A new book has been written by Bettany Hughes: 'The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search For The Good Life. In her book she is trying to separate the man from the myth.
Socrates was one of the most influential philosophers of all time.
He was born in 469 BC on the outskirts of Athens.
Democracy was the latest invention and till such time is only delivered at the point of a sword. It was a great age and yet cruel at the same time. Democracy took its first tender steps just like the baby Socrates.
ATHENS - TEMPLE OF HAPHAETHU
Democratic citizens, men and over 18 years, would make their ways to the centre of Athens, every day. The new Democratic Assembly voted to go to war and conquer other territories. Athens became very powerful as the size of land extended. This encouraged a wide variety of intellectuals to move to Athens.
Socrates’ father was a stonemason. Socrates during his years of growing up he witness the shaping of marble into magnificent statues. At the Acropolis beautiful statues decorated in gold, rock-crystal stood or was raised. Bronze statues of handsome young men were placed all over the city. At the marketplace spices from far away were put in stew and cooked on stoves. It was Athens' golden age.
The picture of a great philosopher in ancient Athens would be a picture of white-haired men with flowing toga but Socrates is believed was completely different.
Socrates drank with his friends, sweated in the gym and was a soldier, a lover and a father. He went to war with the army and besieged cities. Apparently, he was married to a nagging shrew. He had a pug nose, thick lips, eyes what swivelled oddly and a lolloping walk. He worn his hair long, was barefooted and didn't take that many bath.
Yet his personality must have been attractive and electrifying. Young men flocked to him. Socrates always asks questions which were fundamental to life such as what makes you happy. How can we live the good life? Athens fought wars in the believes of spreading democracy. Socrates was a very loyal citizen but question the reason of it. He asked, "What is the point of glittering statues and city walls and warships if those within are not happy?"
The youth were fascinated by his words. He was accused of bewitching their minds. He spoke to everyone who would listen without charging. The Roman Cicero mentioned in his note that Socrates was the first philosopher who brought philosophy down into an easy understandable language.
The newly born Democracy had an unusual way of selecting. It was a sort of lottery. Every citizen in Athens was a politician and with this system anybody could have been a head of state for a year or foreign secretary for a day.
Socrates questioned this system. He states that a shoemaker makes shoes because he is a craftsman of that trade. An athlete chooses to run the race because he is the fastest man in town. Why are the leaders chosen with that sort of system?
This questioning did not make him popular and he started to make powerful enemies. At the age of 70 he was put on trial and accused of corrupting the youths and disrespecting the gods.
As mentioned before Athens was in its height and glory but the democratic vote for wars almost destroyed it. There were disease, hunger and dissolution in the town once so beautiful and powerful. In his last 15 years of his life he had to watch a great amount of civil strife and death squads on the streets.
Now, at this time were hard people demanded answers and not questions. Athens was the birthplace of freedom of speech and democracy but didn't know how to deal with people who question it.
On May 399BC Socrates stood in front of the judge in his shabby cloak and a jury of 500 democratic citizens. They condemned the philosopher to death by a serving hemlock poison.
We may ask ourselves was it really worth it? Standing up for your right and questions the rights and wrongs of democracy. One thing for certain, Socrates tried so hard to find the goodness and sense of life. The death sentence was a criminal wrong decision. However, his spirit lived on in all these years. We still question the meaning of life. In his last moment he said, "So I go to die and you to live - who knows which is the better journey."