Thursday, July 5, 2012

Plato's Name

You could argue that Plato is a topic for a Classics blog not Medieval but Plato's philosophy exerted a huge influence on the development of Christianity through people like Boethius and Augustine. As well, everybody in the Middle Ages read Timaeus.
Plato was born into old money. I always knew he came from a privileged family but I had not paid much attention to his biography. There is little information about him but he could be likened in status to Cato the Younger (without the big pickle jammed up his backside). In the Middle Ages, 'Plato' was said to not be his birth name, but was a nickname that he acquired from his wrestling instructor Ariston due to his broad physique or broad face. He had been named after his grandfather, Aristocles, according to Diogenes.
Most introductions to Plato's works will not mention the controversy about his name. There are several issues wrong with the story. First, Plato is a common Greek name and second his father's name is also Ariston. None of Diogenes' sources survive. Diogenes is the only early source for this anecdote. There are also many who still tell the story of Plato's name as though it were a proven fact. I found a nice article in "Classical Philology" by James A Notopoulos called The Name of Plato. I suppose it is best that he remain Plato since, if his name really was Aristocles, people might confuse him with his pupil, Aristotle.

Seriously. Especially people who are up late at night speed reading for an exam. Not me, of course. I would never do that.


Anachronist said...

I hate blogger. it's just eaten my lovely, long, boring comment! Might return later. Grrrr

Anachronist said...

What do you think of a theory that the nickname of Plato was derived from the breadth (platytês) of his eloquence? A nice one, don't you think?

The Red Witch said...

Yup and that was a common play on his name in the Middle Ages.