In Pursuit of the Philosopher King

Dionysus II of Syracuse – The Failed Student

Plato was not content with mere idle theorizing. After writing The Republic, he hoped to re-create his city state on the island of Sicily. In Syracuse, the king, Dionysius I had recently passed away, leaving his son Dionysus II the throne. Being inexperienced in the affairs of state, The uncle of the king and a former student of Plato’s, Dion was acting as caretaker. Dion found the increasingly depraved lifestyle of Dionysius II worrying, and invited his old mentor to the island in the hopes he could educate the young king.

In one of a collection of letters surviving from Plato he speaks of his call to the island and the time he spent there.

On my arrival, to cut a long story short, I found the court of Dionysius full of intrigues and of attempts to create in the sovereign ill-feeling against Dion. I combated these as far as I could, but with very little success; and in the fourth month or thereabouts, charging Dion with conspiracy to seize the throne, Dionysius put him on board a small boat and expelled him from Syracuse with ignominy.

Plato, Seventh Letter

Although he admired Plato for his wisdom, the whispers of the court led Dionysus to fear the philosopher. Believing Plato to still be supporting Dion, Dionysius II refused to allow himself to treat Plato as a mentor. Plato soon found that no amount of wisdom could cure the unwilling student of his ignorance. When the opportunity arose he fled the island back to Athens, his hopes for founding Kollipolis in ruins.

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