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Why Did Socrates Poison Himself?

Updated on June 12, 2012

Socrates accused of 'corrupting the youth in the city'

"Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepus,Please don't forget to pay the debt " Final words of Socrates (c.469-399 B.C.E.)
"Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepus,Please don't forget to pay the debt " Final words of Socrates (c.469-399 B.C.E.)

These are two contradictory answers to this question. The first has it that Socrates was a scruffy old Greek of limited personal charm who got caught out by his own arrogance. The Second proposes that he was one of the foremost philosophers of the ancient world ,and was prepared to sacrifice his life on a point of principle.

In either case, certain facts are clear. In 399 B.C.E., Socrates was sentenced to death by a jury of his Athenian peers. HE was escorted to a nearby prison where the sentence was to be carried out. There, in accordance with Athenian law, he drank the "state poison". commonly held to mean hemlock, and walk about his cell until his legs became numb. By that stage, the poison had taken hold and death was inevitable. He is believed to have been seventy years old at his demise.

Fact: Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a member of the same family as parsley. It is possible that it was employed in executions because it leaves the victim lucid almost until the point of death
Fact: Hemlock (Conium maculatum) is a member of the same family as parsley. It is possible that it was employed in executions because it leaves the victim lucid almost until the point of death

THE SOCRATIC METHOD

The trial of Socrates had been brought about because of the accusations of three other Athenian citizens, They accused Socrates of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state and corrupting the youth of the city. These accusations stemmed from the philosophy of Socrates and from the actions of some of his students. The philosophy of Socrates is known to us chiefly through the works of his most famous student, Plato. Plato constructed a series of 'dialogues' in which Socrates exemplified a style of teaching that has become known as the Socratic Method. This form of inquiry that employs a sequence of questions, not so much to elicit individual responses as to arrive at a point of fundamental insight. It can be taxing for the questioner and very wearing for the person being questioned, as a trite or common place defenses are stripped away layer by later. Naturally, such a method did not make Socrates universally popular. In a relatively small community, where Socrates would stand accused before his peers,such a practice, although perhaps admirable, was highly dangerous,as his trial was to demonstrate.

The size of the jury made debate among the jurors impossible. In accordance, wit hthe prevailing legal practice the jurors simply registered their judgement by placing a token marked " guilty" or"not guilty" in an Urn.
The size of the jury made debate among the jurors impossible. In accordance, wit hthe prevailing legal practice the jurors simply registered their judgement by placing a token marked " guilty" or"not guilty" in an Urn.

Trial and Sentence

Socrates was skeptical at best about the value of democracy.Athens at that time was a powerful city-state in which a form of democracy ,available to adult male citizens, was highly cherished. This made Socrates a figure of suspicion for some in the city. It made it easy for his accusers in court to link him with the actions of his two students, who had briefly overthrown the democratic government of the city.

A jury of 500 citizens was formed. It heard each of the accusers for one hour and then, to balance the case, Socrates was allotted three hours in his defense. At the end of the trial, the jury decided by a slim majority - 280 to 220- that Socrates was guilty; though his margin of defeat offered some hope for a linient sentence.

Socrates' accusers spoke in facor of the death penalty, but he had the right to suggest his won punishment. Perhaps, Foolishly, he did not propose the severe but life-preserving option of exile. Instead, he first of all suggested that he should be rewarded of his actions and then change the proposal to one of a modest time. The jury clearly was unimpressed and determined that death was the appropriate outcome.

The final drama in the life of Socrates was recorded by Plato. Although he was not present, Plato employed the evidence of witnesses to recreate the scene through the narrative voice of a fictional character , Phaedo. The text evokes the strong emotions of Socrates' followers ad the sentence was carried out to its conclusion. It helped to seal the almost mythic status of Socrates who, like many public figures who have followed him, was perhaps more universally reserved in death than in life.

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  • Mr Love Doctor profile image

    Mr Love Doctor 4 years ago from Puerto Rico

    I knew the basic outlines of Socrates' trial, but I wasn't aware of the play-by-play before. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into the final hours of this amazing man! And when you see what has happened in our times, where democracy has become corrupted almost past the point of recognition by money and pressure groups and all that, can you blame him for being suspicious of democracy? Perhaps it's time to have an honest Socratic discussion about another enlightened way of rule.

  • jolinabetts profile image
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    Sunshine Diaz 5 years ago from Wichita, Kansas

    Thanks for your comment, very much appreciate it

  • Johnathan L Groom profile image

    Johnathan L Groom 5 years ago from Bristol, CT

    love it!

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