“The Last Days of Socrates” is a book on the philosophical discussions between Socrates and Plato. It is divided into four sections: “Euthyphro”, “The Apology”, “Crito”, and “Phaedo”. Socrates never recorded any of his teachings, so after his conviction and forced suicide, his student, Plato, who was a renown poet in his time, wrote Socrates’ words out in the way he had heard them when the man was his teacher.
Socrates was born in Athens, Greece in 469 B.C. With a father who was a sculptor and a mother who was a midwife, Socrates was unsure what profession to choose. He was very religious and deeply moral, which Plato brings forward in his book. As a teacher, he was often called upon by young aristocrats who wanted to pit their knowledge against his. To find the questions he could not answer. Unfortunately, that is what led to his conviction and subsequent execution. Plato was one of the young aristocrats from Athens, but he just wanted to learn and revered the workings of his mentor’s mind.
Plato’s first draft of Socrates’ teachings was so popular after being circulated that he decided to use them to keep Socrates alive and vindicate his reputation. This is why he first wrote “The Apology” and “Crito”. Although “Euthyphro” is first in the book for dramatic order, it is obviously written later.
“The Apology” contains imaginary dialogue but is not written in that form. It is supposed to be a series of speeches delivered by Socrates at his trial. “The Crito” contains conversations with friends justifying his reasons for not escaping after the conviction. He puts the guilt of his conviction on the men who lied to the court while justifying the laws themselves. The “Euthyphro” tells of the charges laid out against Socrates. In the “Phaedo” the last days and death of Socrates are told. It is chiefly a way to wrap up the story.
In “The Last Days of Socrates”, Plato has told a brilliant and thought-provoking story that has survived the test of time and is still taught in philosophy classes to a great extent. His desire to preserve the words of his teacher managed to preserve both men for thousands of years.
Euthyphro – a seer and religious expert who meets Socrates on the porch of King Archon, one of the judges in charge of monitoring religious law. Socrates is soon to stand trial. Euthyphro is there to bring charges against his father for manslaughter. Socrates is surprised and the two begin to discuss piety and it’s true nature. Euthyphro asks Socrates what he is doing there. He tells him that he is being accused of corrupting the youth of Athens and making up a new god. Socrates continues with a sarcastic remark about Meletus off to a good start at weeding out the corruptors of the city’s young men. Euthyphro says that the accusations are probably because he says he is often visited by a divine sign, as he himself is on occasion. He says that they must be patient with these prejudices and he is sure it will all work out fine.
When Socrates questions Euthyphro on his reasons for seeing the King, Euthyphro says that he is there to report his father for murder. Socrates says that the murdered person must be a close family member or a close friend, otherwise, he would not look to persecute his own father. Euthyphro says that the victim was not family or friend, but it is his moral responsibility to report his father. The victim was a day laborer that Euthyphro had hired. The man drank too much and lost his temper. He killed another laborer with a knife. His father had the man bound and tossed in a ditch to await the proper authorities to do something about him. But, he father forgot about the man and he died of starvation and exposure. Euthyphro says his family doesn’t understand why he is prosecuting his father since the man was a murderer. Socrates doesn’t understand, either. Socrates sarcastically tells Euthyphro that he would like him to teach him about religious matters. That way when Meletus accuses him of not understanding religion, he can tell him he is under the tutelage of Euthyphro and to see him.
The sarcasm flies over Euthyphro’s head and he agrees to the idea. After all, he is an expert on religion and Meletus would not be able to stand against him. With more seriousness, Socrates wants Euthyphro to help him understand the difference between holy and unholy. When Euthyphro veers off into a discussion on Zeus, Socrates steers the conversation back to the topic of holy and unholy. Socrates asks for a general definition of holy and a standard that it can be recognized by.
Their discussion evolves to whether all the gods would approve of Euthyphro prosecuting his father since the gods rarely agree on anything. They move on to the difference of being approved and getting approved. Socrates then asks Euthyphro to restate his definition of holiness since his argument of something approved by gods, doesn’t work anymore. Euthyphro accuses Socrates of talking in circles, so he is now confused. Socrates replies that all he did was ask questions, it’s Euthyphro’s answers that go around in circles. Next Socrates asks if everything that is just in holy, then is everything that is holy, just? When Euthyphro says that the part of justice that is concerned with looking after the gods is holy, Socrates wants to know what he means by ‘looking after.’ When a groom looks after a horse, the horse benefits. Socrates asks if when people do good deeds, does it benefit the gods? What is the goal the gods hope to achieve with the humans?
Euthyphro starts to become frustrated and sums it up for Socrates by saying that they honor the gods with sacrifices and the gods grant them their prayers. When Socrates tries to bring the conversation back to what is holy and what is approved by the gods, Euthyphro suddenly remembers an appointment and runs away. Socrates calls after him and begins to worry about the upcoming trial.
Since the accusers have already warned the judges that Socrates is a skillful speaker who will confuse them, Socrates starts out by disabusing them of that and stating that, unlike his accusers, he will tell only the truth, but he will try not to use his usual conversational style. He asks the court to listen to the substance of his words, not the style. To fairly determine if what he says is true or not. In Greek, the word for apologia translates to a defense, so it is not the apology we have come to recognize.
Socrates states that the reason he is on trial is because he has embarrassed supposed ‘wise’ men with his questions. Since the prophet of Delphi said that he was the wisest man, he has tried to show that the reason that might be so, is because he knows he knows nothing. He is allowed to interrogate his accuser, Meletus. But, Socrates veers from his usual route of questioning and instead belittles him.
He is found guilty by a narrow margin. So when they ask him what kind of punishment he thinks is fair, Socrates rejects banishment and imprisonment. He instead suggests a hearty meal since he has woken them up to injustices. Then he becomes serious a offers to pay a fine. This is rejected by the jury and a seventy-year-old man is sentenced to death. He is stoic in his acceptance saying that if there is no life after death, he will enter into a long sleep. If there is, he will converse with Homer and Odysseus.
His parting words are, “Now it is the 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.”
Usually, a death sentence is carried out immediately, but because of a holiday, Socrates is imprisoned for about a month. This may have been by design so he would have time to escape. But when he decides not to, his friends question him.
While in his cell, Socrates wakes to find his friend Crito sitting near. Crito and Socrates’ other friends are all concerned. The holiday is over and they expect his execution the next day. Socrates tells him that he had a dream and knows it will be in three days. Crito begs Socrates to allow him to help with his escape. When Socrates refuses, Crito says people will blame him for loving his money too much to help Socrates. He accuses Socrates of abandoning his sons and his friends who need him. Socrates replies that arranging his escape is not honorable or just. If he escapes then he is breaking his agreement to abide by the laws of the state. Also, since exile was offered to him during his trial and he said he would rather be dead, he can’t change his mind now and choose exile. He has always followed the laws when they were in his favor, he won’t stop following them because they aren’t working the way he wants. By running he would be a bad example to the young that he was accused of corrupting. Crito finally accepts Socrates decision and leaves.
Phaedo is a philosopher who was an eye-witness to the last days of Socrates. Phaedo is visiting a fellow philosopher and admirer of Socrates, Echecrates. Phaedo tells him that he was the first of those present at the death of Socrates. Echecrates asks him to tell him what happened. Plato was not there because he was ill, but a few friends were present as well as his wife and one of his sons. When his wife became hysterical, he asked Crito to take her from the room.
Socrates tries to calm his friends by telling them that a philosopher should not fear death. He says that he will find even better friends and gods in the afterlife. He also explains that since philosophers spend their lives preparing for death by separating themselves from distractions of the body to achieve wisdom. So death can only help philosophers because it separates the soul from the body.
Then Socrates goes into the Argument of Opposites. He states that if the opposite of living is death, then it stands to reason that the opposite of death is living. Therefore, everything that dies is reborn. With that argument, Socrates expects to spend a short time with his soul in limbo, then it will seek out another host. Next Cebes, one of the friends of Socrates that is present, brings up another of Socrates’ theories. The Theory of Recollection states that all learning is recollection. With this theory, Socrates explains, all new information can be related to information already known.
Socrates then brings forward his Theory of Forms. With the Form of Equality, even if two things seem equal from one viewpoint and unequal from another, this does not effect equality, itself. Therefore, equality is always equal, but, Socrates says, the only way we know this is because our soul must have known this from another life since there are no instances of equality in the natural world. He further states we forget these Forms at birth and relearn them through a process of recollection.
When Cebes and Simmias, another friend, agree with Socrates on his forms they still argue that he hasn’t proven life after death. Socrates’ says that he explained it with the Theory of Recollection, which proves that the soul existed before birth, and the Argument of Opposites proves that the soul must have been born from death. The two men are then forced to admit that the soul continues to exist after death.
Socrates uses the Forms to prove that the soul can live on because it is immortal, invisible, encompassing, and consistent. But the body is corporeal, mortal, compounded and can be seen. And, since a philosopher spends his life adjuring the body and its comforts in search of the answers to questions, he has already prepared his soul by making it stronger. So, Socrates is convinced his soul will travel and not stay attached to his body as it decays.
Socrates observes Cebes and Simmias in a quiet argument to the side. When he asks them what they are discussing, they say they don’t want to disturb him at this time. He laughs and tells them to include him in their argument. They both question Socrates’ argument on the soul and an afterlife. Simmias compares the body and soul to a musical instrument. The sound the strings make is the soul, while the stings are the body. When you destroy the musical instrument the sound dies too, what if that is the same with the soul and body of a person? Socrates says he will answer that after he hears Cebes’ argument.
Cebes compares the soul and body to a cloak made by a tailor. A tailor will go through a few cloaks in his lifetime, but when he dies his last cloak will keep going. He agrees on the soul maybe transfer during life and death, but sooner or later the soul will deteriorate and die. He argues the soul is not immortal.
Here the story switches back to Phaedo who tells Echecrates that this conversation depressed the other friends of Socrates who were there. Echecrates is sympathetic and says that he likes Simmias’ theory. Then it switched back to the room with Socrates and the viewers.
Socrates begins to ease the minds of the assembled group. First, he answers Simmian’s argument. Since Simmian has agreed that the soul enters into the body at birth, then it could not be like the music of a stringed instrument since that can’t be until the instrument is made and the string plucked. Another point he makes is that the sound an instrument makes is reliant on the shape and condition of the instrument whereas the soul’s capacity for good is not reliant on the body. Simmian concedes.
In answer to Cebes’ question Socrates starts by recounting the scientific methods he studied when he was young. These were methods used by Anaxagoras, a scientist of renown who specialized in natural science. But, young Socrates discovered the methods put forth by Anaxagoras gave him more questions about destruction and regeneration than they answered. Now instead of coming to concrete explanations, he formulates theories and accepts the theory he understands to be most plausible. He explains that with the Theory of Forms he can show that there exists beauty, goodness, and magnitude. Socrates states that these theories will explain causation and prove immortality well enough to convince Cebes. “It is by Beauty that beautiful things are beautiful.” “Then it is also by largeness that large things are large and larger thing larger, and by smallness, that smaller things are smaller”. Socrates goes on to say that with the Theory of Forms, you can decide which theory is most plausible and go with that. Don’t confuse hypothesis with consequences.
Socrates explains his theory with an example of the height of Simmias. Simmias is tall in comparison to Socrates, but short in comparison to Phaedo. Therefore Simmias is both tall and short. Echecrates interjects here that he agrees with Socrates.
Back to Socrates and his friends. He says that tall is always tall. Short can become tall, but tall can never become short. Some things always have the same Form. Snow is always cold, fire is always hot, even though there are degrees of cold and hot. Cold isn’t always snow and heat isn’t always fire. Also, snow can never admit heat and remain snow, and fire can never admit cold and remain fire. A log can never become hot without fire, so it participated in the Form of Heat.
Next Socrates explains the Form of Threeness, Oddness, and Evenness. If you have three pencils, the number is odd. If you want to make it even, you must remove a pencil, therefore, ending its participation in Threeness and Oddness, but opening it to Evenness. The pencils can never become even without stopping being three and changing it’s nature.
Socrates goes on to posit that whenever a soul enters into a body it brings life. Since it is connected to life, the soul cannot admit the opposite, death. Socrates has this conversation with Cebes, “So tell me, what must be present in the body to make it alive?” “Soul.” “And what do we call that which does not admit death?” “Immortal.” “And soul does not admit death?” “No.” “So soul is immortal.” “Yes, it is immortal.” Socrates explains that since the soul brings with it life and is intimately attached to the body, when it dies, the soul releases its hold since it is immortal. Cebes conceads.
Since the soul is immortal we must remember that our actions in this life will have consequences in the next life. By the same token, if the soul is not held accountable, then the wicked could never be made to pay for their misdeeds. They would just escape to death.
Socrates explains how he thinks Earth is round, and a lot bigger than they think it is. He also talks about the atmosphere around the Earth, and what it looks like from above. He tells them about Oceanus, the ocean that surrounds the world, and the great river Tartarus that flows through the Earth and into the underworld. He tells them about Purgatory, where people are punished for their sins in life and the heaven where those who are without sin, or have paid the price and repented, go to. Socrates also tells them about heaven.
Socrates is ready to take his poison, but first, he wants to bathe so they won’t have to clean him afterward. When Crito asks how he wants to be buried, Socrates says he doesn’t care, he just went through a long explanation about how his soul won’t be in his body, so it’s not him.
After his bath, a reluctant officer gives him the poison. Afterward the officer leaves in tears. Crito tries to get him to wait, but Socrates says he doesn’t fear death. He cheerfully takes the cup of hemlock, then after a prayer to the gods to help him in his journey to the next world, he drinks the poison. Everyone starts to cry. They cry not for his sake, but for their own. They are losing a good friend.
Socrates chides them, saying that he sent the women away so there would be no tears. His friends become silent as Socrates walks around a bit to speed up the process. Then he lays down on his bed. His last words are, “Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it and don’t forget.”
Phaedo ends his narrative, “Such, Echecrates, was the end of our comrade, who was, we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the bravest and also the wisest and most upright man.”
Socrates – a seventy year old man about to be executed because he is accused of making up his own gods to worship instead of worshiping the established gods and corrupting the young men he teaches philosophy. He is a proud character who will follow the decision of the courts even when they are unjust. Socrates, along with Plato and Aristotle are the founders of Western Philosophy. He lived in Athens, Greece in 339 A. D. Along with his philosophy he is credited for his ethics. Socrates became famous for his wisdom after his friend asked the Oracle of Delphi if there was any man more wise than Socrates and he replied in the negative. In trying to discover the truth of this pronouncement, Socrates began to question all the wise men he could find, including politicians and men of the churches. His ability to show their ignorance through a series of questions that bordered closely on sarcasm made him a lot of powerful enemies. Socrates discovered through his questioning of these supposed wise men, that the reason the Oracle thought he was the most wise is because he was not afraid to admit he didn’t know everything. The Socratic Method, attributed to Socrates, is a use of questions to make a person admit guilt, change their mind, or help a pupil develop a latent idea.
Socrates became famous for his wisdom after his friend asked the Oracle of Delphi if there was any man wiser than Socrates and he replied in the negative. In trying to discover the truth of this pronouncement, Socrates began to question all the wise men he could find, including politicians and men of the churches. His ability to show their ignorance through a series of questions that bordered closely on sarcasm made him a lot of powerful enemies. Socrates discovered through his questioning of these supposed wise men, that the reason the Oracle thought he was the wisest is because he was not afraid to admit he didn’t know everything. The Socratic Method, attributed to Socrates, is a use of questions to make a person admit guilt, change their mind, or help a pupil develop a latent idea.
Socrates was the son of a sculptor and a midwife. He spent time as a hoplite or citizen soldier. Afterward he married and had two sons. Then he became a teacher. He was respected by his students such as Plato. Socrates never recorded his philosophy, that was left for his students to do.
Meletus – the chief accuser of Socrates. Although the youngest member of the group accusing Socrates, he was chosen as the spokesperson. As a poet, he was probably angry at Socrates for his castigation of poets. Also, Meletus was probably a religious fanatic. Although he used a carefully crafted speech to level his complaints against Socrates, through cross-examination, Socrates made him look like a young fool.
Euthyphro – a friend Socrates meets in front of the court house. Euthryphro is there to accuse his father of manslaughter. The enter into a philosophical debate on religious piety and familial duty in relation to ethics.
Crito – an old friend of Socrates. He meets with Socrates in his cell while they are waiting for Socrates’ execution. He begs Socrates to let him help with his escape, offering to pay bribes, arrange a safe house, anything he can do. Crito is also in attendance for his death. He removes Socrates’ wife when she becomes emotional and helps him to bathe on last time.
Phaedo – the narrator of the section involving the deathbed scenes. Phaedo tells the story of Socrates’ death to Echecrates, a fellow philosopher who he meets at a pub. He wrote Socratic dialogue to honor Socrates, but none of his work remains.
Plato was a Greek philosopher and one of the most influential and creative thinkers in Western philosophy. Plato was born to an aristocratic family some time in 428 BC in Athens, Greece. His father, Ariston was said to be descended from the early kings of Athens. Perictione, his mother, was related to the 6th century BC lawmaker, Solon.
When Plato was a child his father died and his mother married Pyrilampes who was a colleague of the statesman Pericles.
As a young man, Plato had political ambitions, but he quickly abandoned them when he began to become dissatisfied with the leadership in Athens. Eventually, he became a student of Socrates, accepting his philosophy and style of teaching. Plato was present to see the death of Socrates at the hands of the democracy of Athens in 399 BC. Perhaps fearing for his own life, he left Athens temporarily and went to Italy.
In 387 BC Plato founded the Academy in Athens, the school is often said to be the first European university. It provided a comprehensive body of classes, including such subjects as astronomy, biology, mathematics, political theory and philosophy. Aristotle was the Academy’s most well-known student.
Plato went to Sicily in 367 BC to instruct the new ruler of Syracuse, Dionysius the Younger, in how to rule philosophically. The experiment, however, failed. Plato returned to Syracuse in 361 BC but again his entanglement in Sicilian affairs failed. The last years of his life were spent writing and lecturing at the Academy. He died at the age of 80 in Athens in either 348 or 347 BC.
Plato’s works were in dialogue form. Philosophical ideas were put forth, discussed, and argued within the context of a conversation or a debate involving two or more people. One of the earliest known collections of Plato’s work includes 35 dialogues and 13 letters.
Plato’s influence throughout the history of philosophy is so large that it is hard to measure. When he died, the philosopher, Speusippus (d. about 339 BC) became head of the Academy. The school stayed open until AD 529 when it was shut down by then Byzantine emperor Justinian I, who objected to what he thought were it’s pagan teachings.
During the Renaissance, the primary focus of Platonic influence was the Florentine Academy founded in the 15th century. Members of the academy studied Plato in the original Greek. In England, Platonism was brought back in the 17th century by a man named Ralph Cudworth and a few others who called themselves the Cambridge Platonists. Plato’s influence has been extended into the 21st century.