The Trial and Death of Socrates: Four Dialogues – Plato

“No man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the state, will save his life.”
How wise Socrates was when he uttered these words over 2000 years ago. Nothing much has changed since. The disinterested truth and justice seeker is always the enemy of the state. In every state, the persons who stimulate the mind of the populace are viewed as dangerous. If people start thinking for themselves, it is not easy for rulers to fool them. If the governing body is incompetent and is concerned only in their welfare and not of the people, and is governing the land through unjust laws, people will question, argue, and in extremity, will resort to violent actions against the government to secure their rights and establish justice. But no government wishes for this. They would very much like the populace to be kept in the dark, and anyone who wishes to throw light will be considered dangerous and will be duly persecuted. And this is what happened to Socrates. He may be a great philosopher of the day, but he was a danger to the Athenian rulers, who were an incompetent lot. And they promptly decided that to save their skin, Socrates must be out of the way. Hence the trial; and the subsequent death penalty silenced the great man forever.

The Trial and Death of Socrates, although focused on the indictment that brought Socrates before the Athenian courts, Socrates’s defense, the unjust conviction, and his final days in prison, also discusses Socrates’s philosophy in many subjects. This compilation consists of four dialogues: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. Euthyphro set the introduction to the events that followed by opening the dialogue as to what is pious, for one of the main accusations against Socrates was his disbelief in the accepted Athenian diety. The two dialogues, Euthyphro and Apology, make it clear that the prevalent ideas on piety advocated by the Sophists and that of Socrates tread on contrary grounds. It is then not surprising that Socrates is condemned as an atheist. However, Socrates knows that this is not the true cause of his condemnation. Through his philosophical teachings, he was stimulating the young minds towards achieving virtue and goodness against money and reputation which didn’t sit well with the governing bodies and majority of society who were advocates of material wealth and reputation. And so, to avoid the future danger of youth turning against the government bodies and influential people, Socrates was accused of “corrupting the youth” and was promptly found guilty. The clever and intelligent defense of his philosophical ideas and his teachings in Apology rather sped up his conviction than acquitting him. Crito and Phaedo describe certain philosophical debates Socrates had with his disciples and friends in his prison cell. In addition to communicating the philosophical views of Socrates, these two dialogues show the fortitude of Socrates. Even in the face of his death, he was true to what he believed. And in no instance, thought of changing colours to save his skin. These four dialogues paint a true picture of Socrates’s character while at the same time describing his philosophical points of view.

The four dialogues are Plato’s recounting of the last days of Socrates. Plato was said to be present at the trial of Socrates, but he was absent from the philosophical debates that took place in the prison cell of Socrates due to illness. It is also known that, soon after the death of Socrates, Plato left Athens and was absent for a considerable number of years, and so, a question may arise as to the accuracy of Plato’s account. But, whatever the case may be, Plato’s account of the last days of Socrates’s life has done justice to the character, principles, and philosophy of his beloved teacher, Socrates.

Rating: 4/5

About the author

Piyangie Jay Ediriwickrema is an Attorney-at-Law by profession. Her devotion to literature has taken shape in reading and reviewing books of various genres set in different periods of time. She dabs at a little poetry and fiction of her own and hopes to share her work with the readers in the future.

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