Plato and St Augustine are unique among ancient authors because none of their known major works have been lost, their entire corpus has survived in multiple manuscripts, which means we have a high degree of confidence that their works that have survived as close as possible to their original form.
Plato and Homer are unique among the ancient authors because of the quality of the prose and poetry, these works are much more carefully worded and edited than is typical for ancient works. Plato’s works are so closely worded that scholars assign verses that can be quoted in scholarly dissertations.
Platonic philosophy is seen as the basis of Western Philosophy, which is often described as mere footnotes to Plato. But we must not forget that the Socratic dialogues penned by Plato are written for a peculiar political culture and for a peculiar historical time.
That peculiar political culture is the pure democracy of Athens, where every free male citizen not only had a vote in the Assembly but public trials like that of Socrates would have a five hundred and one person jury. These were not like modern trials, in ancient Athens there were no grand juries, there were no lawyers, all defendants had to argue their own case, there were no rules of evidence, no rules of procedure guaranteeing the fairness of the trials, the defense and prosecution got to speak until the water in the water clock ran out. Then the jurors vote, and if the defendant is found guilty he is allowed time to suggest an appropriate sentence, and the jurors voted a second time to determine the sentence.
In today’s trials the judge very carefully informs the jurors what law and precedent has determined what is just and what is justice in this particular case, and what needs to be proved to determine that the defendant is indeed guilty, and what is irrelevant. Substituting for this in ancient Athens were teachers like Socrates who taught the citizens how to think logically, how to puzzle through questions of justice and virtue, right and wrong, when they served as jurors in the courts and as legislators in the Assembly.
The peculiar time of the Socratic dialogues was the period after Athens lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta. After their defeat the Athenians were expecting the fate that faced most losing sides in the ancient world, the women and children would be enslaved and deported, and the men would either be slain or enslaved in the silver mines or other short-lived work. But the Spartan general Lysander spared Athens, tearing down its walls, permitting the city a handful of trireme warships, and installing the pro-Spartan oligarchy of Thirty Tyrants. One of these tyrants was Critias, a former student of Socrates.
We have provided the Amazon link for the DVD for Plato Complete Works, but not the printed version. They should have split the print version in two volumes, but to squeeze it into one volume they printed in a small perhaps five-point type, so small that it is practically unreadable to most people over thirty.
Recording of most of the Platonic dialogues are available in free downloadable MP3 files at https://librivox.org/