Philosopher Socrates is Condemned to Death by Hemlock Part 3: Eyewitness Report

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.


EYEWITNESS REPORT: Among those with Socrates in his last hours--spent inside the Greek prison at Phlius, 60 mi. west of Athens--was Phaedo, a onetime slave freed by Socrates' friends and a student of the master. Phaedo dictated to Plato the scene that followed upon the jailer's approaching Socrates with the cup of hemlock:

"Socrates then said: 'You, my good friend, who are experienced in such matters, shall give me directions as to how I am to proceed.'

"'You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then lie down, and the poison will act.'

"As he said this, he gave the cup to Socrates, who, in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or feature, looking the man straight in the eye, as was his manner, took the cup and said: 'What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not?'

"'We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough.'

"'I understand. Yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this world to the other. May this, then, which is my prayer, be granted to me!'

"Then holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully, he drank off the poison.

"Until this point most of us had been able to control our sorrow. But now, when we saw him drinking and saw, too, that he had finished the draught, we could no longer control ourselves. In spite of myself my tears began to flow quickly. . . .

"Socrates alone retained his calm spirit. 'What is this strange outcry?' he asked. 'I sent the women away mainly that they might not offend in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience. . . .'

"He walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail. Then he lay on his back, according to the directions. The man who had given him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs. After a while he pressed his foot hard and asked him if he could feel. Socrates replied: 'No.' Then his leg, and so on upward and upward, showing us that Socrates was cold and stiff. Then he said: 'When the poison reaches his heart, that will be the end.'

"Socrates was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said (they were his last words): 'Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepsius. Will you remember to pay the debt?'

"'The debt shall be paid,' said Crito. 'Is there anything else?'

"There was no answer to this question. But in a minute or 2, a movement was heard. The attendants uncovered him. His mouth was set. Crito closed his eyes and mouth."

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