8 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2007
Date Written: 2002
The trial and execution of Socrates in Athens in 399 B.C.E. puzzles historians. Why, in a society enjoying more freedom and democracy than any the world had ever seen, would a seventy-year-old philosopher be put to death for what he was teaching? The puzzle is all the greater because Socrates had taught - without molestation - all of his adult life. What could Socrates have said or done than prompted a jury of 500 Athenians to send him to his death just a few years before he would have died naturally?
Finding an answer to the mystery of the trial of Socrates is complicated by the fact that the two surviving accounts of the defense (or apology) of Socrates both come from disciples of his, Plato and Xenophon. Historians suspect that Plato and Xenophon, intent on showing their master in a favorable light, failed to present in their accounts the most damning evidence against Socrates.
What appears almost certain is that the decisions to prosecute and ultimately convict Socrates had a lot to do with the turbulent history of Athens in the several years preceding his trial. An examination of that history may not provide final answers, but it does provide important clues.
Keywords: Famous Trials, Trial, Socrates, Athens, Athenians, Greeks, Philosopher, Plato, Xenophon, Golden Age of Greece, Hemlock
JEL Classification: K10, K40, K41, K42
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation