October 8, 2012
Greek and Roman Civilizations – “What happened to Socrates?”
The exact date of Socrates’ birth is not known but is believed he was born sometime around 470 B.C. in Athens, Greece. He is believed to have earned a living as a mason and was married with three children. Socrates was also a philosopher but there is debate on whether he did or didn’t receive payment from teaching students. Socrates was considered poor by Greek standards and showed little or no interest in his own children. He was devoted to philosophizing with other boys of Athens. By all accounts, there are no writings by Socrates so information about him and his life is garnered by the writings of some his famous students, one of which was Plato, and contemporaries such as Aristophanes. Life in Ancient Greece was volatile and there were numerous power struggles. It was during these controversial times that battles between the Tyrants and the Aristocrats were also being waged. Athens had been defeated during the Peloponnesian War and was undergoing drastic political turmoil during the time of Socrates. Liberalism and democracy was being brought to Athens largely because of Pericles. The Tyrants wanted Socrates to arrest Leon of Salamis so he could be executed and his assets seized. Socrates neither arrested Leon nor warned him of the Tyrants plan. The citizens of Athens viewed Socrates and his teachings as problematic when Socrates refused to carry out this order.
The people were enthusiastic about laying blame for turmoil on someone else’s shoulders. It was easier for humans to justify their place in the world along with their political beliefs when they had a public figure who disagreed with the masses. Socrates was a very convenient scapegoat. It is believed that Socrates had no opinion on politics but was more interested in what his students thought. He criticized politics and in a quote attributed to him, said, “As for me, all I know is that I know nothing.”
During the trial of Socrates on the trumped up charges levied by the Tyrants Socrates became more of an enemy to the common people. The citizens no longer viewed his teaching of the young men of Athens as harmless but rather as corrupting and dangerous. Socrates was sentenced to death by a jury of 500 men over the age of 30 who were for the most part common citizens or farmers. They did not come from the aristocracy or Socrates’ loyal followers. The jurors