Why didn't Socrates defend himself in court?
On this day in 399 BC, Socrates was sentenced to death in Athens. The Greek philosopher was executed for the following crimes, which are difficult to define: "rejecting the gods recognized by the state", "introducing new deities" and for "spoiling the youth". His trial took place in public in the center of Athens, in front of three prosecutors, a jury of 500 men and a large crowd.
The prosecutors presented the case against him for three hours. Socrates then defended himself for three hours. At the end, each juror should put a voting stone in one of the two urns: one urn was marked “guilty”, the other “not guilty”. The jury, which consisted of a council of 500 men, found the then 70-year-old Socrates guilty with 280 to 220 votes.
According to the ruling, the judges should decide on an appropriate punishment. Socrates ’prosecutors spoke out in favor of the death penalty. Socrates himself, however, argued - with neglected sarcasm - that he should be rewarded for his actions. After a moment's thought, he suggested a small fine instead.
Had he suggested exile from Athens, his life would probably have been spared; but as it was, the jurors had to choose between execution and an insignificant fine, and they chose execution.
According to Athens law, the death penalty was carried out with a cup of poisonous hemlock. Hemlock is a deadly plant that causes the victim to commit a type of forced suicide. “We can and must pray to the gods that our stay on earth will continue happily after the grave,” said Socrates before he drank the deadly poison. "This is my prayer, may it be fulfilled". He walked around until his legs became too heavy, then lay on his back and slowly died.
In his last words, he remembered his special friend. But the words were a bit disappointing: “Crito, we owe Asklepios a rooster. Pay him the. Don't miss it. "
The real reasons for Socrates' charges and subsequent execution are somewhat unclear. The charges are very vague, but it is unlikely that they were related to religion as alleged. The philosopher and his anti-democratic teachings were seen more as a threat to the rulers of Athens.
The city-state had just recovered from a period of great instability when an insurgent organization called "The Thirty Tyrants" overthrew the democratic government. A brutal regime of terror that banished and executed thousands of innocent citizens tried to establish oligarchic rule. The leader of the Thirty Tyrants, Kritias, was one of Socrates' disciples. This connection likely resulted in the teacher being sentenced to death.
In fact, the great philosopher was sentenced to death for his autocratic tendencies. Ironically, the execution of Socrates' - who was described by Plato as "the wisest and most just of human beings" - is often cited today as an example of a failed democratic process.
Image source: © GL Archive / Alamy
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