In Plato’s vast corpus, consisting of tens of thousands of words, there is scant mention of Plato himself. This is perhaps more surprising when we realize that, at least in the so-called “Last Days of Socrates” dialogues there is plenty of opportunity to incorporate Plato as a historically and chronologically accurate character.
Nevertheless, as it is, there are only 3 mentions of Plato in the dialogues, twice in the Apology and once in the Phaedo.
In the first appearance in the Apology there is a brief mention that Plato is the son of Ariston, which comes in the context of Socrates mentioning who took part in his “discussions” (diatribai).
This Adeimantos the son of Ariston [also took part in discussions], of whom Plato here is the brother…(Apology 34a1). 1
So we have here pointed out the fact that Plato was present at the trial of Socrates as well as the implication that he took part in Socratic discussion, albeit as one could infer from Socrate’s portrayal, less notably than Adeimantos his brother.
The second reference to Plato comes again in the Apology, four pages later, as Socrates is quite cheekily advocating that his punishment should be a fine, and in a list of people who will provide surety for this fine, who do you think he lists first?
And this Plato, men of Athens, and Critoboulos and Apollodoros urge me to pay a fine of 30 minas, and they themselves are sureties for it (Apology 38b6-7). 2
In both of these appearances, Socrates (through Plato the author) has made mention of the presence of Plato, once using an adverb (here) and then using a demonstrative (this). This might seem trivial, until we arrive at the last appearance of Plato in the dialogues.
The reference to Plato in the Phaedo is famous for a number of reasons. It historically is important because from what it tells us Plato was not present at the death of Socrates. It is also is involved in some interpretations of the end of the dialogue.
As Phaedo himself recites who was present at Socrate’s death, he mentions a number of Athenians and foreigners, buts adds, in the middle, that Plato was not.
But Plato, I think, was sick (Phaedo 59b10). 3
Some commentators on this “sickness,” making use of Socrates’ injunction to offer a cock to the god Asclepius upon his death, see in this an ingenious self-reference to Plato’s own eventual recovery, as such a sacrifice was done to ensure health. The less glamorous option is that Socrates is thanking the god for the removal of this mortal coil and all the diseased trappings of physical existence.
This seems fully to align with Plato’s literary magnanimity in general. But could this sickness (lit. not being strong) be a metaphor for Plato not yet being able to stomach Socrates’ death or death in general? After all, the Phaedo really does concern death: the philosopher and his attitude toward death, arguments for the soul’s persistence after death, a myth about the afterlife, and finally Socrates’ own death. It would be fitting then, that although not philosophically equipped to handle death at Socrates’ own demise, Plato would eventually gain such strength as to, among other things, write the dialogue on death, the Phaedo.
1 ὅδε δὲ Ἀδείμαντος, ὁ Ἀρίστωνος, οὗ ἀδελφὸς οὑτοσὶ Πλάτων, καὶ
Αἰαντόδωρος, οὗ Ἀπολλόδωρος ὅδε ἀδελφός. καὶ ἄλλους
2 Πλάτων δὲ ὅδε, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, καὶ Κρίτων καὶ
Κριτόβουλος καὶ Ἀπολλόδωρος κελεύουσί με τριάκοντα μνῶν αὐτοὶ δ᾽ ἐγγυᾶσθαι
3 Πλάτων δὲ οἶμαι ἠσθένει.