Famous Greeks: The trial of Socrates

In his funeral oration, Pericles celebrated the Athenian democracy for its tolerance. The Athenians treasured freedom of speech as essential to true democracy. Yet this same Athenian democracy put to death its greatest thinker and teacher, Socrates. The previous lecture placed the trial of Socrates in the political climate of Athens at the end of the Peloponnesian War and Socrates’s close relationship with avowed enemies of democracy. This lecture examines the trial and last days of Socrates. Four dialogues of Plato provide our basic sources: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. These are less a history and more a gospel, written to convince posterity that the Athenians had wrongly put to death “the best, the wisest, and the most just man” of his day. Through Plato, Socrates would prevail over his enemies and prove that evil men may kill a good man but can never harm him.

Questions to Consider:

1. Do you think that the dynamic teaching of Socrates had to be institutionalized, so to speak, by Plato in order to make it effective over the long term?

2. By institutionalization, do we mean writing it down and giving a formal structure to the teaching?

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