education of the philosopher-king, the new type of leader the Academy would offer the Greek world for the rest of Plato's life. Training in music and gymnastics, followed by a rigorous instruction in geometry, would create men capable of examining the lawfulness of mind itself, capable of becoming conscious masters of their own powers of creativity. Such persons, in turn, would make it their business to educate their societies, to endow the citizens under their direction with enhanced capabilities to lead just and productive lives.
It is here that Plato presents the well-known characterization of the development of citizens as bronze, silver, and golden souls. These represent, respectively, the individual concerned only with personal sensual gratification, the rational individual who strives to conduct his affairs according to existing laws, and the individual who functions on the basis of creative reason to expand man's mastery over the universe.
Plato's educational program is both discussed and shown in action by Socrates, who is seeking to organize a very difficult audience of radical democrats to "recreate" themselves after the pattern and example he offers. In this sense the Republic is a consummate political organizing drama. However, it is not to be taken as a political manifesto. The city created in the Republic is not offered as an ideal, but as a means of developing the conception of the philosopher-king, the master of what we know today as "Platonic method." Those today who seek to libel Plato as a "totalitarian" by seizing upon one or another specific feature of the city "created in words" in the dialogue, as if it were Plato's political program, willfully ignore Plato's repeated, explicit declaimers of any such intention.
At the time of its composition, the Republic was probably the supreme literary achievement of mankind. However, the political conjuncture following the collapse of the Syracusan campaigns demanded a new political program, one consistent with reason, but aimed at rulers not equipped to become philosopher-kings, more ordinary "silver-souled" men and women. These, like most of our political leaders today, were persons who could "listen to reason" but who were incapable of originating it, whose conscious mastery of creativity, reason's hallmark, was blocked.
In a series of dialogues undertaken after the Republic, the Theaetetus, Sophist, and Statesman, Plato boldly reexamined his entire epistemological and political theory, using, as he put it, "entirely new weapons, although some may be the same as before."
One result of this work was the establishment of the model for our U.S. Constitution, a theory of "mixed government" which Plato called "the second-best state." The second-best state combined monarchy in the form of a chief executive, aristocracy in the form of a council of advisers, and even democracy in the form of a popular assembly.
It was not to be expected that such a government would be ruled by philosopher-kings who were the masters of creative reason, but instead by men and women who could recognize and cherish the fruits of reason. Such a government would have to be guided by written and unalterable laws. It would have to be, in the words of Plato that were quoted again and again by our founding fathers, "a government of laws and not of men."
With this program of the second-best state, Plato and his collaborators fanned out across the Mediteranean to establish new fronts in the battle against Persian despotism.
The Armies of The Academy
For fifteen years following his second return from the court of the Dionysii, Plato led his military and political forces in a dramatic strategic battle that spanned the Mediterranean from Syracuse to Egypt and Asia Minor. Persian control of the Greek mainland was slipping, and trouble was brewing in the empire's western satrapies. With every foreign policy failure, Persian King Artaxerxes fell into greater disgrace with his sponsors in the ancient Mesopotamian oligarchy, who were poised to overthrow him if his blunders should jeopardize their looting rights across the Mediterranean world. The Academy took advantage of every tactical opening.
In 370 B.C., the Persian-controlled alliance among Thebes, Athens, and Argos broke down. This alliance, which had been directed against the city-state of Sparta, had served as the enforcer of Persian policy on the Greek mainland for more than two decades. Its dissolution opened the way for a new Athenian-Spartan alliance, which the Academy encouraged.
Anxious to avoid this, King Artaxerxes summoned the leaders of the pro-Persian factions of all the major contenders to Susa for negotiations. Artaxerxes sought to establish a new King's Peace, modeled on the 387 B.C. Peace of Antalcides which had made Greece a virtual satrapy of the empire. But it soon became clear that Thebes, the crucial component of Persian military presence on the Greek mainland, would not grant the demands of Athens and Argos. The negotiations broke down, and the King, with little other choice, backed Thebes.
The failure of the negotiations devastated the reputations of the pro-Persian leaders of all the Greek cities, who came home empty-handed. Antalcides, the Spartan representative, retired in disgrace. His Athenian counterpart committed suicide. The Persian factions were pushed into the background of Greek political life, and the reemergence of the enemies of Persia soon allowed Athens and Sparta, warring enemies for more than fifty years, to form a new alliance and declare a common front against Thebes. The political intervention of the Academy and its friends in Sparta was crucial to the formation of the new pact, and when Athenian soldiers gathered in 369 B.C. to join Spartan troops for a new military offensive against Persia, they camped on the playing fields of Plato's Academy.
While faced with the collapse of its divide-and-conquer policy against the Greek city-states, Persia ran into trouble on a second front. One after another, the empire's territories sparked into rebellion against Artaxerxes, creating a series of conflicts lasting from 366 to 360 B.C. and known as the Satraps' Revolt.
The revolt of the satraps may have been the last straw for the Mesopotamian priests who controlled Artaxerxes' throne and expected him to keep order in his territories. It is possible that at this point the priests of the Temple of Marduk conceived a new program to protect their centuries-old looting operations in the Mediterranean. Artaxerxes might be allowed continued rule over the Middle East he had already plundered and destroyed. But Persia's satrapies in Asia Minor, Egypt, and the rest of the Greek world would be broken free of the empire and placed under the control of a nominally independent Greek figurehead, whose allegiance to the Marduk priesthood would be guaranteed by the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.
It was precisely this scheme, in effect a plan to set up a "western division" of the Persian Empire, which was attempted thirty years later through Philip of Macedon,' who disguised it as a campaign to liberate Greece from Persia. This plan was foiled by the assassination of Philip, perhaps at the hands of the priests of the Temple of Ammon, who placed his son Alexander on the Macedonian throne. Alexander, soon recognized as a true enemy of the Marduk oligarchy, undertook a campaign across the known world to destroy it.
The Mesopotamian priests may well have conceived the "western division" scheme as a means to use the Satraps' Revolt to reassert their control over the Mediterranean. There is no doubt that Plato and his allies also intervened in the revolt, As the Satraps' Revolt gained momentum, the forces of the Academy sought to turn it to their strategic advantage by organizing the rebels and the Greeks into united action against the oligarchy.
Agesilaus, who had been tied down at home for thirty years by Persian-instigated wars against Sparta, was freed by the new alliance between Athens and Sparta to focus his energies on his life-long ambition: the destruction of Persia. He first met with Ariobarzanes, satrap of Phrygia, and negotiated an alliance with Sparta against the empire. At the same time, Eudoxus, Plato's second-in-command, brought Mausollaus, the satrap of nearby Caria, into the rebellion. This formidable configuration was soon joined by Datames, satrap of Cappodochia, who had earlier been assigned by Artaxerxes to put down the satrapal rebellion in Egypt supported by the Ammon priesthood.
In 362 B.C., Orontes, the son-in-law of the Great King Artaxerxes, joined the revolt and was accorded pride-of-place as the ranking Persian among the rebels. The other satraps transferred much of their treasury to him, and reorganized their armies for an all-out assault on Persia.
Events on the Greek mainland also turned against Persia. In 362 B.C., Epaminondas, the leader of the Theban Sacred Band, was killed at the battle of Mantinea, where Thebes was pitted against a Spartanas Athenian-Argive alliance. Although the Spartans and their allies lost the battle, the loss of its leading general marked the beginning of the end for Thebes and its Sacred Band kamikazes.
In 361 B.C., the Greek armies prepared to intervene in the Satraps' Revolt from yet another flank: Egypt, where Pharaoh Nectanabo I had recently declared his nation's independence from Persia. In the Egyptian theater of operations, we see at work every element of the alliance masterminded by the Academy. From Sparta came King Agesilaus, anxious to win the victory over Persian bribery and subversion had cost him thirty-three years before. Serving as his agent was Eudoxus, who probably aided in coordinating Sparta's deployment with the Athenian forces. These were led by Chabrias, a pupil of the Academy, the most outstanding fourth century B.C. Athenian general, and an architect of the revolt.
The priesthood of Ammon certainly had a hand in both Nectanabo's revolt from Persia and in his strengthening of the Egyptian-Greek alliance. Ammon's sister temple, the oracle of Zeus at Dodonna, had openly sided with Sparta against Delphi-backed Thebes since 368 B.C.
The Academy's plan was to gather Spartan, Athenian, and Egyptian forces in Egypt, travel to Asia Minor to join with the satrapal Persian forces under Datames (forces ironically levied on Artaxerxes' orders to crush the Egyptian revolt) and spearhead the wall of armies to move against Persia from across Asia Minor.
Final Journey To Syracuse
While the armies of the Academy gathered in Egypt for what they hoped would be the final assault on the Persian oligarchy, Plato undertook his last mission to Syracuse. He was sixty-seven years old, and extremely reluctant to make the voyage. It meant surrendering day-to-day leadership of the Academy-allied forces in the Satraps' Revolt, and Plato had little expectation of success. But he was compelled to go. Despite his personal disgust with Dionysius II,
trusted intelligence sources in Syracuse told him there was a chance to win the tyrant to the anti-oligarchists cause in this, its most crucial hour.
Since Plato's last visit, Dionysius's policy toward the anti-Persian faction in Greece had been checkered at best. Within one year after Plato's departure, the Syracusan monarch made an enormous contribution to the Apollo cult at Delphi--whether to mollify the priests for his previous collaboration with their arch-enemy Plato, as payment for operations against his exiled rival Dion, or for some other reason, we do not know. However, at the same time Dionysius provided military aid to Sparta for defense against Thebes, even though he was tied down for several years by the renewed Carthaginian War.
Now Dionysius sent word to Plato that he had abandoned the wayward exploits of his youth, and wished to devote himself to the policy that the great philosopher had recommended to him twenty years earlier. Despite Plato's misgivings, the agents of his collaborator Archytas in Syracuse urged that he return, assuring him that change might still be effected at the court.
The vicissitudes of the Satraps' Revolt demanded that Plato take this chance, however remote. If Dionysius would step forward on behalf of the Greek offensive, the Mesopotamian priesthood's "western division" plan, could be crushed.
Plato was also gravely concerned for the position of his friend Dion, who had lived in exile from Syracuse for five years. Dionysius had offered to negotiate Dion's affairs in Syracuse if and only if Plato personally rejoined his court. Coupled with this offer was a threat that if Plato refused, Dionysius would sell Dion's estate and marry his wife to a courtier.
Hoping to aid both the Satraps' Revolt and Dion, Plato arrived in Syracuse. But he immediately found that his worse fears had been justified. Once in the city, he was virtually taken captive. As he described it, he was "a caged bird" held in the Syracusan acropolis under military guard and let out only for daily "philosophical discussions" with Dionysius. Plato feared even to ask for his release, but when he learned that members of his "bodyguard" were talking of assassinating him, he managed to send for help from his old friend, Archytas.
As swiftly as possible, Archytas dispatched state warships to Syracuse, bearing messengers conveying the League of Tarentum's official demand for Plato's release. This secured Plato's freedom, and he returned to Athens. An incensed Dionysius immediately sold Dion's property and remarried his wife.
A year after Plato's return to Athens, the Satraps' Revolt collapsed. The crescent of armies the Academy had assembled in Asia Minor for a final assault on the Persians was disbanded. Why? Persian political sabotage against military force otherwise guaranteed of success clearly played a role in the collapse. And indeed, the final blow to the operation was the defection of the satrap Orontes to the side of Artaxerxes, bringing with him half of the satrapal war-chest.
The Asia Minor offensive had suffered a crippling setback in 361 B.C. when the Spartan king Agesilaus dropped preparations to move his army from Egypt to join the rebel forces. Instead, Agesilaus stayed behind in Egypt and militarily supported a rebellion by the Egyptian nobleman Nekht-har-hebi against the successor to Nectanabo I, who had died several months earlier. Not only did Agesilaus's intervention into the succession cost the Satraps' Revolt the support of the Spartan Army, but it pulled the troops of Nectanabo's successor from the side of the other armies in Asia Minor, as the Egyptian pharaoh rushed home to defend his throne. As a consequence of the departure of the Egyptian army, Datames withdrew his forces and the revolt collapsed.
How much had Plato's third failure to enlist the aid of the House of Dionysius dampened the Academy's expectations for success against the Persians?
Why did Plato suddenly shift the theater of his strategic operations away from Asia Minor to Egypt, dealing the final blow to the anti-Persian military offensive by tying up the Egyptian army and Agesilaus in a civil war? Perhaps the Academy perceived a "western division of the Persian empire" option behind the Satrap's Revolt, and moved to collapse it. Or was the installation of Agesilaus's candidate Nekht-har-hebi on the Egyptian throne a rearguard victory for the Academy, which perhaps doubted the outcome of the Asia Minor campaign and resolved to preserve Egypt as an anti-Persian bastion?
We cannot now answer these questions with certainty. We do know that the fight to enthrone Nekht-har-hebi, who took the name Nectanabo II, was the Spartan king's last hurrah. Now over seventy years old, Agesilaus died within the year in Egypt, never again to see his native Sparta, or carry out his pledge to destroy Persia.
We do know, however, that Agesilaus's pharaoh, Nectanabo II, was to be remembered by the priests of Zeus-Ammon at Siwa as their defender during the bitter days of Persian reconquest. One day the Ammon priests would guide, nurture, and then bring into their country a man who would fulfill the ambitions of Agesilaus in freeing Egypt from Persian domination: Alexander the Great. Asked to explain to the Egyptian people who this great liberator was, Alexander's soldiers gave the simple answer: "he is the son of Nectanabo."
War Against Delphi
Had Plato even a trace of the defeatism and scholasticism attributed to him, his story would end here. As a young man in Egypt, he had seen Agesilaus's great 396 B.C. invasion of Persia destroyed and his native Greece plunged into incessant war. In Syracuse, he had guided Dionysius I in a city-building campaign whose goal was the extinction of the Persian-controlled Delphic oracle of Apollo, but the Syracusan tyrant had proven smaller than Plato's design, and sold him into slavery. Later, renewed hope for Syracuse foundered on the personal weakness of the tyrant's son Dionysius II. Finally, in the most formidable military campaign of Plato's life, the Academy organized a wall of armies in Asia Minor to destroy the old enemy Artaxerxes, but its years of work guiding the Satraps' Revolt against Persia failed.
The story does not end here, however. Plato once again reformulated his global strategic design. After three attempts that had cost him his liberty and nearly his life, Plato set the Academy's sights once again on the conquest of Syracuse. Repeated efforts to win that dynasty for the anti-oligarchist cause had failed. Now, it would have to be destroyed.
Beginning in 357 B.C., the Academy directed all its resources into a two-pronged military campaign. The targets were Syracuse, to be seized by Plato's ally Dion and established as a command center for operations against Persia, and the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, to be destroyed by the forces of the native population of Phocus, with aid from Sparta.
Dion had been prepared at Plato's side for a leading role in such an offensive. Since his exile from Syracuse, Dion had lived in Athens as a member of the Academy. He had become one of Plato's leading associates, and established a memorable friendship with Plato's nephew Speucippus, who was to lead the Academy following his uncle's death. Speucippus had been charged with a special assignment on Dion's behalf--that of developing in him the crucial leadership qualities of laughter and warmth. Speucippus, known as the best wit in the Academy and a constant source of excellent jokes and laughter, gave Dion a course in the science of humor at the Academy's own drinking parties and in the Athenian social life.
In 357 B.C., Dion launched his campaign to seize power in Syracuse. Intelligence reports from Speucippus, who had slipped into Syracuse during Plato's last visit of 361 to 360 B.C., indicated that the city's population was ripe for rebellion. Speucippus had established ties with Dionysius II's opposition, who were to represent Dion's base of support once his military operations were underway. In the meanwhile, Dion contacted other Syracusan exiles and encouraged them to join him. Few, however, were willing to risk their lives in a military offensive against the powerful Dionysius. As Plutarch notes in his life of Dion:
Their total strength was less than 800, but these were all men of some note who had gained a reputation from their service in many great campaigns. They were in superb physical condition, for experience and daring they had no equals in the world, and they were fully capable of rousing and inspiring to action the thousands whom Dion expected to rally to him in Sicily. When these men learned that the expedition was directed against Dionysius and Sicily, they were at first dismayed and condemned the whole enterprise.... But then Dion addressed them, explaining in detail the weakness and rottenness of Dionysius' regime, and announced that he was taking them not merely as fighting troops but as leaders of the Syracusans and the rest of the Sicilians who had long been ripe for rebellion.
Dion won the confidence and steadied the resolve of his exile allies and the mercenaries under his command with this appeal to their leadership abilities.
Plato was too old to participate, having turned seventy the year Dion opened his drive for Syracuse. For the first time, the operations would be coordinated from the Academy by Speucippus.
The success of the mission rode on Dion's leadership abilities and the intelligence assays of Speucippus, who believed that the mass of Sicilians would rally to the Academy's program. The mere eight hundred soldiers, crowded into five ships, would have made a very sorry showing even as pirates against the estimated eighty warships and innumerable footsoldiers of Dionysius. Dion's design for the capture of Syracuse, however, was also supported by Carthage, and the southern Italian city-states in the League of Tarentum.
Dion eluded the Syracusan navy and led his ships past Sicily to dock in Carthage, on the northern coast of Africa. He had sustained ties with these ancient Phoenician colonists ever since his days as virtual regent in Dionysius's court. This people later earned their fame as the only serious challengers to the Roman Empire, the oligarchist successors to Persia, during the First and Second Punic Wars.
When he completed negotiations with the Carthaginians, Dion sailed for Minoa, the port of Acragas, a town in western Sicily controlled by Carthage. Synalus, the head of the Carthaginian legions in Minoa, was an old friend of Dion's. From this haven, Dion recruited an army of several thousand Sicilians, eager to be rid of the hated regime of Dionysius.
Dion and his troops set out for Syracuse after receiving word from his intelligence networks that Dionysius was on campaign in southern Italy with most of his warships. Gathering strength as he marched across the island, Dion reached Syracuse without a single encounter. At the gates of the city, a grateful citizenry welcomed him as their liberator, and fell upon Dionysius's guards and informants.
Dionysius, who had returned to the city in the meantime, retreated to the Syracusan acropolis. A false offer to negotiate with Dion failed to improve his position, and it seemed only a matter of time before Dion would become master of Syracuse. Dionysius was barricaded into the citadel of the city, and could not hold out long. The Academy then launched phase two of its operation: the attack on Delphi.
This struggle, known as the Sacred War, was the fulfillment of a plan conceived thirty years before by Plato for the destruction of Delphi at the hands of the elder Dionysius. In 356 B.C., the inhabitants of Delphi revolted against the Persia-controlled cult in their midst. Led by a resourceful citizen named Philomelus, they seized the Temple of Apollo and its immense deposits of gold. This gold was used to fund the struggle against the cult of Apollo for nearly a decade. Supporting the rebellion in Delphi was the new king of Sparta, the successor to Agesilaus.
Back in Syracuse, the tyrant Dionysius despaired of military victory. Borrowing a page from Persia's book, he undertook a series of subversion operations against Dion, slandering his challenger in an open letter as an aspiring new tyrant. Despite this appeal to the public superstition, Dionysius's position continued to weaken. Fearing that Dion would soon triumph, Plato's oligarchical enemies brought forward a certain Heraclides, a long-standing hostile infiltrator into the Academy, to undermine the drive against the House of Dionysius.
Heraclides arrived in Syracuse in 356 B.C. with a small flotilla of warships. On the strength of his navy, he requested and was granted by the Syracusan assembly the rank of admiral, a direct challenge to Dion's authority. Dion reminded the Syracusans that he had already been named commander in chief, and wrested Heraclides' formal title from him. Heraclides, however, maintained his following by taking over the forced ship-building effort mounted by the Syracusans to challenge Dionysius's powerful fleet.
Running parallel to Heraclides' wrecking operation was the sudden growth of a Syracusan democratic movement under the leadership of orator Hippo. Like the democratic parties of mainland Greece, Hippo's movement was made up of desperate peasants, set out into the streets against Dion under the banner of land redistribution. Dion rejected land distribution as the likely source of economic and social catastrophe in the future, and upheld Plato's long-standing plan for the reconstruction of the Sicilian cities that had been destroyed in the century-long war with Carthage. This would give the poverty-striken peasants the opportunity to ring the island with new Syracuses, rather than dismantling the old.
In 355 B.C., Heraclides used his command of the naval contingent to effect Dionysius's escape to southern Italy, from which he would have a free hand to organize an attempt to retake Syracuse. The city's population was enraged. Heraclides and Hippo's democrats turned their wrath against Dion, and expelled him from Syracuse. Dion retreated with his supporters to Locri, a southern Italian city allied with Tarentum.
But when Dionysius used the opportunity of Dion's expulsion to retake the city, the population demanded Dion's return as their liberator. After a furious battle, Dionysius was once again expelled and Dion declared ruler of Syracuse.
Less than one year later, however, the oligarchs secured by murder what warships and subversive movements could not win them. In 354 B.C., Dion was assassinated by Callipus, a former infiltrator of the Academy who had hosted Dion during his stay in Athens. Callipus himself seized the government, but survived only one year of civil war culminating in the restoration of Dionysius. All we know of Callipus comes from Plato's Seventh Letter, in which he points to the Eleusian cult, a mystical spin off of the Apollo cult at Delphi, as the force behind the murderer's hand.
Plato was deeply grieved, both at the loss of his friend, and the loss of the strategic opportunity represented by Syracuse. In response to the news of Dion's murder, he is said to have written a lament, contained in the Greek Anthology, which is thus translated by Shelly:
Thou wert the morning star among the living.
Ere thy fair light had fled--
Now, having died, thou art as Hesperus, giving
New splendor to the dead.
The Legacy of Dion
The legacy of the Dion campaign remains with us today in the form of Plato's dialogue, theTimaeus. Written almost certainly during the preparatory period for and during the struggle with Dionysius, it was designed as a training manual for Dion's use in organizing the cadre who would win Syracuse for the Academy. It is in this dialogue that Plato's final, and highest-order formulation of his epistemological method is contained; the hypothesis of the higher hypothesis.
In its initial conception, the Timaeus was to be the first of three dialogues, to be followed by the Critias, of which Plato completed only a part, and the Hermocrates, which was never written.
The plan, as set forth in the beginning of the Timaeus, is as follows: After a summary of a previous conversation concerning the just state, Socrates, Timaeus, Hermocrates, and Critias resolve to see this state actually "exercise its joints" and take on the organic life of a real community. This requires that the very "laws of motion" characterizing the universe first be brought to light, so that the corresponding lawfulness of human society may be disclosed.
This task, the natural science component of the inquiry, is given to Timaeus, a citizen of the southern Italian city of Locri, and a Pythagorean in whom we see the figure of Archytas. This done, it was to be the task of Critias, Plato's actual great-grandfather, to receive these laws of motion and display their pertinence in a great story of Athen's prehistoric defense of civilization against the Atlantean empire.
Modern archaeological findings demonstrate that the account of the destruction of an Atlantic-basin-wide advanced civilization sketched in the
Timaeus reflects a real history lost to us in the days before the volcanic explosion of the island of Thera (c. 1275 B.C.) which inundated the Mediterranean. However, the historical reference in the Timaeus more immediate to Plato's time consists of complex, two- fold allusion to Syracuse and to the Persian Empire. Syracuse, the myth conveys, could either use its glorious civilization and wealth, so like that of the Atlanteans; to destroy the Persian menace, or it could degenerate into a poor man's mockery of Persia through its imperial ambitions and wars of conquest against Carthage. The result, as in the case presented of Atlantis's aggression against Greece, would be a dark ages of impenetrable blackness and unspeakable disaster for mankind. Syracuse had two choices. Regrettably, it took the wrong one, and Plato's predictions of collapse were more than borne out in the dark days of the Roman Empire.
We do not have the conclusion to the trilogy, the contribution of Hermocrates. What could this be, other than a statement of the precise political program by which the just city could be brought into existence? Hermocrates, a relative of Dionysius I, was the Syracusan admiral who defeated the radical democrat Alkibiades' insane Syracusan expedition of 415 B.C., during the Peloponnesian War. Thucydides records Hermocrates's warnings against the evils of the Athenian Empire the model of imperial conquest depicted by Critias in his examination of the Atlantis history. In 406 B.C., Hermocrates attempted to overthrow the Syracusan tyranny, but failed and was killed. Plato's contemporary readers would naturally see Dion as the fulfillment of Hermocrates' earlier attempt.
The "fourth guest," whose mysterious absence is reported at the onset of the Timaeus--the person who cannot learn the lessons of Socrates' conversation-- represents Dionysius II, whose failure to learn from the Academy's program was the ground for his overthrow.
Plato never completed the Critias and never wrote the Hermocrates. The reason is most likely the obvious one. Learning of Dion's death and the collapse of the Syracusan assault, he turned his mind to other theaters of operation. Plato did not write for future generations wistfully yearned after, even though we are in every way the beneficiaries of his work, but for the all-consuming, immediate task of toppling the oligarchy in his own time. Therefore, however sadly, he laid his pen down on the Critias, and recast the notes for Hermocrates in the form of the Laws.
In the Laws, the political program planned for in Hermocrates is broadly presented. Laws is the fullest elaboration of Plato's "second-best state," the program called for in the Statesman dialogue.
A few years later, in 347 B.C., Plato, now eighty years of age, was to die. In the interim, the Academy's stand against Delphi, the Sacred War, was also to be defeated by a Persian-backed Theban alliance.
The story of Plato's life and struggle would not be completed without a brief reference to the future career of a boy, eight years old when Plato died, who was to accomplish the program of the Academy and carry out the destruction of Persia: Alexander the Great.
We know that in the decade after Plato's death, the Academy's agents, in league with the Priests of the Oracle of Zeus-Ammon, recruited the young Alexander to carry out the work of Agesilaus. Alexander, history records, was won to this program through the embassy of Delius of Ephesus, a student of the Academy. Throughout his career, he was to rely on Plato's students for his guidance in the extraordinary feat, not only of conquering, but rebuilding Persia as a humanist empire founded on Greek culture.
In this program, Alexander followed almost to the letter the outline of another student of Socrates, Xenophon. The organization of Alexander's city-building program follows the course of Xenophon's great, sadly overlooked, Cyropaedia (The Education of Cyrus). Xenophon's work, often described either as history or a fantasy, was neither: it was a political program for the establishment of a Greek-cultured monarch on the Persian throne. It is the program for which Xenophon fought alongside Cyrus the younger (not the hero of the Cyropaedia) and alongside Agesilaus. We can be sure that together with that other great account of an expedition into Asia, the Iliad of Homer, and the dialogues of Plato, it was never far from Alexander's side.
Alexander did not have complete success in finishing off the oligarchy, which arranged for his tragic murder and the destruction of his empire. But through the cities which he built and through his education of the peoples of Asia Minor and Egypt in the classical Greek culture of Homer, Aeschylus, and Plato--now become a worldwide, human culture he preserved for later generations the basis upon which to continue the struggle for civilization.
We have been through the wars Plato and his colleagues waged. We have seen under what circumstances his great dialogues were written, and to what end. It now falls to us to use these great tools of reason to continue Plato's struggle and destroy the oligarchy to whose extinction he dedicated his life.
About the Author:
Charles Tate, a former long-term LaRouche associate, told The Washington Post in 1987 that members see themselves as not subject to the ordinary laws of society: "They feel that the continued existence of the human race is totally dependent on what they do in the organization, that nobody would be here without LaRouche. They feel justified in a peculiar way doing anything whatsoever." In 1984, Mr. Tate severed all ties with the LaRouche organization in disgust over its political extremism, cultism and illegal activities.
In 1988 Mr. Tate was a witness in the Eastern District of Virginia trial of Lyndon LaRouche which resulted in Mr. LaRouche's conviction on one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud (re over $30 million in defaulted loans), 11 counts of actual mail fraud (re $294,000 in defaulted loans) and one count of conspiracy to defraud the Internal Revenue Service; he was sentenced to a prison term of five to 15 years, while six of his associates received shorter sentences for mail fraud and conspiracy. It should be noted that Mr. Tate's testimony, which played a key role in the prosecution's victory, was entirely voluntary and not the result of any plea bargain or other form of government coercion.
For further information about Lyndon Larouche from a particular point of view, see