In about his fortieth year Plato is said to have left Athens to study with Pythagoras at Crotona. Plato was perhaps the only Pythagorean whose work and teachings are known today. Traveling to Syracuse, Plato met Dionysius I and became friends with his brother¬ in-law, Dion, who later became his follower (Jaspers, 1962). After leaving Italy Plato traveled to Egypt, Cyrene, Judea and to the banks of the Ganges. It was said that his mind became a treasure house of the world's wisdom (Thomas & Thomas, 1941). But it was Socrates to whom Plato remained devoted all his life.
Plato returned to Athens in 386 to start his Academy, which he patterned after Pythagoras' school in Crotona. Here he immortalized the mental prowess of his master, Socrates, presenting Socratic ideas in the form of dialogues though the mouth of his teacher. He gave us a fair picture of Socrates but little of himself, so that it is hard to tell when Socrates leaves off and Plato takes over. When Plato was sixty (c. 368) Aristotle, then twenty, joined the Academy and continued as Plato's primary student for the next twenty years, until Plato's death in 347 BC.
Merely recalling the name of Plato brings instant and complete admiration in most educational circles. As Alfred North Whitehead put it, it seems that all of Western history is a series of footnotes to Plato. Plato took the liberty of giving his personal philosophy through the mouth of Socrates. The two seem inseparable. Socrates is known to us because Plato took the time to write down the story of his teacher. Everything we know of Socrates was written by Plato. There is no way to know where Socrates' thinking stops and Plato's begins. Body Influences on Plato Plato's early life and writings were very much influenced by Socrates. Plato's beginning works reflected Socrates' thinking, and perhaps ideas that came to him as Socrates was speaking, but which Socrates himself never uttered. As time passed the words of the teacher appeared to reflect the original thinking of the student. In time Socrates became a secondary character, then finally disappeared altogether in Laws (Jaspers, 1962). Plato and Socrates are distinct in some aspects. They approached life in two utterly different ways. Socrates walked the streets of Athens verbally proclaiming his message while Plato lived in seclusion, away from the evils of society. Socrates was bound to Athens; Plato remained an Athenian but was on his way to becoming a cosmopolitan; he was capable of living and working outside of his native city. Socrates philosophized in the immediate present, Plato indirectly, through his works and the school he founded. Socrates remained in the market place, Plato withdrew to the Academy with a chosen few. Socrates did not write a line, Plato left a monumental work (Jaspers, 1962, p. 121). On their darker sides, the two philosophers shared an acceptance of homosexual attraction between adult males and their young male students that most would not agree with today. In his Symposium Plato creates an argument for homosexual love for boys. He suggests that some men are meant to pursue heavenly love and some earthy love. Those who look to heaven are more attracted to boys than to women. Why? Because boys are mentally keener, more beautiful, thus closer to the realm of perfection. According to Plato, loving boys is a means of acquiring wisdom. But also necessary to the pursuit of perfection, according to Socrates and Plato, is the exercising of