Plato

The Dramatic Date of Plato's Dialogues

Plato's dialogues were written during the fourth century BC, and set during the lifetime of Socrates, who had died in 399BC. Socrates' suicide after his condemnation to death by the Athenian polis led many of his followers to write about him. Along with works of Xenophon such as the Memorabilia and the Apology, the dialogues of Plato are the only extant examples of this genre.

The dialogues are literary masterpieces which have shaped philosophical debate for centuries, and historical accuracy is unlikely to have been a primary consideration, although some level of versimilitude may have contributed to their effect on Plato's contemporaries. Still less is any dramatic date an indication of the date of writing. Plato's Apology, focusing on the end of Socrates life, likely to have been among his earliest writings, with others focusing on the same period, like the Phaedo, written much later.

What follows is an attempt to order the dialogues in terms of their dramatic date, following the chronology in Debra Nails' Socrates article at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and supplementing with internal evidence from the small number of dialogues which Nails does not explicitly mention. Most of the dates below are taken from Nails, to which students of the peer-reviewed literature should refer in the first instance.

 The Parmenides c.450 BC - This is marked as an early dialogue by the presence of Parmenides himself, a presocratic philospher of the late Sixth and early Fifth centuries BC. At the opening of the dialogue, the character Cephalus narrates:

 

[127b] that Zeno and Parmenides once came to the Great Panathenaea; that Parmenides was already quite elderly, about sixty-five years old, very white-haired, and of handsome and noble countenance; Zeno was at that time about forty years of age; he was tall and good-looking, and there was a story that Parmenides had been in love with him.
[127c] He said that they lodged with Pythodorus outside of the wall, in Cerameicus, and that Socrates and many others with him went there because they wanted to hear Zeno's writings, which had been brought to Athens for the first time by them. Socrates was then very young. So Zeno himself read aloud to them, and Parmenides was not in the house.

Nails' date of 450 BC puts the the dialogue midway between Parmenides' birth in the late Sixth Century and Socrates' death in 399 BC.

The Protagoras c.433-432 BC. As with the Parmenides, the presence of the sophist Protagoras, thought to have died in around 420BC helps to date the dialogue, in which he is said to be a generation older [317c] than Socrates and the other speakers. The description of Alcibiades [309a] as a youth in the first flush of manhood suggests a date in the 430s. 

The Republic c.431-404 BC. In an article in the Classical Journal, Nails argues that the internal evidence for the dramatic date of the Republic is inconsistent, and may reflect several revisions. Among the key points of internal evidence that have to be accounted for are the fact that the dialogue took place during a peaceful summer [Rep I 350d], the recent inauguration of a festival in honour of the goddess Bendis [327A, 354A], and a recent battle in the vicinity of Megara [368A]. The two dates most often proposed are circa 421BC, during the interruption of the Peloponnesian War by the Peace of Nicias, and circa 411 BC, during the turbulent aristocratic regimes of the Four Hundred and the Five Thousand.

The Timaeus takes place the day after a discussion of the ideal city [17a, 17c].  This has often been taken to be a reference to the Republic.

The Critias is a direct continuation of the conversation in the Timaeus [106a]. If the Timaeus is judged to be linked to the Republic, then all three dialogues would be set within a few days.

The Gorgias c.431-404 BC. Like The Republic, The Gorgias takes place at some point during the Peloponessian War, but contains contradictory evidence as to the relevant period of the conflict. A reference [473e] to Socrates serving as a member of the council during the presidency of his tribe the previous year, has been taken to suggest a date of 404 BC. However, a mention later in the dialogue [503c], of the recent death of Pericles would appear to place it closer to 427 BC.

Charmides c.429 BC. This dialogue's setting during the Peloponnessian War is marked by its opening [153a] with Socrates' return from the Athenian army at Potidea, focus of a key campaign in northern Greece during the early part of the conflict.

Laches c.424 BC. This work is set in the aftermath of the Athenian defeat at Delium in 424 BC where Laches, the title character, was the general in command. in the course of the dialogue, Laches praises Socrates' conduct during the fighting [181b].

Cratylus c.422 BC. Nails dates this work to the aftermath of another Athenian defeat, at Amphipolis. This would be around the time of the death of Hipponicus, father of Socrates' interlocutors Callias and Hermogenes. However, others argue that the crucial passage [391c] could place events some time after Hipponicus' death.

Phaedrus c.418-416 It is strongly debated whether there is any viable dramatic date for this dialogue. A setting before the exile of the historical Phaedrus in 415 BC would seem most likely.

Symposium c.416 BC. This dialogue portrays a celebration at the home of the tragedian Agathon to mark his success in a dramatic competition [175e], and is thought to reflect a historically attested victory in 416 BC.

Ion c.413 BC. Mention of Athenian rule over Ephesus [541c] is thought to date this dialogue to the period prior to the Ionian revolt in 412 BC.

Lysis c.409. Nails infers a date before the Euthydemus from the ages of Socrates' young interlocutors, although Catherine Zuckert argues this order should be reversed.

Euthydemus c.407 BC. Nails suggests that a reference to Alcibiades [275b] links the dialogue to his return to the city in 407 BC.

Meno c.402 BC. The dating of the Meno is thought to be relatively well understood compared to other dialogues. One factor is that it must have been set prior to Meno's death in the Persian expedition recorded by Xenophon.

Menexenus c.401 BC. One indication of the setting of this dialogue may be the reference to a raid by the forces of the restored Athenian democracy on the remnants of the Thirty Tyrants at Eleusis [244a].

Theatetus 399 BC. This work begins the sequence of dialogues dated straightforwardly around the events leading up to Socrates' death in 399 BC [142c]. It ends with Socrates leaving to answer the prosecution brought against him by Meletus [210d].

Euthyphro 399 BC. This work is set as Socrates is on his way to answer the charge against him [2a, 2b]. 

The Sophist 399 BC.  The Sophist appears to be set a day after the Theaetetus, and thus after Socrates answered Meletus' indictment [216a].

The Statesman 399 BC. Like the Sophist, the opening of the Statesman marks the dialogue as a sequel to the Theaetetus [257a].

The Apology 399 BC. Plato's account of Socrates' trial, also the subject of an work by Xenophon.

Crito 399 BC. Set during Socrates' imprisonment prior to his death.

Phaedo 399 BC. Plato's dialogue on the soul gives his account of Socrates' death.

 


Plato: Philebus

The Philebus is a late Platonic dialogue on ethics in which Socrates argues against the hedonistic position propounded by his two interlocutors, Philebus and Protarchus.

Free online and downloadable texts

Gutenberg: Philebus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Perseus: Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Fowler, 1925). Online texts.

Wikisource: Philebus, translated by Benjamin Jowett (1892).

Other resources

Librivox: Philebus

PhilPapers: Plato - Philebus - bibliography with open access option.

Wikipedia: Philebus

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: The Statesman

The Statesman or Politicus is a late Platonic dialogue, a sequel to The Sophist, addressing similar themes. The discussion seeks to identify the kind of knowledge proper to the true statesman, distinguishing it from the knowledge of appearances that characterizes the sophist.

Free online and downloadable texts

Gutenberg: The Statesman, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Perseus: The Statesman. Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Fowler, 1921). Online texts.

Wikisource: The Statesman, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other resources

Librivox: The Statesman - public domain audiobook.

PhilPapers: Plato - Politicus - bibliography with open access option.

Wikipedia: The Statesman.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: The Critias

Terror Antiquus by Leon Bakst (1908). Via Wikimedia Commons.The Critias is one of Plato's late dialogues, an incomplete sequel to the Timaeus. The main speaker is possibly the historical Athenian aristocrat and relative of Plato, or his grandfather of the same name. Critias presents what is the earliest known version of the myth of Atlantis, a city which is said to have fought a war against prehistoric Athens. Plato's motive for presenting this story, which is attributed in the dialogue to an Egyptian source, has been debated ever since.

The Critias at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: The Critias, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Perseus: Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Lamb, 1925). Online texts.

Wikisource: Critias, translated by Benjamin Jowett, online text.

Other Resources

Ancient Greece Declassified: Decoding Atlantis with Mark Adams, podcast by Lantern Jack.

Librivox: Critias - public domain audiobook.

PhilPapers: Plato - Critias - bibliography with open access option.

Wikipedia: Critias.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Plato: Timaeus.

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: The Laws

The Laws is Plato's last and longest dialogue, and the only one in which Socrates does not appear, unless indeed he is the mysterious Athenian Stranger who joins the Spartan Megillos and the Cretan statesman Clinias. While it is not a dialogue one would choose as introduction to Plato, for serious students of his political theory it is an essential counterpart to the Republic, presenting an apparently more realistic set of proposals than the earlier dialogue. Plato's final word is, in the eyes of some, the product of a man disillusioned by his attempts to put his political ideals into practice at the courts of the tyrants of Syracuse.

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: Laws by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Loebulus. L187 - Plato -- Laws I: Books 1-6. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Loebulus. L192 - Plato -- Laws II: Books 7-12. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: The Laws. Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Bury, 1967-68). Online texts.

Wikisource: The Laws (Plato), translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other Resources

Librivox: The Laws - public domain audiobook.

PhilPapers: Plato - Laws - bibliography with open access option.

Wikipedia: The Laws (Dialogue).

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: Timaeus

Plato bearing the Timaeus - a detail from Raphael's School of Athens - via Wikimedia Commons.The Timaeus (Greek: Τίμαιος) is a late Platonic dialogue in which the eponymous narrator provides an extended account of the creation and structure of the universe. One of the few dialogues known to the Medieval European West before the Renaissance, it had a major influence on the tradition of natural philosophy.

The Timaeus at Amazon: United States | Canada | United Kingdom | France | Germany | Spain | Italy

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Classics in the History of Psychology: Timaeus translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Ellopos: Timaeus. Greek and English, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Gutenberg: Timaeus by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Robert Craven: Timaeus concordance.

Wikisource: Timaeus, translated by Benjamin Jowett.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: A Likely Story: Plato's Timaeus - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

PhilPapers: Plato - Timaeus - bibliography with open access option.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Timaeus.

Wikipedia: Timaeus.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Plato: Critias - an incomplete sequel to the Timaeus.

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: The Sophist

The Sophist is one of a small number of late Platonic dialogues in which Socrates cedes the lead role, in this case to the Eleatic Stranger, a follower of the presocratic philosophers Parmenides and Zeno. The discussion is presented as taking place a few days after the Theaetetus, and picks up some of the earlier dialogues themes in the course of discussing how the sophist differs from the true philosopher and the statesman.

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: The Sophist, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Loebulus. L123 - Plato - Theaetetus. Sophist. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Fowler, 1921). Online texts.

Wikisource: The Sophist, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Fiona Leigh on Plato's Sophist - podcast by philosophers Peter Adamson and Fiona Leigh.

Librivox: The Sophist - audiobook.

PhilPapers: Plato - Sophist - bibliography with open access option.

Ontology.co: Semantics, Predication, Truth and Falsehood in Plato's Sophist.

Ontology.co: Annotated Bibliography on Plato's Sophist. First Part: A - L.

Ontology.co: Annotated Bibliography on Plato's Sophist. Second Part: M - Z.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Method and Metaphysics in Plato's Sophist and Statesman.

Wikipedia: The Sophist.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: Theaetetus

The Theatetus is Plato's most extended discussions of the theory of knowledge. The absence of the theory of forms from the dialogue has perplexed commentators, some of whom conclude that Plato abandoned the theory in the light of the criticisms adduced in the Parmenides.

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: Theatetus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Loebulus. L123 - Plato - Theaetetus. Sophist. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Fowler, 1921). Online texts.

Wikisource: Theaetetus, translated by Benjamin Jowett, 1871. Online text.

Other Resources

History of Philosophy without any gaps: I Know, Because the Caged Bird Sings: Plato's Theaetetus - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Librivox: Theaetetus - audiobook.

Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy: Plato - Theaetetus.

PhilPapers: Plato - Theaetetus - bibliography with open access option.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Plato on Knowledge in the Theatetus.

Wikipedia: Theatetus.

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.


Plato: Symposium

 

The Symposium is one of Plato's finest literary achievements, an extended meditation on the nature of love set at a dinner party featuring prominent real-life Athenians such as the great comic dramatist Aristophanes, and the controversial political prodigy, Alcibiades.

Free Online Texts

Bacchicstage: Plato's Symposium. Translated by George Theodoridis (2015). English online text.

Gutenberg: Symposium by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive; Symposium, translated by Benjamin Jowett, online text.

Perseus: Greek text (Burnet ed., 1903). English translation (Fowler, 1925).

Wikisource: Symposium, translated by Benjamin Jowett (1871), online text.

Continue reading "Plato: Symposium" »


Plato: The Republic

 

The Republic is Plato's best-known work. An extended reflection on the nature of justice, which retains much of the style of the early dialogues in the opening conversation in Athens, pitting Socrates against the cynical sophist Thrasymachus. From there the dialogue opens out into an extended discussion of the politics of the ideal city, which is closely bound up with ethical considerations, before taking in metaphysical and theological themes with Plato's most striking metaphor, the parable of the cave, and a meditation on the the fate of the individual soul in the myth of Er.

Free Online and Downloadable Texts

Gutenberg: The Republic by Plato, translated by Benjamin Jowett, multiple formats.

Internet Classics Archive: The Republic translated by Benjamin Jowett, online text.

Libertyfund: The Republic, translated by Benjamin Jowett, online text.

Loebulus. L237 - Plato --Republic I: Books 1-5. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Loebulus. L276 - Plato --Republic II: Books 6-10. PDF of public domain Loeb edition in Greek and English.

Perseus: The Republic: Greek text (Burnet ed.,1903 ). English translation (Shorey, 1969). Online texts.

Wikisource: The Republic, translated by Benjamin Jowett. Online text.

Other Resources

BBC Radio 4 In Our Time: Plato's Republic. Melvyn Bragg with Angie Hobbs, MM McCabe, James Warren.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Soul and the City: Plato's Political Philosophy - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

History of Philosophy without any gaps: Ain't No Sunshine: The Cave Allegory of Plato's Republic - podcast by philosopher Peter Adamson.

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Plato: The Republic.

Librivox: The Republic - audiobook.

Openculture: Orson Welles Narrates an Animation of Plato’s Cave Allegory - video.

Open Culture: Plato’s Cave Allegory Brought to Life with Claymation - video.

PhilPapers: Plato - Republic - bibliography with open source option.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Plato's  Ethics and Politics in the Republic.

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: Callicles and Thrasymachus.

University of Utah: Culture and Society in Plato's Republic, by M.F. Burnyeat. PDF format.

Wikipedia: The Republic (Plato).

The Great Conversation: Further reading at Tom's Learning Notes

Ancient Greek resources: Learn to read Greek classics in the original.

Bloom's Western Canon: Plato's Dialogues are listed.