The Trial and Death of Socrates : Being The Euthyphron, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo of Plato (1895)by PLATO
THESE dialogues contain a unique picture of Socrates in the closing scenes of his life, his trial, his imprisonment, and his death. And they contain a description also of that unflagging search after truth, that persistent and merciless examination and sifting of men who were wise only in their own conceit, to which his latter years were devoted
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THESE dialogues contain a unique picture of Socrates in the closing scenes of his life, his trial, his imprisonment, and his death. And they contain a description also of that unflagging search after truth, that persistent and merciless examination and sifting of men who were wise only in their own conceit, to which his latter years were devoted. Within these limits he is the most familiar figure of ancient Greek history. No one else stands out before us with so individual and distinct a personality of his own. Of the rest of Socrates' life, however, we are almost completely ignorant. All that we know of it consists of a few scattered and isolated facts, most of which are referred to in these dialogues. A considerable number of stories are told about him by late writers : but to scarcely any of them can credit be given. Plato and Xenophon are almost the only trustworthy authorities about him who remain ; and they describe him almost altogether as an old man. The earlier part of his life is to us scarcely more than a blank.
Socrates was born very shortly before the year 469 B.C. 1 His father, Sophroniscus, was a sculptor: his mother, Phaenarete, a midwife. Nothing definite is known of his moral and intellectual development. There is no specific record of him at all until he served at the siege of Potidaea (432 8.0429 B.c.) when he was nearly forty years old. All that we can say is that his youth and manhood were passed in the most splendid period of Athenian or Greek history. 2 It was the time of that wonderful outburst of genius in art, and literature, and thought, and statesmanship, which was so sudden and yet so unique. Athens was full of the keenest intellectual and political activity. Among her citizens between the years 460 B.C. and 420 B.C. were men who in poetry, in history, in sculpture, in architecture, are our masters still. ^Eschylus' great Trilogy was brought out in the year 458 B.C., and the poet died two years later, when Socrates was about fifteen years old. Sophocles was born in 495 B.C., Euripides in 481 B.C. They both died about 406 B.C., some seven years before Socrates. Pheidias, the great sculptor, the artist of the Elgin marbles, which are now in the British Museum, died in 432 B.C. Pericles, the supreme statesman and orator, 3 whose name marks an epoch in the history of civilisation, died in 429 B.C. Thucy-dides, the historian, whose history is ' a posses-
1 Apol. 17 D. Crito, 52 E.
3 See the account of this period given by Professor Curtius in his History of Greece, Bk. iii. ch. 3. 3 6 ir&vv. Xen. Mem. iii. 5. i.
sion for all ages,' 1 was born in 471 B.C., about the same time as Socrates, and died probably between 401 B.C. and 395 B.C. Ictinus, the architect, completed the Parthenon in 438 B.C. There have never been finer instruments of culture than the art and poetry and thought of such men as these. Socrates, who in 420 B.C. was about fifty years old, was contemporary with them all. He must have known and conversed with some of them : for Athens was not very large, 2 and the Athenians spent almost the whole of their day in public. To live in such a city was in itself no mean training for a man, though he might not be conscious of it. The great object of Pericles' policy had been to make Athens the acknowledged intellectual capital and centre of Greece, ' the Prytaneum of all Greek wisdom.' 3 Socrates himself speaks with pride in the Apology of her renown for ' wisdom and power of mind.' 4 And Athens gave her citizens another kind of training also, through her political institutions. From having been the head of the confederacy of Delos, she had grown to be an Imperial, or, as her enemies
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