The philosopher Socrates has been sentenced to death by poisoning by the city of Athens, on charges of heresy and corrupting the young. His student, Phaedo, recalls the scene of the execution, in an account written by Plato.
‘The slave went out and after some considerable time came back with the man whose job it was to administer the poison; he was carrying it, ground and ready, in a cup. When he saw this person, Socrates said: ‘So, my good man, since you’re the expert in these things, who do I have to do?’
‘Nothing, except walk about after you’ve drunk it, ‘ the man said, ‘until there’s a heaviness in your legs; then lie down and it’ll work by itself.’ And with that he held out the cup to Socrates.
Socrates took it and quite unperturbed he was, Echecrates, without a tremor, or any change in his colour of his face. Fixing the man from under those eyebrows with the usual bull-like look, he asked, ‘What do you say to using this drink to make a libation to someone? Is it allowed or not?’
‘We only grind what we think is the right amount to drink,’ the man replied.
‘I understand,’ said Socrates; ‘but I imagine we’re permitted to say a prayer to the gods, and we should – that our removal from this to that other place may be attended by good fortune. Well, that is my prayer, and may things turns out like that.’ And with these words he raised the cup to his lips and drained it dry, quite without flinching or distaste. Most of us, for a time, were able to hold back our tears fairly well, but when we saw him drinking, and then that the cup was drained, we could hold back no longer; in my own case the flow of tears quite overwhelmed me, so that I covered my head and wept – for myself, not for Socrates, and for my own ill fortune, such was the man whose friendship was now lost to me.’
PHAEDO, by Plato
(published as part of THE LAST DAYS OF SOCRATES)
Phædo or Phaedo , also known to ancient readers as On The Soul, is one of the best-known dialogues of Plato’s middle period, along with the Republic and the Symposium. The Phaedo, which depicts the death of Socrates, is also Plato’s fourth and last dialogue to detail the philosopher’s final days, following Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito.
In the dialogue, Socrates discusses the nature of the afterlife on his last day before being executed by drinking hemlock. Socrates has been imprisoned and sentenced to death by an Athenian jury for not believing in the gods of the state (though some scholars think it was more for his support of ‘philosopher kings’ as opposed to democracy) and for corrupting the youth of the city. The dialogue is told from the perspective of one of Socrates’ students, Phaedo of Elis. Having been present at Socrates’ death bed, Phaedo relates the dialogue from that day to Echecrates, a Pythagorean philosopher. More…