?Socrates was a Greek philosopher, who is often considered to be the father of Western philosophy, and a key figure in the development of Western civilisation. “The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. ” Socrates – Republic 38c He left no actual writing so impressions of Socrates have come primarily from the writings of his student, Plato. There are also other contributions from Xenophon and a contemporary playwright – Aristophanes. It is possible that Plato embellished the legacy of Socrates by making him appear the most noble philosopher; an ideal to be cherished and followed.
The extent of this embellishment is hard to quantify, but the life of Socrates remains a great inspiration to many. Socrates married Xanthippe and together they had three children. Tradition suggests that Xanthippe was argumentative and hard to please, with Socrates the model of philosophic calm. Aristotle came to Athens as a teenager and studied with Plato for 17 years. After Plato’s death in 347 BCE, he traveled widely and ended up in Macedonia where he served as the private tutor of Alexander the Great. In 335 he returned to Athens and founded his own school, called the Lyceum.
He was forced to leave in 323 because the death of Alexander allowed free reign to anti-Macedoninan sentiment and Aristotle was too close to the conqueror to dare stick around. Plato was probably born in 427 BC, and died around 347 BC, aged about 80. But the earlier extant biographies of him we may read have been written hundreds of years after his death : that of Apuleius, sometime during the second century AD, and that of Diogenes L? rtius, in his Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, no earlier than the third century AD. And these bear very little resemblance with what we expect from a biography nowadays.
To make things worse, Plato almost never talks about himself in his dialogues (he does so only twice, once in the Apology and once in the Ph? do, each time in connection with the trial and death of Socrates). But, if we accept the authenticity of the VIIth Letter (which I do), we have there the closest thing to an autobiography we can dream of owing to the scarcity of our sources, though quite limited in scope despite its late date in Plato’s life (it could not have been written before Dion’s assassination in 354 BC, to which it refers, that is, at a time Plato was over 70).