5-3 | Plato and Play

Article

Plato and Play
Taking Education Seriously in Ancient Greece

Armand D’Angour

Abstract:

In this article, the author outlines Plato’s notions of play in ancient Greek culture and shows how the philosopher’s views on play can be best appreciated against the background of shifting meanings and evaluations of play in classical Greece. Play—in various forms such as word play, ritual, and music—proved central to the development of Hellenic culture. In ancient Greece, play (paidia) was intrinsically associated with children (paides). However, both children and play assumed a greater cultural significance as literacy—and, consequently, education (paideia)— developed during the classical age of 500–300 BCE. Uniquely among ancient thinkers, Plato recognized that play influenced the way children developed as adults, and he proposed to regulate play for social ends. But Plato’s attitude toward play was ambivalent. Inclined to consider play an unworthy activity for adults, he seemed to suggest that intellectual play in some form, as demonstrated in the dialectical banter of Socrates, could provide a stimulus to understanding. Key words: education in ancient Greece; play and child development; play and education; play and Plato; Socratic dialectic