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The Trial of Socrates (399 B.C.)


Critias brutally ordered murders by the hundreds without a qualm( ). He had the moderate Theramenes put to death simply because he was moderate and wealthy, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: The Trial of Socrates (399 B.C.)

The Trial of Socrates (399 B.C.)
  • Lecturer Wu Shiyu
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  • In 399 B.C., a trial, one of the most famous of
    all time, was in progress in Athens. The accused,
    Socrates, seventy years old, Athenian greatest
    thinker and teacher, was convicted and later on,
  • The specific charges against him guilty of
    impiety guilty of corrupting the young.

  • That is what Socrates has been doing for years
    going around Athens, questioning and questioning
    everybody he could find What is justice? What
    is piety? What is right and wrong?

Delphi Oracles Answer
  • Socrates' friend Chaerephon consulted the oracle
    at Delphi, asking the question that if anyone was
    wiser than Socrates.
  • The Oracle offered the answer that none was
  • When Socrates was told this, he believed that
    what the Oracle had said was a paradox, because
    he believed he possessed no wisdom whatsoever.

  • And then he went around Athens, approaching men
    considered wise by the people, including
    statesmen, poets, and artisans, with the purpose
    of refuting the Oracle's answer.
  • By this, however, Socrates realized that each man
    he questioned who thought he knew a great deal
    and was wise turned out, in fact, not wise at

10. Delphi Oracles Answer
  • Socrates then knew that the Oracle was right, in
    that while so-called wise men thought themselves
    wise and yet were not, he himself knew he was not
    wise at all which, paradoxically, made him the
    wiser one since he was the only person aware of
    his own ignorance.
  • And the saying that I know that I know thing
    which is attributed to Socrates had become well
    known. And it is Socrates' paradoxical wisdom
    which made the prominent Athenians he publicly
    questioned appear foolish, became infuriated, and
    finally turned against him.

  • Then in 399 B.C., Anytus, a supporter of
    democracy who had suffered personally under the
    tyrants, with two other men Meletus, and Lycon of
    lesser prominence prosecuted Socrates. They
    accused Socrates of impiety and corrupting young
  • Obviously, charges like these are especially
    difficult to prove, and equally difficult to
    refute. However, impiety ranked as an extremely
    serious crime because the gods were believed to
    punish the entire city-state if it harbored
    impious individuals.

  • By Athenian custom, Socrates trial took only one
    day. The jury consisted of 501 Athenian citizens.
  • Instead of weeping, pleading, parading his
    children in front of the jury like the standard
    procedure in an Athenian courtroom, Socrates,
    according to Plato, took the position that the
    best defense was a strong offense.

  • Using the question-and-answer method for which he
    was famous and which had apparently gotten him
    into trouble, he defended for himself and also
    pointing out the inconsistencies in his accusers
    allegations. The following excerption is chosen
    from Platos Apology which showed Socrates
    denial of the charges against him (Handout)

Platos Apology
  • Meletus Let me ask you this, why dont you say
    all right, Socrates, we know these are
    trumped-up (??) charges, but we are tired of your
    going around and harassing us like this, arent
    you ashamed of living such a life that everybody
    in Athens hates you?
  • Soc No, I am not ashamed. I took on this
    mission from God, and what would make me ashamed
    is if I stop doing it.

  • Well, I tell you well, Socrates. If you will
    stop doing it, we will drop these charges.
  • I am not going to do that. I am going to
    continue. As long as I live, I am going to go
    around and question, and follow the truth
    wherever it is.

  • All right, Socrates, if you are so smart, why
    arent you in politics?
  • Well, I am gonna tell you why. Because no honest
    man can survive in your democracy. It is so

  • Now what you expect me to do at this stage is to
    bring in my wife and children. Thats standard in
    Athenian trial. You bring in your wife and
    children and you say, Look, if you put me to
    death, it is going to rob my family of all
    support, and the children are supposed to cry
    and the wife is supposed to cry, and you are thus
    humiliated. That is part of the purpose of the
    trial. You know that I am not going to bring them
    in. Yes, Ive got children and a wife, but I am
    not going to bring them in. That has nothing to
    do with the trial whatsoever. It is for you to
    make your decision. But I tell you this, I will
    continue my mission.

  • Nearly half the jury of 501 (280 to 221) Athenian
    citizens voted in favor of Socrates he seems to
    have lost his case by about thirty votes.
  • Meletus, who was presiding over the trial, had
    proposed the penalty of death.
  • Athenian procedure called for convicted
    defendants to recommend an alternative penalty,
    and it seems clear that Socrates accusers
    expected him to propose exile and would have
    been quite content to see him leave town.

  • However, Socrates claimed that he was in fact a
    public benefactor, suggesting first a reward for
    his benefactions (????) or then, a fine
    equivalent to about 13 kilos of silver.
  • The jury, no doubt annoyed by this, elected the
    death penalty. Some of those who had earlier
    voted not guilty now turned against him by
    voting in favor of death penalty.

  • Socrates was first put in prison for at that
    season, the people were forced to wait for the
    return of the vessel before they could kill him.
  • During this period, a small band of his pupils
    gathered around him in prison and some of them
    even arranged for everything for the masters
  • But Socrates refused, claiming that his whole
    life a search for absolute truths had been a
    preparation for death.

  • Socrates, we have arranged everything. You can
    escape, go to the city of Thebes, and there
    receive hospitality.
  • And he says, I am not going to escape, I am
    going to stay right here. If I were to escape
    after having been found legally guilty, that
    would set a bad example. I am going to obey the
    law. And so the young people will not be
    corrupted by my example.

  • ????????????

The Trial of Socrates
  • He has sent away his wife and children, and some
    of his students are weeping and he says the words
    I gave in an earlier lecture, I sent my wife
    away and now here you are, worse than women,
    weeping like this. Stop it! What is bad? I am
    going to die. My whole life has been a
    preparation for death, preparing myself so that
    my soul will be free.
  • And the whole life of a philosopher, the search
    for wisdom is the preparation for death because
    wisdom is the understanding of absolute truths,
    of absolute justice, absolute harmony, absolute
    beauty, absolute honor, and the soul that has
    prepared itself will be united with God. And that
    is what I wait for.

  • In the words of Plato, such was the end of the
    man who, of all the men of our time, was the
    best, the wisest, and the most just.
  • And Xenophon and Plato, by the words of their
    Apology, would hand down through history this
    condemnation of the Athenian democracy, which had
    put to death the best man of its age, who had
    fearlessly spoken out for truth and whose whole
    life was a living witness to the search for
    wisdom. The greatest of all the Athenians,
    Socrates, immortal, passing his legacy down.

  • In the end, Socrates was executed by one of the
    customary Athenian methods, being ordered to down
    a poisonous draft of hemlock.
  • By the words of his Apology, Plato would hand
    down to posterity this condemnation of the
    Athenian democracy that had put to death the best
    man of that age, whose whole life had been a
    search for wisdom.

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  • Platos Apology
  • ???

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  • We place Socrates and his trial within the
    framework of Athenian democracy and the aftermath
    of the great war with Sparta.

  • The trial is regarded as the most infamous
    episode in Athenian history in the aftermath of
    the Peloponnesian War.
  • What caused such intensity of hatred as to put an
    old man on trial and for such severe charges?

The Aftermath of the Peloponnesian War
  • The Greek World
  • engulfed the Greek world
  • The Athenian Culture
  • never regained the prosperity of its Golden
  • The Trial of Socrates

Oligarchy at Athens The Thirty Tyrants
  • Lysander installed an oligarchic government
    consisting of thirty citizens from the wealthy
  • Only one or two were moderate people like
  • They became known as the Thirty Tyrants for the
    brutal conduct.
  • Brutally suppressed their opposition in Athens by
    forcing many Athenians into exile and throwing
    their leaders into jail. They even carried out a
    series of murders.

The Thirty Tyrants
  • The most terrifying figure of the Thirty was
  • One of the best pupils of Socrates and a relative
    of Plato.
  • A passionate antidemocrat and a longtime admirer
    of the Spartan constitution.
  • Critias brutally ordered murders by the hundreds
    without a qualm(?? ).
  • He had the moderate Theramenes put to death
    simply because he was moderate and wealthy, and
    not on his side by forcing him to drink hemlock,
    the poison used soon afterwards to execute

The Thirty Tyrants
  • Some Athenians were murdered because their
    political propositions, others were murdered
    simply because they were wealthy. Through these
    terrible activities, the Thirty Tyrants created
    an eight-month-long period of terror in Athens.
  • Not all the victims were political enemies many
    were wealthy metics.

  • So violent and brutal that the Spartans did not
    interfere when a prodemocracy resistance movement
    finally came to power and ended the violence and
    brutality of the Thirty. Athenian people had
    Critias killed in a battle.
  • The Athenians restored their democratic
    government, with bitter memory of divisiveness

  • An ancient Greek philosopher, who helped to shape
    Greek beliefs. The ideas he created are present
    in our culture today.
  • Born in 470 B.C., grew up during the Golden Age
    of Athens, a time period when Greece was very
    powerful, lived in Athens.
  • His father wanted him to become a sculptor

2. Socrates
  • At young age, Socrates searched for wisdom and
  • Show no interest in money, would allow groups of
    men to listen to him speak, never take money from
  • Socrates would stand on a stoa while teaching
    others. Ruins of stone stoas can still be seen in
    Athens today.

2. Socrates
  • He has been a brave soldier, fought as an
    Athenian infantry man in major battles of the
    early Peloponnesian War when he was no longer
  • He has a family his wife, Xanthippe, has sort of
    a reputation as a shrew he has children,

  • But mainly he seems to spend his time just
    walking around Athens, talking and questioning,
  • He has a vigorous group of students who are
    devoted to him, people like Alcibiades and

2. Socrates
  • Socrates was known for being a bit strange. He
    went into a trance(?? )when he thought hard about
    a problem.
  • He might stand still for days on end without
    moving, eating, or sleeping.
  • Men in the city would gather around Socrates to
    watch him.
  • Once he was finished thinking, he would snap out
    of his trance and go on as usual.

3. Two Divergent Portraits of Socrates
  • Socrates himself never wrote anything. We do not
    have many sources available representing a
    reasonable portrait of the real Socrates.
  • Two divergent portraits of Socrates
    Aristophanes comedy The Clouds works of
    Socrates well-known pupils, Xenophon and Plato,
    whose lives were shaped by their teacher, and
    from Aristotle, father of the university, who was
    also influenced by the ideas of Socrates through
    his teacher, Plato.

4. The Clouds by Aristophanes
  • The Cloud produced in 423 B.C.
  • Socrates could be a danger to Athenian
    traditional society gave Aristophanes the
  • Socrates is presented as a cynical sophist. For a
    fee, he offers instruction in his Thinking Shop
    to his pupils by using the Protagorean technique.

4. The Clouds by Aristophanes
  • Socrates is such a person who can make a good
    argument seem bad and a bad argument seem good.
  • His pupils were taught how to argue effectively
    for any position, even an outrageously immoral
  • A vivid scene presented in the comedy is the
    protagonists son, a Socrates pupil, argues
    against his father that a son has the right to
    beat his parents.

5. First Source of Athenian Hostility to Socrates
  • By attending Socrates Thinking Shop, the young
    men of Athens showed their disrespect for
    tradition and for their elders.
  • This makes an indelible impression on the
    Athenians, especially the old generation. They
    felt that Socrates could be a danger to the
    conventional conception. Then the comedy ends by
    burning down Socrates Thinking Shop.
  • Therefore, from the play, we can see one
    important source of Athenians hostility against
    Socrates. And elements of the legal charges made
    against him in 399 B.C. were already present in
    this comedy.

6. The Portrait of Socrates from his pupils
  • A totally different portrait from his pupils
    Plato, Xenophon, and Platos pupil, Aristotle,
    father of the university.
  • Both Plato and Xenophon were in their late
    twenties at the time of Socrates trial.
  • All of the three intellectual figures, Xenophon,
    Plato and Aristotle, were forever molded by what
    happened on a single day in the year of 399 B.C.

  • For Plato, Socrates trial and execution were the
    beginning of his whole intellectual pursuit of
    truth. Plato paid his great tributes to his
    teacher, Socrates, by putting his ideas into the
    mouth of Socrates (Platos Dialogues)

7. Platos DialogueThe Euthyphro
  • This dialogue presents vividly the man on trial.
    Socrates, who stops, instead of focusing his own
    trial in defense, is trying to help this man
    understand that he does not know that he is
    taking the gravest actions based on the thinking
    he was wise but in fact he is not.
  • Socrates understood the first step in knowledge
    is to define words and that people frequently
    acts on the bias of what they think they know
    without ever pursuing.

  • And that is what Socrates has been doing for
    years, going around Athens, questioning and
    questioning everybody he could find What is
    justice? What is piety? What is right and

8. Socratic Method
  • Aristotle observed about Socrates that the two
    things could be attributed to him inductive
    reasoning and universal definition.
  • Socrates believed that the best way to develop
    ideas was in the give and take of conversation,
    and the best way to educate people was to ask
    them a series of questions leading in a
    particular direction ( The Socratic Method).

  • Socrates never directly instructed his
    conversational partners instead, he led them to
    draw conclusions in response to his probing
    questions and refutations of their cherished but
    unexamined assumptions.

Socratic Method
5. Second Source of Athenian Hostility to Socrates
  • This indirect method of searching for the truth
    often left Socrates conversational partners in a
    state of puzzlement and unhappiness. His Athenian
    citizens come be as puzzled and frustrated to him
    as Euthyphro did in the dialogue.
  • They felt they were forced to believe and admit
    that they were ignorant of what they began by
    assuming they knew perfectly well and that the
    principles by which they lived there were unable
    to withstand close intellectual scrutiny.

  • And what makes it more annoying is Socrates
    failed to give a direct and an ultimate answer.
    This, like Aristophanes The Clouds, shows
    another source of Athenians hostility to

11. Third Source of Athenian Hostility to Socrates
  • The third possible source of hostility concerns
    Socrates association with his two pupils,
    Alcibiades and Critias, and his remarks about
  • For the Athenians, who believed their democracy
    was superior to the government of the Spartans,
    their defeat by the Spartans was incomprehensible
    and unacceptable, they were ready to find
    scapegoat (???).

11. Third Source of Athenian Hostility to Socrates
  • Alcibiades and Critias, Socrates two pupils, had
    done the most damage to the Athenian democracy.
    Both of them were Socrates best pupils and yet
    both of them were openly hostile to Athenian
    democracy. Alcibiades, one of Socrates most
    devoted followers, once commented at Sparta that
    democracy is acknowledged folly. In the eyes of
    Socrates Athenian critics, this must represent
    the teaching of Socrates.

  • Critias, another Socrates follower and the most
    notorious one of the Thirty Tyrants, had played a
    leading role in the murder and plunder in the
    violence and brutality by the Thirty-Tyrants. But
    both of them were already dead, only Socrates was

11. The third possible source of hostility
  • Socrates was also blamed for ever speaking
    sharply about democracy. Most people, he pointed
    out, arent terribly thoughtful or analytical, so
    why should most people, that is, the majority,
    make the life and death decisions that affect the

11. The third possible source of hostility
  • In fact, as other scholars have proposed, it is
    hard to determine whether Socrates really opposed
    democracy for Socrates enjoyed puncturing
    illusions, and it may be that had he lived under
    a monarchy or an oligarchy, those would have been
    the governments he spent his time undermining.
  • But combined with his association with Alcibiades
    and Critias, however, his pointed remarks about
    the foibles of democracy seemed downright
    unpatriotic, and he could easily enough be cast
    as purveyor (???) of dangerous ideas.

12. The Fourth source of Athenians hostility
  • Another possible source of Athenians hostility
    is that Socrates held unusual views on religion.
    He made several references to his personal
    spirit, although he explicitly claimed that it
    never urged him on, but only warned him against
    various prospective events. Many of his
    contemporaries were suspicious of Socrates's
    daimonion as a rejection of the state religion.
    It is generally understood that Socrates's
    daimonion is akin to intuition.
  • Moreover, Socrates claimed that the concept of
    goodness, instead of being determined by what the
    gods wanted, actually precedes the entire
    business of deities. Many Athenians blame that
    the act of desecration of of the images of a god
    was at least partly responsible for the Athenian
    defeat in Sicily.

  • From Platos Dialogues, we can see that Socrates
    had a keen wit and an engaging personality. And
    for this, pupils flocked to him eagerly, like
    Plato and Xenophon. But he had nothing that could
    be called a school. And Socrates was poor for his
    refusal to charge fees and therefore, he was not
    a sophist. His goal was to inculcate moral
    excellence. Like the sophists, however, he used
    clever arguments and subjected conventional
    notions to rational analysis.

Quotations from Socrates
  • By means of beauty all beautiful things become
  • For this appears to me the safest answer to give
    both to myself and others and adhering to this,
    I think that I shall never fall, but that it is a
    safe answer both for me and any one else to give
    that by means of beauty beautiful things become

Quotations from Socrates
  • False words are not only evil in themselves, but
    they infect the soul with evil.
  • In every one of us there are two ruling and
    directing principles, whose guidance we follow
    wherever they may lead the one being an innate
    desire of pleasure the other, an acquired
    judgment which aspires after excellence.

Quotations from Socrates
  • As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.
  • For when I don't know what justice is, I'll
    hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or
    not, or whether a person who has it is happy or

Quotations from Socrates
  • The unexamined life is not worth living for a
    human being.
  • I do nothing but go about persuading you all,
    old and young alike, not to take thought for your
    persons or your properties, but and chiefly to
    care about the greatest improvement of the soul.
    I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but
    that from virtue comes money and every other good
    of man, public as well as private. This is my
    teaching, and if this is the doctrine which
    corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person.

Thank You!
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