Maat - To know the history to create the future




A life for truth and justice

He who thinks that to be a philosopher means to go away from the world to live an abstracted life in an unreal world does not have any acquaintance of what philosophers have done through centuries.

Persecutions, accusations of every kind, sentences, even to death or to the exile, have accompanied the life of many philosophers.

The relationship between the philosophers and the economic, political and religious power has always been difficult.

Centuries pass but mighty ones continue to fear he who thinks.


Locality: Athens, Greece

Age: 469-399 B.C.


The man

Socrates was born in 469 at Athens, the deme of Alopecie, son of the sculptor Sophroniscus and the midwife Phainarete.

He belonged to the small Athenian bourgeoisie.

He began to work in his father's workshop. But the love for knowledge carried him to be interested initially in natural sciences and afterwords in philosophy. He had contacts with Parmenides and Zeno of Elea, perhaps he knew Anaxagoras personally, established relationships with Archelaus of Miletus, disciple of Anaxagoras and Diogenes of Apollonia.

Man of strong build, walked barefoot and wore worthless garments.

He never took care of riches and his economic conditions took a turn for the worse everyday.

After the 421 he married Xanthippe and had three sons, the elder was named Lampracus.

The military life

He lived in the period of the war of Peloponnese. He defended the native land with large dedication obtaining numerous citations.

He fought bravely at Poteidaia (432-429), at Delion in 424 and at Amphipolis in 422. He proved force, courage and generosity. At Poteidaia he saved Alcibiades, who had been hurt. Lachete asserts "I have been with him during the retreat (at Delion) and if everyone had been like Socrates, our city would never have been dragged in the disaster".

The political life

He did not have governmental charges and he never tried to have some.

In 405-406 Socrates was member of the Council of the Five hundred. Athens was under a democratic government. The authorities brought a process against the admirals who had not picked up the shipwrecked at the end of the victorious naval battle in 406 off the Arginusai. Socrates was chosen by lot as judge and he was the only one to side against the democratic government that wanted to make summary justice accusing the admirals collectively and not singularly, like it was established on the contrary by the law.

In 408 Athens was under the oligarchical government of the Thirty. Socrates was charged, with four other citizens, to arrest to the democratic Lion of Salamis. He did not think the order was just and refused to execute it. Its relations with Kritias, who had been his student and now was leading the Thirty, took a turn for the worse.

The philosophical activity

Cicero asserts that "Socrates for the first time made the philosophy come down from the sky and transported it in the cities introducing it also in the houses and forcing it to take care of issues relating life, customs, good and evil".

He did not want to teach his own ideas in a school but came down in public squares and roads, entered in the shops in order to speak with his fellow citizens and to arouse their conscience.

He did not ask any compensation for his teaching.

Socrates tried to transform ethics and politics in subjects of scientific research, that could reveal universal laws and truth, in opposition to skepticism and relativism.

The politics

According to Socrates politics was an occupation like another: it demanded natural endowment, study and application.

Xenophont reports a conversation between Socrates and Carmide in which the philosopher asserts that the Assembly was formed by "... fullers, carpenters, smiths, farmers, merchants or dealers of market alert only to acquire at a low cost and to sell at a high price ... men who in affairs of state have never made a thought".

In the Protagoras Socrates finds that for the problems in which technical acquaintances are necessary the Assembly consults experts, while on the contrary is ready to listen to "mason, smith, cobbler, merchant, captain of vessel, rich or poor, born of good family or nonentity" when government problems are dealt.

Friends and disciples

He had many friends and disciples. Among these:

- the politician Kritias (Athens 462-Munichia 403 B.C.) who in 404 became the head of the Thirty. He died fighting against the democratics who in 403 resumed the control of Athens.

- the general and political man Alcibiades (Athens 450-404 B.C.) was killed by the Persian Pharnabazos on instigation of the Spartans.

- the general Xenophon who was born between 430 and 425 and died after 355 B.C. Athenian of the deme of Erchia, he was the son of Grillo. He took part in the unfortunate expedition of Cyrus, claimant of the throne of Persia, in Asia Minor.

- the philosopher Plato (Athens 427-347 B.C.), nephew of Kritias.

The accusations

After the disastrous outcome of the war of Peloponnese and after the short period of government of the Thirty, Thrasybulos and his followers took the power. An amnesty prevented the persecution of people compromised with the regimen of the Thirty. But the democratics at the power look for a victim in order to satisfy their thirst for revenge and to intimidate the adverse party.

Military defeats and the decline of the city were attributed to the work of Socrates who, according to the democratics, had damaged the traditional values subjecting them to philosophical critic.

To condemn Socrates meant to condemn the new culture and the movement that was inspired to this.

First signer of the denunciation was Meletos, a tragic poet, but the true prosecutor was Anytos, strong manof the democratic party . Another signer was Lykon, an orator.

The text of the denunciation recited: "Socrates is guilty to have refused to recognize the gods recognized by the state and to have introduced new divinities. Moreover he is guilty of having corrupted young people. The pain of death is demanded".

The first accusation referred to the declaration of Socrates of having in himself a divinity, a part of inner revelation, whose voice took him off evil and guided him in his decisions.

The second accusation referred to the work of critical education of youth, carried out by Socrates in an antitraditional sense.

The process

In front of the popular jury, constituted by 500 raffled citizens, Socrates said "nobody cannot save who indeed opposes to you or whichever other democracy trying to prevent or not to allow that many misfortunes and legal abuses hit the city. A sincere defender of justice must keep himself to himself avoiding politics, or to resign hilmself not to survive for a long time".

The sentence

The process ended with the acknowledgment of the Socrates guilt for 280 ballots against 220.

The sentence to death was voted by 360 members of the jury against 140.

The execution

Socrates refused an easy escape and drank the hemlock voluntarily.

To the Athenians, at point of death, he said "It is time to go: I to die and you to live. Who of us has had better destiny is dark to all except to gods".

It was 399 B.C. Socrates had lived 70 years.

Persecution of philosophers

The Athenian democratics had serious precedents in fact of sentences to philosophers for impiety.

Anaxagoras, born between 500 and 496 at Klazomenai, on the ionic coast of Asia Minor, was tried in 432 because he claimed that the sun was a red-hot stone and the moon was made of earth. He saved himself by escaping. He died at Lampsakos in 428. It his worth to notice that an identical accusation was addressed by Meletos to Socrates.

Diagoras of Melo, philosopher of the V century B.C., in 412 was forced to escape from Athens because he was accused of impiety.

Protagoras of Abdera (486-411 B.C.) in the 411 was tried and condemned. His books burnt on the public square. He died during a shipwreck escaping from Athens.


With the exception of Socrates, nobody of the great philosophers and scientists of the V century was Athenian.


Bibliographical references:

Enciclopedia Garzanti di Filosofia


Abbagnano N. (a cura di)
La filosofia antica (antologia di testi)


Adkins A. W. K.
La morale dei Greci da Omero ad Aristotile


Adorno F.
La filosofia antica


Bianchi Bandinelli R. (a cura di)
Storia e civiltà dei Greci


Diogene Laerzio
Vite dei filosofi


Guthrie W. K. C.

Il Mulino

Tutti gli scritti (a cura di Giovanni Reale)


Robin L.
Storia del pensiero greco


Russel B.
Storia della filosofia occidentale

Tea Due