His speech was rude and inelegant, his voice grating, his immediate topics and examples humble, if not positively vulgar; his bearing was obtrusive, without being presumptuous; his address plain and unpolished, though not discourteous. His manners were termed coarse and clownish by Aristoxenus. Politicians, legists, orators, philosophers, sophists, magistrates, generals, and citizens were decried by him as fools and knaves, and compelled to gaze in the mirror held before them, that they might recognize their own folly, fraud, and ignorance.
This drastic medicine was forced upon those who enjoyed the discomfiture of others, but not their own, by the quaint personage who could stand, and keep others standing, from morning to night, and who talked without intermission, though able sometimes to listen with the utmost patience.
Nevertheless, this portentous mouthpiece of the gods had strange powers of enchantment, and lulled those on whom he fastened like a vampire, fanning them while sucking their blood, or held them, like the skinny finger of the Ancient Mariner, so that "they could not choose but hear. His magic wrought like the Vice of the poet:.
It could scarcely increase the favor of Socrates with the multitude, who knew him only by sight, to see him attended by Critias, Alcibiades, Charmides, Xenophon, Aristippus, etc. The humility of his interpretation of the oracle might be unknown, or might seem a mock humility, correspondent to his familiar and habitual irony. The only ground of the oracular utterance, he said, was that he knew that he knew nothing, while others mistook their own ignorance for knowledge. There is more wit than reason in the remark of Athenseus 5, 60 , "If knowing nothing is wisdom, knowing all things must be folly.
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He was more frugal than a Neapolitan lazzarone or a Greek mendicant — Groeculus esuriens. He was abstemious, given neither to wine nor to pleasure. He was able and willing to drink more than any of his compotators ; yet "no man ever saw Socrates drunk" Plato, Symp. He was ascetic, inviting hardships and careless of pain, like the Coenobites of the desert or the founders of mediaeval fraternities.
He declined the invitations of princes and potentates because he could not return their favors. He refused to take money for his instructions, denounced the Sophists for their mercenary practice, and sent back to Aristippus the gains which he desired to share with him.
He condemned existing usages, procedures, and theories; derided the political institutions of Athens; invited all to abandon their delusive and pernicious doctrines and reasonings; attached him self specially to the young for the conversion of the rising generation; yet was himself observant of established customs and prescription in religion, in law, in political and social conduct.
A character like this could hardly receive due appreciation in the lively and captious community in which he lived and moved without resting, and which he tormented through all ranks without ceasing. How difficult the appreciation must have been may be estimated from the diverse portraits drawn by his friends and pupils, Xenophon and Plato, without either achieving a fair picture.
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Socrates might win the admiration of many by his brilliant display of dialectical ingenuity and intellectual power; he might attract ambitious politicians by the hope of acquiring his arts; but he could secure the devotion only of the few who caught glimpses of his purpose and desired to share his aims.
To the populace and to the upper multitude he must have seemed a strange and unwelcome phenomenon. He must have gone about multiplying dislikes, nursing enmities and antagonisms, and storing up wrath against the day of wrath. In the Platonic Apology he expresses greater apprehension of chronic misconception and calumny and odium than of the immediate capital charge. This is consonant with probability.
The distinct reference to Aristophanes is a Platonic device, and excites a suspicion that there is as little authentic and uncolored fact as in the Latin Panegyrica, or the Diogenes of Dion Cassius. Full acquiescence may be accorded to Grote's remark that the indictment and condemnation of Socrates are less surprising than his long escape from prosecution.
For twenty or thirty years he had been suffered, without molestation, to infest the streets of Athens, to consort with oligarchs and tyrants, to preach novel doctrines to idlers, to interrupt and deride every one, and to offend prevailing sentiment. The Jews would have stoned such a prophet without such patient endurance. At length, in B.
His accusers had little obvious reason for personal enmity. Meletus, or Melitus, was a youthful poet, otherwise almost unknown. Anytus was a wealthy tradesman and active politician, who had cooperated efficiently with Thrasybulus in the recent overthrow of the Thirty, and whose son had been dissuaded from following his father's trade. Lycon was a professional rhetorician, and was thus involved in the Socratic censure of the Sophists. Anytus alone had any personal grievance. It was very slight, but it concurred with a general antipathy to Socrates. The charge was that Socrates neglected his country's gods, introduced new divinities, and corrupted the Athenian youth.
These charges may now be admitted to be substantially unjust; but they were then very plausible, and gave utterance to what may well have been the common impression in regard to the tenor and tendency of his disputations. The purity of the motives, designs, and conduct of Socrates none will now gainsay.
None will now repeat the fatal accusations with any thought that Socrates could conceive them to be just. His strict observance of the religious rites of his country is insisted upon in both the Apologies written after the event. He will not be less reverenced now from a conviction that his religious views inclined vaguely to the assertion of monotheism and to the adoration of "the unknown God.
This allegation would be confirmed by his claim of special inspiration, and by the announcement of his mysterious and divine counsellor, whose essential character has not yet been satisfactorily explained. The third charge of corrupting young men would be even more plausible among the ancient Athenians than the other two.
The Socratic method contemplated the compulsory confession of ignorance, and proceeded by a perplexing series of questions and constrained answers, designed to remove the false conceit of knowledge in order to prepare the way for a careful and unprejudiced investigation of truth.
Most of the sufferers would stop with the negative result, as Socrates himself appears practically to have done. Others, who did not understand the process and could not appreciate the design, would conclude that the purpose as well as the effect of the Socratic elenchus was to unsettle belief in accredited institutions no less than in established convictions. This apprehension would be aggravated by remembering that Alcibiades, Critias, and Charmides had been among his most cherished associates; that his chief disciple, Plato, perhaps not yet prominent, was the nephew of Charmides, one of the Thirty, and had recently been active in aristocratical opposition; that Socrates had always disapproved the existing modes of appointment to office; and that he had displayed a constant distrust and disapproval of democratic institutions a censure which democracies always jealously and passionately resent.
Socrates was brought to trial. His divine monitor forbade his making a defense in the customary spirit. If he spoke what is reported by Plato, his Apology was calculated only to irritate his judges. There was no fixed or systematic law at Athens, especially in criminal matters. Every indictment was a bill of attainder. Nevertheless, Socrates was condemned by a majority of only five or six voices in a dicastery of more than five hundred. After the condemnation the penalty had to be determined. Athenian procedure required the accusers to name a penalty and the accused to offer an alternative satisfaction.
The accusers had specified death. The alternative proposed by Socrates was a virtual negation of the verdict by substituting for death public support in the Prytaneum, the highest honor that could be bestowed; or, in deference to the urgency of his friends, a fine of thirty minae about seven hundred dollars. The jury could choose only one or other of these penalties. Socrates had already been declared guilty.
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The sentence could scarcely be other than — death. Polycrates among the Greeks, and Cato among the Romans, justified the condemnation of Socrates.
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Lelut and Forchhammer did the same thing forty years ago, and Dresig preceded them by a century. Grote holds the balance even between the judges and the judged. The judgment of Polycrates may have been merely a rhetorical exercise, an intellectual tour de force ; or it may have been serious, and may have called out the Apologia of Xenophon as a reply. It was recognized by friends and contemporaries, it was generally recognized in antiquity, it has usually been recognized by the moderns, that the condemnation and death of Socrates were his own act.
He did not desire to live. His work was done, his career was bending to its close. He was willing, if not eager, to perpetuate his influence and to confirm his life and doctrine by his death. Nothing can be more exquisitely touching, more ennobling, or more memorable than the account given by Plato of the last days of Socrates, and of the cheerful. The closing scenes are among the noblest exhibitions of human, and almost of superhuman, virtue. That there is much of Plato in the pathetic story is indubitable. The artistic arrangement of details, the subdued coloring, the solemn calm, the dramatic presentation, are all Plato's; but the substantial significances may be confidently ascribed to the genuine Socrates.
We shall not repaint the rose or reperfume the lily. The tale must be read in the pages of the reverent disciple and consummate artist. Socrates should have drunk the fatal hemlock the day after the sentence. But the sacred embassy had just sailed for Delos, and capital punishments were suspended till its return.
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Socrates lay in prison for a month, suffering, perhaps, the indignity of fetters, surrounded by sorrowing friends, to whom he repeated the instructions of his life. Provision was made for his escape. He refused such release because firm in his obedience to the laws, whether just or unjust in their operation upon him.
At the appointed time, towards the end of May, he drank the deadly cup with perfect composure, and welcomed death in the hope, but without the confident expectation, of a tranquil immortality. The death of Socrates scattered his disciples: he never formed a school. The dispersion of the disciples disseminated his doctrine and method. Many years elapsed before philosophy revisited Athens.