DRAMA, DIALOGUE AND DIALECTIC
Born into a distinguished Athenian family, Plato became one of the most creative and influential thinkers of the ancient world. Olympiodorus tells us that Plato originally wished to be a playwright but turned to philosophy after meeting Socrates. This is not hard to believe reading his "Dialogues" which are like plays with Socrates as the leading man. Plato is a master stylist giving us insight into the characters of the participants, and making full use of narrative, myth, allegory and metaphor. This format draws us into the fascinating intellectual world of fifth century Athens. It also gave the world of philosophy the dialectic, described by Plato as highest of all studies.
Athenian democracy had developed in the aftermath of the war against a foreign enemy, the Persians. The Athens of Plato was engaged on and off in a protracted war against Sparta and her allies. Rather than encouraging democratic sentiment, the war led some to question the Athenian democratic system. Political turmoil saw the democracy threatened by a number of coups in which small groups sought to seize control. None were long lasting, but they are indicative of the aristocratic dissatisfaction, with democracy. Plato had little sympathy with democracy and wrote a political treatise, "The Republic", which imagined a society governed by an intellectual elite rather than by the ignorant mob.