The Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint

Emily Wilson
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Shadi Bartsch writes:

Socrates’ death was not a suicide but the result of a sentence passed by an Athenian jury. Wilson surveys the possible causes of the sentence, acknowledging Socrates’ connection to the anti-democratic Thirty Tyrants but also stressing his presentation of his religious radicalism as an ideal form of piety. There’s a reason for the uncertainty: Socrates’ decision not to leave Athens but to remain in his cell and accept his death sentence rendered him, even in antiquity, subject to conflicting interpretations. We are most familiar with Plato’s Socrates; especially Plato’s description of his teacher’s last days in the Phaedo, in which Socrates presents his views on the immortality of the soul. Both Plato and Xenophon suggest that Socrates’ acceptance of death was the logical outcome of his thinking. But even this leaves room for confusion, since Socrates’ famous claim in the Apology is that he will obey ‘the god’ at all times over his fellow citizens, whereas in the Crito he seems to identify his interests with the interests of precisely those fellow citizens: he refuses Crito’s offer to help him escape by emphasising his obedience to the laws of the city.

(LRB 15 November 2007)

Published by Profile Books Ltd
26 July 2007
Hardback
ISBN: 9781861977625