The biography of SOCRATES, son of the statuary Sophroniscus and of the midwife Phaenarete, starts when he was born at Athens, not earlier than 471 B.C. nor later than May or June 469 B.C. As a youth he received the customary instruction in gymnastics and music; and in after years he made himself acquainted with geometry and astronomy and studied the methods and the doctrines of the leaders of Greek thought and culture. He began life as a sculptor; and in the 2nd century A.D. a group of the Graces, supposed to be his work, was still to be seen on the road to the Acropolis. But he soon abandoned art and gave himself to what may best be called education, conceiving that he had a divine commission, witnessed by oracles, dreams and signs, not indeed to teach any positive doctrine, but to convict men of ignorance mistaking itself for knowledge, and by so doing to promote their intellectual and moral improvement. 

He was on terms of intimacy with some of the most distinguished of his Athenian contemporaries, and, at any rate in later life, was personally known to very many of his fellow citizens. His domestic relations were, it is said unhappy. The shrewishness of his wife Xanthippe became proverbial with the ancients, as it still is with ourselves. Aristotle, in his remarks upon genius and its degeneracy speaks of Socrates' sons as dull and fatuous; and in Xenophon’s Memorabilia, one of them, Lamprocles, receives a formal rebuke for undutiful behavior towards his mother.

Socrates served as a hoplite at Potidaea (432 - 429 B.C.), where on one occasion he saved the life of Alcibiades, at Delium (424), and at Amphipolis (422). In these campaigns his bravery and endurance were conspicuous. But while he thus performed the ordinary duties of a Greek citizen with credit, he neither attained nor sought political position. His “divine voice,” he said, had warned him to refrain from politics, presumably because office would have entailed the sacrifice of his principles and the abandonment of his proper vocation. Yet in 406 he was a member of the senate; and on the first day of the trial of the victors of Arginusae, being president of the prytanis, he resisted: first, in conjunction with his colleagues, afterwards, when they yielded, alone, the illegal and unconstitutional proposal of Callixenus, that the fate of the eight generals should be decided by a single vote of the assembly.

Not less courageous than this opposition to the civium ardor prava jubentium was his disregard of the vultus instantis tyranni two years later. During the reign of terror of 404 the Thirty, anxious to implicate in their crimes men of repute who might otherwise have opposed their plans, ordered five citizens, one of whom was Socrates, to go to Salamis and bring thence their destined victim Leon. Socrates alone disobeyed. But though he was exceptionally obnoxious to the Thirty as appears not only in this incident, but also in their threat of punishment under a special ordinance forbidding “the teaching of the art of argument,” it was reserved for the reconstituted democracy to bring him to trial and to put him to death. 

In 399, four years after the restoration and the amnesty, he was indicted as an offender against public morality. His accusers were Meletus the poet, Anytus the tanner and Lycon the orator, all of them members of the democratic or patriot party who had returned from Phyle with Thrasybulus. The accusation ran thus: “Socrates is guilty, firstly, of denying the gods recognized by the state and introducing new divinities, and, secondly, of corrupting the young.” 

In his unpremeditated defense, so far from seeking to conciliate his judges, Socrates defied them. He was found guilty by 280 votes, it is supposed, against 220. Meletus having called for capital punishment, it now rested with the accused to make a counter-proposition; and there can be little doubt that had Socrates without further remark suggested some smaller but yet substantial penalty, the proposal would have been accepted. But to the amazement of the judges and the distress of his friends, Socrates proudly declared that for the services which he had rendered to the city he deserved, not punishment, but the reward of a public benefactor - maintenance in the Prytaneum at the cost of the state; and although at the close of his speech he professed himself willing to pay a fine of one mina, and upon the urgent entreaties of his friends raised the amount of his offer to thirty minas, he made no attempt to disguise his indifference to the result. His attitude exasperated the judges, and the penalty of death was decreed by an increased majority. 

Then in a short address Socrates declared his contentment with his own conduct and with the sentence. Whether death was a dreamless sleep, or a new life in Hades, where he would have opportunities of testing the wisdom of the heroes and the sages of antiquity, in either case he esteemed it a gain to die.  In the same spirit he refused to take advantage of a scheme arranged by his friend Crito for an escape from prison. 

Under ordinary circumstances the condemned criminal drank the cup of hemlock on the day after the trial; but in the case of Socrates the rule that during the absence of the sacred ship sent annually to Delos no one should be put to death caused an exceptional delay. For thirty days he remained in imprisonment, receiving his intimates and conversing with them in his accustomed manner. How in his last conversation be argued that the wise man will regard approaching death with a cheerful confidence Plato relates in the Phaedo; and, while the central argument which rests the doctrine of the soul’s immortality upon the theory of ideas must be accounted Platonic, in all other respects the narrative, though not that of an eye witness, has the air of accuracy and truth.

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