The Truth about Plato
by Charles Tate
Rev A (see Notes)
(fromhttp://wlym.com/campaigner/8102.pdf - 11 MB PDF image file)
Centuries of slanders have been leveled against Plato, the man who stands at the foundation of the humanist tradition and whose work has inspired every development in that tradition in the 2,300 years since his death. Especially in this century, the so-called classical scholars at Britain's Oxford and Cambridge Universities have described Plato as the father of fascism and totalitarianism, as a reactionary spokesman for a decaying aristocracy, embittered by his failure to influence the politics of his time. As a result of political disappointments, say these intellectual apologists for the British oligarchs who now threaten the world with a new dark age, Plato became an effete, ivory tower figure, capable at best of stimulating high ideals, but lacking any relationship to the requirements of practical politics. At worst, Plato is charged with being the author of the bible for twentieth century fascist dictators, a vile slander against his great dialogue the Republic.
This article will expose these and similar claims as monstrous lies, lies maintained through suppression and distortion of the facts of Plato's life and thought by those who tremble at the power of his ideas. Through this examination of Plato's life and work, we will show that Plato was the product and the highest development of a three-hundred-year long tradition of humanist development. We will meet a few of the scientists, founders of cities, philosophers, and political leaders who were Plato's predecessors, teachers, and collaborators, and who laid the-basis for our western civilization.
We will see that Plato and the other leaders of his era were united in a struggle to defend the achievements of Greek civilization by ridding the world of the oligarchical elite of Babylonia and Persia which remains the model for the British oligarchy of today. It is this battle that is reflected in Plato's own life history, as well as his writings. To create flanks in their battle against the oligarchy, Plato and his associates traveled throughout the Mediterranean world, sometimes fighting for the minds of rulers, sometimes with arms and bold strategems.
The picture that will emerge here of Plato and his times is in the sharpest contradiction to the standard account of Greek history peddled in British and American universities. Only because of this relentless falsification of history do the lies circulated about Plato have any force.
The means through which this history is falsified familiar to our reader of any daily newspaper: the isolation of events from the actual strategic context in which they unfold. Just as today's news commentators serve up explanations of crisis in the Middle East or Latin America without ever displaying the British oligarchy's hand behind the events, so, too, the strategic context of ancient history is totally suppressed.
Any attempt to study the history of the Greeks through the local developments within Greece itself only be a failure. There is no history of Greece se, but only a history of the battle in the ancient world between the proponents of scientific and economic progress, chiefly associated with classical Greek culture, against the oligarchical Mesopotamian empires of Babylonia and Persia.
One important example illustrates the widespread fraud of twentieth century classical studies. Virtually every school child has been taught that the United States owes its constitutional principles of government to the Greeks of the Golden Age of Pericles. Plato, by contrast, is represented as an implacable foe of democracy, an aristocrat and apologist for tyrants. The truth is that the so-called democracy of fifth and fourth century B.C. Athens was identical to the French Revolution's Jacobin mob rule which our founding fathers castigated as the opposite of the democratic republic which they had established on the basis of an educated American citizenry.
Just as the French Jacobins were in the ultimate employ of the British Oligarchy, so the Athenian democracy was a bought-and-paid-for political instrument of the Persian court. Its function was to use demagogy and a vast array of bribes and sinecures to manipulate the mass of Greek commoners against the traditional antioligarchist leadership of their city-states -- the leadership out of which Plato emerged. The democratic party of Pericles itself functioned as the administrative arm of Persia within Greece, and, at Persia's instigation, plunged Greece into suicidal wars and military adventures. The Greek democracy's conscious role was the destruction of Greek humanist culture, and only Plato's opposition prevented the Persia-sponsored democrats from succeeding,
The actual author of our conception of republican government and Citizenry was Plato himself. We will see that Plato's actual political doctrine, which has been obfuscated by malign distortions including deliberately false translations of his major works, was born in the battle against the oligarchy, and was fundamentally reformulated as the requirements and conditions of that battle changed.
Contrary to those who say that in Plato we have an ideal system, subject to elaboration but never development, we will find that his scientific method also underwent decisive advance as his political strategy evolved. The explication of both this scientific method and his political theory are inextricable, precisely because the scientific method serves as a concrete program for educating the statesmen needed to establish the conditions for scientific progress. This is why the characters in virtually every one of Plato's dialogues are real historical people, usually popular figures as well known to the reader of a Platonic dialogue in the fourth or third century B.C. as the politicians and military leaders of World War I and World War II are to us.
Plato's thought grew out of a battle for civilization--a battle without which civilization would have been smothered in its cradle. We have before us both the opportunity and the obligation to complete Plato's work, in science, in epistemology, and most of all in defeating the oligarchist descendants of Persia in our own time. To do this, we must bring before us the real Plato.
In this article, the first in a two-part series, we will develop the historical background essential to understanding Plato. We will see Greek civilization emerging as a rebirth of science and culture after a protracted dark age. We will see the Mesopotamian oligarchs, the cultist masters of Babylon and Persia, attempt to destroy that civilization. We will watch as Plato's political and intellectual forebears mobilize to defend Greece against the Persian onslaught in the Persian Wars, and win a victory over an overwhelmingly more powerful army. We will look on as Persia, realizing that their vast conscript army could never defeat the highly cultured Greek citizen militias, turn instead to subversion and sabotage, resulting in the suicidal Peloponnesian War.
Against this background, we will see the young Plato grow to manhood, taking his plate among the fighters against the Persian oligarchy, as the Greeks renew their initiative against Persia in a series of campaigns that come within inches of destroying the Persian menace forever. Following the collapse of these campaigns, we will see Plato, coming into his own as the leader of the international anti-Persian forces, create new political flanks and weapons for the struggle -- weapons which humanity wields against the forces of bestialism to this day.
Greece Before Plato
The Greek civilization that produced Plato saw a tumultuous expansion in the centuries before his birth. After a centuries-long dark age so profound that even archaeology can tell us little about it, Greek mariners began once again to urbanize the Mediterranean. Athens, Plato's birthplace, experienced a florescence in the crafts and manufactures. New technologies spread quickly into the Greek colonies of Ionia, located along the Mediterranean shores of what is today Turkey, and into the colonies of the islands of the Aegean Sea. By the seventh century B.C., Ionia had become the workshop of the Greek world, and was supplying textiles, metal products, and other industrial goods to the rest of the Mediterranean. Ionia's standard of living became proverbial on the mainland: It was known as "sweet Ionia."
The industrial revolution was accompanied by a cultural florescence, spurred by the development sometime before 700 B.C. of the Greek alphabet out of the script used by the leading traders of the earlier period, the Phoenicians. The Greeks, who had lost the use of written language by 1000 B.C., at first used this regained tool for recording commercial transactions. But within not more than a few decades, the new written language produced an outpouring of literature. First, songs which dated back to the era before the dark ages, preserved by being passed from generation to generation of minstrels, were collected and written down. These are Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, epics celebrating the Greek genius for city building and exploration. Soon a new lyric poetry followed the Homeric example.
The lasting significance of the Greek achievement, however, was not commerce and industry, or even epic poetry, although it was founded on these activities. It was the birth of science, properly so-called. It is in the Greek colonies of Ionia that we find the first recorded understanding that the significance of scientific discovery is its disclosure of the coherence between the human mind and the laws of the universe. Ionian physikoi, or natural scientists, were the first to recognize the interrelatedness of the laws governing both mind and nature as the proper subject of scientific inquiry.
In Thales of Miletus, the earliest of these physikoi whose name has come down to us, we see the type of thinker created by the Ionian scientific revolution. Thales declared that "all is water," thereby asserting that one common substance, manifesting itself in differentiated states of matter, was everywhere subject to the same laws of nature. Thales was the first Greek to predict and explain eclipses of the sun, hitherto mysterious and terrifying events.
Thales was one of the great thinkers of ancient Greece known as the Seven Sages. Perhaps the most important of these sages for the development of Athens, the city where Plato was to found his Academy, was Solon the lawgiver. A political intimate of Thales, Solon took the leadership of a crisis-ridden Athens in 594 B.C. and reorganized the city's economy and government around the first set of written laws to be framed on a "republican" conception of the city-state.
Solon's economic reforms included the first debt moratorium in history, which saved thousands of small farmers from bankruptcy, and the outlawing of the sale of free men into slavery to pay their debts, Solon stressed the role of the craftsmen and their industry for the city's prosperity, and chided the landed aristocracy for demeaning the crafts, which he cited as a high expresson of human achievement and the basis for the greatness of Athens.
But Solon was no populist. He rejected the demands of the popular party for the redistribution of the aristocracy's landholdings, believing that Athens needed a political elite that could train and educate leadership for the coming generations. His constitution, which was celebrated in popular songs and posted on stone tablets in the Athenian marketplace, the first to embody the notion that the good of the individual citizen, as well as the good of the different classes of society, lies in the development of the economy and the culture shared by all.
[sidebar in original]
720 B.C. Iliad composed
700 B.C. Odyssey composed
595 B.C. Solon promulgates code of law in Athens; Thales active
550 B.C. Persia conquers Media
547 B.C. Persia conquers Lydia
539 B.C. Persia conquers Babylon at invitation of Marduk Priesthood
499 B.C. Rebellion of Ionia
490 B.C. Persians invade Greece, beginning of Persian War; Greeks defeat Persians at Marathon
484 B.C. Aeschylus wins 1st prize for tragedy
480 B.C. Persia's King Xerxes invades Greece; defeated at Salamis
469 B.C. Socrates born
449 B.C. Peace of Callias ends Persian War
431 B.C. Peloponnesian War begins
427 B.C. Birth of Plato
413 B.C. Alkibiades' Sicilian expedition; Athenian army and navy destroyed
406 B.C. Athenian navy wins battle of Arginuse; Conon indicts generals despite opposition of Socrates
404 B.C. Sparta defeats Athens in Peloponnesian War with Persian aid; government of the Thirty Tyrants installed in Athens
403 B.C. Expulsion of the Thirty
401 B.C. Rebellion of Persia's Cyrus against his brother Artaxerxes; March of the Ten Thousand against Persia
400 B.C. Artaxerxes negotiates revival of Athenian naval power with Conon
399 B.C. Socrates tried and condemned to
398 B.C. Plato arrives in Egypt
396 B.C. Sparta's Agesilaus assumes leadership of anti-Persian military drive
395B.C. Agesilaus routs Artaxerxes' troops; Corinthian War begins
394 B.C. Agesilaus recalled to Sparta
The Persian Marcher Lord
While Greece and its allies took the forward strides in the sciences, arts, and government that are recognized as the basis of modern western civilization, Mesopotamia toiled under the yoke of the evil Babylonian Empire. The nature of the Babylonian system is best understood by examining the priesthood that controlled it: the cult of the ancient god Marduk.
Babylonian literature tells us that the Marduk priesthood dated its god-given right to enslave and tax the populations of the Mediterranean to the days before the flood. In the middle of the sixth century B.C., the central temple of the ancient Marduk cult-masters in Babylon controlled a network of tax-collecting temples spanning what is today the Middle East from Egypt to the Fertile Crescent. Organizing social and economic life around the tax-farming requirements of the temple, the Marduk priests ruled theocracy that mired Babylonians in rural backwardness. The "black-headed ones," as the priests called the Babylonians, were little more than slaves: the temple owned their land and most of their labor, and collected their gifts of grain to Marduk after every harvest.
The priesthood augmented this iron grip on the empire's economy with virtually complete control over its foreign and military policy as well. This they accomplished through the offices of their high priests, oracles, whose prophecies were considered to be infallible expression of the will of the gods. No Babylonian king made war, or peace, without first consulting the oracles of the Marduk temple.
In 550 B.C., the Marduk priesthood began preparations in earnest to destroy the trading and manufacturing city-states in the Greek orbit. Realizing that their own policies of over-taxation, enforced backwardness, and undermining of the secular nobility had left them militarily impotent, the Marduk priests searched for a surrogate marcher lord. They found King Cyrus of Persia, who in 550 B.C. overran the small neighboring kingdom of Media. Under Marduk's sponsorship, Cyrus was to rise from ruler of the then-insignificant Persian kingdom to conquer the world from the Mediterranean to the Himalayas.
The rich kingdom of Lydia's King Croesus was the first target for Marduk's new Persian marcher lord. Despite his close alliance with mainland Greece, Croesus was crushed by Cyrus's army in 547 B.C.
The subjugation of the nearby Ionians cities followed within the year. By 546 B.C., the entire eastern Mediterranean coast had fallen to Persia.
In the conquest of Lydia and Ionia, Cyrus and the priests of Marduk enlisted, for the first time but by no means the last, the services of the famed Oracle of Apollo. Located in the city of Delphi on mainland Greece, the oracle was at the center of a network of temples which worshipped the god Apollo and spanned the Greek world.
Just like the temple of Marduk, whose priests created and spread the Apollo cult, the Delphi temple was no religious shrine. It was a political intelligence operation of an enemy oligarchy. This oligarchy had insinuated the cult of Apollo first along the shores of Ionia and then into Greece itself before the dark ages.
That the oracle of Apollo was a Persian intelligence operation is a fact well known to and frequently acknowledged by every classical scholar--a profession itself largely dominated by British intelligence agents. However, the consequences of this fact for ancient history have never before been fully drawn out, and are completely excised from any popular treatment of the subject.
The cult of Apollo originated in the east, under the direction of the Marduk priesthood, with whom the Apollo priests maintained continuous contact. Again and again, it shamelessly intervened in Greece on behalf of Persia's policy interest. It destroyed the Greek-allied kingdom of Lydia; it derailed Ionia's resistance to Persian invasion; it countered Athenian intervention to aid Ionia against Persia; it attempted to sabotage Greek resistance in the Persian War; it sparked and fanned the flames of the suicidal Peloponnesian War.
The Apollo temples were the wealthiest banking centers in the Mediterranean world, accepting deposits "under the protection of the god" and extending loans and bequests where Persia's interest deemed. As a cult center in touch with Apollo temples throughout the Greek world, its information was limitless, and was passed on as a secret history from generation to generation of priests.
Its famous prophecies worked very simply. A petitioner for the god's advice would come to Delphi and make his contribution. The petitioner would be led into the presence of the chief priestess of Apollo, the Pythoness, named after the snake. Sitting on a stool above a steaming geyser, the Pythoness would utter nonsense syllables, billed as the language of the god. The priests translated these utterances into prophecies aimed at shaping the petitioner's course of action.
The tie between the Apollo cult and oriental despotism was well known to the Greeks. In Homer, Apollo appears as the patron of oriental despotism against Greek civilization. He is the builder of the walls of Troy, the city that stood at the mouth of the Black Sea, barring the Greeks of the twelfth century B.C. from trading along its shores. He is the "free shooter" who rains arrows on the Greeks; his very name means "destroyer." 25
Lydia's King Croesus came to grief through an oracle of Apollo which urged an ill-advised preemptive strike against the Persians. After Croesus's defeat, Apollo's oracles urged the Ionian cities to abandon resistance to Persia. After a few skirmishes, the Ionians obeyed Apollo, and pledged fealty to Persia. After these conquests, Marduk brought his marcher lord home. Cyrus's mandate this time was to conquer the Babylonian King Nabonidus, who had made the mistake of trying to assert the power of his throne against the prerogatives of the priests of the temple. In 538 B.C., Cyrus entered Babylon at the invitation of the priests, and, after dispatching Nabonidus's troops, declared his submission to Marduk. Thus ended the continuous 1,500 year reign of the Babylonian empire.
The Persian victory over Babylon's King Nabonidus is a pivotal event of ancient history, although its significance is universally misunderstood. For although it marked the end of the Babylonian Empire, the reality was that the oligarchical priesthood that stood behind the throne of Babylon, having bled one empire dry, continued to rule through the agency of the kingdom of Persia. The priesthood had strengthened its grip on the Middle East through this vigorous new stooge, which was to become, in turn, the bitter enemy of Socrates, Plato, and Alexander the Great.
The Cult of Democracy
With the fall of the Ionian city-states, Persia held the last remaining mercantile centers of Asia Minor in its jaw. The navies of both Ionia and Phoenicia, to the south, were now under its control. Cyrus threatened to conquer mainland Greece at his pleasure. The Persian king's most powerful weapon in his campaign to destroy Greece proved not to be the military forces brought under is control with the defeat of Ionia, or even the vast Persian army itself. It was Persia's instrument of subversion within Ionia and the Greek city-states themselves: the democratic movement, paid for, and run, by the empire. The Greek democrats' first successful operation on behalf of the Persian throne was destroy the Ionian uprising of 499 B.C., led by the antioligarchist forces of the Greek world.
By 499 B.C. these anti-Persian forces had organized the coastal city-states of Ionia to revolt against King Darius, the successor to the conqueror Cyrus. The leader of the revolt, Aristagoras of Miletus, traveled throughout Greece seeking support for the rebellion. In Athens, his call was heeded. The city mobilized to liberate Ionia, sending ships and heavily armed Greek soldiers, called hoplites.
The following year, most of the Ionian city-states joined Miletus in revolt, and scored a series of rapid victories. Their offensive culminated in the capture and sacking of Sardis, the satrapal administrative center, which cut Persia's lines of communication with its army in the field. Just as this promising victory was won, the heroic Ionians, powerless to continue their fight without support from the Greek mainland, were stabbed in the back. Wielding the knife was Persia's Apollo cult, and the new political instrument which Persia had created to subvert Greece, the democracy.
Threatened by a combination of Ionian and mainland Greek military power, the Persians manipulated the democratic faction, which controlled the masses of Athens, to take sides against plans to aid the Ionians. Writing the script of the rabble-rousing ultrademocratic movements of today, the Athenian democrats demagogically attacked their allies in the Ionian leadership as foreign aristocrats. They went further, taking sides against their own city's political and international elite. The Council of the Areopagites, the traditional leadership of Athens, was dragged through the mud as a den of greedy landlords and of the masses.
Writing fifty years after the defeat of the Ionian rebellion, the historian Herodotus offered the following account of Persia's motives for establishing states, called democracies to rule over its satrapies:
The masses have not a thought in their heads.... As for the democracies, then, let them govern the enemies of Persia, but let ourselves choose the best men in'our country, and give them political power.
Events of 499-498 B.C. in Athens and Ionia demonstrated the effectiveness of Persia's formula.
Athens had come to such a pass through the evil Persian-controlled cult of Apollo. In fact, the rise of Cleisthenes, the first democratic leader of Athens, in 510 B.C., was accomplished not by any popular movement or "class struggle," but by the priests of Apollo at Delphi, who secured intervention from the city-state of Sparta to place him in power. Cleisthenes' Alcmaeonid family dominated the Athenian democracy for nearly one hundred years, with the express backing of the Delphi priests.
Cleisthenes didn't hesitate to pay back his sponsors in full. In 507 B.C. he voluntarily sent to Persia the traditional tokens of submission, earth and water, marking the first official contact between Persian imperialism and Greek democracy with a promise of Athens's vassalage to King Darius.
Eight years later, the same democracy's sabotage of the Ionian revolt opened the gate for Persia's pillage of the Greek-settled cities of Asia Minor. Part of Miletus was destroyed; the male population of military age was slaughtered; boys were castrated and taken to Persia as court eunuchs, or sold into slavery; women became the forced-brides of the Persian army or were taken to the royal harem. Fugitives from the Aegean islands poured into Athens bringing the same, horrible story: the Persian army had formed a human net and scoured the islands, dealing with every Greek according to the dictates of Apollo's vengeance.
Persia kneaded salt into the political soil as well. In 492 B.C., Mardonius, the son-in-law of King Darius, led an armada of 600 ships in a "campaign of liberation" against Ionia. Mardonius evicted the conservative aristocrats who hated Persia from the Ionian cities, installing in their place not Persian overlords, hut democratic stooges.
Plato’s Great Grandfathers
With Ionia militarily and politically secured, King Darius expected only the weakest resistance from his next target: the Greeks on the mainland. But a small political elite, centered chiefly in Athens and acting under the constraints of the Persian-backed democracy that ruled the city, prevented the complete submission of Greece to Persia. This leadership, the great-grandfathers of the faction Plato would lead three generations later, battled Persia's Apollo cult and the democracy. They wrested control from the enemy forces long enough, and at the critical moments, to prepare the Greek resistance.
This group was identified with the traditional leadership of Athens, the Council of Areopagus. Somewhat like a supreme court, the council's duties included the preservation of the laws of Solon and trial in all capital cases. It was the institutional expression of the republican ethic established by Solon. The Areopagites were drawn principally from the Athenian nobility, who described themselves as "the party of the beautiful and the good." Imbued with a sense of history, these were the men whose ancestors had created Greek civilization. They. cherished this achievement, and they had the keenest appreciation of the difference between Greeks and "barbarians."
To the Areopagites, "Greek" was not a racial, geographical, or national distinction. Greeks did not live in a nation or an empire, but in city-states, independent communities clustered around a city center.
Each city-state had different laws and customs. Even Greek religion provided little motive for unity. The pantheon of Greek gods known as the Olympian Twelve was a quarrelsome family. Several, such as Apollo, were not even Greek in origin. Some, like Athena, were chiefly of local significance, and elevated to the pantheon because of their city's importance. Each god was served by a separate cult more or less prominent in different city-states or among different tribes.
Polyglot in race and religion, scatter-shot throughout the Mediterranean world, the Greeks of the fifth century B.C. were unified chiefly by their language, which had been created by Homer and his followers nearly two centuries earlier. In ancient Greek, the same common noun is used for both "speech" and "reason." This ambiguity does not reflect a poverty of vocabulary, but a sense of human activity as a unique manifestation of reason. The Greeks believed that this activity of reason distinguished them from them from "barbarians," peoples who made noises like "bar-bar" instead of speaking Greek.
To mobilize the Greek city-states against the threat from Persia, the Areopagites created the most powerful tool for organizing emotions that had existed up to their time: the classical Greek tragedy. Even today's reader, whose edition of Aeschylus or Sophocles is carefully sanitized of any mark of the political crucible in which these dramas were forged, cannot miss the moral urgency that grips the Greek tragedies. This is the urgency, still alive in its implications today, of the political battle waged by the Areopagites.
In 493 B.C., for example, on the eve of the Persian war against Greece, the outstanding Areopagite dramatist Phrynichus staged his Capture of Miletus. Written to commemorate the Ionian uprising of 499 B.C., the drama carried a strong warning to mainland Greeks that the defeated Ionians' fate would soon be their own if they did not prepare to repulse the Persians. Like all of Phrynichus's work, this play is now lost. But there can be no question of the powerful effect it had on its audience, since the democracy banned it -- the only play ever to be censored in the history of the politically volatile Greek theater -- because it "called too strongly to mind the sufferings of the people."
The plays of Aeschylus, successor to Phrynichus, were first produced while the Persian War was under way. Aeschylus's Persians, written after the Greek victory, celebrated the historical experiences of many members of the audience in language ordinarily reserved for the semi-mythical deeds of the ancient past. His best-known work, the Oresteia trilogy, directly addressed the question of natural law in a defense of the Council of the Areopagus. The council was shown to the audience as elevated by Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Aeschylus attacks Apollo as a rapacious violator of natural law.
The Persian War
In 490 B.C., the feared invasion of mainland Greece took place. A huge Persian force of 100,000 troops and 600 ships quickly overran northern Greece, meeting little resistance. The Areopagite faction in Athens found itself almost entirely alone in its opposition to Persia. The overwhelming material assets of the Persians, coupled with demoralization and fear produced by the failure of the Ionian rebellion -- to say nothing of the intrigue of the priests of Apollo -- rapidly brought the party favoring capitulation to Persia to the fore almost everywhere.
Nevertheless, Persia was to suffer a defeat at the hands of the Greeks so humiliating that to this day it is remembered as one of the greatest victories of a republican citizenry in history -- the Battle of Marathon.
Under the great Areopagite General Miltiades, 3,000 Greek hoplites from the cities of Athens and Plataea faced down 60,000 Persians on the coastal plain of Marathon in western Greece. The Persian troops were led by the hand-picked crack unit of professional soldiers, known as the 10,000 Immortals. Persia's land forces, legions of mercenaries and slaves rounded up from all parts of the empire, were backed by a fleet of 300 ships. The ships were manned, by tragic irony, by impressed Ionians and Phoenicians.
Dramatically demonstrating that a slave army, no matter how gargantuan, is no match for a disciplined and motivated citizens' militia, the Greeks drove the Persian forces back to their ships, killing thousands of the Immortals. Miltiades's forces suffered only 192 casualties.
How greatly the victory of Marathon effected the political morale of the Greeks can be seen from the fact that Aeschylus, writing his epitaph forty years later, said nothing about his plays, which guaranteed his immortality, or about his lifetime as a political organizer for the Areopagites, but only that he had fought at Marathon.
It was ten years before Persia attempted a new conquest of Greece. During this time, the Areopagites worked in Athens to create a navy and a corps of trained sailors, capable of defending against an anticipated naval assault. Their efforts bore fruit again, as Persia suffered an even more devastating defeat than Marathon when Darius's successor Xerxes sailed against the Greek city-states in 480 B.C.
Xerxes proved he had learned little from the defeat at Marathon. His one innovation was to avoid the treacherous waters off the peninsula of Chalcidice, where Darius had lost scores of ships, by building a canal through the straits of Mt. Athos. This gigantic project, carried out by an army of slave laborers, was coupled with the construction of a bridge across the Dardanelles Straits, another remarkable engineering feat. Across this bridge marched a Persian army numbering one million, accompanied by the giant Persian fleet which passed through the Mt. Athos canal.
Preparing for a Persian assault from the north, the Athenians evacuated their city, moving civilians and the army onto the outlying island of Salamis. There, they stationed their ships along both sides of the channel between the island and the mainland. Athens greeted the Persian army from a nearly impregnable island position on Salamis; they fought the Persian navy in the confined waters of the channel and sank Xerxes' fleet. They greeted the Ionian sailors, impressed to ships' duty by their Persian overlords, with propaganda posters urging them not to fight their Greek liberators.
Just as at Marathon, the battle of Salamis proved that Persia was not invincible. The newly built and trained Athenian navy destroyed most of Xerxes' armada. The Persian despot, stationed atop a mountain to witness the battle he thought would be the greatest triumph of his empire, instead watched as his slave army was slaughtered.
Xerxes attempted to reorganize his army but was again defeated by the Greeks at Plataea and at Mycale. No Persian army would again set foot in Greece.
The, victorious Greeks now took the offensive, creating a standing force to expel the Persians from Ionia, to assist in the liberation of Egypt, which had been brought under the Persian yoke in 525 B.C., and ultimately, to destroy the Persian menace forever. This force for the first time united the two most powerful cities in Greece, Athens and Sparta, in the alliance later known as the Delian league, thereby sealing a major aim of Areopagite foreign policy.
As Plato's father was growing up, Athens faced the next great threat to its liberty and development, the reign of the Persian agent Pericles at the head of the democracy from 457 to 428 B.C. Falsely remembered as the architect of the Golden Age of Athenian culture, Pericles spent his decades in public life destroying the city and undermining the anti-Persian cause. His destruction of the traditional leadership of Athens paved the way for Sparta's break with the Delian league, which quickly became an instrument of Athenian imperialism instead of Greek resistance to Persia, and plunged Greece into the nightmarish struggle between Athens and Sparta known as the Peloponnesian War.
Pericles sabotaged the Delian league, the bulwark of Greek defense against the Persian menace, and alienated Athens' allies by jacking up membership contributions and manipulating league policy in the partisan interests of Athens. He eventually removed the league treasury from Delos, the site of the second most important temple of Apollo on the Greek mainland, and reestablished it in Athens.
There, league funds were mingled with the city treasury and used by Pericles, the virtual Mussolini of his day, to fund the most awesome range and scale of public works projects ever seen on the peninsula, That public works effort included the rebuilding of the Acropolis, destroyed by the Persians in the 480 B.C. invasion. (Ironically, the Acropolis, which was designed and first built in the decades preceding Pericles, is today commonly thought to symbolize the greatness of Periclean Athens.)
As a meal ticket could always be gotten in Athens, the city began to swarm with free peasants, who left behind with their life in the country a mountain of bad agricultural debts and overworked farmland of declining fertility. With agriculture in collapse, grain and other foodstuffs for Athens were carried in from the Black Sea, and productive industry in Athens was reduced to pottery-making and silver mining. The economic collapse brought on by Pericles brought a shift in the city's policy toward its colonies. Athens emphasized less and less scientific and commercial interchange, and more and more the mother city's imperial looting rights in its colonies.
The most pernicious of Pericles' policies, however, was embodied in his education program. His sponsorship of the so-called sophist movement was a profound attack on Athens' most precious remaining asset: the intellectual and moral powers of her citizenry.
For a price, any Athenian who wished his children to prosper in the city government could have them trained in rhetoric and "sophistry" -- the art of making the weaker argument appear the stronger -- by a teacher from Pericles' pool of trained demagogue-orators. Together with this, a materialist variety of natural science, excluding the human mind as a subject worthy of inquiry and deprecating mathematics, was promoted by Pericles' chief adviser, Anaxagoras.
To Gorgias, Thrasymachus, and Protagoras, leading sophists whose world view is scathingly exposed in Plato's dialogues, morality was strictly a matter of convention. The wise man -- or sophos --rejected as superstitious the notion that a moral law reigns, asserting that "right" and "wrong are relative, according to circumstances.
Such was the Golden Age of Pericles in Athens.
War of the Peloponnesus
Persia could regard Pericles as a proven asset. He could be counted upon to give the empire a free hand in Asia and to suppress a resurgence of anti-Persian sentiment in Greece. Nevertheless, Persian foreign policy could not tolerate an independent Greek mainland. The Athenian Empire was now a formidable military power, much more so than it had been in the days of Marathon and Salamis. To avert the threat that Athens might ever fall into hands dedicated to completing the work of Miltiades and the Areopagites, Persia resolved that Athens must be destroyed, and with it the rest of Greece. This they nearly succeeded in accomplishing, through the agency of the Peloponnesian War.
Although the facts are plain to see in the historical record, the Peloponnesian War has never been accurately explained by any historian. This Thirty Years War of the ancient world, which raged from 431 to 404 B.C., has for centuries been described as a contest between Sparta and the Athenian league. In reality, the antagonists were the Greeks, and the Persian oligarchs, who wielded their time-tested offensive strategy of “divide and conquer."
Persia funded and intrigued with both Sparta and Athens. First, it exacerbated the tensions between the two city-states which the Areopagite faction of Athens had worked for decades to soothe. Then Persia ignited the conflict, using the Delphi temple priests to entice the reluctant Spartans into declaring war over an insignificant change of government in a far-flung Greek city. Throughout the war, Persia played the contending alliances like a seesaw, leveraging gold, intelligence, and the prophesies of their cults' oracles to disrupt each of the attempted settlements and to offset any military superiority capable of winning the war for either side.
In the course of 27 years, the Peloponnesian War came close to destroying Greek civilization. Within the first two years of the War, a new and virulent plague struck Athens and killed one quarter of its population. Potidaea, the scene of a proudly recounted battle of the Persian War, witnessed the first recorded incident of wartime cannibalism during a Spartan blockade. The entire male population of Melos, a neutral in the war, was slaughtered by the Athenians without military pretext. The decision was made on the basis of the sophists' argument that "justice is the will of the stronger."
In 417 B.C., Athens was strong enough to bring the war to a close. Instead, the city's leaders chose to follow the pipedreams of Pericles' ward, the radical democrat Alkibiades, in a strategically suicidal invasion of Sicily. Appealing to the Athenians well-nurtured cupidity, Alkibiades represented the riches of Sicily as theirs for the taking. The Athenians enthusiastically backed the invasion over the opposition of their leading general Nikias, who is presented in Plato's dialogue Laches discussing the meaning of courage with Socrates. Alkibiades' expedition resulted in the decimation of the Athenian army and navy, as tens of thousands of Athenians died of starvation in caves as captives of Sicily.
Persian subversion had brought the Greeks into a collapse administered by their own hand.
Plato In His Youth
Plato had been born in 427 B.C., and his childhood and young manhood coincided with the worst events of the Peloponnesian War. Of his father, Ariston, we know very little beyond the name. He was certainly very wealthy, because Plato's mother, Periktione, came from one of the most prestigious families in Athens. She was related to Solon himself, and could trace her descent back to the last of the Kings of Athens.
Ariston probably died when Plato was very young. Periktione later married an Athenian aristocrat named Pyrilampes, a friend and ally of Pericles and an ambassador to the Persian court in Susa in the negotiations surrounding the end of the Persian War. Plato remarks in his dialogue Charmides on the striking figure his stepfather cut as a diplomat.
As a youth, Plato studied music, writing, and wrestling, as did every Athenian aristocrat of his time. According to historical tradition, he excelled in gymnastics no less than in his intellectual studies, and entered the competitions at the Pythian or Isthmian games. Some weight must be given to this story, inasmuch as the name by which he has been known for 2,500 years is not his given name (which was Aristocles) but the Greek word for "broad-shouldered."
As a teenager, Plato undertook the study of natural science and philosophy with Cratylus, a student of the Ionian philosopher Heracleitus. Heracleitus attacked the experience of the senses as a source of knowledge -- on much the same basis as the earlier philosophers Zeno and Parmenides, who founded the so-called eleatic school. However, Heracleitus came to opposite conclusions to those of the eleatics. The eleatics claimed that change was an illusion, and that the one, true being, is always self, identical and not subject to modification. Heracleitus held that change itself is reality, and that nothing is ever the same -- in the strict sense -- from instant to instant. "You cannot step in the same river twice" is one of his most famous postulates.
Thus, the young Plato was profoundly influenced by each significant current in science and philosophy prior to his time.
For the young Plato, these were not abstract questions which could be postponed for solution to a later maturity prepared by decades of reflection. As a remarkably gifted youth from a family with a tradition of political rule going back to before Solon, it was Plato's wish to enter public life. To be a great leader of the Athenians was not only his desire, but his duty. While the intellectual struggle over the fundamental questions of the nature of universal law raged inside him, his city was being torn apart by internecine battles so acute as to be remembered afterward as more horrible than anything that took place during the Peloponnesian War.
As a condition of the peace ending the war, which was dictated by the same Persian oligarchy that had provoked and run the war, a government was installed in Athens under the authority of its wartime adversary Sparta. Sparta was at that time dominated by Lysander, who had sold his services to Persia in order to bring about the Spartan victory. The new Athenian government, called the Thirty, was declared by Lysander himself in the Athenian assembly, and supported by Spartan arms and Persian gold.
The Thirty were drawn from the extreme oligarchist party, a neanderthal mockery of the leadership once provided to Athens by the Areopagite aristocracy. Although the new government attracted at the onset some of the best elements in Athens (Plato's uncle Critias and his second cousin Charmides were members of the Thirty), it also attracted the worst. But to seek for clear-cut factional divisions among the Thirty is not especially edifying, since overall their policy was dominated by Persia, via Sparta. Under the Thirty, Athens degenerated into a garrison state almost at once.
The Thirty began to exterminate the city's leading citizens with a chilling efficiency. An army of informants descended first on the homes of democrats, then resident aliens, and finally on virtually anyone whose household treasury was worth plundering.
Thus for Plato the question of universal lawfulness was immediate and essential to the tasks of statecraft he must master if he were to save his city. At about 20 years of age he met Socrates, a man who was leading the efforts to reestablish the city-building Solonic tradition in Athens.
Socrates was an intimate of Plato’s family circle and the leading representatives of the philosophical schools to which Plato had been exposed. The young Plato perhaps met the teacher who was to provoke the resolution of the issues on his mind in one of the frequent discussions in his stepfather Pyrilampes' house, which was visited regularly by politicians, sophists, and philosophers from all over Greece.
Socrates himself was not a member of the Athenian nobility. His father was a sculptor, a humble profession in Greece at the time, and Socrates was probably trained in this craft as a youngster. His introduction to public affairs, however, doubtless came from his father, who was a close friend of Aristides the Just, the leader of the Athenian Areopagites whose hand had guided the Greek resistance throughout the Persian War. Socrates himself was closely associated with the Aristides family, and acted as ward to Aristides' granddaughter and tutor to his grandson.
Socrates' mother, as he reminds his students repeatedly, was a midwife, and Socrates tells them that he is the same -- a midwife of ideas, to whom teaching is the act of giving birth, of bringing forth from another mind something already there but not yet born.
Socrates abandoned his father's profession to begin his search for truth in the physical science of his time, a remnant of the Ionian scientific revolution. He engaged in empirical scientific experiments, and was perhaps involved in a school of physikoi, or natural scientists, of the Ionian tradition. He rejected these studies, however, concluding that the methodological basis for such researches did not proceed from a standpoint embracing at once the processes of nature and human mind. The fundamental universal law he sought required understanding the lawful processes of mind itself.
Socrates therefore sought out those individuals acclaimed for wisdom: the eleatic philosophers, the Heracleitians, the sophists, and the Homeric traditionalists. In each case he found that the wisest represented themselves well in setting forth their views, but not so well under questioning. Socrates often found that his self-satisfied interlocutors, sophists like Protagoras and teachers of rhetoric like Gorgias, were unable to explain conceptions crucial to their professed areas of competence and suffered from an inability to think that was the same as an inability to teach. Plato's dialogues, which have brought many of these discussions between Socrates and the thinkers of his time down to us, capture like an insect in amber the pretentions of such men exploded by Socrates.
Socrates' method of bringing the critical political and moral questions of his day to scrutiny by holding day-to-day decision-making up for comparison to a universal ethic was attacked as negative and destructive. In his play The Clouds, the comedian Aristophanes ridicules Socrates, portraying him as a sophist floating in a basket above the pragmatic concerns of the city. Plato's Republic depicts the democratic orator Thrasymachus in another attack on Socrates:
"What nonsense is this, Socrates," he roared, "And why do you all simple-mindedly concede to one another? But if you really want to know what the just is, then don't just ask questions, or puff yourself up by contradicting every answer you get -- since you know that it is easier to ask questions than to answer them -- but answer yourself and tell us what you say the Just is. And don't tell me that it is what ought to be, or that which is useful, or what is due, or profitable, or advantageous, but tell me clearly and precisely what you have to say. I won't accept it if you say any of this kind of stupidity."
But for those who shared Socrates' commitment to truth, and who would wrestle with difficult questions knowing that it is harder to ask them than to answer, Socrates taught a means for finding the pathway toward truth. Posing a problem, examining it, and discussing it were all means to finding the higher standpoint from which it could be solved.
It was part of Socrates' method to disclaim his own knowledge of the answers to the questions he posed. 'This he did to ensure that as his students grasped toward, and found a solution, the authority for the discovery would not arise from Socrates as a matter of doctrine, but from the authority of the student's own power of mind.
Far from seeking to direct talented youths from influential families into public life, Socrates sought almost the opposite: to force young men to examine their fitness to rule. This conversation, from Xenophon's Memorabilia of Socrates, rings true as an example of Socrates' refusal to flatter his students:
Glaucon, [Plato's brother] the son of Ariston, though he was not yet twenty years old, wanted to be a leader in the state and was trying to address the Assembly. None of his friends or relatives could stop him from being dragged from the podium and making himself ridiculous. Socrates, who was interested in Glaucon through [Plato's grandfather] Glaucon's son Charmides and through Plato, was the only one who succeeded in stopping him. When he met Glaucon, he first contrived to get him to listen willingly by saying, "Glaucon, have you decided to be a leader in our state?"
"I have, O Socrates."
"By Zeus, of all the things among mankind, that is fine! Clearly, if you succeed in holding office, you will have the power to get what you wish and you will be able to help your friends. You will elevate your father's household, increase your fatherland, and be famed -- first in the state, then in Greece, and perhaps, like Themistocles, even among the barbarians. Wherever you may be, you will be admired by all."
When Glaucon heard this, he was proud and gladly agreed. Then Socrates added, "Isn't it clear that if you want to receive honor, you must benefit the state?"
"By the gods," exclaimed Socrates, don't keep it back from us! Tell us how you will begin to help the state!"
When Glaucon was silent as if thinking then for the first time how he would begin, Socrates said, "If you wanted to increase the estate of a friend, you would try to make him richer. Would you try then to make the state richer?"
"Would the state be richer if it received more revenue?"
"Then tell us the sources of revenue for the state now, and how much they yield. For. you must have studied the problem so that you can make up the difference if the income falls below what is anticipated and so that you can find new sources of revenue when the old ones lapse."
"But, by Zeus," said Glaucon, "I have not yet studied this."
Why Socrates Was Murdered
We have touched only briefly on the organizing method by which Socrates trained his faction's next generation of leaders, the most outstanding of whom was Plato. Most accounts of Socrates stop short with his teaching and his philosophy. But the circumstances of the great Athenian's life -- and death -- make clear that he was on the front lines of the battle against the Persian oligarchy.
Socrates served in the army of Athens, as did most free men of his time. Later, he eschewed public office, preferring the freedom of political activity afforded him as a "gadfly." One detailed account of Socrates in government, however, has given us much insight into the nature of his politics.
In 406 B.C., two years before the defeat of Athens in the Peloponnesian War, Conon, the city's leading democratic military man, charged the entire Athenian general staff with refusing to pick up shipwrecked soldiers following the battle of Arginusae. Leveling this capital charge was nothing other than an attempted military coup d'é tat in legal guise. Some of the generals had themselves been shipwrecked. Others were unable to sail because of storms, or were not near the wrecks.
Socrates was at this time serving his term in rotation as president of the Athenian assembly. He stopped the trial, declaring it in violation of the laws of Athens, and refused to put the question to a vote. The democratic party howled, and in spite of Socrates' efforts, condemned the generals to death the following day. The military leadership of Athens was destroyed, and the way paved to a Persian-dictated Spartan victory over Athens in less than two years.
This defeat for Socrates and his allies was only one setback of the Peloponnesian War period. By the end of the 27 years of fighting among the city-states, offensive action against Persia mounted from within Greece was impossible. The city-building faction was forced to look elsewhere for developments that would tip the strategic balance back in their favor.
The turning point came in 401 B.C., when Cyrus, the brother of the new Persian King Artaxerxes, took to the battlefield to challenge his brother's rule. We know little for certain of Cyrus's motives. We do know, however, that he was supported by the anti-Persian faction in Greece, which raised an army of 10,000 Greek soldiers, principally Spartans, to march behind the challenger to the Persian throne. With this material backing came conditions: that a victorious Cyrus would free Ionia from Persian rule, reopen the Black Sea to unrestrained Greek trade and colonization, and dismantle the networks of Persian influence in Greece itself.
There is little doubt that Socrates was aware of, and supported, Cyrus's expedition. He consulted with his intelligence networks across the Mediterranean on the planned invasion, and sent his pupil Xenophon on an intelligence probe to the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Following this, the twenty-three year old Xenophon, Socrates' second-most outstanding pupil, was sent to join the Persian challenger.
Cyrus marched his Greek army into Asia Minor, and, in a series of lightning raids, established control of the entire eastern Mediterranean coastal area of Persia. He then prepared to meet Artaxerxes in the city of Cunaxa, near Babylon, confident of victory as he commanded an army of vastly superior Greek hoplites against the Persian troops of his brother.
Cyrus made only one military mistake during the course of his campaign, and it cost him everything. His army won the battle, but lost its general. Although warned at all costs not to do so, Cyrus rushed into the fray to wage single combat against Artaxerxes, and was cut down.
The situation now confronting Cyrus's army was bleak. Although they had achieved military victory, their candidate for the Persian throne was dead. Immediately, a factional brawl erupted within the army leadership. A tenuous agreement was reached, and the proposal accepted that a member of Cyrus's general staff be chosen to serve as king so that military operations could be continued. However, the Ten Thousand had a traitor in their midst, the Athenian general Meno, who had a secret deal to betray the entire top leadership of the Greeks into Artaxerxes' hands.
Meno, whom Plato portrays baiting Socrates in his dialogue named after the treacherous general, proposed that the army seek a negotiated settlement, with guarantees of safe conduct on their 1,500 mile march back to Greece. When Cyrus's general staff arrived at the negotiations, Artaxerxes seized and killed them all. The Ten Thousand were left leaderless in a hostile, unfamiliar, and dangerous land. The army could well have disintegrated and disbanded, but for the leadership of several young men who came forward from its ranks to lead the Greeks back to Ionia. One of these was Socrates' student, Xenophon, whose Expedition of Cyrus tells us much of what we know about this chapter of ancient history.
Although Artaxerxes had survived his brother's challenge, the expedition of the Ten Thousand left the foreign policy of Persia in complete disarray. Not only had the expedition come close to success, but the very ease with which Cyrus's army had cut through the Persian Empire would certainly invite further attempts. That same army was still intact, and sitting in an impregnable position in Ionia.
The Persian oligarchs who engineered the Peloponnesian War, and awarded Sparta the victory in that contest to ensure continued rivalries among the Greek city-states, now reconsidered their strategy. A Sparta backed by Persian gold had maintained the army led by Cyrus against Artaxerxes' throne, and was fast becoming more of a threat to the empire than even the maritime strength and Areopagite traditions of Athens. Persia concluded that the Spartan settlement was no longer viable as the cornerstone of its divide-and-conquer strategy, and resolved to make the Athenian end of the seesaw rise again.
Artaxerxes began negotiations leading to a revival of Athenian sea-power, hoping to nurture Athenian imperialism and use it to outflank the Greeks. No doubt, two Athenian leaders figured in these negotiations: Meno and the Athenian admiral Conon.
Both Meno and his friend Anytus appear in Plato's famous dialogue. Meno, identified as'the "Guest-Friend of the Great King," a polite locution for a Persian agent, has been discussing with Socrates whether virtue can be taught. In the course of the discussion, Socrates makes a number of attacks on the leading politicians of his day -- and by implication on Meno himself. A skillful diplomat, Meno does not let down his polite mask. But not so Anytus, who tells Socrates in no uncertain terms that if he continues to speak like this he can expect to come to grief.
Plato's Meno gives the informed reader of his time -- and today -- all the information needed to identify the enemies and assassins of Socrates. Anytus was Socrates' chief accuser at the trial which cost him his life, and was rewarded with a career as a leading figure in the Persian-backed Second Athenian Confederacy. Clearly, Persia had given the word that the success of the plan to once again set the Greeks against each other depended on neutralizing Greece's anti-Persian faction. The leader of that faction, Socrates, must be gotten out of the way.
In 399 B.C., Meno's friend Anytus and two other members of the democratic faction grouped ar6und Admiral Conon, brought charges against Socrates on grounds of impiety and corruption of the young.
These charges were not only absurd, but bore no relation to the grounds on which Socrates was finally condemned. They were designed to call to the minds of the jurors the decades of calumny directed against the great thinker--that he was a sophist, that he had sided with the oligarchist government of the Thirty against the leading democratic families of Athens, that he was pro-Spartan in the Peloponnesian War.
As he had done hundreds of times through the decades, Socrates used the charges against him as a springboard for political organizing. In the Apology, Plato's beautiful account of Socrates' speech in his own defense, we see Socrates using the trial as a test of the Athenians. Refusing the appeal to his audience's fear and suspicion, Socrates bluntly compares his qualities of mind, moral character, and his leadership to that demonstrated by his opponents. He tells the Athenians that if they prefer the likes of Anytus to Socrates, it is themselves they are condemning. Regrettably, this is what they do.
As was customary, Socrates is asked to offer a penalty he believes fit to pay for his crimes after the guilty verdict is delivered against him. He replies that a fitting judgment would be to award him free meals for life, and raises a clamor from the jury with this blunt statement. Plato records that he offered a money fine, which Socrates accepts, if the jury take it.
But when the final vote is cast, the jurymen instead condemn Socrates to die by drinking hemlock. Efforts are made by the great teacher's friends to allow him to escape, but Socrates refuses. Athens is the city in which he had worked, and which he had called upon to conduct its affairs in the spirit of the law: he could not now flee that city without destroying his effectiveness as a teacher and a moral example. The Athenians must suffer the consequences of their lawlessness by the loss of their best teacher, Socrates.
Moreover, Socrates was by 399 B.C. an old man, over seventy, and had succeeded in replicating his method in an outstanding pupil capable of carrying out his work -- Plato.
The death of Socrates has come clown in history as one of the greatest crimes ever to be committed against human reason. Now, at long last, the cold light of justice is shined on his murderers. It was the collaborators of the bestialist Persian empire within Athens who condemned Socrates, and resolved over his dead body that the city would no longer be the policy-making center for the anti-Persian faction Socrates had led.
New Offensive Against Persia
The Socratic circle fled Athens immediately following Socrates' death, aware that Persia would seek to undermine every remaining influence he possessed. For a brief period, they regrouped at the home of Eucleides of Megara, the leader of the eleatic philosophers, at his estate in Megara, a Spartan-allied city not far from Athens.
Soon, perhaps within a year, Plato left Greece for a visit to another great center of opposition to Persia, Egypt. A satrapy of the Persian Empire since being conquered by King Cambyses in 525 B.C., Egypt had nevertheless maintained a continuously functioning anti-oligarchist elite. This elite was centered in the Amon priesthood, which carried on a centuries-long political interchange with the outstanding leaders of the Greek anti-Persian faction. In fact, the Athenian law-giver Solon and the Ionian scientist Thales had traveled to Egypt nearly 200 years earlier to consult with the Amon priests when the Babylonian-Persian threat first loomed in the fifth century B.C.
We know that Plato followed Solon's footsteps to Egypt and we can be quite sure that he involved himself in political conspiracy for the thirteen years he was there. Although historical sources now extant give us no specific information on the visit, it is quite clear from the events of the period that Plato came to Egypt as an emerging leader of the international fight against the Persian oligarchs, and conducted his campaign on behalf of the city-builders from this new base of operations.
By the time Plato arrived in Egypt, around 398 B.C., Persia had brought both Sparta and Athens into its grip. It was Persia's intention to use the Greek city-states and their military might as enforcers of the empire's economic and political policy throughout the Mediterranean.
Artaxerxes' agent in Sparta, Lysander, had secured the ouster of the heir apparent to the Spartan throne and replaced him with his uncle, Agesilaus. Agesilaus had the look of a readily manipulable Persian puppet who depended on Lysander's backing to keep the throne. The legitimate monarch was still living, ready to be used against Agesilaus at any time. Moreover, Agesilaus himself had exhibited no sign of his extraordinary leadership capabilities. He had endured the banal military rigors of the typical Spartan citizen -- a regimen designed to teach men to serve, not to rule. And he was lame in one leg, a fact sure to lower his prestige in the eyes of Sparta's body-cultist warriors.
Agesilaus's elevation to the throne was a political victory for both Persia and Lysander, then at the height of his prestige. With Agesilaus as a figurehead ruler, Lysander planned to conquer Greece as the power behind the throne and present it as a satrapy to Persia.
But once again, the international city-builders' faction turned a Persian asset against the empire. No sooner had Lysander placed Agesilaus on the throne, than Agesilaus announced that he would personally lead the Ten Thousand, still assembled in their camps in Ionia, in a final assault on the Persian king. This time, the expedition would be backed by the military power and authority of Sparta, and its aim would be the destruction of the Persian menace.
Agesilaus, dismissing Lysander as general and taking full command himself, traveled to Ionia to take over the army that had been kept in training for two years by lower-level Spartan commanders. There he met Xenophon, the student of Socrates and associate of Plato, who was to become his trusted adviser and friend for the rest of his life.
After a series of provisioning raids, Agesilaus prepared his army for battle against the forces of the Persian king. In 395 B.C., Agesilaus and the Ten Thousand completely destroyed Artaxerxes' army. The road to Susa, Persia's capital and administrative center, was opened. A brief military campaign was all that was needed, to crush Persia forever.
While Artaxerxes' army was being ripped to shreds on the battlefields, Persia's strategists were by no means sitting idly by. The agent Lysander hatched a deal with Persia's cult of Apollo at Delphi, in which certain prophesies would be promulgated to the effect that Sparta's kings must resign, and an election thrown open to all citizens. In the faction-ridden Sparta of the time, especially with Agesilaus and his most trusted men in Asia Minor, such an election would certainly be manipulated to place Lysander on the throne.
The traitors in Athens also did their part. Admiral Conon prepared the Athenian navy to join with Persian ships in an offensive to destroy Spartan control of the Ionian coast. If this territory fell into Persian-allied hands, Agesilaus would be cut off from his path of return to Greece, and whatever victories were accomplished inland would be rendered meaningless.
What prevented the destruction of the Agesilaus campaign was help from an international flank: the Egyptian component of the anti-Persian alliance, whose actions show the hand of Plato --although the evidentiary fingerprints have been worn away. For both the threat of internal Spartan subversion and the military threat of Conon's Persian-financed naval power were overcome, not from any Greek city, but from Egypt, where Plato was on the scene.
Lysander's plot to capture the Spartan throne was undone by the priests of the Egyptian cult of Amon, who came forward publicly for the only time in recorded history, to denounce the Temple of Apollo and Lysander as conspirators, and demand the expulsion of Lysander from Sparta. The Spartans refused to expel Lysander; but the priests' disclosures ended the conspiracy and he was stripped of all influence.
To abet Agesilaus's forces in developing a naval capability strong enough to withstand the Athenians under Conon, the Egyptian King Nephertites gave the Spartans materials for the production of one hundred war ships, and 500,000 measures of grain.
That Plato's principal activity in Egypt during this period was connected to the Agesilaus campaign is proven by his collaboration in Egypt with Eudoxus of Cnidos, one of the most outstanding mathematicians of all times and after Plato himself probably the greatest mind of the century. This collaboration, which was to last until the end of both men's lives, was not only one of the most important for the history of science, but for the efforts of the city-building faction of Plato's era.
Eudoxus is described by his ancient Greek biographer as an agent of Agesilaus in Egypt. He was also a central figure in another circle of the anti-Persian conspiracy: the Pythagorean communities of southern Italy and the Greek city-state of Thebes which were guided by Socrates until his death. In 399 B.C., when Socrates was on trial, representatives of this group flocked to Athens, seeking to protect Socrates from the Persian front-men and to offer him exile in their cities.
The political occupation of the Greek mainland by agents of Persia proved, however, to be the defeat of the city-builders. At the moment of Agesilaus's triumph over the oligarchy's forces in Persia and Ionia, Artaxerxes hatched a new flank, one which the anti-Persian conspirators were not able to counter. Through the bribery of leading politicians in Athens, Corinth, and Thebes, a hoked-up Corinthian war was declared against Sparta.
When informed of the magnitude of the forces arrayed against him at home, Agesilaus reluctantly honored his recall, knowing that with its best troops in Asia, his city would be devastated by the Corinthian alliance. "I have been driven from Asia by 10,000 archers," the Spartan general said. He was referring not to any military force, for he could have marched to Susa without meeting any, but to the gold coin of the Persian realm, the daric, which was stamped with the image of a bowman.
Suddenly faced with the collapse of their military campaign against Persia, Plato, and his collaborators had no choice but to build a new strategic orientation from scratch. Mainland Greece was to be wracked by Persian-instigated wars for the next twenty years. The heroic Agesilaus would again have a chance to bloody Persia's nose, but not before the Persian-funded troops of Thebes nearly captured his native city, and dashed the Spartans' proud claim that "no Spartan woman had ever seen an enemy's campfires."
Coming in Part II [the issue of The Campaigner containing this part was not on-line as of this transcription, and I assume that if it were available, it would be posted - transcriber]: In the wake of the failure of Agesilaus's Persian campaign, Plato seeks to create a new flank in the anti-Persian struggle. We follow him from Egypt to the court of Archytas of Tarentum, a great ruler and scientist, and thence to Syracuse, the richest city in the Greek world. In Syracuse, Plato seeks to transform its ruler, Dionysius I, into a leader capableof rallying Greece against the oligarchy.
Expelled from Syracuse, Plato returns to Athens, where he seeks to establish a cadre force qualified to organize the Greek cities, still bleeding themselves in incessant wars, to turn instead against Persia. To do this, Plato composes his Republic, the best known and least understood of his dialogues.
Plato is recalled to Syracuse after the death of Dionysius by his son and successor, Dionysius II. He is assisted by his student and friend, Dion, in efforts to launch a program of city building and education reviving “Greek reason" and enabling Syracuse to emerge as leader of the anti-Persian alliance. Ruined by a court cabal, Dion is exiled.
A third visit to Syracusec onvincesPlato that the House Studof Dionysius is entirely corrupt.Again, he mustformulate a newflank--and in doing so,forges new weapons in politics and epistemology through the vehicle of hls dialogues that are the immediate foundation for those sciences today.
Rev A: Changed nonbreaking spaces to regular spaces to prevent premature line breaks
Further Nonspecialist Reading
In addition to Plato's Dialogues, the following original sources provide background to the history of classical Greece.
1. Kirk and Raven, The Pre-Socratic Philosophers. Since the writings of Heracleitus and other pre-Socratic philosophers have come down to us only in citations by later authors, we must rely on collections like this one. Ignore the commentary.
2: Herodotus, History of the Persian Wars. The earliest historical work extant, Herodotus's witty and lively account was written after his tBra.Cve. ls through Greece, Asia Minor, and Egypt in the fifth century
3. Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War. Despite its occasional lapses in candor, this is the basic account of the war by a man who was briefly an Athenian general in its early campaigns.
4. Xenophon, Anabasis (Cyrus's Expedition). This is the major source for the history of the Ten Thousand by its leader on the return trip to Ionia. Both a crucial historical document and a thrilling adventure, it was, prior to this century, the standard text for studying Greek in all grammar school and secondary school education.
5. Xenophon, Memorabila. This provides a valuable picture of Socrates in action.
6. Classical Greek Tragedy. Only seven plays each of Aeschylus and Sophocles survive, less than one-tenth of their known output. The best introduction to these works is the sole surviving trilogy (the form in which classical tragedy was presented) of each author: Aeschylus's Oresteia, consisting of the plays Agamemnon, The Libation Bearers, and the Eumenides; and Sophocles' Theban plays, Oedipus Rex, Oedipus at Colonus, and Antigone.
7. Plutarch, Lives. Plutarch was active around the second century A.D. He was a priest of the oracle of Apollo, and his works must be read with this fact in mind. His position in the temple, however, gave him access to an enormous amount of otherwise unavailable information. Plutarch's historical profiles include Solon, Agesilaus, Lysander, Aristides, Pericles, Nikias, Alkibiades, and Artaxerxes.
1. Bury, J. B., History of Greece. Like all general histories of Greece, Bury's is entirely fraudulent on strategic and related questions. But it provides an otherwise readable account of the major events of Greek history.
2. Olmstead,T. A., History of the Persian Empire. Olmstead was an admirer of the Persian system, but he is accurate in his discussion of the Marduk priesthood's control of Cyrus, the activities of the Apollo oracle, and the consequences of the ancient oligarchy's system of political economy. This is the only recommendable history of the period, although it is often rough going for the nonspecialist.
3. Guthrie, W. K. C., The Greeks and Their Gods. This businesslike survey of the Greeks' gods and mythologies happily eschews cultish interpretation and is a handy guide for students of the ancient period.
4. Schiller, Friedrich, "The Legislation of Lycurgus and Solon." This essay, written by the young Schiller, is a valuable introduction to Greek civilization as its central theme is the relationship of state policy to city-building.
5. LaRouche, Lyndon H., Jr. "The Secrets Known Only to the Inner Elites," The Campaigner, May-June 1978. This piece is the definitive account of LaRouche's historiographic method, which develops the "long lines" of history in terms of its actual dynamic: the battle between humanists and oligarchists completely concealed from readers of traditional histories.
6. Zoakos, Criton, "Aristotle, Political Warfare, and Classical Studies,"The Campaigner, September-Octobe 1978. Arnest, Paul, "From Babylon to Jerusalem: The Genesis of the Old Testament," The Campaigner, Fall 1977. These articles apply the LaRouche method in epistemology and historiography. The present article is repeatedly indebted to them.
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