Philosopher Socrates is Condemned to Death by Hemlock Part 1

About the history and biography of ancient Greek philosopher Socrates, put on trial for corrupting the youth of Athens, condemned to death by drinking the poision hemlock.


WHEN: 399 B.C.

HOW: Socrates was, said the Delphic Oracle, the wisest man in Greece. He was probably more, probably the greatest philosopher of the ancient world. He never wrote a word about his life or ideas. They were all written down for him by his student Plato, who was 2nd only to the master in wisdom, and by Xenophon.

Socrates was born around 469 B.C., the son of a sculptor and a midwife. He served in the Athenian Army and fought in 3 campaigns. A marble bust of him may still be seen in the Louvre. He was repulsively ugly. "But does the outer man represent the man within?" asked W. Somerset Maugham. "The face of a scholar or saint may well mask a vulgar and trivial soul. Socrates with his flattened nose and protruding eyes, his thick lips and unwieldy belly, looked like Silenus, and yet was full of admirable temperance and wisdom."

He was married to sharp-tongued Xanthippe, who constantly bawled him out for neglecting his family. He had little vanity, except to consider losing weight by dancing. He enjoyed drinking. He disliked possessions, liked human company. He disliked travel and work, liked reading and teaching. He went about barefooted, wearing the same shabby robe over and over.

He was a gadfly who taught in the market-place, although he may have also had a school. He instilled learning in others not by lecturing but by questioning, by artfully cross-examining his followers. Typically: "Tell me, Euthydemus, have you ever gone to Delphi? ... Did you observe what is written on the temple wall--Know thyself? ... And did you take no thought of that inscription, or did you attend to it, and try to examine yourself, and ascertain what sort of character you are?"

He was irreligious. He was full of doubts about the physical sciences. He was against democracy as well as tyranny. He believed a nation should be governed by those who had ability and knowledge, not by men chosen in a popularity contest. He preferred his austere civilized living, whatever its shortcomings, to returning to Nature. He believed in logic, which leads to truth, which in turn provides man with moral and ethical systems. When Socrates argued, said Will Durant, "that the good is not good because the gods approve of it, but that the gods approve of it because it is good," he was proposing "a philosophical revolution," insisting goodness was not theological or abstract, but rather earthly and practical.

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