Let this be the end of my advice and injunction and of the narrative of my first visit to Dionysios. Whoever wishes may next hear of my second journey and voyage, and learn that it was a reasonable and suitable proceeding. My first period of residence in Sicily was occupied in the way which I related before giving my advice to the relatives and friends of Dion. After those events I persuaded Dionysios by such arguments as I could to let me go ; and we made an agreement as to what should be done when peace was made ; for at that time there was a state of war in Sicily. Dionysios said that, when he had put the affairs of his empire in a position of greater safety for himself, he would send for Dion and me again ; and he desired that Dion should regard what had befallen him not as an exile, but as a change of residence. I agreed to come again on these conditions.
When peace had been made, he began sending for me ; he requested that Dion should wait for another year, but begged that I should by all means come. Dion now kept urging and entreating me to go. For persistent rumours came from Sicily that Dionysios was now once more possessed by an extraordinary desire for philosophy. For this reason Dion pressed me urgently not to decline his invitation. But though I was well aware that as regards philosophy such symptoms were not uncommon in young men, still it seemed to me safer at that time to part company altogether with Dion and Dionysios ; and I offended both of them by replying that I was an old man, and that the steps now being taken were quite at variance with the previous agreement.
After this, it seems, Archytes came to the court of Dionysios. Before my departure I had brought him and his Tarentine circle into friendly relations with Dionysios. There were some others in Syracuse who had received some instruction from Dion, and others had learnt from these, getting their heads full of erroneous teaching on philosophical questions. These, it seems, were attempting to hold discussions with Dionysios on questions connected with such subjects, in the idea that he had been fully instructed in my views. Now is not at all devoid of natural gifts for learning, and he has a great craving for honour and glory. What was said probably pleased him, and he felt some shame when it became clear that he had not taken advantage of my teaching during my visit. For these reasons he conceived a desire for more definite instruction, and his love of glory was an additional incentive to him. The real reasons why he had learnt nothing during my previous visit have just been set forth in the preceding narrative. Accordingly, now that I was safe at home and had refused his second invitation, as I just now related, Dionysios seems to have felt all manner of anxiety lest certain people should suppose that I was unwilling to visit him again because I had formed a poor opinion of his natural gifts and character, and because, knowing as I did his manner of life, I disapproved of it.
It is right for me to speak the truth, and make no complaint if anyone, after hearing the facts, forms a poor opinion of my philosophy, and thinks that the tyrant was in the right. Dionysios now invited me for the third time, sending a trireme to ensure me comfort on the voyage ; he sent also Archedemos — one of those who had spent some time with Archytes, and of whom he supposed that I had a higher opinion than of any of the Sicilian Greeks — and, with him, other men of repute in Sicily. These all brought the same report, that Dionysios had made progress in philosophy. He also sent a very long letter, knowing as he did my relations with Dion and Dion’s eagerness also that I should take ship and go to Syracuse. The letter was framed in its opening sentences to meet all these conditions, and the tenor of it was as follows : “Dionysios to Plato,” here followed the customary greeting and immediately after it he said, “If in compliance with our request you come now, in the first place, Dion’s affairs will be dealt with in whatever way you yourself desire ; I know that you will desire what is reasonable, and I shall consent to it. But if not, none of Dion’s affairs will have results in accordance with your wishes, with regard either to Dion himself or to other matters.” This he said in these words ; the rest it would be tedious and inopportune to quote. Other letters arrived from Archytes and the Tarentines, praising the philosophical studies of Dionysios and saying that, if I did not now come, I should cause a complete rupture in their friendship with Dionysios, which had been brought about by me and was of no small importance to their political interests.
When this invitation came to me at that time in such terms, and those who had come from Sicily and Italy were trying to drag me thither, while my friends at Athens were literally pushing me out with their urgent entreaties, it was the same old tale — that I must not betray Dion and my Tarentine friends and supporters. Also I myself had a lurking feeling that there was nothing surprising in the fact that a young man, quick to learn, hearing talk of the great truths of philosophy, should feel a craving for the higher life. I thought therefore that I must put the matter definitely to the test to see whether his desire was genuine or the reverse, and on no account leave such an impulse unaided nor make myself responsible for such a deep and real disgrace, if the reports brought by anyone were really true. So blindfolding myself with this reflection, I set out, with many fears and with no very favourable anticipations, as was natural enough. However, I went, and my action on this occasion at any rate was really a case of “the third to the Preserver,” for I had the good fortune to return safely ; and for this I must, next to the God, thank Dionysios, because, though many wished to make an end of me, he prevented them and paid some proper respect to my situation.
On my arrival, I thought that first I must put to the test the question whether Dionysios had really been kindled with the fire of philosophy, or whether all the reports which had come to Athens were empty rumours. Now there is a way of putting such things to the test which is not to be despised and is well suited to monarchs, especially to those who have got their heads full of erroneous teaching, which immediately my arrival I found to be very much the case with Dionysios. One should show such men what philosophy is in all its extent ; what their range of studies is by which it is approached, and how much labour it involves. For the man who has heard this, if he has the true philosophic spirit and that godlike temperament which makes him a kin to philosophy and worthy of it, thinks that he has been told of a marvellous road lying before him, that he must forthwith press on with all his strength, and that life is not worth living if he does anything else. After this he uses to the full his own powers and those of his guide in the path, and relaxes not his efforts, till he has either reached the end of the whole course of study or gained such power that he is not incapable of directing his steps without the aid of a guide. This is the spirit and these are the thoughts by which such a man guides his life, carrying out his work, whatever his occupation may be, but throughout it all ever cleaving to philosophy and to such rules of diet in his daily life as will give him inward sobriety and therewith quickness in learning, a good memory, and reasoning power ; the kind of life which is opposed to this he consistently hates. Those who have not the true philosophic temper, but a mere surface colouring of opinions penetrating, like sunburn, only skin deep, when they see how great the range of studies is, how much labour is involved in it, and how necessary to the pursuit it is to have an orderly regulation of the daily life, come to the conclusion that the thing is difficult and impossible for them, and are actually incapable of carrying out the course of study ; while some of them persuade themselves that they have sufficiently studied the whole matter and have no need of any further effort. This is the sure test and is the safest one to apply to those who live in luxury and are incapable of continuous effort ; it ensures that such a man shall not throw the blame upon his teacher but on himself, because he cannot bring to the pursuit all the qualities necessary to it. Thus it came about that I said to Dionysios what I did say on that occasion.
I did not, however, give a complete exposition, nor did Dionysios ask for one. For he professed to know many, and those the most important, points, and to have a sufficient hold of them through instruction given by others.