Monday, February 1, 2010

trial and death of Socrates

The trial and death of Socrates is a famous and inspiring event in our history.  The statement Socrates made in his defense, called an apology or explanation of his philosophy and world view, is a fairly short document that makes for good reading.  This most famous version is written by Plato, Socrates' most famous student. Socrates is famous as the most known member of the group of philosophers ('lovers of wisdom') and the one who is well-known as the questionner and one who faced his ignorance squarely.  It is often stated by people as they learn and age that the more they learn, the more they realize how much they don't know.  Some people suspect our schools have been too correct-answer-oriented and thus responsible for helping people be uncomfortable with saying "I don't know".  

400 years before Christ, Athens had had a long war with Sparta and had been victorious at a heavy cost of human life, property damage and despondency.  Some in the city wanted to find out who was to blame.  The blame game is a very popular with people and they looked around for the cause of the difficulty in winning.  Socrates was about 70 years old at the time and had been well-known for years as a teacher and inquirer.  His questioning seemed to many to undermine unity and clear thought and doctrine and he seemed to be the possible cause of weakness in the city-state.

He is famous for saying that he was an annoyance, a gad-fly, which the citizens should treasure.  He was one whom it would be difficult to replace and they actually needed him.  He was charged with corrupting the youth (instead of teaching them to obey) and with introducing false gods while failing to show respect toward the usual ones.

According to Plato, his devoted friends told him that they could get him off or spirit him away without difficulty.  However, he steadily supported his own duty to accept the sentence of death (by drinking hemlock) and did so.There is a famous painting by David of the end in his cell.

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