Socrate's Conviction

Topics: Plato, Athenian democracy, Classical Athens Pages: 5 (1666 words) Published: June 11, 2013
Socrates’ Conviction
Was Socrates guilty of the charges brought against him? Does his trial and execution represent the effective functioning of the Athenian democracy, or a failure of it? Why, in a society relishing freedom and democracy, would a seventy-year-old philosopher be executed for what he was teaching? What could Socrates have done to prompt a jury of 500 Athenians send him to his death just a few years before he would have died naturally? He was charged with not believing in the gods worshipped by the city, introducing new divinities and for corrupting the youth. Socrates was a freethinker who went around Athens probing his fellow Athenians with questions and dialectal interrogations about religion and politics. He held contemporary views, that when he expressed them, provoked his listeners to anger. In 423 B.C., Socrates produced a play called Clouds, which at the time proved to be no threat to Athenian values and democracy. Characters in the play were taught how strengthen weak arguments by learning rhetorical skills and trickery and innovative divinities were introduced. However in 399 B.C., Socrates was charged with impiety. This was not the only charge brought against this philosopher; he was also accused for corrupting adolescences, Alcibiades and Critias. Should he have been condemned to death over such charges? Although religion and the state were central to ancient Athenian law, Socrates was executed unjustly. Socrates’ reputation among his fellow citizens suffered greatly during two periods when Athenian democracy was temporarily overthrown; one four month period from 411-410 B.C. and a longer period from 404-403 B.C. The key forces in both of the anti-democratic movements were former pupils of Socrates, Alcibiades and Critias. Athenians considered the teachings of Socrates, especially his expression of contempt toward the established constitution, partly responsible for the resulting death and suffering. Alcibiades masterminded the first overthrow in 411 B.C. Four years earlier, he fled to Sparta to avoid facing charges for mutilating religious statues, and while in Sparta he had proposed to that state’s leaders that he would help them defeat Athens. Critias was the more frightening of the two pupils; he led the “Thirty Tyrants” and the second bloody revolt against the reinstated Athenian democracy in 404 B.C. The revolt sent many of Athens’ leading democratic citizens into exile where they organized a resistance movement. Critias was determined to remake the city of Athens into his own anti-democratic structure, and took out many citizens in the process. The “Thirty Tyrants” confiscated the estates of Athenian aristocrats, banished 5,000 women, children and slaves and swiftly executed about 1,500 of Athens’ most prominent democrats. The horrors brought on by the “Thirty Tyrants” caused Athenians to look at Socrates in a new light. This freethinker’s teachings no longer seemed so harmless, and he came to be seen as a dangerous and corrupting influence, a breeder of tyrants and enemy of democracy. Was he really guilty of all the charges brought against him? The two surviving accounts of the defense (or apology) of Socrates both come from disciples of his, Plato and Xenophon. The charge of impiety was first brought upon him in 399 B.C., 24 years after the production of Clouds in 423 B.C. He claimed that his charges are based on a comic play, and that they are of ancient date. The purpose of Clouds was for entertainment and he was tried and sentenced to death for words not deeds. He also defended that he was never paid to create the playwright nor was he a teacher. Socrates defended himself and gave examples of his good conduct as an Athenian. When the slain bodies in the aftermath of the Battle of Arginusae were not cleaned up, it was proposed that all of the generals were to be tried at the same trial. Socrates was the only one who opposed the illegality of not giving...

Cited: Kagan, Donald, and Gregory Viggiano. "Was Socrates Guilty?" Problems in the History of Ancient Greece: Sources and Interpretation. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. N. pag. Print.
Linder, Douglas. "The Trial of Socrates." Social Science Research Network. University of Missouri, 2002. Web. 25 Apr. 2013.
Pomeroy, Sarah B. Ancient Greece: A Political, Social, and Cultural History. New York: Oxford UP, 1999. 360-64. Print.
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[ 10 ]. Kagan, Donald, and Gregory Viggiano. "Was Socrates Guilty?" Problems in the History of Ancient Greece: Sources and Interpretation. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. N. pag. Print.
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[ 12 ]. Kagan, Donald, and Gregory Viggiano. "Was Socrates Guilty?" Problems in the History of Ancient Greece: Sources and Interpretation. Boston: Prentice Hall, 2010. N. pag. Print.
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