Universally regarded as Plato’s student in antiquity, it is the eloquent and patriotic orator Demosthenes—not the pro-Macedonian Aristotle who tutored Alexander the Great—who returned to the dangerous Cave of political life, and thus makes it possible to recover the Old Academy. In Plato and Demosthenes: Recovering the Old Academy, William H. F. Altman explores how Demosthenes—along with Phocion, Lycurgus, and Hyperides—add external and historical evidence for the hypothesis that Plato’s brilliant and challenging dialogues constituted the Academy’s original curriculum. Altman rejects the facile view that the eloquent Plato, a master speech-writer as well as the proponent of the transcendent and post-eudaemonist Idea of the Good, was rhetoric’s enemy. He shows how Demosthenes acquired the discipline necessary to become a great orator, first by shouting at the sea and then by summoning the Athenians to self-sacrifice in defense of their waning freedom. Demosthenes thus proved Socrates’ criticism of democracy and the democratic man wrong, just as Plato the Teacher had intended that his best students would, and as he continues to challenge us to do today.
William H. F. Altman is an independent scholar.
Abbreviations of Plato’s Writings
Chapter 1. The End of the Old Academy
Chapter 2. Five Students of Plato
Chapter 3. Plato the Teacher
Chapter 4. Demosthenes
Chapter 5. Suppressions
The place of Demosthenes as a student of Plato is part in the larger scholarly debates over Plato himself.... Plato and Demosthenes is surely to be a work that all scholars and students regarding the question of Demosthenes’s education, the intent and purpose of Plato’s Academy, and the implications of political Platonism must consult. Altman mounts a vigorous and convincing defense of the traditional, old, view. It also is, in a more indirect way, a good defense of the real Plato as committed to justice and liberty instead of the post-1945 corruption of Plato as some sort of proto-fascist. Finally, the book also raises deep questions we must ponder today in light of democratic backsliding, the erosion of liberty and justice within our societies, and whether the proliferation of relativism (the real impetus for all tyranny to emerge) can be checked by a few noble souls or if a broader societal revival to personal virtue and the common good is needed for the safeguarding of democratic institutions and the liberty and justice they promise.
Can the great orator Demosthenes have been a student in Plato’s Academy? And not just he, but also his great rival Aeschines and the renowned speakers Hyperides and Lycurgus? To most scholars of Plato and Demosthenes, such a connection is unheard of – in the literal sense of being entirely unfamiliar. Yet ancient testimonies assert or imply as much (Cicero in his Brutus, the treatise on Lives of the Ten Orators, and many more). How can this be, given Plato’s disdain for rhetoric? And what has Plato to do with practical politics in Athens? In this carefully reasoned, learned, and passionate book, the result of years of research on Plato as educator, William Altman makes a powerful case for understanding the political activities of Demosthenes and the others as a return to the Cave – exactly what Plato urged on those who had completed his curriculum. It is required reading for anyone interested in Plato, Demosthenes, and the history of their times.