Who Was Socrates?
Born to a sculptor Sophroniscus and midwife Phaenarete in 470 BC (before Christ), Socrates is considered to be the founder of Western philosophy and the first moral philosopher of Western ethical tradition of thought. He lived and grew up in classical Athens where people would believe in the supremacy of Greek Gods—namely the God of Sun Apollo, the Goddess of War Athena, the God of sky and thunder Zeus and so on. There were said to be twelve major Gods and Goddesses in the ancient Greek religion. In today’s world, it is known as Greek mythology.
Socrates who later came to be known as the great philosopher used to be highly curious from the very beginning of his life. He was not ready— unlike the rest of the Athenians— to take things as they were. He would often ask questions from his father on intellect and question the existence of Gods whenever his mother would tell him stories about them. In his childhood, he hardly got any satisfactory answers to the questions that arose in his mind. Much to our consternation, that increased his curiosity and he kept on looking for the answers.
Finally, Socrates met Anaxagoras with the help of Pericles who was an eminent politician of those times. Anaxagoras was also Greek and had been observing skies and heavenly bodies for several years. He came to this conclusion that there never lived any Gods and Goddesses in the skies. The planets were mere rocks and that the moon too was dependent on the sun for its light. He also claimed the possibility of the existence of human beings over the moon. His views didn’t go down well with the public and he was soon tried for apostasy in the court. Athens is the place where democracy was introduced for the first time. The democracy during those times was different from today’s world as women were not enfranchised and even the matters of court would be decided via public voting. Hence, predictably the public vote turned out against Anaxagoras and he was given the options of either facing death in Athens or choosing banishment. He chose the latter.
However, Socrates also didn’t publicly refute what Anaxagoras said and owing to this reason public started turning against him as well. He had also become aware that Athenians didn’t value such an amazing person like Anaxagoras. Therefore, he preferred to hold his views most of the time to himself. In between conversations, he would occasionally say something that would be of high importance and his philosophic thinking had won him a lot of Athenians apart from the ones who had turned dead against him. Meanwhile, a loyal follower of Socrates, Chaerephon went to the Oracle at Delphi— to ask whether there existed any wiser man in Athens than Socrates? He was given the answer, that no-one was wiser than Socrates in Athens. Chaerephon rushed to Athens to tell people that even Gods testified to Socrates’ sanity.
Athenians were again divided in their opinion of Socrates as some were still not convinced to accept this revelation. The latest revelation again increased the following of Socrates and among those followers was Alcibiades. Alcibiades belonged to an elite family and was a powerful naval commander. He was highly impressed by Socrates’s intellect and all Athenians knew this. Later, the people at the helm of affairs at Athens decided to send an army mission to Sicilian island and Alcibiades was made its commander. The mission was badly failed due to which Athenians lost all the fleet and countless lives. To evade comeuppance, Alcibiades joined Spartans who were sworn enemies of Athenians. For even the unscrupulousness of Alcibiades , Socrates was blamed for the defeat. A vilification campaign in which dramas would be performed to tarnish Socrates’ personality had begun.
The worst was yet to come when Athens had to suffer an insulting defeat at the hands of Spartans in the 27 years long Peloponnesian War. When Athenians surrendered, Alcibiades—once a follower of Socrates, was also in the rows of victors. The presence of Alcibiades among the Spartans and the grand defeat of Athens were once again attributed to Socrates which did nothing but emboldened the vilification campaign against him. He had reservations on the Athenian Democratic system and did not hesitate to criticize it. Ultimately, the politicos of Athens decided to try Socrates in court because they believed that Socrates’ beliefs had angered the gods and that became the real cause of Athens’ shameful downfall.
This all happening reminded Socrates of Anaxagoras’s tragic end as to how the latter was banished. In his own defense in court , Socrates said nothing but presented the views that he had been presenting for years. At the end of the trial, the voting was held. Out of 500 voters, 280 voted against him whereas 220 stood by him. According to the laws of Athens, Socrates would be given death penalty but he was given the choice as to how to die. He could appeal for banishment but he chose otherwise and opted for hemlock to die. After hundreds of years of his death, Socrates’ sayings still resonate with many for their deep and remarkable meanings.
“Wonder is the beginning of wisdom,” Socrates.