Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths

By Robin Waterfield

A revisionist account of the main well-known trial and execution in Western civilization—one with nice resonance for American society today.

Socrates’ trial and demise jointly shape an iconic second in Western civilization. In 399 BCE, the nice thinker stood sooner than an Athenian jury on critical fees: impiety and “subverting the younger males of the city.” the image we've of it—created via his rapid fans, Plato and Xenophon, and perpetuated in numerous works of literature and artwork ever since—is of a noble guy placing his lips to the toxic cup of hemlock, sentenced to loss of life in a healthy of folly by way of an historic Athenian democracy already battling for its personal existence. yet an icon, a picture, isn't really fact, and time has transmuted such a lot of of the proof into ancient fable.

conscious of those myths, Robin Waterfield has tested the particular Greek assets and offers the following a brand new Socrates, during which he separates the legend from the fellow himself. As Waterfield recounts the tale, the fees of impiety and corrupting the formative years of Athens have been already adequate for a dying sentence, however the prosecutors accused him of extra. They asserted that Socrates used to be not only an atheist and the guru of a peculiar sect but in addition an elitist who surrounded himself with politically bad characters and had mentored these liable for defeat within the Peloponnesian battle. Their claims weren't with out substance, for Plato and Xenophon, between Socrates’ closest partners, had idolized him as scholars, whereas Alcibiades, the hawkish and notoriously self-serving normal, had introduced Athens to the edge of army catastrophe. in truth, as Waterfield perceptively exhibits via an engrossing historic narrative, there has been loads of fact, from an Athenian viewpoint, in those charges.

The trial used to be, partly, a reaction to distressed times—Athens used to be reeling from a catastrophic struggle and present process turbulent social changes—and Socrates’ partners have been regrettably direct representatives of those issues. Their phrases and activities, judiciously sifted and put in right context, not just serve to painting Socrates as a flesh-and-blood ancient determine but in addition offer an exceptional lens by which to discover either the trial and the overall heritage of the period.

finally, the examine of those occasions and vital figures permits us to eventually strip away the veneer that has for thus lengthy denied us glimpses of the genuine Socrates. Why Socrates Died is an illuminating, authoritative account of not just one of many defining classes of Western civilization but additionally of 1 of its so much defining figures. four pages of illustrations

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Why could the Spartan delegates belief Alcibiades, a fledgling Athenian baby-kisser who used to be now not even their proxenos? Why may they think hawk might paintings for peace? Why could they so stupidly discredit themselves and their project earlier than the Athenians? Why did they now not easily discredit Alcibiades in its place, by means of asserting that it used to be he who had persuaded them to assert what they stated? may possibly all or any of the puzzles be solved by means of remembering that one of many Spartan delegates, a guy known as Endius, used to be a xenos of Alcibiades? it really is easiest to imagine that Thucydides has written a condensed and deceptive account. considering, as we will see, Alcibiades’ efforts quite completed little or no, Thucydides’ explanation for highlighting this episode should have been to painting Alcibiades, on his first visual appeal in his historical past, as an bold and unscrupulous guy, pushed by means of own motivations; and in his wish to not spend extra time over this than he needed to, the historian obscured the proof. the major to untangling the tale lies, i think, with the Boeotians. The Boeotians, led by way of Thebes, have been between Sparta’s most crucial allies, they usually have been against the peace with Athens. Sparta had undertaken to aim to win the Boeotians over to the assumption of peace with Athens, yet as a substitute had simply entered right into a clean army alliance with them. The Athenian place was once elementary: both you cancel this alliance with Boeotia, or we input into an alliance with Argos. This used to be precisely the deal Nicias provided the Spartans while he went there following the extreme meeting assembly. Now we will be able to maybe unpack what occurred. whilst the Spartans stated within the first example that they got here with complete powers of negotiation, they intended they had a unfastened hand to aim to cajole the Athenians to not input into an alliance with Argos, via promising to rearrange the trade of Pylos, nonetheless in Athenian palms, for territory the Athenians claimed that used to be nonetheless within the palms of Spartan allies. but if requested within the Assembly–perhaps via Alcibiades or certainly one of his stooges–whether this intended that they might cancel their new alliance with the Boeotians, they stated that they can now not make sure that. How may perhaps they? Such a huge factor will be a question for the specialists in Sparta itself. this is often what Alcibiades had came upon in his inner most talks with the Spartan delegates, or not less than from his buddy Endius, and this used to be what he used to discredit the Spartan envoys. He might have argued, with out a lot hassle, that the Spartan alliance with the Boeotian federation was once the main, and that if the Spartan delegates have been powerless during this appreciate, they have been in impact powerless altogether. Alcibiades spent an frightened few days whereas Nicias was once negotiating in Sparta, however the challenge got here to not anything: it foundered at the Spartans’ refusal to renounce their alliance with the Boeotians. Nicias got here domestic with egg on his face and with the Athenian doves in shame, due to the fact that that they had already again the Spartan prisoners from Sphacteria (as they have been obliged to via the phrases of the treaty) and received not anything in go back.

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