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
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.