Socrates’ views on Athens and its’ people differed greatly from that of the traditional Greeks. His perspective on the foundation of the city’s government, citizens, and gods may have contributed to his demise. In the city of Athens, the people governed themselves much like Americans do today in our form of democracy. Most Athenians believed in the Republic and the freedom to govern themselves, but there were a number of those who thought that there should be a limit to who had the power to self-govern. Depicting this perspective on government, the author Stone states that
Personally, I believe that Socrates did not like the fact that the common men of Athens could impact his life and the city where he lived. This is the premise for his views of Athens’ common people in general. The author I.F. Stone conveys that Socrates expresses,
“regarded craftsman with the degree of condescension that Stone conveys,”
because, “Socrates’ father was a stonecutter”.
In Plato‘s work with the same name, Euthyphro, he and Socrates have a discussion on their way to separate trial hearings. In their brief encounter, Socrates speaks of one of the prosecutors, Meletus,
Socrates questioned the city’s government, religion, and its’ citizens because he simply questioned everything. That factor alone will prove to be the foundation of his troubles to come.
Socrates’ rhetoric and search for absolute definitions on virtue and knowledge contributed to his reputation among Athens in a rather negative way. Socrates believed that you couldn’t define something with absolutism without “true knowledge“ or absolute definitive knowledge (Stone 68). The questions of what the exact definition of virtue is quite puzzling and annoyed many of Athens’ citizens. Socrates proposed the questions of: What is virtue? What is knowledge? Is courage a virtue? If so, does that make virtue knowledge? These questions plagued the mind of Socrates into barraging the people of Athens with close interrogations. The events that lead Socrates into this method of searching for answers to his various questions are described in the Apology, where Socrates asked the question regarding who was the wisest of all of Athens,
For a wise person knows of their ignorance. From then on, Socrates seemed to go out of his way to question and knowingly annoy those thought to be the wisest in all of Athens. The first question Socrates proposed is whether or not virtue is knowledge. Stone states that Socrates believed,
When Socrates started questioning virtue, he then started questioning knowledge in general. The position that he presented was that,
Like virtue, Stone says that Socrates also tried to apply the same logic to courage being a form of knowledge as well (52-67). So the reasons for this bombardment of inquiries on Athens’ respected citizens is made quite clear. In the Apology, Socrates states in his defense to the court that,
Like every reputation, Socrates’ name among the city of Athens was compiled by both positive and negative scrutiny’s. The voices that spoke out against Socrates, who thought of him as troublesome, supposedly had another issue in mind before they hauled him into court.
Two of the most infamous political disciples that Socrates had profoundly impacted the city of Athens and they were the cousins, Critias and Charmides. Using Socrates to gain knowledge in his methods and manipulate his rhetoric to gain power in politics, the two aristocratic members of the Thirty Tyrants overthrew the republic in 404 B.C. (Linder par. 9). Critias, the leader, in his short eight month rule made his mark forever as one of the most villainous rulers in Athens history killing approximately 1500 Athenians (par. 10). The case brought against Socrates includes some sort of guilt by association. As I have discussed, Socrates had an unorthodox point of view on government that some might call anti-democratic. With that in mind, it seems that Socrates’ student and teacher relationship with Critias and Charmides was enough to associate him with the "Thirty’s" ideals and actions. In a newspaper article titled, Bookshelf: Making the Case Against Socrates, the author Sidney Hook says that I. F. Stone in his book, The Trial of Socrates, is presenting Socrates as a
I find that proposal to be agreeable with what I have found in the documents from other translated ancient dialogues. Even though there is no evidence to support this claim because it was never brought up in the texts of the trial, the writer Stone, seems to think that fear has been instilled into the minds of Athenians because of an overthrow of democracy. I think the circumstances of these events runs deeper than that because Socrates had already established a reputation among Athens as a instigator of controversial ideas. The people who did not like him, like his prosecutors Anytus and Meletus, very likely tried to convince others that Socrates was as a menace to society. Although, there are no actual accounts of what really happened, Socrates’ established reputation was already working against him, so it appears to me that it wouldn’t be very hard to convince people that he was working against the city‘s government, people, and gods. I believe that all of these factors are relevant in the case against Socrates, but the actual prosecutors who would take him to trail arguably had other reasons for doing so.
In a time with tyrants and barbarians, a revolutionary and highly regarded philosopher in a free society like Athens doesn’t stick out to me as a threat to a great city like Athens. As for the actual motivation to why his fellow Athenians fabricated charges condemning him, puzzles me and has puzzled many for thousands of years. However, there managed to be a sufficient amount of reason for three of Athens’ citizens to present Socrates with an indictment.
Meletus was the one who initiated the actual indictment against Socrates and is often a part of the dialogue in the trial recorded by Plato in the Apology. The prosecution in that text only mentions Anytus and Lycon, they never actually appear to be heard in court. So we only really know what Meletus said at the trial and his vocal participation only proves what Socrates’ was doing to the rest of Athens, that Meletus was ignorant to his own beliefs. So the author I. F. Stone presents us with the idea that Anytus is the principal accuser of Socrates. Stone saw Meletus as “dim-witted” and dismisses the real principal accuser in the trial as a “pushover“ (175). I believe that like Anytus, Meletus had a personal vendetta with Socrates. Since Socrates had such a low esteem for the common men of Athens, this would include Meletus, being that he was a poet. Although there are separate charges brought to Socrates all at once, I think there are also individuals behind each charge. The first charge I believe is from Meletus, and its depicted in the Apology as, refusing to
My reasons for this argument include the fact that Meletus was portrayed as somewhat of a religious fanatic in the Apology and there is no account of Anytus having such a strong spiritual faith. I propose that Anytus was responsible for the next charge of
Anytus was a political figure that was tied to Socrates in more than one way. His son was said to have been involved with Socrates, but it is not clear in any source that I found whether or not the relationship was sexual or not. At this point we know how Socrates felt about the tradesmen of Athens and in the Trial of Socrates, the author states that he starts an argument by saying to Anytus that “he ought not to confine his son’s education to hides” (Stone 178). Socrates was referring to Anytus’ family trade and to me it translates as Socrates telling Anytus how to raise his son. I would think that this would upset any father in any time period. In the end, Anytus’ son fell below the ranks of a tradesman when he gave up trying to become anything at all, and Anytus clearly blames Socrates, for what the author I.F. writes as,
Bearing all these notions in mind, I feel that when Anytus saw what happened to his son, he related it with all of the youth in Athens and then combined Socrates’ views on government to formulate the emotionally driven idea that Socrates was “corrupting the youth of Athens.” I cannot be sure that any of these events caused separate charges brought by separate people, nor can I prove it. Just like the claim I propose, the actual indictment is not on record in any document or text. The difference of beliefs controversy does not end there. Among, or should I say above, the structure of Athens were the beliefs in the gods of the city.
Socrates’ beliefs often offended traditional Greeks and now he would give them another reason. Religion, mythology, and even history was subject to suit the changes of Athens civilization. The foundation of the spiritual beliefs of the great city was based in ancient Greek mythology. Many of Athenians had come to believe in “the gods of the city”, like Peitho (Stone 206). The analyzing philosophers of Athens would see these inconsistencies in the mythology. For example, in his book, Stone states,
I noticed some links that are somewhat shown in Stone’s text between the mythology and democracy of Athens. The goddess of Athens was Athena, the daughter of Zeus, and she
This further depicts how the mythology of Athens influenced the shape of government.
In the text of The Trial of Socrates, it states that,
This logic would have clearly been opposed by Socrates and it is not hard to see why he would question the beliefs of the gods. Another reason why I think Socrates might have been resistant to the idea of gods is portrayed in some classic texts. In Socrates’ conversation in Euthyphro, Plato writes how contradictory religion can sometimes be with Euthyphro,
--trying to determine what is just in the eyes of the gods, eventually goes against what he says he knows and believes in (Plato 7-8). After some dialogue, Socrates makes the point with Euthyphro’s own admission,
This kind of discussion is a model of the typical probing that Socrates would do with citizens in order to have them show their ignorance of a given subject. With Socrates’ notion for certainties, combined with the exposed inconsistencies that philosophers would have found in the history of religion, it gives me reason to believe that Socrates couldn’t have logically thought any other way. Since he didn’t view life in the same way as most Athenians, so he obviously didn’t have the same views of death.
Some scholars think that Socrates’ conduct in the trail was “senseless” (Stone 182). Based upon ancient texts, I believe the outcome of the case against Socrates was ultimately decided by himself. As quoted from Professor of Law, Doug Linder,
The events of Socrates’ trail were portrayed in the writings by one of his closest disciples, Plato. His works titled, the Apology, Crito , and Phaedo, all have Socrates expressing that he believed it was his time to die. As a result, he intentionally provoked the judges and jury into giving him the harshest punishment, death. A similar version of these events by another was also present. Xenophon wasn’t a student of Socrates’ nor was he even a philosopher. The writings that he contributed to history were called, "Socrates’ Defense to the Jury". The title depicts exactly what it was, but with a different voice. To bring further evidence of Socrates’ wishes, towards the end of the dialogue Xenophon writes that,
The reasons for Socrates wishing death upon himself is also revealed to me by one other fact. In I. F. Stone’s book, the author says that Socrates refers to a saying,
It is apparent to me that this kind of logic is important to Socrates because he believes that this is the only way he can find some sort of enlightenment. Socrates is trying to say that the mind is clouded by humanistic senses and when it is disconnected from
It seems that Socrates had his mind made up when he saw what direction the trial was heading, even though he was told it was best to escape the perils of old age by his supposed “guiding spirit” or his daemon (Stone 183). I think that based on this evidence, Socrates really believed the only way to find the answers to the questions he was looking for was in another realm. The ideas introduced by Socrates will continue to intrigue intellectuals and his questions of knowledge will provoke thought for many more centuries to come. The effects of this trial alone propelled him into immortality among some of the greatest martyrs who ever lived.
It appears to me that in the end, Socrates wasn’t anti-democratic or anti-theist. He never wanted to maliciously hurt anyone intentionally. His goal it seems was to provoke free thought. If you really look closely, he was the first person that openly disliked the link between religion and government. The effects of this trial will forever be remembered as a testament to freedom of thought, beliefs, and speech. Some scholars might say that the outcome of the trial of Socrates produced one of the greatest atrocities of possibly the greatest mind in history. When you look at all of the factors that I have brought up, it is a little more understandable how the people of Athens could be manipulated into making a mistake that would most likely be regretted. I would like to end with an piece from the legend which is quoted by the book, "The Trail of Socrates" which states,
In a sense of irony, I think Socrates did actually reach the true knowledge he was looking for after his death, the truth.
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