Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Saturday, October 31, 2015
If we may judge from the bust that has come down to us as part of the ruins of ancient sculpture, Socrates was as far from being handsome as even a philosopher can be. A bald head, a great round face, deep-set staring eyes, a broad and flowery nose that gave vivid testimony to many a Symposium it was rather the head of a porter than that of the most famous of philosophers. But if we look again we see, through the crudity of the stone, something of that human kindliness and unassuming simplicity which made this homely thinker a teacher beloved of the finest youths in Athens. We know so little about him, and yet we know him so much more intimately than the aristocratic Plato or the reserved and scholarly Aristotle. Across two thousand three hundred years we can yet see his ungainly figure, clad always in the same rumpled tunic, walking leisurely through the agora, undisturbed by the bedlam of politics, buttonholing his prey, gathering the young and the learned about him, luring them into some shady nook of the temple porticos, and asking them to define their terms.
They were a motley crowd, these youths who flocked about him and helped him to create European philosophy. There were rich young men like Plato and Alcibiades, who relished his satirical analysis of Athenian democracy; there were socialists like Antisthenes, who liked the master's careless poverty, and made a religion of it; there was even an anarchist or two among them, like Aristippus, who aspired to a world in which there would be neither masters nor slaves, and all would be as wordlessly free as Socrates. All the problems that agitate
human society to-day, and provide the material of youth's endless debate, agitated as well that little band of thinkers and talkers, who felt, with their teacher, that life without discourse would be unworthy of a man. Every school of social thought had there its representative, and
perhaps its origin.
How the master lived hardly anybody knew. He never worked, and he took no thought of the morrow. He ate when his disciples asked him to honor their tables; they must have liked his company, for he gave every indication of physiological prosperity. He was not so welcome at home, for he neglected his wife and children; and from Xanthippe's, (wife’s), point of view he was a good-for-nothing idler who brought to his family more notoriety than bread. Xanthippe liked to talk almost as much as execution of generals, this unchoice choice of simple fanners and tradesmen, in alphabetical rotation, as members of the supreme court of the land? How could a new and natural morality be developed in Athens, and how could the state be saved?
It was his reply to these questions that gave Socrates death and immortality. The older citizens would have honored him had he tried to restore the ancient polytheistic faith; if he had led his band of emancipated souls to the temples and the sacred groves, and bade them sacrifice again to the gods of their fathers. But he felt that that was a hopeless and suicidal policy, a progress backward, into and not "over the tombs." He had his o\vn religious faith : he believed in one
God, and hoped in his modest way that death would not quite destroy him; but he knew that a lasting moral code could not be based upon so uncertain a theology. If one could build a system of morality absolutely independent of religious doctrine, as valid for the atheist as for the pietist, then theologies might come and go without loosening the moral cement that makes of wilful individuals the peaceful citizens of a community.
Then the revolution came, and men fought for it and against, bitterly and to the death. When the democracy won, the fate of Socrates was decided: he was the intellectual leader of the revolting party, however pacific he might himself have been; he was the source of the hated aristocratic philosophy; he was the corrupter of youths drunk with debate. It would be better, said Anytus and Meletus, that Socrates should die.
Socrates refused to beg for mercy from the crowd whom he had always condemned. They had the power to pardon him; he disdained to make the appeal. It was a singular confirmation of his theories, that the judges should wish to let him go, while the angry crowd voted for his
death. Had he not denied the gods? Woe to him who teaches men faster than they can learn.
So they decreed that he should drink the hemlock. His friends came to his prison and offered him an easy escape; they had bribed all the officials who stood bet\veen him and liberty. He refused. He \vas seventy years old now (399 B. c.); perhaps he thought it was time for
him to die, and that he could never again die so usefully. "Be of good cheer/' he told his sorrowing friends, "and say that you are burying my body only." "When he had spoken these words," says Plato, in one of the great passages of the world's literature/"'
he arose and went into the bath-chamber with Crito, who bade us wait; and we waited, talking and thinking of ... the greatness of our sorrow; he was like a father of whom we were being bereaved, and we were about to pass the rest of our lives as orphans. . . . Now the hour of unset \vas near, for a good deal of time had passed while he was within.When he came out, he sat down with us again, . . . but not much was said. Soon the jailer . . . entered and stood by him saying "To you Socrates, whom I know to be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison indeed I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and not I, are the guilty cause. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be; you know my errand." Then bursting into tears he turned away and went out.
Socrates looked at him and said: "I return your good wishes, and will do as you bid." Then turning to us, he said, "How charming the man is; since I have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and now see how generously he sorrows for me. But we must do as he says, Crito; let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared; if not, let the attendant prepare some."
"Yet," said Crito, "the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and many a one has taken the draught late; and after the announcement has been made to him he has eaten and drunk, and indulged in sensual delights; do not hasten then, there is still time."
Socrates said: "Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in doing thus, for they think that they will gain by the delay; but I am right in not doing thus, for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should be sparing and saving a life which is already gone; I could only laugh at myself for this. Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me."
Crito, when he heard this, made a sign to the servant; and the servant went in, and remained for some time, and then returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates said: "You, my good friend, who are experienced In these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed."
The man answered: "You have only to walk about until your legs
are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act." At the same time he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, as his manner was, took the cup and said: "What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not?" The man answered: "We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough." "I understand," he said: "yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this to that other world may this then, which is my prayer, be granted to me." Then, holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank the poison.
And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept over myself; for certainly I was not weeping over him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having lost such a companion. Nor was I the first, for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up and moved away, and I followed; and at that moment Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out into a loud cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: "What is this strange outcry?" he said. "I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not offend in this way, for I have heard that a man should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience/' When we heard that, we were ashamed, and restrained our tears; and he walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard and asked him if he could feel; and he said "No"; and then his leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And then Socrates felt them himself, and said, ''When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end." He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face (for he had covered himself up) and said, they were his last words, "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; you will remember to pay the debt?" "The debt shall be paid," said Crito; "is there anything else?" There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth. Such was the end of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, the justest, and best of all the men whom I have ever known.