The Trial And Death Of Socrates
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The Trial and Death of Socrates
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In it, he questions traditional arguments that Socrates was purely the victim of political in-fighting. The corruption charge is seen as particularly important. Athens in BC had been hit by successive disasters — plague, internal political strife and a major military defeat by Sparta aided by Persian money. According to Professor Cartledge, however, Socrates was not just the unfortunate victim of a vicious political vendetta, but a scapegoat used for an altogether more spiritual bout of self-purging within a culture very different in kind from our own.
Ancient Greeks were, after all, instinctively religious people, who believed that their cities were protected by gods who needed to be appeased. To many, it must have seemed as if these gods were far from happy after the years of disaster leading up to BC. Athenians probably genuinely felt that undesirables in their midst had offended Zeus and his fellow deities. Socrates, an unconventional thinker who questioned the legitimacy and authority of many of the accepted gods, fitted that bill. And crucially, Professor Cartledge argues that these charges were entirely acceptable in a democracy of the Athenian type. If the prosecution could prove that a defendant was responsible for jeopardising the public good, he was likely to be found guilty.
With the gods clearly furious and more disasters perhaps just around the corner, a charge of impiety was not only appropriate, but clearly very much in the public interest. In other words, Socrates had behaved impiously, and was a victim of literally 'awe-ful' times. The study then argues that Socrates essentially invited his own death.
Under the Athenian system, in this kind of trial a defendant could suggest his own penalty. Instead of taking this seriously, however, Socrates first joked that he should be rewarded, and eventually suggested a fine that was far too small. Unsurprisingly, his jurors did not see the funny side and passed the death sentence by a greater majority than that by which he had been convicted.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence. If you use this content on your site please link back to this page. The University's news digest summarises news from and about the University of Cambridge. Enter your email address, confirm you are happy to receive our emails and then select 'Subscribe'. I wish to receive the University's news digest by email. Socrates married Xanthippe, a younger woman, who bore him three sons: Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus.
There is little known about her except for Xenophon's characterization of Xanthippe as "undesirable. By his own words, Socrates had little to do with his sons' upbringing and expressed far more interest in the intellectual development of Athens' other young boys. Athenian law required all able-bodied males serve as citizen soldiers, on call for duty from ages 18 until According to Plato, Socrates served in the armored infantry — known as the hoplite — with shield, long spear and face mask. He participated in three military campaigns during the Peloponnesian War , at Delium, Amphipolis and Potidaea, where he saved the life of Alcibiades, a popular Athenian general. Socrates was known for his fortitude in battle and his fearlessness, a trait that stayed with him throughout his life.
After his trial, he compared his refusal to retreat from his legal troubles to a soldier's refusal to retreat from battle when threatened with death. Plato's Symposium provides the best details of Socrates' physical appearance. He was not the ideal of Athenian masculinity. Short and stocky, with a snub nose and bulging eyes, Socrates always seemed to appear to be staring. However, Plato pointed out that in the eyes of his students, Socrates possessed a different kind of attractiveness, not based on a physical ideal but on his brilliant debates and penetrating thought. Socrates always emphasized the importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body.
Socrates believed that philosophy should achieve practical results for the greater well-being of society. He attempted to establish an ethical system based on human reason rather than theological doctrine. Socrates pointed out that human choice was motivated by the desire for happiness. Ultimate wisdom comes from knowing oneself. The more a person knows, the greater his or her ability to reason and make choices that will bring true happiness. Socrates believed that this translated into politics with the best form of government being neither a tyranny nor a democracy. Instead, government worked best when ruled by individuals who had the greatest ability, knowledge and virtue, and possessed a complete understanding of themselves.
For Socrates, Athens was a classroom and he went about asking questions of the elite and common man alike, seeking to arrive at political and ethical truths. In fact, he claimed to be ignorant because he had no ideas, but wise because he recognized his own ignorance. He asked questions of his fellow Athenians in a dialectic method — the Socratic Method — which compelled the audience to think through a problem to a logical conclusion. Sometimes the answer seemed so obvious, it made Socrates' opponents look foolish. For this, his Socratic Method was admired by some and vilified by others. During Socrates' life, Athens was going through a dramatic transition from hegemony in the classical world to its decline after a humiliating defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War.
Athenians entered a period of instability and doubt about their identity and place in the world. As a result, they clung to past glories, notions of wealth and a fixation on physical beauty. Socrates attacked these values with his insistent emphasis on the greater importance of the mind. While many Athenians admired Socrates' challenges to Greek conventional wisdom and the humorous way he went about it, an equal number grew angry and felt he threatened their way of life and uncertain future. In B. He chose to defend himself in court. Rather than present himself as wrongly accused, Socrates declared he fulfilled an important role as a gadfly, one who provides an important service to his community by continually questioning and challenging the status quo and its defenders.
The jury was not swayed by Socrates' defense and convicted him by a vote of to Possibly the defiant tone of his defense contributed to the verdict and he made things worse during the deliberation over his punishment. Athenian law allowed a convicted citizen to propose an alternative punishment to the one called for by the prosecution and the jury would decide. Instead of proposing he be exiled, Socrates suggested he be honored by the city for his contribution to their enlightenment and be paid for his services.