Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Trial of Socrates
The trial of Socrates gave rise to a great deal of debate and to a whole genre of literature, known as the Socratic logoi. Socrates' elenctic examination was resented by influential figures of his day, whose reputations for wisdom and virtue were debunked by his questions. The annoying nature of elenchos earned Socrates the moniker "gadfly of Athens." Socrates' elenctic method was often imitated by the young men of Athens, which greatly upset the established moral values and order. Indeed, even though Socrates himself fought for Athens and argued for obedience to law, at the same time he criticised democracy, especially, the Athenian practice of election by lot, ridiculing that in no other craft, the craftsman would be elected in such a fashion. Such a criticism gave rise to suspicion by the democrats, especially when his close associates were found to be enemies of democracy. Alcibiades betrayed Athens in favour of Sparta, and Critias, his sometime disciple, was a leader of the 30 tyrants, (the pro-Spartan oligarchy that ruled Athens for a few years after the defeat), though there is also a record of their falling out.
In addition, Socrates held unusual views on religion. He made several references to his personal spirit, or daimonion, although he explicitly claimed that it never urged him on, but only warned him against various prospective events. Many of his contemporaries were suspicious of Socrates' daimonion as a rejection of the state religion. It is generally understood that Socrates' daimonion is akin to intuition. Moreover, Socrates claimed that the concept of goodness, instead of being determined by what the gods wanted, actually precedes it.
Socrates' trial described by his contemporaries
As told in Plato's Apology — one of the best-known works of Greek philosophy and literature — the Trial of Socrates was a dramatic court case that led to the death of Socrates, the Greek philosopher. Socrates's reasoning and philosophy, and the questions they raised — not only about ephemeral things but also political, moral, and legal matters — drew the ire of the leaders of the Athenian polis who feared he was leading the young people of Athens astray.
An ambitious young Athenian, Meletus (with Anytus and Lycon), led the prosecution against Socrates. He accused Socrates of being "a doer of evil, who corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state, but has other new divinities of his own." (Source: Plato's Apology) He was likewise accused of corrupting the youth of Athens by popularizing a novel: Sophistry. Hidden behind these accusations was the ego of the elite. In the Agora of the time, Socrates would purposefully, through question and answer, reveal that "great men" actually knew nothing. For a wealthy person or citizen in high esteem of Athens, Socrates' "discussions" with them were insulting. Some scholars suggest that Socrates' attack on these men caused them to trump up the charge of sedition.
A trial before a jury of 501 Athenian citizens was held in which Socrates called into question the whole basis for the trial instead of putting on a self-abasing, eloquent defense, which was expected. By a very narrow margin, the Athenians found Socrates guilty. Next, Socrates and his prosecutor suggested competing sentences. Socrates jokingly suggested free meals at the Prytaneum, but then finally settled on an insultingly small fine. His prosecutor urged death. The Athenians then voted on the sentences. The verdict was nearly unanimous (60 to 441), but this time on a matter of principle: guilty men must be punished.
Socrates' three accusers, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, all leading members of Athenian political society, indicted him on the basis that he 'corrupted the youth' of Athens and denied the power of the state gods. The offenses charged did not necessarily carry the death penalty, and Socrates himself suggested to his jury that he should be fined thirty minae (the equivalent of approximately eight years of wages for an Athenian artisan). According to Plato's Apology the vote on Socrates' guilt had been very close, and his jokes about his punishment resulted in more jurymen voting for his execution than had voted to convict him.
Athenian trials had juries but no judges. Athens had been going through some difficult times, and the attack on Socrates was due in large part to Critias, a member of the tyrants, and Alcibiades, an aristocrat who defected in the Peloponnesian War. Both had been close associates of Socrates; however, although he was a critic of democracy, he remained loyal to it and never condoned the tyranny of the oligarchs who held power for a short time in Athens before Socrates's trial. It was a dangerous time to a man such as Socrates.
Socrates's followers encouraged him to flee (see: Crito), and indeed the city fathers expected this and were probably not averse to it; but he refused on principle and took the poison (hemlock) himself. Apparently in accordance with his philosophy of obedience to law, he carried out his own execution, by drinking the hemlock poison provided to him. He was, thus, one of the first of a limited number of strictly intellectual "martyrs". Socrates died at the age of 70. (See: Phaedo)
Socrates has been revered since his execution as a beacon of free speech.
Socrates' trial and death in art
Socrates' death inspired several artists. It is said that following passage from Shakespeare's Henry V, Act II, Scene III, where the death of Falstaff is described, is a parodical version of the ancient descriptions of the death of Socrates:
- [...] Falstaffe hee is dead,
- and wee must erne therefore
- Would I were with him, wheresomere hee is, eyther in Heauen, or in Hell
- Nay sure, hee's not in Hell: hee's in Arthurs Bosome, if euer man went to Arthurs Bosome: a made a finer end, and went away and it had beene any Christome Childe: a parted eu'n iust betweene Twelue and One, eu'n at the turning o'th' Tyde: for after I saw him fumble with the Sheets, and play with Flowers, and smile vpon his fingers end, I knew there was but one way: for his Nose was as sharpe as a Pen, and a Table of greene fields. How now Sir Iohn (quoth I?) what man? be a good cheare: so a cryed out, God, God, God, three or foure times: now I, to comfort him, bid him a should not thinke of God; I hop'd there was no neede to trouble himselfe with any such thoughts yet: so a bad me lay more Clothes on his feet: I put my hand into the Bed, and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone: then I felt to his knees, and so vp-peer'd, and vpward, and all was as cold as any stone
- They say he cryed out of Sack
- I, that a did
- And of Women
- Nay, that a did not
- Yes that a did, and said they were Deules incarnate
- A could neuer abide Carnation, 'twas a Colour he neuer lik'd
- A said once, the Deule would haue him about Women
- A did in some sort (indeed) handle Women: but then hee was rumatique, and talk'd of the Whore of Babylon
- Doe you not remember a saw a Flea sticke vpon Bardolphs Nose, and a said it was a blacke Soule burning in Hell
- Well, the fuell is gone that maintain'd that fire: that's all the Riches I got in his seruice
This composition inspired Jan Cox for two paintings (1952, 1979) on the theme of Socrates' death.
- The Trial of Socrates, I. F. Stone, Little, Brown & Co., Boston, MA, l988.
The contents of this article is licensed from www.wikipedia.org under the GNU Free Documentation License. Click here to see the transparent copy and copyright details