Fourth Letter (Plato)

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The Fourth Letter, or Fourth Epistle, is one of thirteen letters which are traditionally attributed to Plato.

Text

PLATO TO DION OF SYRACUSE, WELFARE.

I think my good will towards your enterprise has been evident from the beginning, as well as my earnest desire to see it brought to completion, for no other reason than admiration for noble deeds. For I deem it right that the men who really possess virtue and exemplify it in their conduct should receive the glory that is due them. All has gone well so far, thank God, but the greatest contest lies ahead. Strength, courage, and cleverness are qualities in which others also may win distinction; but to be preeminent above others in truthfulness, justice, high-mindedness, and the grace of conduct which these virtues express—this is what would by general consent be expected of those who profess to honor these traits of character. What I say is obvious; nevertheless we must keep reminding ourselves that these men (you know whom I mean) ought to stand out so that the rest of mankind will be as children in comparison. We must make it manifest that we are really the sort of men we say we are, particularly since, by God's help, it can easily be done. Other men have to travel far and wide if they are to become known; but the events of which you are the center are such that the whole world, to speak somewhat boastfully, has its eyes upon one place, and upon you especially in that place. You are the object of universal interest; make ready, then, to eclipse Lycurgus and Cyrus and anyone else deemed preeminent in character and statesmanship, especially since many people (indeed most people) here are saying that with Dionysius out of the way your cause will in all likelihood come to ruin through your ambitions and those of Heraclides, Theodotes, and the other notables. May no such dissension arise; but if it does, you must show that you can heal it and all will be well. You will no doubt smile at my saying this, for you are yourself aware of the danger. But I have noticed that competitors in the games are spurred on by the shouts of the children, and still more by those of their friends, when they think that the cheering springs from sincerity and good will. Be you then the contestants, and write us when we can help you.

Matters here are almost the same as when you were with us. Write us also what you have done or are doing, since we hear many reports but know nothing surely. Letters have just now come to Lacedaemon and Aegina from Theodotes and Heraclides, but as I said, though we hear many rumors from the people here, we know nothing. Remember that some persons think you are not sufficiently obliging; don't forget that one must please men if one would do anything with them, whereas self-will is fit only for solitude. Good luck!

— Fourth Letter, traditionally attributed to Plato[1]

Background

Unlike the large majority of Plato's major works, the Letters are not Socratic dialogues. Further, despite their traditional attribution to Plato, the Letters are variously held to be spurious or suspect by modern scholarship.

Collectively, the thirteen Letters are commonly grouped together as one larger item (called either Letters or Epistles). In turn, this larger collection of Letters is traditionally the last item in the Thrasyllan tetraologies, a traditional grouping of the major works of Plato which divides them into nine tetraologies of four works apiece.[2] In this arrangement, the Letters occupy the thirty-sixth and final place in the traditional Platonic corpus.

References

  1. ^ Cooper, John M.; Hutchinson, D.S. (1997). Plato: Complete Works. Indianapolis: Hackett. pp. 1643–1644. ISBN 9780872203495.
  2. ^ "plato-dialogues.org".


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