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

Tan Yi Han

I'm still on the last chapter (Phaedo), but I've run out of time. Have to return the book. So let me review based on the first 3 chapters.This book uses a very original style of writing to give readers an inside look into the life and wisdom of Socrates in his last days.Socrates liked to examine people. But he wasn't concerned about their appearance. He liked to examine people who thought themselves wise/clever and see if they really are. His tool? A method of argument called the elenchus. Unlike a normal argument where both parties simply try to outwit/ outshout each other, Socrates starts with a simple mutually agreeable statement. Then, via a logical progression, in which the other party remains in agreement, Socrates would eventually be able to come to a conclusion that cast insights into the other party's original belief. Often, it would expose inconsistencies or contradictions in their beliefs.Because Socrates exposed the ignorance in people who thought themselves as wise and clever, they became angry with Socrates. Eventually, he was put to trial and sentenced to death. While in prison, one of his followers, Crito, bribed his way into Socrates' prison cell and suggested that Socrates should escape. Knowing that Socrates had no fear of death, Crito tried to convince Socrates that he should escape because otherwise, the public would deem Socrates' friends as cowards for not saving him. True to form, Socrates decided to examine that statement with Crito's agreement.Socrates: Is it good enough to say that we should not value all the opinions that people hold, but only some and not others? Isn't that a fair statement?Crito: Fair enough.Socrates: In other words, one should regard the sound ones, and not the flawed?Crito: Yes.Socrates: When a man is in training, and taking it seriously, does he pay attention to all praise and criticism and opinion indiscriminately, or only when it comes from the one qualified person, the actual doctor or trainer?Crito: Only when it comes from the one qualified person.Socrates: Does this apply as a general rule, and above all, to the issues we are trying to resolve: just and unjust, honourable and dishonourable, good and bad? Ought we to be guided and intimidated by the opinion of the many or by that of the one - assuming that there is someone with expert knowledge?Crito: I think it is true, Socrates.At this point, Socrates gives Crito a reminder, that I feel we should all bear in mind. The really important thing is not to live, but to live well. To live honourably and justly.Socrates points out that by the fact that he has chosen to stay in Athens, it means that he is satisfied with the laws of Athens and the benefits these laws provide. Therefore, he must accept the law even when it turns against him.Respect!When the prison officer told Socrates that the poison was ready, Socrates cheerfully asked for the poison to be brought to him.Crito hurriedly urged Socrates to delay drinking the poison. After all, in other cases, people have dinner and enjoy the company of those whom they love and drink the poison quite late at night.Socrates brushed it aside, and declared that "I should only make myself ridiculous in my own eyes if I clung to life and hugged it when it has no more to offer."As he took the poison, his friends sobbed uncontrollably, but Socrates urged them to calm themselves and be brave, because 'I am told that one should make one's end in a reverent silence.And so ended the life of the bravest, wisest and most just man of his time.But, his story continues to inspire. As Socrates said himself, "nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death."To be able to live life honourably and justly, without fear, even of death and of unfavourable public opinion... isn't that a life worth living?

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.


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 Rush

In honor of Neil deGrasse Tyson saying philosophy should not only NOT be studied, but actually causes harm to people, I decided to read some Plato. And of course the easiest was The Last Days of Socrates.I read it like a novel and made no attempt to give myself context, so keep that in mind. Euthyphro seems like a lot of work for little return, and in fact it seem in that book Socrates is saying people should be able to take the law in their own hand. But in later books he says the opposite. Plus the arguments seem to go in circles.The apology is pretty entertaining and it convinced me that I don't want to go to trial in ancient Greece.In Crito Socrates do a good job of explaining why he feels obliged to carry through with his suicide, and not slip out of town like his friends want him to.Phaedo is the longest and hardest to get through, but it also lets you see what a different way of looking at the world people had back then. It is interesting to think of this time as the genesis of some much to come throughout history. Especially the obsession with seeing the mind as the source of knowledge and only by separating mind from body will true wisdom come.“we are in fact convinced that if we ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul by itself.” Pg111I have to admit it is odd for a nobody like be to be able to see where all these philosopher were starting their arguments with presumptions, assumptions and premises. Most of them were really wacky things about the things they “knew” about the soul and what God or gods want. The end of Phaedo is really quite moving when he drinks the poison...well done Plato!All in all, it was good to read and it really does make you think, and even though I am not as bright as Neil deGrasse Tyson, I think that is a good thing. And who can argue with Socrates saying “..the really important thing is not to live, but to live well”?Some of the views are actually downright dangerous now...“are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and perfection of your soul?” Pg 61

David Haley

I just finished my second read of this book, (including the Euthyphro, Apology, etc--the whole shebang), and while the style seemed a bit loquacious for my taste at first, I feel like I am beginning to appreciate Plato. I will say though, I do have a hard time accepting how easily Plato, as author, could have (and probably did) manipulate the various arguments.One facet I particularly enjoyed was the manner in which Socrates vehemently antagonizes his accusers. With little effort, he could have escaped the utterly anemic charges presented against him, yet he proves (purposely) his guilt beyond any doubt, and then asks to be rewarded as a hero! During the last bit of the Apology I found myself frequently bursting out in laughter. Socrates truly comes across as the gat-fly he purports to be. And in the end, his role is quite inspirational.


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?

Lucy Phelan

The portrayal of Socrates is so insightful, you can imagine being in Ancient Greece and having that terribly repetitive conversation with him. Plato has really captured the essence of his mentor and I find that absolutely astounding, more so, I feel compelled to read up about Socrates every time. To my amazement, his portrayal hasn't only bought Socrates to life but it has made him immortal, for thousands of years he has been living in this fantastically written piece of literature spreading his philosophy and beliefs through the words of Plato. For a man who was present during the dawn of civilisation, he has portrayed such a sophisticated and abstract outlook for the era and more so, his teachings have been imprinted in Plato's life so much, that he can portray a man with such amazing detail. It's almost as though Plato has carved a sculpture with words, although his dialog is simplistic in nature; it has created a complex character with complex ideals, making Plato a true scholar.

Ken Moten

Since I have individually reviewed each dialogue concerning their content I will be personal here. I obviously enjoyed reading these dialogues. I was not only enlightened by them but moved as well in certain parts, more by Socrates' friends than the man himself. This really should be the jumping off point for anyone interested in philosophy because it sets the tone and you can compare every strand of philosophy after it against it. Plato did not create [western] philosophy obviously but he sure did make it into something amazing and it would be worth anyones time to check him out. I will always admire the Socratic method even though I am in no way able to pull it off (trust me I've tried) but it is poetry to read. We could all benefit from a revival of Plato in society but since I won't hold my breath those who have read him can be thankful for the opportunity. (I read these dialogues as apart of the Classics of Western Philosophy anthology)


I absolutely love this little booklet. It is the third time I've read it and each time I find something new to contemplate. I whole heartedly agree with Socrates, "I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living" (39)

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.

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.

Steve Hemmeke

It was very jarring to read Plato, after 10 years or so of self-consciously affirming the goodness of God's physical world. The material and sensory is not something to flee as a hindrance to the soul, though it can be that.For all his careful argumentation, Socrates asserts some whoppers. How do you get from the essence of the soul being life, to the soul must be immortally alive? Faced with his own death, one would think it's possible to believe that a thing can be alive now, yet not be everlastingly so. Do all animals also have immortal souls, since they are alive and their bodies expire? I think they would by Socrates' logic.His is a stoic worldview. Send the family away and let's discuss philosophy for the last hour of my life. I don't want a nice dinner, just give me the poison and don't cry. Total detachment from the material world is the goal. It's almost Buddhist.There are some big questions put out for consideration, of course. Is something right because the gods like it, or do the gods like it because it is right? This dilemma from Euthyphro is false, and Socrates seems to do this a lot. Leading questions and false choices can lead you to some strange conclusions.


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.


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.


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.

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