Greece

Socrates


(c.470-399BC)

Socrates was one of the greatest philosophers in Western tradition, known to us through his pupil Plato, the historian Xenophon and other ancient sources. Other famous pupils and/or friends of his were Aristippus and Antisthenes, and he influenced Romans like Seneca and Marcus Aurelius.
Socrates was born in Athens , son of a sculptor, Sophroniscus, and a midwife, Phaenarete. He was educated in literature, music and gymn-astics and also rhetorics, dialectics and sophism. He is described as short and ugly, looking like Silenus, and he himself would make jokes about his appearance. His wife was the angry Xanthippe.

Before becoming known as a philosopher he worked as a sculptor, and was wealthy enough to have a house of his own and money lent out in return for a favourable interest. At the age of about 40 he served in the infantry of the Athenian army during the Peloponnesian War. After the oracle in Delphi had said he was the wisest man in the world, Socrates spent the rest of his life as a speaker and teacher.
His famous quote "I only know that I know nothing" very much reflects his views. He believed he was ignorant as well as people in general, and he tried to help them understand this through dialogues where he asked questions and let the subject through his own answers come to realizasion of whatever the matter was. To him, man was born good, but ignorance makes his actions bad sometimes. The only true virtue is knowledge. Through argumentation and definitions of ethical ideas one could get on the right path. "Know thyself", he said.
Althought well-known, Socrates was not popular with everybody. Aristophanes satirized him, the Sophist were his opponents and many believed he had a hand in the aristocratic revolt of 404 BC, which for a short time interrupted the democracy. Eventually this led to Socrates being charged of impiety and corruption of Athens's youth at the age of about 70. The philosopher defended himself, but was found guilty by 281 votes against 220 and sentenced to death. Socrates said to the Athenians: "And now our paths part- I go to Death while you go to Life. Who goes to the better only God knows."
Although offered help to escape by his friends and pupils Socrates decided against it, talking about how the citizen must obey the laws and decisions of the authorities. After having said goodbye to his wife and children, and having some conversations about the immortality of the soul with his friends and disciples, Socrates finally drank the poison that a guard, full of excuses, had given him.

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