Plato (c. 427-347 B.C.E.)
Plato was born in Greece and lived his life in the century before Alexander the Great’s conquests, during a period of political turmoil and city-state warfare. Raised in Athens, the child of an aristocratic family, Plato was active as a poet, philosopher and educator. He was a student of Socrates (c. 469-439 B.C.E.) and central to his teaching was the critique of social values and life. Mathematics were also a fundamental part of science and philosophy in his teachings.
Plato is most famous for his dialogues, in which he expresses himself through his mentor, Socrates. It is difficult to discern whose voice he is using in the dialogues at times; it is hard to tell whether Plato is speaking through Socrates or actually presenting what his teacher would have said. It is also difficult to tell whether or not he is being purposefully ironic at times and this has made deciphering his works hard. Despite these complications, Plato remains an inherent influence on literary theory.
In Plato’s Republic, one of his more famous dialogues, Plato questions the value of the arts and poetry as essential to society. He argues that they merely mimic what is true, and so cannot be truths themselves. In another of his famous works, Ion, Plato seems to contradict his view in the Republic and instead suggests that artists are inspired by divinity and so can represent what is true.
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