Short Essay on the Death of Socrates

Short Essay on the Death of Socrates

Upon being put on trial for corrupting of youth of Athens and “not believing in the gods of the state”, Socrates is sentenced to death for his wrongdoings. Socrates was viewed as “gadfly” to the city of Athens, and after a lifetime of “gadfly”-ing, many people of power in the city had had enough. Socrates’ views on many points of Athenian culture differed from the norm, and with every person he could connect with, the powers of Athens were further undermined. While the Law of Athens was manipulated to ultimately end Socrates’ life, he still, like many before him, had an option that could enable him to circumvent his demise. The Law of Athens was twisted to work against Socrates, and Socrates could manipulate it once more to save himself by paying the right Athenians who could organize his escape. Money was no issue; many of Socrates’ followers offered to put up the necessary coin for him to slip away. So all Socrates had to do was accept his friends’ offers and he could be a free man to continue his legacy elsewhere—Thessaly was suggested by Crito. Socrates’ politely declined the offers and ended up swallowing the hemlock.

Socrates’ decision to stay and die in martyrdom seems to contradict one of his main standpoints: a good person never does harm. For example, one should not retaliate after being struck, and one should not return wrongdoing with wrongdoing, because no one does harm knowingly, they simply do not know any better.

Socrates saw himself a servant of the gods, placed on Earth to share his understanding of how life should be lived. Was Socrates’ submission to the death penalty not doing wrong to Athens by ending his time as a teacher of the good? This was not a wrongdoing, because even if he spared his own life, he would no longer be around to educate Athens anyway. He would have fled, and have to start from square one elsewhere. He would be doing no wrong by dying, because he could do no more good for Athens by living.

Does Socrates’ submission to an obvious flouting of Athenian Law not do wrong by encouraging corruption in law enforcement? Also, what kind of example is Socrates setting for the youngsters? They watch all this exploitation occur and Socrates does not fight it by escaping. Once again Socrates makes the best choice by choosing to die. He fought Athenian Law the best way he could— with his words. He continues to belittle the way Athenians do things up until his death. He at least gets people thinking. He does not believe that doing wrong in retaliation to a wrongdoing is what any good man does, so he takes the blow Athens deals and asks for more. He continues to mentor the youth of the city when they see how Socrates does not fear death for see it as the end. Socrates’ soul will live on. Socrates believes his martyrdom is the best he can do to teach at this point in his life.

In Plato’s Apology Socrates gives examples of his loyalty to holiness and righteousness. Unlike his actions involving his trial for unfaithfulness to the gods and corruption of the youth, he disobeys the orders from power in order to preserve his morality. He could be viewed as being inconsistent by stubbornly disobeying Athenian Law at one time, but stubbornly obeying the law at another time. How can both be the right thing to do? The answer comes back to his stance that just and righteous men do no harm to themselves or others. Socrates does not view death as the end to his soul; his soul has been and shall be reincarnated once again. So if he agrees to die, he is doing no harm to himself and is consistent with the first part of his golden rule. Also by agreeing to die, he is doing less harm than good to others, because his martyrdom is all part of a long process of bringing change to Athens. When Socrates disobeys his orders to bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis to the oligarchy of the Thirty to be wrongfully executed, he is refusing to do harm to others. This refusal could very well have led to his death, but he does not fear death over betraying holiness. How can supporting a corrupt execution be okay sometimes but not others? Socrates believed that the death of Leon would only serve to reinforce the unjust Athenian Law—more harm would come out of this execution than good. However, after weighing the pros and cons of Socrates’ own death, he deemed that more good would come out of his execution, because his martyrdom could help revolutionize Athens. His survival would not result in the betterment of Athens in any way. Not to mention he was pretty damn old himself, so he wouldn’t live long enough to be of much service anywhere.

Is revolution against the state ever justified, or are the truly righteous obligated to abide the law of the state, no matter how despotic? Socrates answered this question when he disobeyed the democracy and oligarchy back in his heyday. He believes that if you are doing no harm to your soul or to others, revolution or collective disobedience can be perfectly justified.

The basis of any of Socrates’ actions stem from his stern belief in doing what is good under any circumstance. He follows his own set of laws, and if breaking a code of laws that the state enforces is consistent with Socrates’ beliefs, so be it. Socrates’ personal code of laws is the one that is best for Athens, and he figured his death would start the state down a road of righteousness.