The Trial of Socrates 399 BCE

The Trial of Socrates is a story about Socrates which took place in the year 399 BCE

Trial of Socrates
Trial of Socrates

Socrates (c. 470–399 BCE) was a Greek philosopher who lived from c. 470 to 399 BCE.

Socrates’ trial pitted a “squat, unattractive, barefoot man… with bulging eyes, large lips, and a pot belly” against Athenian democracy’s tenets. The renowned teacher and philosopher was accused of “impiety,” for neglecting to recognize the Athenian gods, for creating new deities, for corrupting the youth, and for putting the state in jeopardy.

Socrates had always been a thorn in the side, but the residents of Athens were growing impatient with his contempt for democracy. (He believed that only the wise, which he understood to mean philosophers, were capable of ruling.) Socrates was chastised after two of his former students, Alcibiades and Critias, destabilized Athens. After assisting in the planning of an expedition against Syracuse to take Sicily in 411, Alcibiades switched allegiances, assuring Sparta’s triumph and increasing Athenian animosity toward him and his tutor.

A few years later, Critias, a leader of the Thirty Tyrants oligarchy, launched a revolution against Socrates, which he made no attempt to stop. Citizens may commence criminal proceedings in Athens, and Socrates was soon implicated. There were no lawyers or judges present for his trial, which took place in the public square. His fate was decided by a jury of 501 volunteers, all of whom were over the age of thirty and were chosen by lot. Socrates was given the same amount of time to speak as his accusers, who spoke for three hours. He did not, however, present a defense, but rather a reaffirmation of his beliefs and teachings.

The result was 281 guilty votes and 220 not guilty votes. He was sentenced to death but given the option of exile, which he declined since he did not want to live any other life than the one he had chosen. Socrates acknowledged there were “means of averting death, if a man is willing to say and do anything” in an impressive statement to the jury. But it was “not about avoiding death, but about avoiding wickedness” for him.

In retrospect, the judgement was unjust, yet it represented the court’s legal determination. Socrates reasoned that avoiding this would be a trespass against the state in and of itself. Socrates took one last bath and said his goodbyes. A jailer appeared with a cup of hemlock, which Socrates drank calmly while his comrades wept. Despite his disagreements with the laws of the state that governed him, his final act was to obey them.

SEE ALSO:

The Draconian Code (621 BCE);

The Laws of Solon (594 BCE);

The Death Penalty Returns (1976).

Sources:

Trial of Socrates (399 B.C.)

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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