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Trial and Death of Socrates
Several of Plato's works explicate the details of Socrates life, especially his trial, sentence and execution. The novel, Trial and Death of Socrates too work around the same ideals, and present to the audience a man of great integrity and honor. Socrates was a man who valued his decisions and had great regards for self-respect, as well as respect for others. He was a man who preferred death to a life of debasement. Plato's Trial and Death of Socrates remains a powerful archive even today partly because it is true and partly because it illustrates the tale of one of the greatest men in history. The book represents to its audience four dialogues namely, The Euthyphro, The Apology, The Crito and The Phaedo. In Apology, Socrates dauntlessly guards the probity of his teachings and in the Crito, he demonstrates his respect for the law while denying to escape from the prison at the request of his great friend Crito.
In Plato's Apology, Socrates is held on trial after being charged for corrupting the youth of Athens and enforcing them in not believing in the gods of the city. It is no doubt that Socrates attempted to challenge, some of the countenances of the Athenian society but, simultaneously, he also illustrated the eminence of certain values in the society both in his own person and even in the allegations put forth against him. Socrates begins his defense by stating that the revolt of the youth is not an object of recent times, as elements of such behavior have also been found in the past. He states, "These people are ambitious, violent, and numerous; they are continually and convincingly talking about me; they have been filling your ears for a long time with vehement slanders against me" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates). Throughout the trial, Socrates explicates the reasons that led to his bad reputation and inculpates his accusers for not understanding the true motive behind his assertions. He vehemently tells his fellow Athenians that their acquired wealth and worldly possessions will never take preponderance over the responsibility of their soul.
Socrates bravely defends himself by suggesting that he had never attempted to corrupt the youth or cause them to become non-believers. He states, "What has caused my reputation is none other than a certain kind of wisdom. What kind of wisdom? Human wisdom, perhaps" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates). He then relates the story when he and his friend, Chairephon went to Oracle in their youth. The Oracle claimed that no one was wiser than Socrates was and since then Socrates made it his duty to find any man who had greater wisdom than him. In his quest, Socrates questioned the beliefs of poets, politicians and theologians, only to find that they were not as wise, as they had appeared to be. Socrates proclaimed, "In my investigation in the service of the god I found that those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates). This act obviously exposed many highly ranked men and earned Socrates a bad name. Socrates believed that an unexamined life was not worth living, and if he had agreed to accept the right of the court to judge his thoughts than he had indeed lost his honor. He openly professed that his followers represented his ideas for him.
Socrates believed in living a life that was virtuous and was never ashamed of what he did. He professes, "You are wrong, sir, if you think that a man who is any good at all should take into account the risk of life or death; he should look to this only in his actions, whether what he does is right or wrong, whether he is acting like a good or a bad man" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates).
In the Apology, one of the most commending actions of Socrates was when he revealed to the audience and officials in the court, the reason of his never working in a public office. Since Socrates was an honest man, he could not have survived long in the public office, as working there meant sacrificing one's morals. He then recalls his undergoing in the public service. He says, "The government gave many such orders to many people, in order to implicate as many as possible in their guilt" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates). As a result, he immediately resigned from the office claiming that he would never permit himself to be used as an instrument of a tyrannical government, which intended to propagate guilt among the state's citizens. Throughout the trial, the readers of the book see evidence of Socrates' claim, i.e., it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day and those things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living.
Towards the end, Socrates attempts to convince his fellow Athenians not to give too much of consideration to materialistic wealth over their morality, judgement and souls. He says,
Good sir, you are an Athenian, a citizen of the greatest city with the greatest reputation for both wisdom and power; are you not ashamed of your eagerness to possess as much wealth, reputation, and honors as possible, while you do not care for nor give thought to wisdom or truth, or the best possible state of your soul?
A and Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial
And Death Of Socrates).
What Socrates was basically pointing at was that wealth has its true value if it is utilized in a worthwhile manner. He emphasized that people must bring forth their virtuous attitude to consummation. Extreme evidence of Socrates' claim is seen when he accepts the verdict of the court with composure. He had great belief in the immaculateness and rectitude of the soul and emphasized others to be that way in their day-to-day lives.
Upon hearing the sentence, Socrates claims that it is only the body of a person that dies but his piousness lives forever.
Evidence of Socrates claim that, he is wise only in his ignorance is seen towards the end when he informs the jury about his emotions towards death. He states, "To fear death, gentleman, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know" and "good hope that death is a blessing" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates). Socrates believed that since he had no idea about what death actually was, he had no emotions such as fear for it. He only wished that after death he could go to another place where he could once again judge people about their wisdom. He says, "I could spend my time testing and examining people there, as I do here, as to who among them is wise, and who thinks he is, but is not" (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of Socrates).
In Plato's Crito, Crito attempts to sway Socrates to escape from prison and evade death. Socrates argues that by performing such an action he would not set an example of a good citizen. Crito points out that Socrates is a good citizen who is erroneously condemned and wrongly asked to surrender his life to the law of the state. Both Crito and Socrates are of the opinion that Socrates was unfairly sentenced to death. As a result, Crito proposes that it would not be wrong for Socrates to escape from prison. Socrates on the other hand argues that by escaping prison he would not only violate the law but also disrupt the processes of an orderly society. By commending an act such as escaping, Socrates would not only go against his teaching, which were to always uphold the law, but also lose his integrity and his image of respect among many Athenians. Crito on the other hand is not only fearful of loosing a good friend but also his prestige among the people. He says,
But, O! my beloved Socrates, let me entreat you once more to take my advice and escape. For if you die I shall not only lose a friend who can never be replaced, but there is another evil: people who do not know you and me will believe that I might have saved you if I had been willing to give money, but that I did not care. Now, can there be a worse disgrace than this- that I should be thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the many will not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape, and that you refused (Benjamin Jowett, The Trial And Death Of…[continue]
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