The Last Days of Socrates

ISBN: 0140440372
ISBN 13: 9780140440379
By: Plato Hugh Tredennick

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About this book

The trial and condemnation of Socrates on charges of heresy and corrupting young minds is a defining moment in the history of Classical Athens. In tracing these events through four dialogues, Plato also developed his own philosophy, based on Socrates' manifesto for a life guided by self-responsibility. Euthyphro finds Socrates outside the court-house, debating the nature of piety, while The Apology is his robust rebuttal of the charges of impiety and a defense of the philosopher's life. In the Crito, while awaiting execution in prison, Socrates counters the arguments of friends urging him to escape. Finally, in the Phaedo, he is shown calmly confident in the face of death, skilfully arguing the case for the immortality of the soul.

Reader's Thoughts

David Sarkies

Thoughts from Socrates' trial and execution13 October 2012 While I have written commentaries on collections before I have since tried to steer away from doing that to instead write about the individual pieces contained therein. Okay, in one way it does help to bump up the number of books on my shelf, but then again that is somewhat irrelevant (It's not as if I win a prize if I have the most books on my shelf, or the most reviews). Generally I find it better to comment on the individual pieces because each of those pieces will have their own points and purposes (such as say a collection of Sophoclean plays) and to write on the books (such as Three Theban Plays) ends up detracting from the individual pieces therein. Sometimes I will write a review on a collection (such as with Henry VI and this particular book) namely because the individual pieces share a common theme, or because it is helpful to look at the works as a whole. The common theme with these particular works of Plato is that they all deal with the trial and death of Socrates. It is believed by some (me included) that three of the pieces are Socratic while the fourth piece (the Phaedo) is clearly Platonic. I will not go into detail with that here as I have done so elsewhere. Anyway, one piece is a discussion Socrates has at the door to the courthouse, one of them involves the trial, and the last two deal with conversations that Socrates had prior to his death. Furthermore of these four, two of them simply have the trial and death as a background to other philosophic discourses. What I want to look at here is the trail and death itself as a broader picture. Many have said (and I am once again included) that there are similarities between the death of Jesus and the death of Socrates. That in one sense is true but in another sense it isn't. Some of us (not me) believe that Jesus was simply a wise teacher, much like Socrates, however many others believe that he is either God or a representation of God. Taking the second idea, the difference is striking because where as Socrates is simply a martyr, Jesus is much more than a martyr. In fact there is an awful lot of literature outlining the significance of Jesus' death. If Jesus was simply a man who was executed because he said things that upset the ruling class, and gained a following as such, then there is little point in us worshipping him as God (particularly since there isn't a religion based around Socrates as a wise teacher, which no doubt he was). However, that does not necessarily mean that we should ignore the fact that Jesus, like Socrates, was martyred because of his revolutionary speech. In fact, Jesus was much more of a revolutionary than was Socrates. Socrates simply challenged the traditional thinking of his day and attacked the individualistic and licentious attitudes of the Greeks. Socrates basically stated that there was an absolute morality, and that people should be seeking to discover this absolute. It is clear in two of these texts that he is outlining some form of absolute morality, and further more, accepting the judgement of what was little more than a kangaroo court on the grounds that he had not desire to undermine his teachings. Jesus is many cases is similar, however he does not use the trial as another venue for his teaching, which is not surprising since, unlike Socrates, Jesus was tried in secret surrounded pretty much by a group of people who had already made up their minds about him. This was not the case with Socrates, since the three hundred members of the jury were present, and a number of them could still be challenged by his views. Granted he was found guilty, and executed, however it is necessary to remember that Socrates did have a fair trial, Jesus did not. However, Jesus was much more revolutionary than Socrates since Socrates only sought to reform a system that needed reform, whereas Jesus came to pretty much demolish the previous system so as to lay the groundwork of a new system. Okay, he did say that he had not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it, but he also indicated that the period of worshipping God in the temple had come to an end, and the priesthood had become obsolete. What Jesus had effectively done was to take access to God out of the hands of the priesthood and to put it into the hands of the people. This is a similar thing that we see with Joan of Arc and with Martin Luther. The people had been oppressed by the Church and the truth of God had been obfuscated by a priesthood who were using religion as a means of oppressing the masses. This was something that Jesus never intended. So, the question that should be raised is why did it not remain as such after the establishment of the early church, why did we have to go through another, and quite bloody, reformation to be freed from the power of the church, and did the reformation work. The simple answer is that the ruling elite do not like people to think for themselves, and seek to place themselves above and to lord themselves over the masses. Notice that Paul seems to rile against idol worship. The reason for this is that like the Jewish Temple, the pagan temples were also an extension of the government and the ruling elite to oppress the masses. The idols were instruments of oppression and fear, as well as a means of enriching the ruling class through the exploitation of the irrational fears of the populace. However Jesus came along not only the break the rule of the Jewish priestly class, but to also destroy the power that the pagan gods held over the Gentile masses. That was not to last, and while it did last for about three hundred years, we also see the church being attacked from all quarters. The emperors attacked the church because they could not use the fear of the gods to rule the lives of the Christians. The Christians no longer feared the pagan gods, nor did they fear the emperors, and no matter how hard they tried, they could not scare them. Further, people from within attempted to seduce and confuse many of the followers through teachings that would once again place them under the power of others, such as Gnosticism and Neo-platoism. The Christians had access to the truth through the Gospel, but by adding to the Gospel, they could once again enslave them. I could write much more upon this subject, but I think I will bring it to an end at this stage, however I will mention that the Catholic Church arose from the period when the government decided that since it could not destroy the church, they would instead take over the church. There were constant battles between the clergy and the emperors, and in the end the emperors lost. However, what happened was that Constantine legitimised the church, and in doing so empowered the leadership of the church. As the saying goes, first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, and then they try to corrupt you (and if you pass through that you have won). However, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, so when the church was legitimised by Constantine, the clergy was empowered, and in being empowered, it became corrupt. As for today, while the church has lost a lot of its power from those days, it is still a strong influence over people's lives, and in many cases not a democratic institution. When others begin to believe that they know what is good for us, and begin to bully us and coerce us into a certain direction, then the seduction of power becomes absolute.

David

This should be mandatory reading for all in the Western World. This is Plato's account of Socrates' trial and subsequent death. I thought the courtroom drama was fantastic; however, after the death sentence was pronounced on Socrates, his dialogue with his followers regarding death got too philosophic at points for my taste. Socrates seems to be at peace with death and the destination of his soul. One thing I found to be humorous and profound was that after Socrates gave his dissertation on death and the soul, one of his followers asked what should they do with "him" after his death. In true Socratic form, Socrates says, "Do what you may, if you can catch me."Socrates seems to see death as a welcome exchange for a life well lived.I always thought that Socrates drank the hemlock before the authorities forced it upon him; however, this book cleared up that misconception. He did drink the poison, but only after the Greek authorities gave it to him and explained the procedures for his ensuing death.Great Book. I would have given it 5-stars if it were not for the philosophic minutia I had to wade through after the trial. It is definitely worth a read.

Ahmad

روایتی از محاکمه «سقراط» است در سه بخش: «اوتیفرن یا در باره ی تقدس»، «دفاعیه ی سقراط»، و «کریتون یا وظیفه ی شهروندی». بانوی مترجم، نسخه فرانسه کتاب «محاکمه سقراط» نوشته «افلاطون» را ترجمه کرده اند. ا. شربیانی

Regina Lindsey

The Last Days of Socrates by Plato4 StarsLittle historical evidence survives regarding Socrates. The most well-known source is from his pupil, Plato. Through four dialogues, Plato describes the circumstances surrounding Socrates’ indictment, his trial, his imprisonment, and his death. At the age of seventy, Socrates was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death on two charges – encouraging the worship of gods not recognized by the state and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates argued his own case, pleading for intellectual freedom and the promotion of ethics. When he is convicted he is allowed visits by his friend, Crito. Crito has prepared plans for Socrates’ escape; however, Socrates argues the ultimate responsibility of a citizen is to the State and its laws. On the day the poison arrives for Socrates to drink he is surrounded by students and friends, and Plato records that day’s events. I read this on my Nook and, while the translations seemed to be a good one, the formatting was awkward. But, I’m really glad I read it. As Socrates defends himself the reader gets a first hand glimpse at his use of logic and use of questioning to break down an issue. Socrates asserts that the crux of the charges comes down him offending the people in power when he questioned their wisdom. In the portrayal of Socrates, Plato does bring Socrates across as arrogant. I can see how he would easily make enemies. But, for me the most fascinating part of the book was Socrates use of logic and physical examples to argue in favor of man’s immortal soul. It is a fascinating read, a nice translation, and a fascinating look at Athens during a pivotal moment of transition in its history.

Erik Simon

(It seems odd to be allowed to give Plato a star rating.)I'm not a scholar. I don't say that derisively. I have the highest admiration for scholars, their tireless and dogged pursuit, and any criticism I would level would be at their penchant to become rather narrow in their focus. But again, I'm not a scholar, I'm just a reader, and I have to say that as just a reader, I tend to surprise myself by the books I'll go ahead and read. To wit, this one. Why, at the age of forty-four, with no real reason to read Plato, do I pick this book up? Who knows, but I'm a better chap for it.Not a classicist, I can offer no worthwhile comments on these books or the translation, but I will say this: I love, LOVE, that Socrates claimed he was only doing the gods a favor by running around and pointing out to people just how ignorant they were. And I was moved, quite moved, by his death in PHAEDO, his stoic greeting of it, and the actual event after the long discussion on the immortality of the soul.

Anom Astika

Aku sedang membaca buku ini dan sedang menerjemahkannya. Ada empat teks Plato di sana yaitu Euthyphro, Apology, Crito dan Phaedo. Semuanya teks teks yang luar biasa, dan jika direnung-renungkan ada banyak hal yang tetap relevan hingga saat ini. Lebih lebih jika kita kini sedang sibuk sibuk punya perhatian terhadap kekerasan berbasis agama, maka teks Euthyphro sangat menarik untuk dibaca. Pada teks ini Socrates berdebat dengan Euthyphro, salah seorang jaksa pemeriksa untuk Pengadilan Socrates. Inti debatnya cuma berpangkal pada satu frasa/kata, yaitu tentang yang suci. "Apakah yang suci adalah yang benar benar disetujui oleh dewa dewa, ataukah ia dibuat untuk menjadi disetujui oleh dewa dewa?" Itu satu pertanyaan yang penting diperhatikan, baik secara gramatik (is holly being approved of or gets approved by gods), maupun dalam kerangka hubungan sebab akibat. Baru satu hal ini yang menarik bagiku yang bisa kusampaikan. Aku masih terus menerjemahkannya.

Alex

You know, Socrates was kindof a dick.

Julenew

There are some books that are beyond "liking" or "not liking." They exist on a completely different plain than the rest of literature. This is one of those books. You don't read "The Trial and Death of Socrates" to be entertained; whether you like it or not is completely immaterial. By reading it, you gain an appreciation for one of the greatest thinkers of all time, and a valuable window into the soul of humankind.How can one possibly quanitfy and encapsulate that into three, four, or five stars?

Manuel B

The Trial and Death of Socrates tells the story of its exact title through four dialogues. Throughout the dialogues, Socrates asks questions on the merit of the trials and justifies his sentence being carried out."Euthyphro": The theme of this dialogue is what exactly piety is. The main assumption that one holds is Socrates agrees with polytheism but for those who've the read "The Republic," he doesn't exactly agree with its characteristics. Those characteristics being that the gods quarrel with each other and acts like men in contradiction with the Good. It ends in aporia because none of those in the dialogue could drop polytheism from their thoughts."Apology": Apology is the location of Socrates' famous phrase, "I know that I know nothing" originates. Throughout the dialogue, it is reveal that the accusers accuse him of teaching different Gods and being an atheist. Socrates does a wonderful job in exposing their contradiction and points out why philosophers are hated. "Crito": Crito was on the task of trying to break out Socrates, but Socrates being the moralist, wants to philosophize if its right. This dialogue is interesting because it can act as the predecessor in its justification of Thomas Hobbes' and Jacques Rosseau's theory of the social contract. The most unjustified argument for the classical liberal and individualist. "Phaedo": This dialogue was one of the though provoking. Phaedo recalls to a friend the day of Socrates' "execution" and the dialogue Socrates and his followers had. This touches on many themes on what exactly philosophy is and Socrates theory of the afterlife, theory of recollection, and his thoughts on the soul. One of the most heartwarming scenes was afterwards when the objections of the soul's immortality were in dispute by questions posed by Cebes and Simmias. Socrates comforts Phaedos as he compares the causes of nihilism with those of misanthropy. After some thought, Socrates refutes Cebes and Simmias objections. Socrates encapsulates dignity and courage in his death. He states that there is judgment in the afterlife and even though he was condemned unjustly in Earth, through philosophy and most importantly ethics, he hopes to find a good place for his soul in the afterlife. This is a powerful and optimistic dialogue.

Jeremy

I wish I had read these 4 dialogues before they made us work through The Republic back in school. Plato can seem so distant and archiac so much of the time, but here there is an actual sense of human urgency: Socrates is about to die. A lot of times the dialogues feel completely neutered from any real world concern, you just see these people walking around, having their abstract little discussions as Socrates schools them all. But here you see those discussions finally grounded by a frank acknowledgement and confrontation with mortality. This is the last chance he will ever have to say anything, and everyone knows it. Plenty of subsequent works of philosophy offer more compelling, accesible arguements, but few can match the pathos and immediacy of a condemned man having a few last words with his friends before he carries out the death sentance against himself. I don't know if this is the best place to start reading Plato, but it's certianly one of the most humane.

Fernando Álvarez

Dialogos I de Platón comprende la Apología de Sócrates y Fedón. La Apología de Sócrates narra el juicio de muerte que se le imputa al mencionado personaje por "penetrar en los misterios del cielo y de la tierra", y enseñarlos públicamente. Sócrates es acusado de corrupción de menores y de creer en los demonios, siendo condenando a muerte. Pero para él, morir así era la suprema sanción a su doctrina y el último acto necesario de su destino. Sócrates pensaba una de dos cosas: o la muerte es un anonadamiento absoluto y entonces es una ventaja escapar por la insensibilidad a todos los males de la vida, o es el tránsito de un lugar a otro, y en este caso, ¿no es la mayor felicidad verse transportado a la mansión de los justos?.Fedón es un relato vivaz del último día de vida y de la muerte de Sócrates. El libro narra la conversación que Sócrates tiene con sus discípulos, en su mayor parte Simmias y Cebes, y expone su argumento de dedicar la vida a la filosofía hasta el último momento, inició una conversación hasta el momento que debía beber la cicuta. En esta conversación, Sócrates habla de la esperanza de encontrar una vida mejor. El filósofo aspira a bienes invisibles como el alma misma e imposibles en este mundo, espera la muerte con alegría, como término del tiempo de prueba que le separa de esos mismos bienes,que han sido para él objeto de meditación durante toda su vida.

Rene

This book was a fantastic example of owning up to your beliefs, values, and standards. I really should give it a re-visit... I wish I could remember where I put it... =PFurther- people who read about Socrates' death will be either of these two types: (a) those who believe Socrates accepted the death penalty to ease the pain of his old age; a "quick and painless death" so to speak... or (b) those who believe he saw a life of exile to be insignificant and cowardly; and agreeing to the false charges in exchange for his life would be dishonerable... I believe that the latter person has actually grasped the power of Plato's words, and has transgressed the pessimistic mindset of most Americans.

Bram

Euthyphro: Tricky. May need to reread this one a couple times. Apology: Here we get an impassioned plea for intellectual freedom plus the promotion of ethical and civil disobedience. Great stuff.Crito: A little too much law and authority worship. Phaedo: This is the ultimate existential dialogue. Plato's Socrates makes death seem even more enticing than do the monotheists (who seem to have taken a good deal from Plato). I find it easy to like a work that relates such optimism about immortality.

David

When he was tried, convicted and ordered to death in 399 B.C.E., Socrates was already seventy years old: he had lived through the imperialistic spread of Athenian democracy and culture under Pericles, twenty-five years of first cold and then heated war with Sparta, the defeat of Athens in 404 B.C.E., the short-lived oligarchy imposed on that city by the Spartans, and finally the reestablishment of democracy in his homeland. During all of that time, the former bricklayer was known for practicing philosophy in the public spaces of Athens using his inimitable style of questioning those in authority who feigned virtue and wisdom while in reality lacking it. This technique gradually garnered him many powerful enemies who did their best to poison public opinion against him. Socrates was often confused with the Sophists, traveling teachers who sought to satisfy the public need for higher education generated by a democracy in which any male citizen could be called upon to serve in courts or assemblies. But Socrates was ostensibly not interested in teaching per se: his aim was to uncover the lack of virtue, honesty and wisdom in those around him and to encourage them to learn, as virtue is knowledge, and once one knows what is right, truly knows it, one is no longer capable of doing wrong. He often obliquely criticized democratic systems, and indeed, the power consolidation democracy afford the majority was exactly what did him in.While Plato has only reported Socrates’ words (and a few said by Meletus, one of his accusers), we do get a filtered idea of the sort of argument the prosecution was making: democracy had only recently been restored in Athens, and certain elements of the population, probably motivated, as Socrates claims, by years of resentment toward the philosopher, wanted to brand his sort of “teaching” (for despite his claims to the contrary, he was indeed teaching by example, at the very least) as destructive to the democratic institutions that Socrates himself often seemed to oppose (as evidenced in his Dialogues, which Plato also transcribed). But the prosecution is largely silent, and we can more clearly analyze what Socrates does. Throughout his defense he employs a disingenuousness that likely irked his opponents: he begins by assuming a humble excuse-my-illiteracy sort of stance, and gradually abdicates all responsibility for the message he is putting across (i.e., authority figures are hypocritical boobs), by appealing to a deus ex machina device (the oracle’s decree and god’s voice in his ear). However, there is considerable nobility and courage in his refusal to kowtow to the Assembly’s expectations that he’ll beg for mercy, and his dissection of the trumped-up charges is perfectly executed. The shift in tone after he’s been found guilty is interesting: no longer is the prosecution the brunt of his surgical, nearly sarcastic grandstanding: those voting against him catch it full on as he with great guts demands to be rewarded for “corrupting” the youth of Athens the way winners in the Olympics were. His withering prophecies to all of Athens after he’s been sentenced to death indicate a third tone shift, short-lived as it is. He finally becomes introspective with his friends as the document closes, and his inspiring advice and requests serve as telling indicators of his real personality (as opposed to his philosopher persona): someone who loved his family and neighbors so much that he was willing to risk his life to make them good people.

theduckthief

“Such was the end of our friend, Socrates, a man who, we would say, was the best of all those we've experienced and, generally speaking, the wisest and the most just."This book is a collection of four dialogues about the last days of the philosopher, Socrates. Through them readers get to know Socrates, his friends and the people who condemned him. The philosophical arguments presented are both straightforward and complex. They address issues of death, the immortality of the soul and the purpose of being a philosopher. This was one of my first major forays into Ancient Greek literature and I was very excited to delve into Plato.The first dialogue is called “Euthyphro” and I found it a challenge. Socrates debates the nature of holiness with Euthyphro and some of the abstractions used in his argument were difficult to picture. I had to turn them into examples just to try and visualize what Socrates was talking about. For example, one question asked whether something was holy because it was loved or was it loved because it was holy? I pictured Zeus and the oak tree. Is it holy because Zeus loves it or does he love it because it’s holy? This boggled my mind and gave me a lot to think about. It's here we learn that Socrates is accused of impiety and corrupting the young. He continually praises Euthyphro's wisdom and flatters his knowledge of religion, seemingly to the detriment of his own argument. I re-read sections several times to grasp their meaning and of all four dialogues it took the longest to finish.In “The Apology”, Socrates defends himself against his accusers. This is essentially the dialogue that takes place inside the ‘court room’. Here we witness Socrates' arrogance. Time and again he says he is a better man than everyone else yet, in the previous dialogue he spent so much time downplaying his intelligence and supposed superiority. This multi-dimensionality of character makes him real in my eyes. His memory only lives on in books and he isn't always likeable but that's what makes me like him so much. Real people are complex, layered individuals and Plato makes Socrates come alive on the page.It "Crito", Socrates is in prison with his friend Crito trying to convince him to escape. There are many people willing to help Socrates who could then live out the rest of his life in another city. Socrates resists, saying that fighting the will of the Athenian people would be wrong. He would rather accept death than exile. His argument seems backwards and contrary until you read the next dialogue.“Phaedo” is the longest and most convoluted of the dialogues. In it Plato summarily deconstructs his friends' arguments against his surrender to death and logically convinces them of the immortality of the soul and life after death despite the lack of hard proof. He asks mind-blowing questions such as "when does the soul attain truth?" This is also where we get the quote "the life which is unexamined is not worth living." It’s actually very impressive to read how Socrates sets up his argument and then manipulates the conversation for his own ends. He was clearly a master with words.The difficulty in reading these works is that they are conveying dialogue from a second-hand source. We aren’t hearing these words from Socrates himself. Instead they’re filtered through Plato to us. As such, there’s no real way to tell how much of the writing is truth, how much is embellishment or if it’s a full out lie. This is compounded by the fact that Socrates left no written record of his work. This may speak to his innocence of 'corrupting the youth of Athens' as he didn't seem interested in getting his works out into the public. 'I had a great time reading this book and despite its shortness, was challenged by the arguments within. I found it interesting that while the book was by Plato, it concerned itself with Socrates and his words. We learn more about him than we ever do about Plato and Socrates didn't seem like the nicest guy. He was arrogant and lorded it over people when it suited his argument and hid feelings of superiority when it didn't. Part of me felt that Socrates just seemed to give up and succumb to his sentence. In fact, by the time he was put on trial he was an old man and had lived a full life with a family. He even argues that no one, least of all he, should be upset at his passing. He convincingly argued and believed in life after death. Free from its earthly body, his soul would dwell amongst other true philosophers. I disagreed with his belief that a philosopher's main goal was the study of death though. I've always felt that philosophy was a study of learning how to live and why things are they way they are. The writer Xenophon also has an account of Socrates' trial. It would be interesting to see how the two contrast. It would serve to illustrate what I said about second-hand information. Truth gets obscured the further you are from the source. I would recommend this book but not for anyone looking for a quick read. This is not a work to skim. I would say it requires contemplation and introspection. If you're in for a challenge and want to understand the roots of philosophy, pick this up.

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