Classical Greece in the 4th and 5th centuries BC was a period in which some of history’s greatest philosophers lived. The relationship between Plato, and his mentor Socrates was, for Plato, one of reverence. Plato viewed his teacher as an inspiration and as a philosophical model to emulate. Plato was a student of Socrates. Plato is the main eye-witness source for the life of Socrates and we know from his account of Socrates’ trial that Plato was a student at the time. Socrates was on trial as a “corrupter of the youth (of Athens)”1 and as part of his defence he appeals to the suggestion of his students, of whom Plato was one.
“Plato here…. tell(s) me to propose a fine of thirty minas… ”2 Socrates was Plato’s inspiration. It is widely accepted amongst scholars that Plato’s early writings, and in particular his Apology, present a historically credible account of the historical Socrates. 3 This, however, is not true of Plato’s later works. These dialogues are notably romanticised in their depiction of Socrates. Professor Richard Kraut argues that this shift in viewpoints is evident in Plato’s middle dialogues (c. 380-360 BC)4 when he is recorded to talk of matters that lie outside the sphere of the physical world5.
This is confirmed by Aristotle, when he refers to Socrates as “busying himself about ethical matters” while “Plato… held that the problem applied not to sensible things but to entities (beyond the physical). 6” This source is considered reliable amongst scholars; due to Aristotle’s firsthand knowledge of the times, and the basis that there would be no reason for him to lie concerning such matters. 7 It stands to reason then, that after his execution, Plato used the name ‘Socrates’ to create an ideal philosophical figurehead.
This could not have been Socrates himself, due to his interest in the other-worldly being in contention with Socrates’ claim in Plato’s apology “No-one can know what lies after death. ”8 That Plato chooses Socrates as the primary character in his dialogues and that he continued his teacher’s method of learning through discussion9 means that Plato valued Socrates’ teachings immensely. In Plato’s second epistle, he writes concerning this “… there is no writing of Plato, nor will there be; the present [writings] are the sayings of a Socrates become beautiful and new.
”Despite the controversy surrounding this letter, it illustrates the Plato’s purpose. Rather than taking credit for philosophical dialogues of the highest calibre, he ascribes them instead to his late teacher. This expresses the reverent humility and respect Plato felt for Socrates. Socrates was a powerful influence on his student Plato; to such a degree that Socrates served to become the figurehead and central character for Plato’s dialogues. Plato held his mentor’s teachings in the highest regard.