The death of Socrates remains, to me, something inspiring at many sides. It’s inspiring for Manhood, it’s inspiring for contentment, it’s inspiring for holding on principles, it’s inspiring for appreciation of knowledge, it’s inspiring for discipleship (faithful attachment of students to their teacher), it’s inspiring for teachership (fruitful giving of teacher to students), it’s inspiring for human bonds, it’s inspiring for tolerance, for faith, for being solidly united by a cause….etc. I can really enumerate many many inspirations that the death of Socrates can inject in a conscious soul. It’s not a mere historical incident. However, the death of Socrates is still a recurrent remark of still political oppression, fear of intellectuals and the power of thought more than the power of weapons. Though happened some 300 hunderd years before Christ, we can still see in it how rulers were still at fear and fight to intellectual leaders; and how the power of thought was at the worth of 1000 bullet.
After the revolution in Athens and the democratic party won, Socrates’ fate was destined. He was the intellectual leader of the revolting party. He was the master of thought to youth. He was the one who did not fear any oppression and never hesitated to spread truthful knowledge at any cost. An intellectual like Socrates was definitely a source of threat. Not only did his thoughts threatened politics, but it did threaten religious dogmas. For Socrates condemned having Gods; he was a believer that there is only one God and condemned the sacrifices to temples and the Gods. And that was one of the main reasons, condemning the gods, that led him to death. His thoughts and teachings, Socrates, the father of Philosophy, are what gave him death and immortality.
At the trial, which details I will not discuss here, Socrates attempted to “defend” his position rather than trying to prove himself innocent. He refused to plea for the crowd’s mercy. They had the power to grant him innocence. But how he could he claim for their mercy while he is the one who long condemned them for their poor thoughts and wrong doings. Accordingly, he disdained from asking for their mercy. The judges asked him to choose his penalty and in response he proposed to pay a poor fine. Socrates has lost the support of crowd due to his unapologetic tone, he didn’t talk pathetically or weakly. He was standing in with a high head, defended his thoughts and positions, and did not lenient his tone of voice to plea for a mercy. The crowd voted for his death…which he did not attempt to oppose. And it was it.
At the prison, his pupils came to him and attempted to ask him to escape. For they have bribed guards and prison personnel to allow him an easy escape. However, Socrates has refused to escape on principle. They tried to convince him, but he interrupted and said “Be of good cheer…and say that you are burying my body only.”
The details of his execution and death were told to us by his pupil Plato, who did not attend the trial as he was out of town but was there at his execution. It could not be beautifully described to us the way Plato did. It was described by Plato in his book Apology and Plato’s enumeration of the scene is considered one of the most beautiful passages in the world’s literature. For this reason, I will quote Plato’s description in his own words to touch on how poetic he was in transferring the scene to us:
Plato telling us the story, while in prison with Socrates among pupils waiting for his execution by drinking poison, in one of his great passage of literature that inspired writers till now. I ask you while reading Plato’s enumeration to live that moment as if you were there watching. Live in Plato’s poetic words:
He rose and went into the bath-chamber with Crito, who bade us wait; and we waited, talking and thinkin 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 sunser was 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 … I bid them drink the poison – indeed I am sure that you will not be angry with me.” The [the jailer himself] 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 say.” Then turning to us [the pupils], 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 [one of his pupils there he asked]; let the cup [of poison] to 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…do not hasten then, there is still time.” (the time of execution was scheduled at sunset).
Socrates said: “Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right… 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 onlt 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 servent went in… then returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison.
Socrates said: “You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall you 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 jailer with all his eyes, as his manner was, took the cup and said: “What do you say about making a liberation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not?” The jailer answered: “We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough.”
Then holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drunk the poison…
And by then…most of us had been able to control our sorrow, but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished all of it, we could no longer forbear…and inspite of myself, my own tears were flowing fast; I covered my face and wept over myself. I was not weeping over him, but at the thought of having lost such a companion. Nor was I the first…Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up and moved away, and I followed… At that moment, Apollodorus (another pupil), who had been weeping all the time, broke into a loud cry…which made us all cry loud.
Socrates alone retained his calmness: “What is this strange outcry?” he said. “I sent away the women mainly in order that not to happen, 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. He started to walk about until his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions. The man who gave him the poisin 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”. Socrates felt his legs himself and said “When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end.”
He was beginng to grow cold and he had covered himself to the face and lay down covered…
Then he uncovered his face and said: “Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius. Will you remember to pay the debt for me, for debts shall be paid back”
Crito responded softly to his teacher “Is there anything else?”
And here came no answer to this question.
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.
Socrates died at the age of 70 in 399 BC as an exemplary of courage, faith, bravery, and wisdom.
Where are we now from finding a teacher like Socrates….