Plato and the “Dough Boy” Ideal

Some of UCC’s classics’ scholars may know that Plato, the famous Greek philosopher, author of “The Republic,” and founder of the Academy in Athens, was both an athlete and a scholar. As a matter of fact, Plato was actually named Aristocles, after his grandfather. But young Aristocles was such a gifted wrestler, his coach gave him the nickname, “Plato” from the Greek work, “Platon” meaning broad-shouldered.

(Would you believe me if I told you that in high school, I, too, shared that nickname? “Plato Power” has a certain alliterative quality, don’t you think ?)

The name. Plato, has stayed with him and with all of us for 2,500 years.

So lesson #1 is this: Be careful when you give someone a nickname.

Imagine if, instead of being known for his wrestling prowess, young Aristocles had earned a reputation for having a fondness for French pastry, what Caesar and I like to call, the sweet buns of Gaul, and that, as a result, that wrestling coach, who had little interest in the “Essential Agreements,” had called his young student something disparaging like, “Dough Boy”?

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the world would be a poorer place had Plato been known as “Dough Boy.”

Try to imagine replacing the “Platonic Ideal” with … well, you get the idea. Not to mention what this might have done Plato’s poor protégé, Aristotle!

Can you envision this scene: Aristotle and his buddies are at the local Starbucks, waiting for the yellow school bus to take them to their first day of Athenian school.

“Who is your teacher this year?“

“I got a guy named Heraclitus. Heard he’s a tough grader. How about you? Who you got?”

“Me, oh, um, it says here that I am studying with Doctor ‘Dough Boy’.” Imagine the embarrassment, the shame!

Aristotle might have become the object of ridicule; he could have dropped out of school. The result: No Nichomachean Ethics. No Golden Mean. No Unmoved Mover. No Alexander the Great. No Thomas Acquinas. And all because of a simple thing like a nickname.

When you think about it, we owe a lot to that wrestling coach.

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