© 1996 Bernard SUZANNE Last updated March 29th, 2013

Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author - Map of the site
Accès à la version française : Platon et ses dialogues

Plato and his dialogues

by Bernard SUZANNE
"The safest general characterization
of the European philosophical tradition
is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato"

A. N. Whitehead, Process and Reality, 1929

Above: portrait of Plato after an original sculpted by Silanion around 370 B. C. for the Academy of Athens, Archæological Museum, Island of Thasos ; below, fragment of a mosaic from the Saint-Gregory Convent in Rome exhibiting the inscription in Greec "gnôthi sauton", meaning "Know thyself", Rome, National Museum of the Thermae.

Plato is probably one of the greatest philosophers of all times, if not the greatest. Yet, he was one of the first philosophers, at least in the western philosophical tradition that was born in Greece a few hundred years BC., and anyway he is the first one whose complete works are still available to us. But if we have more than we would bargain for in terms of writings attributed to Plato, as some of the dialogues and letters transmitted to us under his name are obviously not his, we have very little data on his life and literary activity. As a result, many conflicting theories have been developed by scholars of various times regarding the interpretation of Plato's dialogues and their chronology to the extent it bears on that interpretation. This set of pages intends to present a new theory on the interpretation of Plato's dialogues and "philosophy".

But these pages don't intend to make you a Plato scholar, a specialist of his thoughts and "theories", for the simple reason that one of the most ingrained convictions of the author of these pages is that, if Plato wrote dialogues rather than philosophy treatises, and, what's more, dialogues in which he never stages himself as a participant, it is because his purpose was not to tell his readers what he himself thought, what were the answers he himself had given to the most fundamental questions in life about what it means to be a (wo)man, but to teach them to think by themselves so that they could find their own answers to those questions, because he knew that, in such matters, neither he nor we would ever get ultimate, "scientifically" demonstrable, answers, and that each one of us has to build one's own life and live it (and that, no one can do for someone else) based upon hypotheses that had to be the most "reasonable" that was possible, as what defines man is his being an animal endowed with logos (a Greek word meaning both "speech" and "reason", among many other meanings), but that would nonetheless remain till the end "indemonstrable" assumptions. In short, he only wanted to help his readers practice for themselves the motto that was engraved above the main entrance of the temple at Delphi, and which his "master", Socrates, had made his own:

"Know thyself "

(in Greek : "gnôthi sauton", which is better translated by "come to know thyself" or "learn to know thyself") and thus, to become philosophers, that is, according to Plato at least, not specialists of one scholarly branch of knowledge among others, making a living out of their teaching, peer debates and published works, but, in the etymological sense of the word, "lovers of wisdom", lovers (philoi in Greek) only, not "wise" (sophoi in Greek), because they know the wisdom they love cannot be reached in this life (as the principles upon which it depends cannot be demonstrated, which means, as Socrates used to say, that "I know nothing", meaning "I known nothing for certain, in the strongest sense of these words, nothing, that is, of what alone counts to reach happiness in life"), but constitutes an idea(l) of justice, of a justice that is not merely abiding by the laws, but which is the inner harmony to be reached by a human being whose will is torn apart between passions and reason and whose unity is not given from the start, as the foundation for social harmony between men and women in the city.

(Note : if you are a first time visitor, click here to move directly to the directory of introductory material)

The pages of this site are best viewed with a screen resolution of at least 800x600 and 64K colors (true RBG colors), using a browser which can handle HTML 3.2 (such as Netscape Navigator V3) or higher.

For returning visitors :

Latest additions to the site : Plato : (January 24th, 2015) a paper in English titled "Can we see the sun?" (pdf file), detailing my understanding of the allegory of the cave (Republic VII, 514a1-517a7), the analogy of the line (Republic, VI, 509c5-511e5) and the parallel between good and sun (République, VI, 504e7-509c) and the consequences it has on the general understanding of Plato's dialogues and more specifically on his supposed "theory of forms/ideas";
(March 29th, 2013) in the French section of this site, new completely revised annotated translation in French of Republic, VI, 509c5-511e5 (the analogy of the line) and Republic VII, 514a1-517a7 (the allegory of the cave) (the later available since October 23rd, 2012) leading to a completely new understanding of those two famous texts which deciphers all the details of those images ; (July 25th, 2012) in the French section of this site, annotated translation in French of Republic, X, 595c7-598d6 under the title « les trois couches (lits) », leading to a new understanding of the word eidos and idea in Plato ; (October 16, 2010) in the French section of the site, completion of the annotated translation in French of books V, VI and VII of the Republic, with an introduction, under the title « Les trois vagues »; (June 7, 2009) correction to the map of Plato's dialogues to exchange places between the Gorgias and the Hippias Major (see introductoty note to the presentation of the second tetralogy for some explanations on this change); (June 5, 2009) in the French section of the site, a pdf file (2 Mo) including the Greek text of the Meno along with an introduction and my annotated translation of it in French (each page is divided in three: a portion of the Greek text, my translation in French of that portion, and notes on that portion) ; (earlier) a page with pictures dedicated to the Stephanus edition of Plato's complete works published in 1578 which still serves as a reference to quote Plato and a page that shows what a "book" might have looked like in Plato's time. Also, for those who read French : a "vocabulary" section with studies of words of significant importance for the understanding of Plato; a commented translation in French of the first part of the Parmenides (Parmenides, 126a1-137c3: Prologue, dialogue between Socrates and Zeno, dialogue between Socrates and Parmenides); of the Meno; of large sections of the Republic: the ring of Gyges; the philosopher king: end of book V starting at 471c4; all of book VI (including the comparison between sun and good and the analogy of the line); all of book VII (including the allegory of the cave); the myth of Er at the end of book X; see also history of updates -- Tools : new and updated entries on Ionia, Doris, Æolis, Phocis, Libya, Phoenicia and more, and also on Atlas and Atlantis, Prometheus and Epimetheus, plus a new map of Athens intra-muros in the time of Socrates and Plato. Also an entry on Athens enriched with a more fully developed section on mythological traditions on its legendarty kings, plus detailed maps of the Agora and the Acropolis, and a comparative chronology of Greek and modern thinkers and politicians to give you a more "concrete" feel for the scale of time involved with Plato and Socrates.

A "map" of Plato's dialogues provinding links to comments on specific tetralogies and dialogues (the "heart" of this site)

A Tools section providing context and perspective for the dialogues : synoptic and detailed chronologies of Vth and IVth centuries B. C. (in the making) ; maps of Greek world from Sicily to Asia Minor, Eastern Mediterranean from Egypt to the Black Sea, Greece, Central Greece and Peloponnese, Attica and Athens ; biographical and geographical entries on persons and locations of interest in studying Plato and his dialogues (in the making); and also a page dedicated to the Stephanus edition of Plato's complete works (with pictures), which, though dating back to 1578, still serves as the reference today for quoting Plato (see question 7 of the frequently asked questions)

Links to dialogues on the Web

A list of Plato's works, along with a bibliography on and around Plato.

French reading visitors will also find on the site of the online philosophical journal Klèsis (this journal changes often of host and of layout, which result in frequent changes of URL for individual pages; if the links below to the journal don't work, used the links to the local copies which, being on my site, don't change):

And also :

Answers to some Frequently Asked Questions about Plato
(including a question on Plato and Atlantis)

E-mail Archives (some of my messages about Plato's dialogues to various lists)

For first time visitors, as a prelude :

About the author

How to use these pages

 A short biography of Plato

A list of Plato's works

A brief history of the interpretation of Plato's dialogues

A new set of hypotheses about Plato's dialogues

Related sites

An introductory essay on Plato and his dialogues by the author of these pages at the (EAWC) site at the University of Evansville, Indiana, which has hosted this Plato site for the first five years of its existence.


This site on Plato and his dialogues was made possible by the suggestion and encouragement the author received, and continues receiving, from Anthony F. Beavers, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Religion at the University of Evansville, Indiana, who accepted to host these pages for more than five years (May, 1996 to September, 2001) on one of the servers of the Internet Applications Laboratory (IALab) he founded and heads at the University of Evansville. Among many projects of the IALab, Tony is developing his own site on Plato, called "Exploring Plato's Dialogues : A Virtual Learning Environment on the World-Wide Web".

Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author - Map of the site

First published May 16, 1996 - Last updated March 29th, 2013
© 1996, 1997 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
Quotations from theses pages are authorized provided they mention the author's name and source of quotation (including date of last update). Copies of these pages must not alter the text and must leave this copyright mention visible in full.