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The Trial Of Socrates Essay

1918 words - 8 pages

The Trial of SocratesAuthor: I.F. StoneI.F. Stone a self described civil libertarian set out to write a book about freedom of speech; his research naturally led him back to ancient Athens, the earliest society where freedom of thought and expression flourished. In studying a society so renowned for the afore mentioned freedoms one cannot ignore what appears to be a total contradiction to all that Athens stood for, the trial and execution of Socrates. In the preface of his book, Stone speaks of the spectacle of Socrates before his judges. He calls the trial of Socrates, "a black mark for Athens and the freedom it symbolized," he questions, "how the trial of Socrates could have happened in so free a society," and asks even more importantly, "How could Athens have been so untrue to itself." To attempt to answer these questions we first need to explore how Socrates differed politically from the Athenians and why these long-term differences suddenly lead to his trial in 399BC; and secondly what about Socrates and his political beliefs made the outcome inevitable?Finding answers to these questions is made infinitely more difficult because Socrates left no writings of his own. The two surviving accounts of the trial come from Plato and Xenophon both disciples of Socrates and intent on showing their teacher in a favorable light. In addition to Plato and Xenophon, we have the portrait that emerges from the comedies of Aristophanes, most prominently the Clouds, a whole play devoted to his friend Socrates. We also catch some useful glimpses of Socrates two generations later in the works of Aristotle, whose references to Socrates differ greatly from those of his teacher Plato's. It is from these surviving accounts we can draw a picture of Socrates and his differences from his fellow Athenians.The Athenians believed in the polis a word that roughly translates into a free city or an association of free men. The polis governed itself. The ruled were the rulers. All freeborn males were citizens, every citizen had the right to vote, and to speak in assembly where the laws were enacted, and to sit in the jury courts where those laws were applied and interpreted. These are the basic ideas that governed Athens during Socrates lifetime, and these are the premises with which Socrates disagreed.Socrates and the citizens of Athens differed on the nature of the human community, and its ability to self govern. Socrates ideal was rule neither by the few or the many but by "the one who knows." He viewed the people as a herd, which needed to be led by a shepherd, in the Memorabilia he states "it is the business of the ruler to give orders and of the ruled to obey." He denied that citizens had the virtue needed to nurture a good society; instead he equated virtue with knowledge unattainable by ordinary people and criticized the right of every citizen to speak in the assembly.The status of Socrates among his fellow citizens suffered for what I.F. Stone called the "Three...

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