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Socrates was a polarizing figure in Athenian society. In 399 BC, he was accused of corrupting the youth and failing to acknowledge the city's official gods. After a trial that lasted a day, he was sentenced to death. He spent his last day in prison, refusing to escape.
- Cultural references
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Standards of beauty are different in different eras, and in Socratess time beauty could easily be measured by the standard of the gods, stately, proportionate sculptures of whom had been adorning the Athenian acropolis since about the time Socrates reached the age of thirty. Good looks and proper bearing were important to a mans political prospects, for beauty and goodness were linked in the popular imagination. The extant sources agree that Socrates was profoundly ugly, resembling a satyr more than a manand resembling not at all the statues that turned up later in ancient times and now grace Internet sites and the covers of books. He had wide-set, bulging eyes that darted sideways and enabled him, like a crab, to see not only what was straight ahead, but what was beside him as well; a flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils; and large fleshy lips like an ass. Socrates let his hair grow long, Spartan-style (even while Athens and Sparta were at war), and went about barefoot and unwashed, carrying a stick and looking arrogant. He didnt change his clothes but efficiently wore in the daytime what he covered himself with at night. Something was peculiar about his gait as well, sometimes described as a swagger so intimidating that enemy soldiers kept their distance. He was impervious to the effects of alcohol and cold weather, but this made him an object of suspicion to his fellow soldiers on campaign. We can safely assume an average height (since no one mentions it at all), and a strong build, given the active life he appears to have led. Against the iconic tradition of a pot-belly, Socrates and his companions are described as going hungry (Aristophanes, Birds 128083). On his appearance, see Platos Theaetetus 143e, and Symposium 215ac, 216cd, 221de; Xenophons Symposium 4.19, 5.57; and Aristophaness Clouds 362. Brancusis oak sculpture, standing 51.25 inches including its base, captures Socratess appearance and strangeness in the sense that it looks different from every angle, including a second eye that cannot be seen if the first is in view. (See the Museum of Modern Arts page on Brancusis Socrates which offers additional views.) Also true to Socratess reputation for ugliness, but less available, are the drawings of the contemporary Swiss artist, Hans Erni.
It did not help matters that Socrates seemed to have a higher opinion of women than most of his companions had, speaking of men and women, priests and priestesses, and naming foreign women as his teachers: Socrates claimed to have learned rhetoric from Aspasia of Miletus, the de facto spouse of Pericles (Plato, Menexenus); and to have learned erotics from the priestess Diotima of Mantinea (Plato, Symposium). Socrates was unconventional in a related respect. Athenian citizen males of the upper social classes did not marry until they were at least thirty, and Athenian females were poorly educated and kept sequestered until puberty, when they were given in marriage by their fathers. Thus the socialization and education of males often involved a relationship for which the English word pederasty (though often used) is misleading, in which a youth approaching manhood, fifteen to seventeen, became the beloved of a male lover a few years older, under whose tutelage and through whose influence and gifts, the younger man would be guided and improved. It was assumed among Athenians that mature men would find youths sexually attractive, and such relationships were conventionally viewed as beneficial to both parties by family and friends alike. A degree of hypocrisy (or denial), however, was implied by the arrangement: officially it did not involve sexual relations between the lovers and, if it did, then the beloved was not supposed to derive pleasure from the actbut ancient evidence (comedies, vase paintings, et al.) shows that both restrictions were often violated (Dover 1989, 204). What was odd about Socrates is that, although he was no exception to the rule of finding youths attractive (Plato, Charmides 155d, Protagoras 309ab; Xenophon, Symposium 4.2728), he refused the physical advances of even his favorite (Plato, Symposium 219bd) and kept his eye on the improvement of their, and all the Athenians, souls (Plato, Apology 30ab), a mission he said he had been assigned by the oracle of Apollo at Delphi, if he was interpreting his friend Chaerephons report correctly (Plato, Apology 20e23b), a preposterous claim in the eyes of his fellow citizens. Socrates also acknowledged a rather strange personal phenomenon, a daimonion or internal voice that prohibited his doing certain things, some trivial and some important, often unrelated to matters of right and wrong (thus not to be confused with the popular notions of a superego or a conscience). The implication that he was guided by something he regarded as divine or semi-divine was all the more reason for other Athenians to be suspicious of Socrates.
The Socratic problem is a rats nest of complexities arising from the fact that various people wrote about Socrates whose accounts differ in crucial respects, leaving us to wonder which, if any, are accurate representations of the historical Socrates. There is, and always will be, a Socratic problem. This is inevitable, said Guthrie (1969, 6), looking back on a gnarled history between ancient and contemporary times that is narrated in detail by Press (1996), but barely touched on below. The difficulties are increased because all those who knew and wrote about Socrates lived before any standardization of modern categories of, or sensibilities about, what constitutes historical accuracy or poetic license. All authors present their own interpretations of the personalities and lives of their characters, whether they mean to or not, whether they write fiction or biography or philosophy (if the philosophy they write has characters), so other criteria must be introduced for deciding among the contending views of who Socrates really was. A look at the three primary ancient sources of information about Socrates (§2.1) will provide a foundation for appreciating how contemporary interpretations differ (§2.2) and why the differences matter (§2.3). As Plato changes, the philosophical persona of his Socrates is made to change (Vlastos 1991, 53)a view sometimes referred to as the mouthpiece theory. Because the analyst is interested in positions or doctrines (particularly as conclusions from, or tested by, arguments), the focus of analysis is usually on a particular philosophical view in or across dialogues, with no special attention given to context or to dialogues considered as wholes; and evidence from dialogues in close chronological proximity is likely to be considered more strongly confirming than that from dialogues of other developmental periods. The result of applying the premises is a firm list (contested, of course, by others) of ten theses held by Socrates, all of which are incompatible with the corresponding ten theses held by Plato (1991, 4749).
One thing is certain about the historical Socrates: even among those who knew him in life, there was profound disagreement about what his actual views and methods were. Apart from the three primary sources below, there were those called minor Socratics, not for the quality of their work but because so little or none of it is extant, about whose view of Socrates we shall probably never know much. After Socratess death, the tradition became even more disparate. As Nehamas (1999, 99) puts it, with the exception of the Epicureans, every philosophical school in antiquity, whatever its orientation, saw in him either its actual founder or the type of person to whom its adherents were to aspire.
Our earliest extant sourceand the only one who can claim to have known Socrates in his early yearsis the playwright Aristophanes. His comedy, Clouds, was produced in 423 when the other two writers of our extant sources, Xenophon and Plato, were infants. In the play, the character Socrates heads a Think-o-Rama in which young men study the natural world, from insects to stars, and study slick argumentative techniques as well, lacking all respect for the Athenian sense of propriety. The actor wearing the mask of Socrates makes fun of the traditional gods of Athens (lines 24748, 367, 42324), mimicked later by the young protagonist, and gives naturalistic explanations of phenomena Athenians viewed as divinely directed (lines 22733; cf. Theaetetus 152e, 153cd, 173e174a; Phaedo 96a100a). Worst of all, he teaches dishonest techniques for avoiding repayment of debt (lines 12141302) and encourages young men to beat their parents into submission (lines 140846).
Comedy by its very nature is a tricky source for information about anyone. A good reason to believe that the representation of Socrates is not merely comic exaggeration but systematically misleading is that Clouds amalgamates in one character, Socrates, features now well known to be unique to other particular fifth-century intellectuals (Dover 1968, xxxii-lvii). Perhaps Aristophanes chose Socrates to represent garden-variety intellectuals because Socratess physiognomy was strange enough to be comic by itself. Aristophanes genuinely objected to what he saw as social instability brought on by the freedom Athenian youths enjoyed to study with professional rhetoricians, sophists (see §1), and natural philosophers, e.g., those who, like the presocratics, studied the cosmos or nature. That Socrates eschewed any earning potential in philosophy does not seem to have been significant to the great writer of comedies. Aristophaness depiction is important because Platos Socrates says at his trial (Apology 18ab, 19c) that most of his jurors have grown up believing the falsehoods spread about him in the play. Socrates calls Aristophanes more dangerous than the three men who brought charges against him in 399 because Aristophanes had poisoned the jurors minds while they were young. Aristophanes did not stop accusing Socrates in 423 when Clouds placed third behind another play in which Socrates was mentioned as barefoot; rather, he soon began writing a revision, which he published but never produced. Aristophanes appears to have given up on reviving Clouds in about 416, but his attacks on Socrates continued. Again in 414 with Birds, and in 405 with Frogs, Aristophanes complained of Socratess deleterious effect on the youths of the city, including Socratess neglect of the poets.
Another source for the historical Socrates is the soldier-historian, Xenophon. Xenophon says explicitly of Socrates, I was never acquainted with anyone who took greater care to find out what each of his companions knew (Memorabilia 4.7.1); and Plato corroborates Xenophons statement by illustrating throughout his dialogues Socratess adjustment of the level and type of his questions to the particular individuals with whom he talked. If it is true that Socrates succeeded in pitching his conversation at the right level for each of his companions, the striking differences between Xenophons Socrates and Platos is largely explained by the differences between their two personalities. Xenophon was a practical man whose ability to recognize philosophical issues is almost imperceptible, so it is plausible that his Socrates appears as such a practical and helpful advisor because that is the side of Socrates Xenophon witnessed. Xenophons Socrates differs additionally from Platos in offering advice about subjects in which Xenophon was himself experienced, but Socrates was not: moneymaking (Xenophon, Memorabilia 2.7) and estate management (Xenophon, Oeconomicus), suggesting that Xenophon may have entered into the writing of Socratic discourses (as Aristotle labeled the genre, Poetics 1447b11) making the character Socrates a mouthpiece for his own views. His other works mentioning or featuring Socrates are Anabasis, Apology, Hellenica, and Symposium.
Something that has strengthened Xenophons prima facie claim as a source for Socratess life is his work as a historian; his Hellenica (History of Greece) is one of the chief sources for the period 411362, after Thucydidess history abruptly ends in the midst of the Peloponnesian wars. Although Xenophon tends to moralize and does not follow the superior conventions introduced by Thucydides, still it is sometimes argued that, having had no philosophical axes to grind, Xenophon may have presented a more accurate portrait of Socrates than Plato does. But two considerations have always weakened that claim: (1) The Socrates of Xenophons works is so pedestrian that it is difficult to imagine his inspiring fifteen or more people to write Socratic discourses in the period following his death. (2) Xenophon could not have chalked up many hours with Socrates or with reliable informants. He lived in Erchia, about 15 kilometers and across the Hymettus mountains from Socratess haunts in the urban area of Athens, and his love of horses and horsemanship (on which he wrote a still valuable treatise) seem to have taken up considerable time. He left Athens in 401 on an expedition to Persia and, for a variety of reasons (mercenary service for Thracians and Spartans; exile), never resided in Athens again. And now a third is in order. (3) It turns out to have been ill-advised to assume that Xenophon would apply the same criteria for accuracy to his Socratic discourses as to his histories. The biographical and historical background Xenophon deploys in his memoirs of Socrates fails to correspond to such additional sources as we have from archaeology, history, the courts, and literature. The widespread use of computers in classical studies, enabling the comparison of ancient persons, and the compiling of information about each of them from disparate sources, has made incontrovertible this observation about Xenophons Socratic works. Xenophons memoirs are pastiches, several of which simply could not have occurred as presented.
It does not follow, however, that Plato represented the views and methods of Socrates (or anyone, for that matter) as he recalled them, much less as they were originally uttered. There are a number of cautions and caveats that should be in place from the start. (i) Plato may have shaped the character Socrates (or other characters) to serve his own purposes, whether philosophical or literary or both. (ii) The dialogues representing Socrates as a youth and young man took place, if they took place at all, before Plato was born and when he was a small child. (iii) One should be cautious even about the dramatic dates of Platos dialogues because they are calculated with reference to characters whom we know primarily, though not only, from the dialogues. (iv) Exact dates should be treated with a measure of skepticism for numerical precision can be misleading. Even when a specific festival or other reference fixes the season or month of a dialogue, or birth of a character, one should imagine a margin of error. Although it becomes obnoxious to use circa or plus-minus everywhere, the ancients did not require or desire contemporary precision in these matters. All the children born during a full year, for example, had the same nominal birthday, accounting for the conversation at Lysis 207b, odd by contemporary standards, in which two boys disagree about who is the elder. Philosophers have often decided to bypass the historical problems altogether and to assume for the sake of argument that Platos Socrates is the Socrates who is relevant to potential progress in philosophy. That strategy, as we shall soon see, gives rise to a new Socratic problem (§2.2).
What, after all, is our motive for reading a dead philosophers words about another dead philosopher who never wrote anything himself? This is a way of asking a popular question, Why do history of philosophy? which has no settled answer. One might reply that our study of some of our philosophical predecessors is intrinsically valuable, philosophically enlightening and satisfying. When we contemplate the words of a dead philosopher, a philosopher with whom we cannot engage directlyPlatos words, saywe seek to understand not merely what he said and assumed, but what his propositions imply, and whether they are true. Sometimes, making such judgments requires us to learn the language in which the philosopher wrote, more about his predecessors ideas and those of his contemporaries. The truly great philosophers, and Plato was one of them, are still capable of becoming our companions in philosophical conversation, our dialectical partners. Because he addressed timeless, universal, fundamental questions with insight and intelligence, our own understanding of such questions is heightened. That explains Plato, one might say, but where is Socrates in this picture? Is he interesting merely as a predecessor to Plato? Some would say yes, but others would say it is not Platos but Socratess ideas and methods that mark the real beginning of philosophy in the West, that Socrates is the better dialectical guide, and that what is Socratic in the dialogues should be distinguished from what is Platonic (§2.2). But how? That again is the Socratic problem.
Faced with inconsistencies in Socratess views and methods from one dialogue to another, the literary contextualist has no Socratic problem because Plato is seen as an artist of surpassing literary skill, the ambiguities in whose dialogues are intentional representations of actual ambiguities in the subjects philosophy investigates. Thus terms, arguments, characters, and in fact all elements in the dialogues should be addressed in their literary context. Bringing the tools of literary criticism to the study of the dialogues, and sanctioned in that practice by Platos own use of literary devices and practice of textual critique (Protagoras 339a347a, Republic 2.376c3.412b, Ion, and Phaedrus 262c264e), most contextualists ask of each dialogue what its aesthetic unity implies, pointing out that the dialogues themselves are autonomous, containing almost no cross-references. Contextualists who attend to what they see as the aesthetic unity of the whole Platonic corpus, and therefore seek a consistent picture of Socrates, advise close readings of the dialogues and appeal to a number of literary conventions and devices said to reveal Socratess actual personality. For both varieties of contextualism, the Platonic dialogues are like a brilliant constellation whose separate stars naturally require separate focus.
Marking the maturity of the literary contextualist tradition in the early twenty-first century is a greater diversity of approaches and an attempt to be more internally critical (see Hyland 2004).
Beginning in the 1950s, Vlastos (1991, 4580) recommended a set of mutually supportive premises that together provide a plausible framework in the analytic tradition for Socratic philosophy as a pursuit distinct from Platonic philosophy. Although the premises have deep roots in early attempts to solve the Socratic problem (see the supplementary document linked above), the beauty of Vlastoss particular configuration is its fecundity. The first premise marks a break with a tradition of regarding Plato as a dialectician who held his assumptions tentatively and revised them constantly; rather,
The evidence Vlastos uses varies for this claim, but is of several types: stylometric data, internal cross references, external events mentioned, differences in doctrines and methods featured, and other ancient testimony (particularly that of Aristotle). The dialogues of Platos Socratic period, called elenctic dialogues for Socratess preferred method of questioning, are Apology, Charmides, Crito, Euthyphro, Gorgias, Hippias Minor, Ion, Laches, Protagoras, and book 1 of the Republic. The developmentalists Platonic dialogues are potentially a discrete sequence, the order of which enables the analyst to separate Socrates from Plato on the basis of different periods in Platos intellectual evolution. Finally,
Many analytic ancient philosophers in the late twentieth century mined the gold Vlastos had uncovered, and many of those who were productive in the developmentalist vein in the early days went on to constructive work of their own (see Bibliography). In contemporary political life, and internationally, Socrates is invoked for widely variant purposes. In his 1963 Letter from Birmingham Jail, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. The South African statesman, Nelson Mandela, eleven of whose twenty-seven prison years were spent at hard labor in rock quarries, describes the efforts of the prisoners to educate themselves by forming study groups in the quarries. The style of teaching was Socratic in nature, he says (Long Walk to Freedom), with questions posed by leaders to their study groups. Equally contemporary, but contemptuous of Socrates, is the introduction of the Al Qaeda Training Manual (Department of Justice translation, ellipses in original): Philosophers and students of philosophy with a desire to see how Socrates is viewed outside the discipline might wish to consult the following supplementary document:
The larger column on the left below provides some of the biographical information from ancient sources with the dramatic dates of Platos dialogues interspersed [in boldface] throughout. In the smaller column on the right are dates of major events and persons familiar from fifth century Athenian history. Although the dates are as precise as allowed by the facts, some are estimated and controversial (Nails 2002).
When he arrived at the king archons stoa, Socrates fell into a conversation about reverence with a diviner he knew, Euthyphro [399 Euthyphro], and afterwards answered Meletuss charge. This preliminary hearing designated the official receipt of the case and was intended to lead to greater precision in the formulation of the charge. In Athens, religion was a matter of public participation under law, regulated by a calendar of religious festivals; and the city used revenues to maintain temples and shrines. Socratess irreverence, Meletus claimed, had resulted in the corruption of the citys young men (Euthyphro 3cd). Evidence for irreverence was of two types: Socrates did not believe in the gods of the Athenians (indeed, he had said on many occasions that the gods do not lie or do other wicked things, whereas the Olympian gods of the poets and the city were quarrelsome and vindictive); Socrates introduced new divinities (indeed, he insisted that his daimonion had spoken to him since childhood). Meletus handed over his complaint, and Socrates entered his plea. The king-archon could refuse Meletuss case on procedural grounds, redirect the complaint to an arbitrator, or accept it; he accepted it. Socrates had the right to challenge the admissibility of the accusation in relation to existing law, but he did not, so the charge was published on whitened tablets in the agora and a date was set for the pre-trial examination. From this point, word spread rapidly, probably accounting for the spike of interest in Socratic conversations recorded (Symposium 172a173b). [399 Symposium frame] But Socrates nevertheless is shown by Plato spending the next day in two very long conversations promised in Theaetetus (210d). [399 Sophist, Statesman]
At the pre-trial examination, Meletus paid no court fees because it was considered a matter of public interest to prosecute irreverence. To discourage frivolous suits, however, Athenian law imposed a heavy fine on plaintiffs who failed to obtain at least one fifth of the jurys votes, as Socrates later points out (Apology 36ab). Unlike closely timed jury trials, pre-trial examinations encouraged questions to and by the litigants, to make the legal issues more precise. This procedure had become essential because of the susceptibility of juries to bribery and misrepresentation. Originally intended to be a microcosm of the citizen body, juries by Socratess time were manned by elderly, disabled, and impoverished volunteers who needed the meager three-obol pay. In the month of Thargelion [May-June 399 Apology] a month or two after Meletuss initial summons, Socratess trial occurred. On the day before, the Athenians had launched a ship to Delos, dedicated to Apollo and commemorating Theseuss legendary victory over the Minotaur (Phaedo 58ab). Spectators gathered along with the jury (Apology 25a) for a trial that probably lasted most of the day, each side timed by the water clock. Plato does not provide Meletuss prosecutorial speech or those of Anytus and Lycon, who had joined in the suit; or the names of witnesses, if any (Apology 34a implies Meletus called none). Apologythe Greek apologia means defenseis not edited as are the court speeches of orators. For example, there are no indications in the Greek text (at 35d and 38b) that the two votes were taken; and there are no breaks (at 21a or 34b) for witnesses who may have been called. Also missing are speeches by Socratess supporters; it is improbable that he had none, even though Plato does not name them. Socrates, in his defense, mentioned the harm done to him by Aristophaness Clouds (§2.1). Though Socrates denied outright that he studied the heavens and what is below the earth, his familiarity with the investigations of natural philosophers and his own naturalistic explanations make it no surprise that the jury remained unpersuaded. And, seeing Socrates out-argue Meletus, the jury probably did not make fine distinctions between philosophy and sophistry. Socrates three times took up the charge that he corrupted the young, insisting that, if he corrupted them, he did so unwillingly; but if unwillingly, he should be instructed, not prosecuted (Apology 25e26a). The jury found him guilty. By his own argument, however, Socrates could not blame the jury, for it was mistaken about what was truly in the interest of the city (cf. Theaetetus 177de) and thus required instruction. In the penalty phase of the trial, Socrates said, If it were the law with us, as it is elsewhere, that a trial for life should not last one but many days, you would be convinced, but now it is not easy to dispel great slanders in a short time (Apology 37ab). This isolated complaint stands opposed to the remark of the personified laws that Socrates was wronged not by us, the laws, but by men (Crito 54c). It had been a crime since 403/2 for anyone even to propose a law or decree in conflict with the newly inscribed laws, so it was ironic for the laws to tell Socrates to persuade or obey them (Crito 51bc). In a last-minute capitulation to his friends, he offered to allow them to pay a fine of six times his net worth (Xenophon Oeconomicus 2.3.45), thirty minae. The jury rejected the proposal. Perhaps the jury was too incensed by Socratess words to vote for the lesser penalty; after all, he needed to tell them more than once to stop interrupting him. It is more likely, however, that superstitious jurors were afraid that the gods would be angry if they failed to execute a man found guilty of irreverence. Sentenced to death, Socrates reflected that it might be a blessing: either a dreamless sleep, or an opportunity to converse in the underworld.
While the sacred ship was on its journey to Delos, no executions were allowed in the city. Although the duration of the annual voyage varied with conditions, Xenophon says it took thirty-one days in 399 (Memorabilia 4.8.2); if so, Socrates lived thirty days beyond his trial, into the month of Skirophorion. A day or two before the end, Socratess childhood friend Crito tried to persuade Socrates to escape. [JuneJuly 399 Crito] Socrates replied that he listens to nothing but the argument that on reflection seems best and that neither to do wrong or to return a wrong is ever right, not even to injure in return for an injury received (Crito 46b, 49d), not even under threat of death (cf. Apology 32a), not even for ones family (Crito 54b). Socrates could not point to a harm that would outweigh the harm he would be inflicting on the city if he now exiled himself unlawfully when he could earlier have done so lawfully (Crito 52c); such lawbreaking would have confirmed the jurys judgment that he was a corrupter of the young (Crito 53bc) and brought shame on his family and friends.
The events of Socratess last day, when he appeared happy both in manner and words as he died nobly and without fear (Phaedo 58e) were related by Phaedo to the Pythagorean community at Phlius some weeks or months after the execution. [JuneJuly 399 Phaedo] The Eleven, prison officials chosen by lot, met with Socrates at dawn to tell him what to expect (Phaedo 59e60b). When Socratess friends arrived, Xanthippe and their youngest child, Menexenus, were still with him. Xanthippe commiserated with Socrates that he was about to enjoy his last conversation with his companions; then, in the ritual lamentation expected of women, was led home. Socrates spent the day in philosophical conversation, defending the souls immortality and warning his companions not to restrain themselves in argument, If you take my advice, you will give but little thought to Socrates but much more to the truth. If you think that what I say is true, agree with me; if not, oppose it with every argument (Phaedo 91bc). On the other hand, he warned them sternly to restrain their emotions, keep quiet and control yourselves (Phaedo 117e). Socrates had no interest in whether his corpse was burned or buried, but he bathed at the prisons cistern so the women of his household would be spared from having to wash his corpse. After meeting with his family again in the late afternoon, he rejoined his companions. The servant of the Eleven, a public slave, bade Socrates farewell by calling him the noblest, the gentlest, and the best of men (Phaedo 116c). The poisoner described the physical effects of the Conium maculatum variety of hemlock used for citizen executions (Bloch 2001), then Socrates cheerfully took the cup and drank. Phaedo, a former slave echoing the slave of the Eleven, called Socrates, the best, the wisest and the most upright (Phaedo 118a).
Once one has begun to read about Socrates in Platos dialogues, one begins to realize that the old philosopher is an icon of popular culture who has inspired diverse associations and whose name has been appropriated for all manner of different purposes: Socrates is a crater on Earths moon; Socrates is a barefoot rag doll made by the Unemployed Philosophers Guild; Socrates is a European Union education and training program; Socrates is the fifth movement of Leonard Bernsteins Serenade for Solo Violin, String Orchestra, Harp, and Percussion, after Platos Symposium; Socrates is a sculpture park in New York City; and eSocrates is a business enterprise. Allusions to Socrates abound in literature, history, and political tracts, and he has been a subject for artists since ancient times. Among the more famous paintings are Raphaels School of Athens at the Vatican and Davids Death of Socrates at the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Socratess influence was particularly notable among the U.S. founders, as the following short collection of quotations demonstrates: Like Benjamin Franklin, the English romantic era poets were taken with Socrates as a model for moral behavior and pressed the comparison with Jesus. Percy Bysshe Shelley, who refers to Socrates as the Jesus Christ of Greece (line 33, fragments of Epipsychidion), wrote a splendid translation of Platos Symposium (OConner 2002); and John Keats wrote in 1818, I have no doubt that thousands of people never heard of have had hearts completely disinterested: I can remember but twoSocrates and Jesus. George Gordon, Lord Byron, gives the ghost of Socrates a walk-on part in his play, The Deformed Transformed where two characters disagree over what is significant about Socrates:
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Socrates, (born c. 470 bce, Athens [Greece]—died 399 bce, Athens), ancient Greek philosopher whose way of life, character, and thought exerted a profound influence on Western philosophy.
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Sep 09, 2019 · Socrates was a scholar, teacher and philosopher born in ancient Greece. His Socratic method laid the groundwork for Western systems of logic and philosophy. When the political climate of Greece...
- 1 min
- Socrates: Early Years
- Philosophy of Socrates
- Trial and Death of Socrates
- The Socratic Legacy
Socrates was born and lived nearly his entire life in Athens. His father Sophroniscus was a stonemason and his mother, Phaenarete, was a midwife. As a youth, he showed an appetite for learning. Plato describes him eagerly acquiring the writings of the leading contemporary philosopher Anaxagoras and says he was taught rhetoric by Aspasia, the talented mistress of the great Athenian leader Pericles. His family apparently had the moderate wealth required to launch Socrates’ career as a hoplite (foot soldier). As an infantryman, Socrates showed great physical endurance and courage, rescuing the future Athenian leader Alcibiades during the siege of Potidaea in 432 B.C. Through the 420s, Socrates was deployed for several battles in the Peloponnesian War, but also spent enough time in Athens to become known and beloved by the city’s youth. In 423 he was introduced to the broader public as a caricature in Aristophanes’ play “Clouds,” which depicted him as an unkempt buffoon whose philosophy...
Although many of Aristophanes’ criticisms seem unfair, Socrates cut a strange figure in Athens, going about barefoot, long-haired and unwashed in a society with incredibly refined standards of beauty. It didn’t help that he was by all accounts physically ugly, with an upturned nose and bulging eyes. Despite his intellect and connections, he rejected the sort of fame and power that Athenians were expected to strive for. His lifestyle—and eventually his death—embodied his spirit of questioning every assumption about virtue, wisdom and the good life. Two of his younger students, the historian Xenophon and the philosopher Plato, recorded the most significant accounts of Socrates’ life and philosophy. For both, the Socrates that appears bears the mark of the writer. Thus, Xenophon’s Socrates is more straightforward, willing to offer advice rather than simply asking more questions. In Plato’s later works, Socrates speaks with what seem to be largely Plato’s ideas. In the earliest of Plato...
Socrates avoided political involvement where he could and counted friends on all sides of the fierce power struggles following the end of the Peloponnesian War. In 406 B.C. his name was drawn to serve in Athens’ assembly, or ekklesia, one of the three branches of ancient Greek democracy known as demokratia. Socrates became the lone opponent of an illegal proposal to try a group of Athens’ top generals for failing to recover their dead from a battle against Sparta (the generals were executed once Socrates’ assembly service ended). Three years later, when a tyrannical Athenian government ordered Socrates to participate in the arrest and execution of Leon of Salamis, he refused—an act of civil disobedience that Martin Luther King, Jr.would cite in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” The tyrants were forced from power before they could punish Socrates, but in 399 he was indicted for failing to honor the Athenian godsand for corrupting the young. Although some historians suggest that th...
Socrates is unique among the great philosophers in that he is portrayed and remembered as a quasi-saint or religious figure. Indeed, nearly every school of ancient Greek and Roman philosophy, from the Skeptics to the Stoics to the Cynics, desired to claim him as one of their own (only the Epicurians dismissed him, calling him “the Athenian buffoon”). Since all that is known of his philosophy is based on the writing of others, the Socratic problem, or Socratic question–reconstructing the philosopher’s beliefs in full and exploring any contradictions in second-hand accounts of them–remains an open question facing scholars today. Socrates and his followers expanded the purpose of philosophy from trying to understand the outside world to trying to tease apart one’s inner values. His passion for definitions and hair-splitting questions inspired the development of formal logic and systematic ethics from the time of Aristotle through the Renaissance and into the modern era. Moreover, Socra...
May 21, 2019 · Socrates was one of the greatest Greek philosophers by a wide margin. He was born in 469 BCE at a place called Deme Alpoece, Athens. For the entirety of his life, this classical Greek philosopher devoted himself to finding the most ideal way of living a moral life.
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- “The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.” ― Socrates.
- “The unexamined life is not worth living.” ― Socrates.
- “I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think” ― Socrates.
- “There is only one good, knowledge, and one evil, ignorance.” ― Socrates.