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Plato of Athens

A Life in Philosophy

Robin Waterfield



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Oxford University Press
22 August 2023
The first ever biography of the founder of Western philosophy Considered by many to be the most important philosopher ever, Plato was born into a well-to-do family in wartime Athens at the end of the fifth century BCE. In his teens, he honed his intellect by attending lectures from the many thinkers who passed through Athens and toyed with the idea of writing poetry. He finally decided to go into politics, but became disillusioned, especially after the Athenians condemned his teacher, Socrates, to death. Instead, Plato turned to writing and teaching. He began teaching in his twenties and later founded the Academy, the world's first higher-educational research and teaching establishment. Eventually, he returned to practical politics and spent a considerable amount of time and energy trying to create a constitution for Syracuse in Sicily that would reflect and perpetuate some of his political ideals. The attempts failed, and Plato's disappointment can be traced in some of his later political works.

In his lifetime and after, Plato was considered almost divine. Though a measure of his importance, this led to the invention of many tall tales about him-both by those who adored him and his detractors. In this first ever full-length portrait of Plato, Robin Waterfield steers a judicious course among these stories, debunking some while accepting the kernels of truth in others. He explains why Plato chose to write dialogues rather than treatises and gives an overview of the subject matter of all of Plato's books. Clearly and engagingly written throughout, Plato of Athens is the perfect introduction to the man and his work.
Imprint:   Oxford University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 241mm,  Width: 164mm,  Spine: 24mm
Weight:   544g
ISBN:   9780197564752
ISBN 10:   0197564755
Pages:   240
Publication Date:  
Audience:   Professional and scholarly ,  Undergraduate
Format:   Hardback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Robin Waterfield is an independent scholar and translator living in southern Greece. Among his numerous translations of Greek works are Plato's Symposium, Gorgias, and Republic, all published in the Oxford World's Classics series. His previous works of history include Creators, Conquerors, and Citizens: A History of Ancient Greece and Taken at the Flood: The Roman Conquest of Greece.

Reviews for Plato of Athens: A Life in Philosophy

"Plato of Athens is erudite and fascinating, and realises its aim of showing that his works were magnificent, that ""Plato invented philosophy"" not as a body of doctrine but an open-ended and insatiable quest. * Jane O'Grady, The Telegraph * If all Western philosophy is as has been claimed a series of footnotes to Plato of Athens, it's fortunate indeed that all his dialogues have survived and attracted translators and interpreters of the caliber of Robin Waterfield. Brilliant, witty, profound--and perplexing: Plato's all those and more (a uniquely resonant stylist too), and it's no mean tribute both to him and to the author to say that Robin Waterfield has done him justice. * Paul Cartledge, author of Thebes: The Forgotten City of Ancient Greece * Whitehead once characterized the history of Western philosophy as a series of footnotes to Plato. Here, at last, we have an authoritative body text for the man himself. 'No philosopher,' Waterfield writes, 'is as accessible to non-specialists as Plato.' The same can be said for this remarkable, impeccably researched biography * M. D. Usher, author of Plato's Pigs and Other Ruminations * Writing a biography of Plato is a tricky endeavor, to say the least. Robin Waterfield nonetheless succeeds in delivering a gripping, plausible, and enlightening portrait. Those new to Plato as well as seasoned scholars will come away from Plato of Athens not only with as rounded a picture of Plato the man as may be possible, but also with an excellent sense of his philosophy and the historical times in which he lived and with which he engaged. * Iakovos Vasiliou, author of Aiming at Virtue in Plato * Waterfield evokes [the Academy's] atmosphere superbly. Indeed, the passages on Plato's teachings, his dialogues and his contribution to the field of philosophy are a particular strength of the book...His account of Plato's failure to reform the tyrant [Dionysius II] and establish a new constitution for him is particularly well done. * Daisy Dunn, Literary Review * Waterfield's narrative is compelling. * The Atlantic * Well-researched and attractively written. * Armand D'Angour, History Today * An admirably solid overview of Plato√Ęs life and works. * David Stuttard, British Museum Magazine * [A] readable and wonderfully enlightening book...a remarkably successful attempt to paint a believable picture of the intellectual journey of someone who is unquestionably one of the great landmarks of European thinking... Plato would have liked that, and that is the highest praise. * John Muir, Classics for All * Learned and highly readable. * Malcom Schofield, Society * Well-researched and attractively written. * Armand D'Angour, History Today * Engaging and of the best books available for those who are new to Plato...always looks at the evidence with fresh eyes...a marvelous introductory overview of Plato's philosophy, as it emerged from his intellectual and political milieu. Furthermore, there is no better way than the one provided by Waterfield for beginners to learn about the Academy. * Richard Kraut, Society * Well-researched and attractively written. * Armand D'Angour, History Today * Nobody is better qualified to write this book than Robin Waterfield... He does not talk down to the reader, but neither does he assume any prior knowledge... [a] timely and eloquent book. It encourages the reader to go back to Plato himself and (re)read those texts where the dialogue form is so skilfully used to explore issues which could be a matter of life and death rather than airy philosophy. * John Godwin, Journal of Classics Teaching * Plato of Athens is much to be commended for its discussion resulting in a comprehensive chronology of Plato's life and dialogues. * Andrew David Irvin, TLS * A full, very readable biography...Give[s] a remarkably full picture of the man, his ideas and his influence. * Times Literary Supplement * A thorough and well-structured account of the events of Plato's life whilst placing his many dialogues into a clear chronology. * Sebastian Milbank, The Critic * A highly accessible and significant contribution. * Paradigm Explorer * Attractively fulfils its aim of introducing Platonic philosophy to a general readership by combining elements of historical reconstruction with key values extracted from the written work, the two things synthesised into an imagined portrait of a life.... One can confidently expect that if indeed some of Waterfield's readers may never have tackled any of the dialogues for themselves, they will be stimulated to do so (and in Waterfield's own fine translations) by his eloquent passion for a 'super-important' thinker who is now 'read and studied in, I dare say, every country in the world.' * Stephen Halliwell, Bryn Mawr Classical Review *"

  • Winner of Finalist, 2024 PROSE Award.

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