Plato, Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, Phaedo
[Hemlock, death, Socrates]
last days, trial, death

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The last days of Socrates

Plato - The Phaedo

  As related in the Crito Socrates is imprisoned awaiting the time when a sacred ship returns from Delos as this will lift a prohibition on the completion of the sentence he faces - the drinking of the fatal poison - Hemlock.

  Socrates' friends offer him a sure escape to Thessaly but Socrates insists that he cannot return evil for evil. He has a duty to respect the due process of the Law in the city that had nurtured him.

  The very last days of Socrates are related in Plato's the Phaedo. The sacred ship has arrived back from Delos, Socrates shackles are removed and he is allowed a final visit from his weeping wife Xanthippe who has brought with her their infant son in her arms.

  Following Xanthippe's visit Socrates' final hours were spent in discussion with a group of his friends, the subjects of discussion including "the immortality of the soul". This discussion was later written about by Plato who was not actually present on this last day possibly because his own distress might well have disappointed his friend Socrates.

  The discussions set out in the Phaedo feature a justification of a life lived with a view to the "cultivation of the Soul". The Orphic and Pythagorean faith background against which Socrates lives accepted the deathlessness of ths Soul, and accepted physical death as also involving the release of the Soul.
  Where a person had lived a good life, - had cultivated their Soul, - they were held to merit a far more pleasant situation in an afterlife reincarnation than where a person had led a bad life.
  The very fact of belief in an afterlife making the cultivation of the Soul a matter of the utmost importance.
  People were deemed to be "chattels of God" however and were not deemed to be free to seeking induction into the afterlife by taking their own lives.
  Crito asks Socrates in what way would he like to be buried. Socrates replied that he would be happy to be buried any way Crito likes, provided the Crito can get get hold of him and takes care that he does not walk away.

  Socrates then addressed the whole company present and smilingly commented that Crito had difficulty in perceiving that the real Socrates would soon depart to the joys of the blessed and that only his body would remain to be buried. 
  Socrates went into the bath chamber in order to wash and save the womenfolk the task of washing his body after death. While he was gone his friends considered amongst thenselves how like a father Socrates was to them and how like orphans they would be before long.
  After a final visit from Socrates sons and womenfolk just before sunset a jailer entered and respectfully and tearfully told Socrates that the time was come for him to drink the cup of Hemlock.
  Shortly thereafter the Hemlock was brought to Socrates who drank it as if a libation to the Gods. Socrates upbraided some of his assembled friends for the extremity of their distress. 

  As was usual in such cases Socrates was required to walk about a little until a certain heaviness, due to the effects of the Hemlock, crept into his legs. Thereafter condemned persons could expect their bodies to be increasingly overtaken by a fatal numbness.

  Just before his death Socrates last words were:- 

  Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius; please pay it and don't let it pass.

  Aesculapius was the God of Medicine and these words implied that Socrates felt that he owed a debt to the God of Medicine because of the cup of Hemlock he had just drunk.

  After Socrates' death opinion in Athens turned against his accusers.

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Socrates trial, last days, and death

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