Socrates is the Founding Father of western Philosophy. He is the first person we can identify who seriously asked and pursued answers to questions that we now think of as characteristically philosophical. Thinkers before Socrates, the Pre-Socratics they're called, had asked questions about mathematics, about metaphysics (Pythagoras thought the world was made up of numbers), and about natural phenomena. Socrates spent his life asking philosophical questions of the citizens of Athens, questioning their answers, debating them. He wanted to know what goodness was, what morality was, what piety was, whether virtue can be taught, what knowledge is and similar questions. Socrates was born in 469 b.c. At the age of 70, in 399 b.c. He was charged with teaching young people to disrespect the gods of the city. The ancient Greeks believed that the gods protected their cities from floods, storms, plague and other natural disasters, as well as from invasions by other cities. If Socrates were, in fact, teaching disrespect for the gods, then there was a risk of danger to the Athens from these calamities. Socrates was convicted of these charges and sentenced to death. He was offered a reprieve if he would give up doing philosophy but he refused, on the grounds that life without philosophy would be meaningless to him and he would rather die than simply survive without any purpose. Socrates had a pupil and friend named Plato (427-347 b.c.) who witnessed the trial of Socrates, the rather lengthy period of time between the sentence and his execution and the execution itself, which was done by having Socrates drink a cup of poison hemlock, which gradually brought paralysis and death. Plato was moved to memorialize his friend and wrote a series of dialogues featuring Socrates going about his typical philosophical business. These dialogues are the primary source for our knowledge of Socrates' life and beliefs. Plato himself became one of the most important philosophers in western history. (The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once said that all philosophy is just a series of footnotes to Plato.) He also founded the Academy, the first institution of higher learning in the western world.
The excerpts you are about to read are from the dialogues of Plato named Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.
from Plato, Apology
The Apology is not an apology at all; it is a defense. It is Plato's record of the long speech Socrates made to the Athenian jury to defend himself against the charges brought against him. There were no public prosecutors in Athens, nor any lawyers. Any citizen could bring a charge against any other citizen. The person bringing the charge would argue the case for the prosecution in front of the jury while the person being charged would defend himself. Juries consisted of any Athenian citizen who wished to attend. There was no judge and no oath. You have to imagine the Athenian jury as more like a modern crowd watching a sporting event than like a modern jury. Socrates was convicted by a vote of 290-220.
Socrates has just received the verdict of death from the Athenian jury. He responds with this speech:
I have never lived an ordinary quiet life. I did not care for the things that most people care about-- making money, having a comfortable home, high military or civil rank, and all the other activities, political appointments, secret societies, party organizations, which go on in our city. I thought that I was really too strict in my principles to survive if I went in for this sort of thing. So instead of taking a course which would have done no good either to you or to me, I set myself to do you individually in private what I hold to be the greatest possible service. I tried to persuade each one of you not to think more of practical advantages than of his mental and moral well-being, or in general to think more of advantage than of well- being in the case of the state or of anything else. What do I deserve for behaving in this way? Some reward, gentlemen, if I am bound to suggest what I really deserve, and what is more, a reward which would be appropriate for myself. Well, what is appropriate for a poor man who is a public benefactor and who requires leisure for giving you moral encouragement? Nothing could be more appropriate for such a person than free maintenance at the state's expense. He deserves it much more than any victor in the races at Olympia, whether he wins with a single horse or a pair or a team of four. These people give you the semblance of success, but I give you the reality; they do not need maintenance, but I do. So if I am to suggest an appropriate penalty which is strictly in accordance with justice, I suggest free maintenance by the state.
Perhaps when I say this I may give you the impression, as I did in my remarks about exciting sympathy and making passionate appeals, that I am showing a deliberate perversity. That is not so, gentlemen. The real position is this. I am convinced that I never wrong anyone intentionally, but I cannot convince you of this, because we have had so little time for discussion. If it was your practice, as it is with other nations, to give not one day but several to the hearing of capital trials, I believe that you might have been convinced, but under present conditions it is not easy to dispose of grave allegations in a short space of time. So, being convinced that I do no wrong to anybody, I can hardly be expected to wrong myself by asserting that I deserve something bad, or by proposing a corresponding penalty. Why should I? For fear of suffering this penalty proposed by Meletus, when, as I said, I do not know whether it is a good thing or a bad? Do you expect me to choose something which I know very well is bad by making my counterproposal? Imprisonment? Why should I spend my days in prison, in subjection to the periodically appointed officers of the law? A fine, with imprisonment until it is paid? In my case the effect would be just the same, because I have no money to pay a fine. Or shall I suggest banishment? You would very likely accept the suggestion.
I should have to be desperately in love with life to do that, gentlemen. I am not so blind that I cannot see that you, my fellow citizens, have come to the end of your patience with my discussions and conversations. You have found them too irksome and irritating, and now you are trying to get rid of them. Will any other people find them easy to put up with? That is most unlikely, gentlemen. A fine life I should have if I left this country at my age and spent the rest of my days trying one city after another and being turned out every time! I know very well that wherever I go the young people will listen to my conversation just as they do here, and if I try to keep them off, they will make their elders drive me out, while if I do not, the fathers and other relatives will drive me out of their own accord for the sake of the young.
Why does Socrates suggest that he is not “desperately in love” with life?
Perhaps someone may say, But surely, Socrates, after you have left us you can spend the rest of your life in quietly minding your own business.
This is the hardest thing of all to make some of you understand. If I say that this would be disobedience to God, and that is why I cannot 'mind my own business,' you will not believe that I am serious. If on the other hand I tell you that to let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself and others is really the very best thing that a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living, you will be even less inclined to believe me. Nevertheless that is how it is, gentlemen, as I maintain, though it is not easy to convince you of it. Besides, I am not accustomed to think of myself as deserving punishment.
What reason does Socrates give here for preferring death to life?
Well, gentlemen, for the sake of a very small gain in time you are going to earn the reputation-- and the blame from those who wish to disparage our city--of having put Socrates to death, 'that wise man'-- because they will say I am wise even if I am not, these people who want to find fault with you. If you had waited just a little while, you would have had your way in the course of nature. You can see that I am well on in life and near to death. I am saying this not to all of you but to those who voted for my execution, and I have something else to say to them as well.
No doubt you think, gentlemen, that I have been condemned for lack of the arguments which I could have used if I had thought it right to leave nothing unsaid or undone to secure my acquittal. But that is very far from the truth. It is not a lack of arguments that has caused my condemnation, but a lack of effrontery and impudence, and the fact that I have refused to address you in the way which would give you most pleasure. You would have liked to hear me weep and wail, doing and saying all sorts of things which I regard as unworthy of myself, but which you are used to hearing from other people. But I did not think then that I ought to stoop to servility because I was in danger, and I do not regret now the way in which I pleaded my case. I would much rather die as the result of this defense than live as the result of the other sort. In a court of law, just as in warfare, neither I nor any other ought to use his wits to escape death by any means.
How does Socrates' lack of fear of death help him to live better?
In battle it is often obvious that you could escape being killed by giving up your arms and throwing yourself upon the mercy of your pursuers, and in every kind of danger there are plenty of devices for avoiding death if you are unscrupulous enough to stick at nothing. But I suggest, gentlemen, that the difficulty is not so much to escape death; the real difficulty is to escape from doing wrong, which is far more fleet of foot. In this present instance I, the slow old man, have been overtaken by the slower of the two, but my accusers, who are clever and quick, have been overtaken by the faster--by iniquity. When I leave this court I shall go away condemned by you to death, but they will go away convicted by truth herself of depravity and wickedness. And they accept their sentence even as I accept mine. No doubt it was bound to be so, and I think that the result is fair enough. . . .
Why does Socrates say death is preferable to life here? What is the “real difficulty”?
of the jury--for you deserve to be so called--I have had a
remarkable experience. In the past the prophetic voice to which I
have become accustomed has always been my constant companion,
opposing me even in quite trivial things if I was going to take the
wrong course. Now something has happened to me, as you can see,
which might be thought and is commonly considered to be a supreme
calamity; yet neither when I left home this morning, nor when I was
taking my place here in the court, nor at any point in any part of
my speech did the divine sign oppose me. In other discussions it has
often checked me in the middle of a sentence, but this time it has
never opposed me in any part of this business in anything that I
have said or done. What do I suppose to be the explanation? I will
tell you. I suspect
that this thing that has happened to me is a blessing, and we
are quite mistaken in supposing death to be an evil.
I have good grounds for thinking this, because my accustomed sign
could not have failed to oppose me if what I was doing had not been
sure to bring some good result.
We should reflect that there is much reason to hope for a good result on other grounds as well. Death is one of two things. Either it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything, or, as we are told, it is really a change--a migration of the soul from this place to another. Now if there is no consciousness but only a dreamless sleep, death must be a marvelous gain. I suppose that if anyone were told to pick out the night on which he slept so soundly as not even to dream, and then to compare it with all the other nights and days of his life, and then were told to say, after due consideration, how many better and happier days and nights than this he had spent in the course of his life--well, I think that the Great King himself, to say nothing of any private person, would find these days and nights easy to count in comparison with the rest. If death is like this, then, I call it gain, because the whole of time, if you look at it in this way, can be regarded as no more than one single night. If on the other hand death is a removal from here to some other place, and if what we are told is true, that all the dead are there, what greater blessing could there be than this, gentlemen? If on arrival in the other world, beyond the reach of our so-called justice, one will find there the true judges who are said to preside in those courts, Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus and all those other half-divinities who were upright in their earthly life, would that be an unrewarding journey? Put it in this way. How much would one of you give to meet Orpheus and Musaeus, Hesiod and Homer? I am willing to die ten times over if this account is true. It would be a specially interesting experience for me to join them there, to meet Palamedes and Ajax, the son of Telamon, and any other heroes of the old days who met their death through an unfair trial, and to compare my fortunes with theirs--it would be rather amusing, I think. And above all I should like to spend my time there, as here, in examining and searching people's minds, to find out who is really wise among them, and who only thinks that he is. What would one not give, gentlemen, to be able to question the leader of that great host against Troy, or Odysseus, or Sisyphus, or the thousands of other men and women whom one could mention, to talk and mix and argue with whom would be unimaginable happiness? At any rate I presume that they do not put one to death there for such conduct, because apart from the other happiness in which their world surpasses ours, they are now immortal for the rest of time, if what we are told is true.*
does Socrates not fear death? Larkin in “Aubade” expresses his
fear of annihilation: “Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.
Socrates does not seem to fear it. Whom do you agree with?
You too, gentlemen of the jury, must look forward to death with confidence, and fix your minds on this one belief, which is certain--that nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death, and his fortunes are not a matter of indifference to the gods. This present experience of mine has not come about mechanically. I am quite clear that the time had come when it was better for me to die and be released from my distractions. That is why my sign never turned me back. For my own part I bear no grudge at all against those who condemned me and accused me, although it was not with this kind intention that they did so, but because they thought that they were hurting me; and that is culpable of them.
Why does Socrates think the jury has done him no harm? How does this compare to Jesus' “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do?
However, I ask them to grant me one favor. When my sons grow up, gentlemen, if you think that they are putting money or anything else before goodness, take your revenge by plaguing them as I plagued you; and if they fancy themselves for no reason, you must scold them just as I scolded you, for neglecting the important things and thinking that they are good for something when they are good for nothing. If you do this, I shall have had justice at your hands, both I myself and my children.
Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live, but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.
Why might someone who is going to die have a “happier prospect” than someone who is going to live?
From Plato, Crito
Socrates is now in prison awaiting execution. He is visited by his friend Crito who begs him to escape and go to another city. Crito is wealthy and he and other friends of Socrates will take care of him, since Socrates himself is poor (having spent all his life doing philosophy).
Socrates. Why have you come at this hour, Crito? it must be quite early.
Crito. Yes, certainly.
Socrates. What is the exact time?
Crito. The dawn is breaking.
Socrates. I wonder the keeper of the prison would let you in.
Crito. He knows me because I often come, Socrates; moreover. I have done him a kindness.
Socrates And are you only just come?
Crito. No, I came some time ago.
Socrates Then why did you sit and say nothing, instead of awakening me at once?
Crito. Why, indeed, Socrates, I myself would rather not have all this sleeplessness and sorrow. But I have been wondering at your peaceful slumbers, and that was the reason why I did not awaken you, because I wanted you to be out of pain. I have always thought you happy in the calmness of your temperament; but never did I see the like of the easy, cheerful way in which you bear this calamity.
Socrates Why, Crito, when a man has reached my age he ought not to be repining at the prospect of death.
Why would a person's age make a difference to their attitude toward death?
Crito. And yet other old men find themselves in similar misfortunes, and age does not prevent them from repining.
Socrates That may be. But you have not told me why you come at this early hour.
Crito. I come to bring you a message which is sad and painful; not, as I believe, to yourself but to all of us who are your friends, and saddest of all to me.
Socrates What! I suppose that the ship has come from Delos, on the arrival of which I am to die?
Crito. No, the ship has not actually arrived, but she will probably be here to-day, as persons who have come from Sunium tell me that they have left her there; and therefore to-morrow, Socrates, will be the last day of your life. . . .
Crito O! my beloved Socrates, let me entreat you once more to take my advice and escape. . . There are persons who at no great cost are willing to save you and bring you out of prison; and as for the informers, you may observe that they are far from being exorbitant in their demands; a little money will satisfy them. My means, which, as I am sure, are ample, are at your service, and if you have a scruple about spending all mine, here are strangers who will give you the use of theirs; and one of them, Simmias the Theban, has brought a sum of money for this very purpose; and Cebes and many others are willing to spend their money too. I say, therefore, do not on that account hesitate about making your escape, and do not say, as you did in the court, that you will have a difficulty in knowing what to do with yourself if you escape. For men will love you in other places to which you may go, and not in Athens only; there are friends of mine in Thessaly, if you like to go to them, who will value and protect you, and no Thessalian will give you any trouble.
Nor can I think that you are justified, Socrates, in betraying your own life when you might be saved; this is playing into the hands of your enemies and destroyers
Socrates Dear Crito, your zeal is invaluable, if a right one; but if wrong, the greater the zeal the greater the evil; and therefore we ought to consider whether these things shall be done or not. For I am and always have been one of those natures who must be guided by reason, whatever the reason may be which upon reflection appears to me to be the best; and now that this fortune has come upon me, I cannot put away the reasons which I have before given: the principles which I have hitherto honored and revered I still honor, and unless we can find other and better principles on the instant, I am certain not to agree with you; no, not even if the power of the multitude could inflict many more imprisonments, confiscations, deaths, frightening us like children with hobgoblin terrors.
. . .
Socrates Take a parallel instance: if, acting under the advice of men who have no understanding, we destroy that which is improvable by health and deteriorated by disease--when that has been destroyed, I say, would life be worth having? And that is--the body?
Socrates Could we live, having an evil and corrupted body?
Crito Certainly not.
Socrates And will life be worth having, if that higher part of man be depraved, which is improved by justice and deteriorated by injustice? Do we suppose that principle, whatever it may be in man, which has to do with justice and injustice, to be inferior to the body?
What is the “higher part” of man? What argument is Socrates making here?
Crito Certainly not.
Socrates: Well, someone will say, "But the many can kill us."
Crito Yes, Socrates; that will clearly be the answer.
Socrates That is true: but still I find with surprise that the old argument is, as I conceive, unshaken as ever. And I should like to know whether I may say the same of another proposition--that not life, but a good life, is to be chiefly valued?
This is central to Socrates' view of life and death.
Crito Yes, that also remains.
Socrates And a good life is equivalent to a just and honorable one--that holds also?
Should we agree with Socrates? What else might make a life a good one?
Crito Yes, that holds.
Socrates From these premises I proceed to argue the question whether I ought or ought not to try to escape without the consent of the Athenians: and if I am clearly right in escaping, then I will make the attempt; but if not, I will abstain
How does Socrates' belief that a good life is a just and honorable one lead to this conclusion about the circumstances under which he would escape?
Socrates Then will they not say: "You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception, but having had seventy years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not to your mind, or if our covenants appeared to you to be unfair. You had your choice, and might have gone either to Lacedaemon or Crete, which you often praise for their good government, or to some other Hellenic or foreign State. Whereas you, above all other Athenians, seemed to be so fond of the State, or, in other words, of us her laws (for who would like a State that has no laws), that you never stirred out of her: the halt, the blind, the maimed, were not more stationary in her than you were. And now you run away and forsake your agreements. Not so, Socrates, if you will take our advice; do not make yourself ridiculous by escaping out of the city. "
For just consider, if you transgress and err in this sort of way, what good will you do, either to yourself or to your friends? That your friends will be driven into exile and deprived of citizenship, or will lose their property, is tolerably certain; and you yourself, if you fly to one of the neighboring cities, as, for example, Thebes or Megara, both of which are well-governed cities, will come to them as an enemy, Socrates, and their government will be against you, and all patriotic citizens will cast an evil eye upon you as a subverter of the laws, and you will confirm in the minds of the judges the justice of their own condemnation of you. For he who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be corrupter of the young and foolish portion of mankind. Will you then flee from well-ordered cities and virtuous men? and is existence worth having on these terms? Or will you go to them without shame, and talk to them, Socrates? And what will you say to them? What you say here about virtue and justice and institutions and laws being the best things among men? Would that be decent of you? Surely not.
But if you go away from well-governed States to Crito's friends in Thessaly, where there is great disorder and license, they will be charmed to have the tale of your escape from prison, set off with ludicrous particulars of the manner in which you were wrapped in a goatskin or some other disguise, and metamorphosed as the fashion of runaways is--that is very likely; but will there be no one to remind you that in your old age you violated the most sacred laws from a miserable desire of a little more life? Perhaps not, if you keep them in a good temper; but if they are out of temper you will hear many degrading things; you will live, but how?--as the flatterer of all men, and the servant of all men; and doing what?--eating and drinking in Thessaly, having gone abroad in order that you may get a dinner. And where will be your fine sentiments about justice and virtue then? Say that you wish to live for the sake of your children, that you may bring them up and educate them--will you take them into Thessaly and deprive them of Athenian citizenship? Is that the benefit which you would confer upon them? Or are you under the impression that they will be better cared for and educated here if you are still alive, although absent from them; for that your friends will take care of them? Do you fancy that if you are an inhabitant of Thessaly they will take care of them, and if you are an inhabitant of the other world they will not take care of them?
Why do his “sentiments about justice and virtue” lead Socrates to deny that it is right for him to escape execution?
Nay; but if they who call themselves friends are truly friends, they surely will. "Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have brought you up. Think not of life and children first, and of justice afterwards, but of justice first, that you may be justified before the princes of the world below. For neither will you nor any that belong to you be happier or holier or juster in this life, or happier in another, if you do as Crito bids. Now you depart in innocence, a sufferer and not a doer of evil; a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But if you go forth, returning evil for evil, and injury for injury, breaking the covenants and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least to wrong, that is to say, yourself, your friends, your country, and us, we shall be angry with you while you live, and our brethren, the laws in the world below, will receive you as an enemy; for they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. Listen, then, to us and not to Crito."
This is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic; that voice, I say, is humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. And I know that anything more which you may say will be in vain. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.
Crito I have nothing to say, Socrates.
How does Socrates' refusal to escape show his belief that what is important is not life but a good life? Do you think his ability to refuse these offers of escape shows good character on Socrates' part? Would it have been hard for him to not do wrong in these circumstances?
from Plato, Phaedo
Phaedo, who was present at the death of Socrates, is describing it to Echecrates.
ECHECRATES: Were you there with Socrates yourself, Phaedo, when he was drank the poison in prison? ...What are the things he said before he died? ... it is a long time since we had any visitor from there [Athens] who could give us any definite information, except that he [Socrates] was executed by drinking hemlock. Nobody could tell us anything more than that.
PHAEDO: Did you not even hear how the trial went?
ECHECRATES: Yes, someone did tell us about that, and we wondered that he seems to have died a long time after the trial took place. Why was that, Phaedo?
PHAEDO: That was by chance, Echecrates. The day before the trial, as it happened, the prow of the ship that the Athenians sent to Delos had been crowned with garlands.. . . they send an annual mission to the god. They have a law to keep the city pure while it lasts, and no execution can take place once the mission has begun until the ship has made its journey to Delos and returned to Athens, and this can sometimes take a long time, if the winds delay it. . . . That is why Socrates was in prison a long time before his execution.
ECHECRATES: What about his actual death, Phaedo? What did he say? What did he do? Who of his friends were with him?
PHAEDO: I have the time and I will try to tell you the whole story. Nothing gives me more pleasure than recalling the memory of Socrates, either by talking myself or by listening to someone else. [. . . I certainly found being there an astonishing experience. Although I was witnessing the death of someone who was my friend. I had no feeling of pity, for the man appeared happy both in manner and words, as he died nobly and without fear, Echecrates, so that it struck me that even in going down to the underworld he was going with the gods' blessing and that he would fare well when he got there, if anyone ever does. . . All of us present were affected in the same way, sometimes laughing, then weeping.
Socrates died “nobly and without fear.” Larkin: “Death is no different whined at than withstood.” Death may be no different but dying may be. Do you think it is important to die “nobly and without fear?”
I will begin at the beginning, and try to repeat the entire conversation. You must understand that we had been previously in the habit of assembling early in the morning at the court in which the trial was held, and which is not far from the prison. There we remained talking with one another until the opening of the prison doors (for they were not opened very early), and then went in and generally passed the day with Socrates. On the last morning the meeting was earlier than usual; this was owing to our having heard on the previous evening that the sacred ship had arrived from Delos, and therefore we agreed to meet very early at the accustomed place. On our going to the prison, the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out and bade us wait and he would call us. "For the Eleven," he said, "are now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving orders that he is to die to-day." He soon returned and said that we might come in. (The Eleven were the police commissioners of Athens.)
On entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding their baby in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women will: "O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you." Socrates turned to Crito and said: "Crito, let someone take her home." Some of Crito's people accordingly led her away, crying out and beating herself.
And when she was gone, Socrates, sitting up on the couch, began to bend and rub his leg, saying, as he rubbed: "How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it; for they never come to a man together, and yet he who pursues either of them is generally compelled to take the other. They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem; and I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had noticed them, he would have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and when he could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the reason why when one comes the other follows, as I find in my own case pleasure comes following after the pain in my leg, which was caused by the chain." . . .
SIMMIAS: I will tell you the truth Socrates. Both of us have been in difficulty for some time, and each of us has been urging the other to question you, because we wanted to hear what you had to say [now that your death is at hand] but we hesitated to bother you, lest it be displeasing to you in your present misfortune.
When Socrates heard this he laughed quietly and said: “Really Simmias, it would be hard for me to persuade other people that I do not consider my present fate a misfortune if I cannot persuade even you, and you are afraid that it is more difficult to deal with me than before. You seem to think me inferior to the swans in prophecy. They sing before too, but when they realize that they must die they sing most and most beautifully, as they rejoice that they are about to depart to join the god whose servants they are. But men, because of their own fear of death, tell lies about the swans and say that they lament their death and sing in sorrow. They do not reflect that no bird sings when it is hungry or cold or suffers in any other way. . . I believe that the swans have knowledge of the future . . . and sing and rejoice on that day beyond what they did before. And as I believe myself to be a fellow servant with the swans and dedicated to the same god, and have received from my master Apollo a gift of prophecy not inferior to theirs, I am no more despondent than they on leaving life. Therefore, you must speak, and ask whatever you want as long as the authorities allow it.” . . .
So while you," he said, "Simmias and Cebes and you others, will each make this journey later when his time comes, as it is now, fate, as a tragedian would say, is already calling me, and it is nearly time that I go to the bath, because I think it is clearly better to bathe myself before drinking the poison and save the women the trouble of bathing a corpse."
When he said this Crito asked, "Well then, Socrates, do you have any final requests for these men or myself, concerning your children or anything else, which we could do for you and so be of some particular service to you?"
"The things I always say, Crito." he replied, "Nothing very new. By taking good care of yourselves you are of service to me and my family as well as yourselves, no matter what you do, even if you don't think so at present. But if you neglect yourselves and are unwilling to live, as though following tracks, in accordance with what we now say and have said in the past too, then no matter how much or how seriously you agree with me at present you will accomplish next to nothing."
"We will certainly be eager to act in this way", he replied. "But how should we bury you?"
"However you want to," he responded, "if you can actually catch me and I don't escape you." And laughing quietly he turned to face us and said, "Men, I can't convince Crito that I am this man Socrates who is speaking right now and arranging each of his sentences. Instead, he thinks I am what he will shortly see as a corpse, and so he asks how he should bury me. And what I have been going on about at length—about how, after I drink the poison I will no longer be with you but will have departed, going off to the particular joys of the blessed—it seems I was saying these things to him for some other reason, encouraging you and myself at the same time.
"So give Crito a guarantee for me," he said, "the opposite guarantee to the one he gave the judges; for his was that I would stay, but you must guarantee him that I won't stay when I die, but will go away and leave, so that Crito will more easily bear it and won't be angry on my behalf, as if I am suffering something terrible when he sees my body being burned or buried, nor say at my funeral that Socrates is being laid out, or carried out, or buried. For rest assured, great Crito," said he, "speaking poorly is not only discordant in itself, but also causes some harm to souls. But you must be brave and say that you bury my body, and bury it in whatever manner is best and as you think is customary."
What mistake does Socrates think Crito is making? (If we are not our bodies, what are we?
Having said this he set off to bathe in another room, and Crito followed him, but he ordered us to stay behind. So we stayed, talking amongst ourselves about what had been said and re-examining it, and then returned to dwell on how great a misfortune had befallen us, thinking that since we were being deprived of a father, we would literally be spending life hereafter as orphans.
When he had bathed and his children had been brought in—he had two small sons and one older one—and the women of the family had come and he had spoken to them in Crito's presence and instructed them as he wanted, he ordered the women and children to leave and joined us. It was already close to sunset, for he had spent a long time inside. He came from his bath and sat down and didn't say much more after that. The servant of the Eleven came and, standing next to him, said "Socrates, I won't
condemn you for what I convict others, that you will be angry with me and curse me when, on the orders of the magistrates, I tell them to drink the poison. This whole time I have found you in other ways to be the most noble and kind and best man of those who have ever come here. And so I am sure that now too you will be angry not with me but with those others, since you know the reasons. So now, because you know what I have come to tell you, farewell and try to bear what must be as easily as possible."
And he cried as he turned and left. And Socrates looked in his direction and said "Farewell to you too.
We will do it." And then to us he said, "How polite the man is. Throughout this whole time he has come to check on me and sometimes talked with me and was as kind as could be, and how genuinely he weeps for me now.
"But come on, Crito, let's obey him. Have someone bring in the poison, if it is mixed. If not, have the man mix it."
And Crito said, "But I think there is still sun on the mountains, Socrates, and it is not quite sunset. And I know that others have taken the poison very late, after the order has been given to them, eating and drinking exceedingly well and enjoying sex with their loved ones. So don't hurry. There is still time."
And Socrates said, "The people who act in this way, the ones you mention, Crito, act reasonably, because they think it will benefit them to do such things. But I will be reasonable by not doing them. For I think that drinking a little later will bring me nothing except looking ridiculous in my own eyes, clinging to life and sparing it when there's nothing left in it. So come, obey me and don't do otherwise."
Socrates not only accepts his death but he goes to it sooner than he has to. Why?
And Crito heeded him and nodded to the boy who had been standing nearby, and the boy went out. After a long time had passed he came back leading the man who was to give the poison, which was ground up in a cup he was carrying. Seeing him, Socrates said "Well then, best of men, since you are the expert in these matters, what should I do?"
"You only have to drink it," he said, "and walk around until you feel your legs become heavy. Then lie down, and from there it will work on its own." And at the same time he handed the cup to Socrates.
And taking it very good-naturedly, Echecrates, without fear and without changing color or expression, he looked at the man as would a bull and said "What do you say about pouring out an offering to a god from the drink? Is it allowed, or not?"
"We only prepare as much as we think is needed," he said.
"I understand" said he. "But surely it is permissible, and necessary, to pray to the gods, that my migration from here to there will be blessed. So I pray for this, that it will happen in this way." And as he said this he raised the cup and drank it down, very gently and calmly.
Until then the majority of us had been able to keep ourselves from crying reasonably well, but when we saw him drinking and that he had finished it … no longer. And my own tears poured out of me with the force of a flood, and I hid myself in shame and cried for myself—for truly I was crying not for him but for my own misfortune, that I was being deprived of a man like this as my friend.
Crito had turned away even before I did, when he was unable to restrain his tears. Apollodoros had been crying throughout the entire time, and when he howled with grief and anger at that moment in particular, nobody who was present could help breaking down, except Socrates himself.
And he said, "What a way to behave, you remarkable men! I sent the women away mainly for this reason, so that they would not make such an offensive sound, because I have heard that one must meet one's end in calmed silence. So be quiet and collect yourselves."
And when we heard this we were ashamed and ceased crying. He was walking around, and when he said his legs had become
heavy, he lay down on his back—since this was what the man had instructed—and the man who had given him the poison took hold of him, and after a while examined his feet and legs and then squeezed his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said that he didn't. After this, he squeezed his calves, and proceeding in this way he showed us that he was cold and stiff. Socrates grasped himself and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. And then when nearly all of the area around his belly was growing cold, he uncovered his head, for he had covered it, and said—he uttered his final words—"Crito," he said, "we owe a cock to Asclepios. Make the offering and don't forget."
Ascleipios was the God of Medicine and these words implied that Socrates felt that he owed a debt to the God of Medicine because of the cup of hemlock he had just drunk. Hemlock contains a neurotoxin which disrupts the workings of the central nervous system and is toxic to humans. Ingestion in any quantity can result in an ascending muscular paralysis with eventual paralysis of the respiratory muscles which results in death due to lack of oxygen to the heart and brain.
"It will be done," Crito said. "But see if you have anything else to say."
He said nothing more in response to the question but after a short time he shuddered. The man uncovered him. His eyes were fixed. And Crito, seeing this, closed his mouth and eyes.
This, Echecrates, is how our friend passed away, a man who, we would say, was the best of those we have ever known...
Does the manner of Socrates' death help us to understand why Crito would think him the best man he has ever known? Why do you think Socrates died so much more calmly than Jesus did? (“Oh God, Why has thou forsaken me?”)
*Socrates was without a doubt aware of more unpleasant possibilities in an afterlife, so it's a puzzle why he didn't mention it. Greek mythology, Homer's Odyssey, all describe a Greek version of Hell:
The deceased entered the underworld by crossing the river Acheron, ferried across by Charon (kair'-on), who charged an obolus, a small coin for passage, placed under the tongue of the deceased by pious relatives. Paupers and the friendless gathered forever on the near shore. The far side of the river was guarded by Cerberus, the three-headed dog defeated by Heracles (Roman Hercules). Beyond Cerberus, the shades of the departed entered Tartarus, the land of the dead.
The five rivers of Hades are Acheron, Cocytus, Phlegethon, Lethe and Styx. See also Eridanos.
The first region of Hades comprises the Fields of Asphodel, described in Odyssey xi, where the shades of heroes wander despondently among lesser spirits, who twitter around them like bats. Only libations of blood offered to them in the world of the living can reawaken in them for a time the sensations of humanity (compare vampires).
Beyond lay Erebus, which could be taken for a euphonym of Hades, whose own name was dread. There were two pools, that of Lethe, where the common souls flocked to erase all memory, and the pool of Mnemosyne ("memory"), where the initiates of the Mysteries drank instead. In the forecourt of the baleful palace of Hades and Persephone sit the three judges of the Underworld: Minos, Rhadamanthys and Aeacus. There at the trivium sacred to Hecate, where three roads meets, souls are judged, returned to the Fields of Asphodel if they are neither virtuous nor evil, sent by the road to Tartarus if they are impious or evil, or sent to Elysium with the heroic blessed.
The Greek poet Hesiod asserts that a bronze anvil falling from heaven would fall 9 days before it reached the Earth. The anvil would take 9 more days to fall from Earth to Tartarus. As a place so far from the sun and so deep in the earth, Tartarus is hemmed in by 3 layers of night, which surrounds a bronze wall which in turn encompasses Tartarus. It is a dank and wretched pit engulfed in murky gloom. It is one of the primordial objects, along with Chaos, Earth, and Eros, that emerged into the universe.
While, according to Greek mythology, Hades is the place of the dead, Tartarus also has a number of inhabitants. When Cronus, the ruling Titan, came to power he imprisoned the Cyclopes in Tartarus. Zeus released them to aid in his conflict with the Titan giants. The gods of Olympus eventually defeated them and they were cast into Tartarus. They were guarded by giants, each with 50 enormous heads and 100 strong arms, who were called Hecatonchires. Later, when Zeus overcame the monster Typhus, the offspring of Tartarus and Gaia, he threw it, too, into the same pit.
Tartarus is also the place where the punishment fits the crime. For example Sisyphus, who was both a thief and murderer, was condemned for eternity to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down at the top. Also found there was Ixion, the first human to spill the blood of a relative. He caused his father in-law to fall into a pit of burning coals to avoid paying the bride-price. The fitting punishment was to spend eternity on a flaming wheel. Tantalus, who enjoyed the confidence of the gods by conversing and dining with them, shared the food and the secrets of the gods with his friends. The fitting punishment was to be immersed up to his neck in cool water, which disappeared whenever he attempted to quench his thirst, and luscious grapes above him that leapt up when he tried to take a hold.