Last Days of Socrates, The

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Last Days of Socrates, The

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Philosophy (Ancient)


by: Plato (Author), Harold Tarrant (Editor), Hugh Tredennick (Translator)

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Although many accounts of Socrates' trial are known to have existed for some time after the actual events described by Plato, only Plato's and Xenophon's accounts survive -- and are probably the most accurate. Both Plato and Xenophon were sympathetic to Socrates, and so are somewhat suspect as to whether they adequately and accurately describe the full nature of the charges against Socrates. Plato, a 27-year-old admirer of Socrates at the time of the trial, describes the charges as being impiety (questioning the state-sanctioned [poly]theology) and, thereby supposedly corrupting the minds of Athens' youth. A similar charge had, years earlier, driven Anaxagoras from Athens, but many scholars believe there were probably other factors involved in the case against Socrates. Here we find an intractable mystery (and some unwarranted speculations that are merely libelous) [see Note].
Plato's telling of Socrates' last days consists in four parts:
(1.) Euthyphro: Socrates in Action. (2.) The Apology: Socrates on Trial. (3.) Crito: Socrates in Prison. (4.) Phaedo: The Last Conversation.
Euthyphro, The Apology, and Crito are better paced and more interesting than Phaedo, which is a long Socratic argument that the soul must possess some extra-material existence, which continues, or is somehow renewed, beyond corporeal death. I suspect that most readers will enjoy the first three sections of this text, but find the last (and longest) more of a chore; at least that is my opinion. Throughout the text, Plato presents Socrates as a man of both relentless curiosity and an admirable ethical heroism.
Note: As far as the ancillary discussion that seems to have been present in earlier reviews in this forum (while noting the forensic evidence indicating that the worst of these comments was deleted): Given the full weight of the available evidence, Socrates' supposed bisexuality can add up to nothing more than idle speculation. As to his relationships with young men, it cannot be confirmed that they involved males that were considered to be below an age at which they could accountably assent--and even more importantly, IF any such relationships were of a sexual nature at all. Given the available accounts, arguments that these were NOT sexual relationships seem clearly more defensible than (slanderous?) accusations that they were. In other words, as regards this charge, we simply enter an arena of irresolvable facts and potential slander. Why go there?! What we CAN glean from the only extant accounts of Socrates' character is that he considered himself to be one who strove to consistently abide by the highest ethical standards, and that this is consistent with Plato's account here. As cited in Phaedo, these comments of Socrates' seem particularly relevant to this [particular slander]: ". . . true philosophers abstain from all bodily desires and withstand them and do not yield to them. . . those who care about their souls and do not subordinate them to the body dissociate themselves firmly from these others and refuse to accompany them on their haphazard journey; and, believing that it is wrong to oppose philosophy with her offer of liberation and purification, they turn and follow her wherever she leads."

Topics include: defence speech, immanent form, actual equality


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