The Death of Socrates by French painter Jean-Louis David (1748-1825)
PERSONS OF THE DIALOGUE:
PHAEDO: who is the narrator of the Dialogue to Echecrates of Phlius.
ATTENDANT OF THE PRISON
The Prison of Socrates PLACE OF THE NARRATION:
ECHECRATES. Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison?
PHAEDO. Yes, Echecrates, I was.
ECHECRATES. I should so like to hear about his death. What did he say in his last hours? We were informed that he died by taking poison, but no one knew anything more; for no Phliasian ever goes to Athens now, and it is a long time since any stranger from Athens has found his way hither; so that we had no clear account.
PHAEDO. Did you not hear of the proceedings at the trial?
ECHECRATES. Yes; some one told us about the trial, and we could not understand why, having been condemned, he should have been put to death, not at the time, but long afterwards. What was the reason of this?
PHAEDO. An accident, Echecrates: the stern of the ship, which the Athenians send to Delos, happened to have been crowned on the day before he was tried.
ECHECRATES. What is this ship?
PHAEDO. It is the ship in which, according to Athenian tradition, Theseus went to Crete when he took with him the fourteen youths, and was the saviour of them and of himself. And they are said to have vowed to Apollo at the time, that if they were saved they would send a yearly mission to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of the voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo crowns the stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city is not allowed to be polluted by public executions; and when the vessel is detained by contrary winds, the time spent in going and returning is very
considerable. As I was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the trial, and this was the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was not put to death until long after he was condemned.
ECHECRATES. What was the manner of his death, Phaedo? What was said or done? And which of his friends were with him? Or did the authorities forbid them to be present - that he had no friends near him when he died?
PHAEDO. No; there were several of them with him.
ECHECRATES. If you have nothing to do, I wish that you would tell me what passed, as exactly as you can.
PHAEDO. I have nothing at all to do, and will try to gratify your wish. To be reminded of Socrates is always the greatest delight to me, whether I speak myself or hear another speak of him.
ECHECRATES. You will have listeners who are of the same mind with you, and I hope that you will be as exact as you can.
PHAEDO. I had a singular feeling at being in his company. For I could hardly believe that I was present at the death of a friend, and therefore I did not pity him, Echecrates; he died so fearlessly, and his words and bearing were so noble and gracious, that to me he appeared blessed. I thought that in going to the other world he could not be without a divine call, and that he would be happy, if any man ever was, when he arrived there; and therefore I did not pity him as might have seemed natural at such an hour. But I had not the pleasure, which I usually feel in philosophical discourse (for philosophy was the theme of which we spoke). I was pleased, but in the pleasure there was also a strange admixture of pain; for I reflected that he was soon to die, and this
double feeling was shared by us all; we were laughing and weeping by turns, especially the excitable Apollodorus? you know the sort of man?
PHAEDO. He was quite beside himself; and I and all of us were greatly moved.
ECHECRATES. Who were present?
PHAEDO. Of native Athenians there were, besides Apollodorus, Critobulus and his father Crito, Hermogenes, Epigenes, Aeschines, Antisthenes; likewise Ctesippus of the deme of Paeania, Menexenus, and some others; Plato, if I am not mistaken, was ill.
ECHECRATES. Were there any strangers?
PHAEDO. Yes, there were; Simmias the Theban, and Cebes, and Phaedondes; Euclid and Terpsion, who came from Megara.
ECHECRATES. And was Aristippus there, and Cleombrotus?
PHAEDO. No, they were said to be in Aegina.
ECHECRATES. Any one else?
PHAEDO. I think that these were nearly all.
ECHECRATES. Well, and what did you talk about?
PHAEDO. I will begin at the beginning, and endeavour to repeat the entire conversation. On the previous days we had been in the habit of assembling early in the morning at the court in which the trial took place, and which is not far
from the prison. There we used to wait talking with one another until the opening of the doors (for they were not opened very early); then we went in and generally passed the day with Socrates. On the last morning we assembled sooner than usual, having heard on the day before when we quitted the prison in the evening that the sacred ship had come from Delos; and so we arranged to meet very early at the accustomed place. On our arrival the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out and told us to stay until he called us. For the Eleven,' he said, 'are now with Socrates; they are taking off his chains, and giving orders that he is to die to-day.' He soon returned and said that we might come in. On entering we found Socrates just released from chains, and Xanthippe, whom you know, sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and said, as women will: 'O Socrates, this is the last time that either you will converse with your friends, or they with you.' Socrates , turned to Crito and said: 'Crito, let some one take her home.' Some of Crito's people accordingly led her away, crying out and beating herself. And when she was gone, Socrates, sitting up on the couch, bent and rubbed his leg, saying, as he was rubbing:
— How singular is the thing called pleasure, and how curiously related to pain, which might he thought to be the opposite of it; for they are never present to a man at the same instant, and yet he who pursues either is generally compelled to take the other; their bodies are two, but they are joined by a single head. And I cannot help thinking that if Aesop had remembered them, he would have made a fable about God trying to reconcile their strife, and how, when he could not, he fastened their heads together; and this is the reason why when one comes the other follows: as I know by my own experience now, when after the pain in my leg which was caused by the chain pleasure appears to succeed......
And now, O my judges, I desire to prove to you that the real philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to obtain the greatest good in the other world. And how this may be, Simmias and Cebes, I will endeavour to explain. For I deem that the true votary of philosophy is likely to he misunderstood by other men; they do not perceive that he is always pursuing death and dying; and if this be so, and he has had the desire of death all his life long, why when his time comes should he repine at that which he has been always pursuing and desiring?
Simmias said laughingly: Though not in a laughing humour, you have made me laugh, Socrates; for I cannot help thinking that the many when they hear your words will say how truly you have described philosophers, and our people at home will likewise say that the life which philosophers desire is in reality death, and that they have found them out to be deserving of the death which they desire.
—And they arc right, Simmias, in thinking so, with the exception of the words 'they have found them out;ʼ for they have not found out either what is the nature of that death which the true philosopher deserves, or how he deserves or desires death. But enough of them: let us discuss the matter among ourselves. Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?
To be sure, replied Simmias.
— Is it not the separation of soul and body? And to be dead is the completion of this; when the soul exists in herself, and is released from the body and the body is released from the soul, what is this but death?
—Just so, he replied.
— There is another question, which will probably throw light
on our present enquiry if you and I can agree about it: Ought the philosopher to care about the pleasures if they are to be called pleasures of eating and drinking?
— Certainly not, answered Simmias.
— And what about the pleasures of love should he care for them?
— By no means.
— And will he think much of the other ways of indulging the body, for example, the acquisition of costly raiment, or sandals, or other adornments of the body? Instead of caring about them, does he not rather despise anything more than nature needs? What do you say?
— I should say that the true philosopher would despise them.
— Would you not say that he is entirely concerned with the soul and not with the body? He would like, as far as he can, to get away from the body and to turn to the soul.
— Quite true.
— In matters of this sort philosophers, above all other men, may be observed in every sort of way to dissever the soul from the communion of the body.
— Whereas, Simmias, the rest of the world are of opinion that to him who has no sense of pleasure and no part in bodily pleasure, life is not worth having; and that he who is indifferent about them is as good as dead.
— That is also true.
— What again shall we say of the actual acquirement of knowledge? Is the body, if invited to share in the enquiry, a hinderer or a helper? I mean to say, have sight and hearing any truth in them? Are they not, as the poets are always telling us, inaccurate witnesses? And yet, if even they are inaccurate and indistinct, what is to be said of the other senses? For you will allow that they are the best of them?
— Certainly, he replied.
— Then when does the soul attain truth? -for in attempting to consider anything in company with the body she is obviously deceived.
— Then must not true existence be revealed to her in thought, if at all?
— And thought is best when the mind is gathered into herself and none of these things trouble her neither sounds nor sights nor pain nor any pleasure, when she takes leave of the body, and has as little as possible to do with it, when she has no bodily sense or desire, but is aspiring after true being?
— And in this the philosopher dishonours the body; his soul runs away from his body and desires to be alone and by herself?
— That is true.
— Well, but there is another thing, Simmias: Is there or is there not an absolute justice?
—Assuredly there is.
— And an absolute beauty and absolute good?
— Of course.
— But did you ever behold any of them with your eyes?
— Certainly not.
— Or did you ever reach them with any other bodily sensed and I speak not of these alone, but of absolute greatness, and health, and strength, and of the essence or true nature of everything. Has the reality of them ever been perceived by you through the bodily organs? or rather, is not the nearest approach to the knowledge of their several natures made by him who so orders his intellectual vision as to have the most exact conception of the essence of each thing which he considers?
—And he attains to the purest knowledge of them who goes to each with the mind alone, not introducing or intruding in the act of thought, sight or any other sense together with reason, but with the very light of the mind in her own clearness searches into the very truth of each; he who has got rid, as far as he can, of eyes and ears and, so to speak, of the whole body, these being in his opinion distracting elements which when they infect the soul hinder her from acquiring truth and knowledge — who, if not he, is likely to attain to the knowledge of true being?
— What you say has a wonderful truth in it, Socrates, replied Simmias.
— And when real philosophers consider all these things, will they not be led to make a reflection, which they will express in words something like the following? 'Have we not found,ʼ they will say, 'a path of thought which seems to bring us and our argument to the conclusion, that while we are in the body, and while the soul is infected with the evils of the body, our desire will not be satisfied? and our desire is of the truth. For the body is a source of endless trouble to us by reason of the mere requirement of food; and is liable also to diseases which overtake and impede us in the search after true being: it fills us full of loves, and lusts, and fears, and fancies of all kinds, and endless foolery, and in fact, as men say, takes away from us the power of thinking at all. Whence come wars, and fightings, and factions? whence but from the body and the lusts of the body? Wars are occasioned by the love of money, and money has to be acquired for the sake and in the service of the body; and by reason of all these impediments we have no time to give to philosophy; and, last and worst of all, even if we are at leisure and betake ourselves to some speculation, the body is always breaking in upon us, causing turmoil and confusion in our enquiries, and so amazing us that we are prevented from seeing the truth. It has been proved to us by experience that if we would have pure knowledge of anything we must be quit of the body the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire, and of which we say that we are lovers; not while we live, but after death; for if while in company with the body, the soul cannot have pure knowledge, one of two things follows either knowledge is not to be attained at all, or, if at all, after death. For then, and not till then, the soul will be parted from the body and exist in herself alone. In this present life, I reckon that we make the nearest approach to knowledge when we have the least possible intercourse or communion with the
body, and are not surfeited with the bodily nature, but keep ourselves pure until the hour when God himself is pleased to release us. And thus having got rid of the foolishness of the body we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and know of ourselves the clear light everywhere, which is no other than the light of truth.' For the impure are not permitted to approach the pure. These are the sort of words, Simmias, which the true lovers of knowledge cannot help saying to one another, and thinking. You would agree; would you not?
— Undoubtedly, Socrates.
— But, O my friend, if this be true, there is great reason to hope that, going whither I go, when I have come to the end of my journey, I shall attain that which has been the pursuit of my life. And therefore I go on my way rejoicing, and not I only, but every other man who believes that his mind has been made ready and that he is in a manner purified.
—Certainly, replied Simmias.
—And what is purification but the separation of the soul from the body, as I was saying before; the habit of the soul gathering and collecting herself into herself from all sides out of the body;
the dwelling in her own place alone, as in another life, so also in this, as far as she can; the release of the soul from the chains of the body?
— Very true, he said.
— And this separation and release of the soul from the body is termed death?
— To be sure, he said.
— And the true philosophers, and they only, are ever seeking
to release the soul. Is not the separation and release of the soul from the body their especial study?
— That is true.
— And, as I was saying at first, there would be a ridiculous contradiction in men studying to live as nearly as they can in a state of death, and yet repining when it comes upon them.
—And the true philosophers, Simmias, are always occupied in the practice of dying; wherefore also to them least of all men is death terrible. Look at the matter thus: if they have been in every way the enemies of the body, and are wanting to be alone with the soul, when this desire of theirs is granted, how inconsistent would they be if they trembled and repined, instead of rejoicing at their departure to that place where, when they arrive, they hope to gain that which in life they desired and this was wisdom and at the same time to be rid of the company of their enemy. Many a man has been willing to go to the world below animated by the hope of seeing there an earthly love, or wife, or son, and conversing with them. And will he who is a true lover of wisdom, and is strongly persuaded in like manner that only in the world below he can worthily enjoy her, still repine at death? Will he not depart with joy? Surely he will, O my friend, if he be a true philosopher. For he will have a firm conviction that there, and there only, he can find wisdom in her purity. And if this be true, he would be very absurd, as I was saying, if he were afraid of death.
— He would indeed, replied Simmias.
— And when you see a man who is repining at the approach of death, is not his reluctance a sufficient proof that he is not a
A Greek philosopher, 5th century, bronze.
lover of wisdom, but a lover of the body, and probably at the same time a lover of either money or power, or both?
— Quite so, he replied. ...
Cebes answered — I agree, Socrates, in the greater part of what you say. But in what concerns the soul, men are apt to be incredulous; they fear that when she has left the body her place may be nowhere, and that on the very day of death she may perish and come to an end immediately on her release from the body, issuing forth dispersed like smoke or air and in her flight vanishing away into nothingness. If she could
only be collected into herself after she has obtained release from the evils of which you were speaking, there would be good reason to hope, Socrates, that what you say is true. But surely it requires a great deal of argument and many proofs to show that when the man is dead his soul yet exists, and has any force or intelligence.
— True, Cebes, said Socrates; and shall I suggest that we converse a little of the probabilities of these things?
—-1 am sure, said Cebes, that I should greatly like to know your opinion about them.
— I reckon, said Socrates, that no one who heard me now, not even if he were one of my old enemies, the Comic poets, could accuse me of idle talking about matters in which I have no concern: If you please, then, we will proceed with the enquiry.
Suppose we consider the question whether the souls of men after death are or are not in the world below. There comes into my mind an ancient doctrine, which affirms that they go from hence into the other world, and returning hither, are born again from the dead. Now if it be true that the living come from the dead, then our souls must exist in the other world, for if not, how could they have been born again? And this would be conclusive, if there were any real evidence that the living are only born from the dead; but if this is not so, then other arguments will have to be adduced.
—Very true, replied Cebes.
— Then let us consider the whole question, not in relation to man only, but in relation to animals generally, and to plants, and to everything of which there is generation, and the proof will be easier. Are not all things which have opposites generated out of their opposites? I mean such things as good and evil,
just and unjust and there are innumerable other opposites which are generated out of opposites. And .1 want to show that in all opposites there is of necessity a similar alternation; I mean to say, for example, that anything, which becomes greater must become greater after being less.
— And that which becomes less must have been once greater and then have become less.
— And the weaker is generated from the stronger, and the swifter from the slower.
— Very true.
— And the worse is from the better, and the more just is from the more unjust.
— Of course.
— And is this true of all opposites? and are we convinced that all of them are generated out of opposites?
— And in this universal opposition of all things, are there not also two intermediate processes which are ever going on, from one to the other opposite, and back again; where there is a greater and a less there is also an intermediate process of increase and diminution, and that which grows is said to wax, and that which decays to wane?
— Yes, he said.
— And there are many other processes, such as division and composition, cooling and heating, which equally involve a passage into and out of one another. And this necessarily holds of all opposites, even though not always expressed in words they are really generated out of one another, and there is a passing or process from one to the other of them?
— Very true, he replied.
— Well, and is there not an opposite of life, as sleep is the opposite of waking?
— True, he said.
—And what is it?
— Death, he answered.
— And these, if they are opposites, are generated the one from the other, and have their two intermediate processes also?
— Of course.
— Now, said Socrates, I will analyze one of the two pairs of opposites, which I have mentioned to you, and also its intermediate processes, and you shall analyze the other to me. One of them I term sleep, the other waking. The state of sleep is opposed to the state of waking, and out of sleeping waking is generated, and out of waking, sleeping; and the process of generation is in the one case falling asleep, and in the other waking up. Do you agree?
— I entirely agree.
— Then, suppose that you analyze life and death to me in the same manner. Is not death opposed to life?
— And they are generated one from the other?
— What is generated from the living?
— The dead.
— And what from the dead?
— I can only say in answer the living.
— Then the living, whether things or persons, Cebes, are generated from the dead?
— That is clear, he replied.
— Then the inference is that our souls exist in the world below?
— That is true.
— And one of the two processes or generations is visible -for surely the act of dying is visible?
— Surely, he said.
— What then is to be the result? Shall we exclude the opposite process? and shall we suppose nature to walk on one leg only? Must we not rather assign to death some corresponding process of generation?
— Certainly, he replied.
— And what is that process ?
— Return to life.
—And return to life, if there be such a thing, is the birth of the dead into the world of the living?
— Quite true.
— Then here is a new way by which we arrive at the conclusion that the living come from the dead, just as the dead come from the living; and this, if true, affords a most certain proof that the souls of the dead exist in some place out of which they come again,
— Yes, Socrates, he said; the conclusion seems to flow necessarily out of our previous admissions.
— And that these admissions were not unfair, Cebes, he said, may be shown, I think, as follows: If generation were in a straight line only, and there were no compensation or circle in nature, no turn or return of elements into their opposites, then you know that all things would at last have the same form and pass into the same state, and there would be no more generation of them.
— What do you mean? he said.
— A simple thing enough, which I will illustrate by the case of sleep, he-replied. You know that if there were no alternation of sleeping and waking, the tale of the sleeping Endymion would in the end have no meaning, because all other things would be asleep too, and he would not be distinguishable from the rest. Or if there were composition only, and no division of substances, then the chaos of Anaxagoras would come again. And in like manner, my dear Cebes, if all things which partook of
life were to die, and after they were dead remained in the form of death, and did not come to life again, all would at last die, and nothing would be alive what other result could there be? For if the living spring from 'any other things, and they too die, must not all things at last be swallowed up in death?
—There is no escape, Socrates, said Cebes; and to me your argument seems to be absolutely true.
— Yes, he said, Cebes, it is and must be so, in my opinion; and we have not been deluded in making these admissions; but I am confident that there truly is such a thing as living again, and that the living spring from the dead, and that the souls of the dead are in existence, and that the good souls have a better portion than the evil.
— Cebes added: Your favourite doctrine, Socrates, that knowledge is simply recollection, if true, also necessarily implies a previous time in which we have learned that which we now recollect. But this would be impossible unless our soul had been in some place before existing in the form of man; here then is another proof of the soul's immortality.
— But tell me, Cebes, said Simmias, interposing, what arguments are urged in favour of this doctrine of recollection. I am not very sure at the moment that I remember them.
— One excellent proof, said Cebes, is afforded by questions. If you put a question to a person in a right way, he will give a true answer of himself, but how could he do this unless there were knowledge and right reason already in him? And this is most clearly shown when he is taken to a diagram or to anything of that sort.
— But if, said Socrates, you are still incredulous, Simmias, I would ask you whether you may not agree with me when you
look at the matter in another way; I mean, if you are still incredulous as to whether knowledge is recollection?
— Incredulous I am not, said Simmias; but I want to have this doctrine of recollection brought to my own recollection, and, from what Cebes has said, I am beginning to recollect and be convinced: but I should still like to hear what you were going to say.
— This is what I would say, he replied: We should agree, if 11 am not mistaken, that what a man recollects he must have known at some previous time.
— Very true.
—And what is the nature of this knowledge or recollection? I mean to ask. Whether a person who, having seen or heard or in any way perceived anything, knows not only that, hut has a conception of something else which is the subject, not of the same but of some other kind of knowledge, may not be fairly said to recollect that of which he has the conception?
— What do you mean?
— / mean what I may illustrate by the following instance: The knowledge of a lyre is not the same as the knowledge of a man?
— And yet what is the feeling of lovers when they recognize a lyre, or a garment, or anything else, which the beloved has been in the habit of using? Do not they, from knowing the lyre, form in the mind's eye an image of the youth to whom the lyre belongs? And this is recollection. In like manner any one who sees Simmias may remember Cebes; and there are endless
examples of the same thing.
— Endless, indeed, replied Simmias.
—And recollection is most commonly a process of recovering that, which has been already forgotten through time and inattention.
— Very true, he said.
— Well; and may you not also from seeing the picture of a horse or a lyre remember a man? and from the picture of Simmias, you may be led to remember Cebes;
— Or you may also be led to the recollection of Simmias himself?
— Quite so.
—And in all these cases, the recollection may be derived from things either like or unlike?
— It may be.
—And when the recollection is derived from like things, then another consideration is sure to arise, which is whether the likeness in any degree falls short or not of that which is recollected?
— Very true, he said.
— And shall we proceed a step further, and affirm that there is such a thing as equality, not of one piece of wood or stone with another, but that, over and. above this, there is absolute equality? Shall we say so?
— Say so, yes, replied Simmias, and swear to it, with all the confidence in life.
—And do we know the nature of this absolute essence?
— To be sure, he said.
— And whence did we obtain our knowledge? Did we not see equalities of material things, such as pieces of wood and stones, and gather from them the idea of an equality, which is different from them? For you will acknowledge that there is a difference. Or look at the matter in another way: Do not the same pieces of wood or stone appear at one time equal, and at another time unequal?
— That is certain.
— But are real equals ever unequal? Or is the idea of equality the same as of inequality?
— Impossible, Socrates.
— Then these (so-called) equals are not the same with the idea of equality?
— I should say, clearly not, Socrates.
—And yet from these equals, although differing from the idea of equality, you conceived and attained that idea?
— Very true, he said.
— Which might be like, or might be unlike them?
— But that makes no difference: whenever from seeing one thing you conceived another, whether like or unlike, there must surely have been an act of recollection ?
— Very true.
— But what would you say of equal portions of wood and stone, or other material equals? And what is the impression produced by them? Are they equals in the same sense in which absolute equality is equal? Or do they fall short of this perfect equality in a measure?
— Yes, he said, in a very great measure too.
— And must we not allow, that when I or any one, looking at any object, observes that the thing which he sees aims at being some other thing, but falls short of, and cannot be, that other thing, but is inferior, he who makes this observation must have had a previous knowledge of that to which the other, although similar, was inferior?
— And has not this been our own case in the matter of equals and of absolute equality?
— Then we must have known equality previously to the time when we first saw the material equals, and reflected that all these apparent equals strive to attain absolute equality, but fall short of it?
— Very true.
—— And we recognize also that this absolute equality has only
been known, and can only be known, through the medium of sight or touch, or of some other of the senses, which are all alike in this respect?
— Yes, Socrates, as far as the argument is concerned, one of them is the same as the other.
— From the senses then is derived the knowledge that all sensible things aim at an absolute equality of which they fall short?
— Then before we began to see or hear or perceive in any way, we must have had a knowledge of absolute equality, or we could not have referred to that standard the equals which are derived from the senses? for to that they all aspire, and of that they fall short.
— No other inference can be drawn from the previous statements.
— And did we not see and hear and have the use of our other senses as soon as we were born?
— Then we must have acquired the knowledge of equality at some previous time?
— That is to say, before we were born, I suppose?
— And. if we acquired this knowledge before we were born, and were born having the use of it, then we also knew before we were born and at the instant of birth not only the equal or the greater or the less, but all other ideas, for we are not speaking only of equality, but of beauty, goodness, justice, holiness, and of all which we stamp with the name of essence in the dialectical process, both when we ask and when we answer questions. Of all this we may certainly affirm that we acquired the knowledge before birth?
— We may.
— But if, after having acquired, we have not forgotten what in each case we acquired, then we must always have come into life having knowledge, and shall always continue to know as long as life lasts — for knowing is the acquiring and retaining knowledge and not forgetting. Is not forgetting, Simmias, just the losing of knowledge?
— Quite true, Socrates.
— But if the knowledge, which we acquired before birth was lost by us at birth, and if afterwards by the use of the senses we recovered what we previously knew, will not the process, which we call learning be a recovering of the knowledge, which is natural to us, and may not this be rightly termed recollection?
— Very true.
— So much is clear — that when we perceive something, either by the help of sight, or hearing, or some other sense, from that perception we are able to obtain a notion of some other thing like or unlike which is associated with it but has been forgotten. Whence, as I was saying, one of two alternatives follows: either we had this knowledge at birth, and continued to know
through life; or, after birth, those who are said to learn only remember, and learning is simply recollection.
— Yes, that is quite true, Socrates.
— And which alternative, Simmias, do you prefer? Had we the knowledge at our birth, or did we recollect the things, which we knew previously to our birth?
— I cannot decide at the moment.
— At any rate you can decide whether he who has knowledge will or will not be able to render an account of his knowledge? What do you say?
— Certainly, he will.
— But do you think that every man is able to give an account of these very matters about which we are speaking?
— Would that they could, Socrates, but I rather fear that tomorrow, at this time, there will no longer be any one alive who is able to give an account of them such as ought to be given.
— Then you are not of opinion, Simmias, that all men know these things?
— Certainly not.
— They are in process of recollecting that which they learned before?
— But when did our souls acquire this knowledge? — not since
we were born as men?
— Certainly not.
— And therefore, previously?
— Then, Simmias, our souls must also hw existed without bodies before they were in the form of man, and must have had intelligence.
— Unless indeed you suppose, Socrates, that these notions are given us at the very moment of birth; for this is the only time which remains.
— Yes, my friend, but if so, when do we lose them? -for they are not in us when we are born that is admitted. Do we lose them at the moment of receiving them, or if not at what other time?
— No, Socrates, I perceive that I was unconsciously talking nonsense.
— Then may we not say, Simmias, that if, us we are always repeating, there is an absolute beauty, and goodness, and an absolute essence of all things; and if to this, which is now discovered to have existed in our former state, we refer all our sensations, and with this compare them, finding these ideas to be pre-existent and our inborn possession then our souls must have had a prior existence, but if not, there would be no force in the argument? There is the same proof that these ideas must have existed before we were born, as that our souls existed before we were born; and if not the ideas, then not the souls.
— Yes, Socrates; I am convinced that there is precisely the same necessity for the one as for the other; and the argument retreats successfully to the position that the existence of the soul before birth cannot be separated from the existence of the essence of which you speak. For there is nothing which to my mind is so patent as that beauty, goodness, and the other notions of which you were just now speak, ing, have a most real and absolute existence; and I am satisfied with the proof.
— Well, but is Cehes equally satisfied? for I must convince him too.
—I think, said Simmias, that Cebes is satisfied: although he is the most incredulous of mortals, yet I believe that he is sufficiently convinced of the existence of the soul before birth. But that after death the soul will continue to exist is not yet proven even to my own satisfaction. I cannot get rid of the feeling of the many to which Cebes was referring the feeling that when the man dies the soul will be dispersed, and that this may be the extinction of her. For admitting that she may have been born elsewhere, and framed out of other elements, and was in existence before entering the human body, why after having entered in and gone out again may she not herself be destroyed and come to an end?
— Very true, Simmias, said Cebes; about half of what was required has been proven; to wit, that our souls existed before we were born: that the soul will exist after death as well as before birth is the other half of which the proof is still wanting, and has to be supplied; when that is given the demonstration will be complete.
— But that proof, Simmias and Cebes, has been already given, said Socrates, if you put the two arguments together I mean
this and the former one, in which we admitted that everything living is born of the dead. For if the soul exists before birth, and in coming to life and being born can be born only from death and dying, must she not after death continue to exist, since she has to be born again? Surely the proof, which you desire has been already furnished........
— We will do our best, said Crito. And in what way shall we bury you?
— In any way that you like; but you must get hold of me, and take care that I do not run away from you. Then he turned to us, and added with a smile: / cannot make Crito believe that I am the same Socrates who have been talking and conducting the argument; he fancies that I am the other Socrates whom he will soon see, a dead body — and he asks. How shall he bury me? And though I have spoken many words in the endeavour to show that when I have drunk the poison I shall leave you and go to the joys of the blessed, — these words of mine, with which I was comforting you and myself, have had, as I perceive, no effect upon Crito. And therefore I want you to be surety for me to him now, as at the trial he was surety to the judges for me: but let the promise be of another sort; for he was surety for me to the judges that I would remain, and you must be my surety to him that I shall not remain, but go away and depart; and then he will suffer less at my death, and not be grieved when he sees my body being burned or buried. I would not have him sorrow at my hard lot, or say at the burial, Thus we lay out Socrates, or. Thus we follow him to the grave or bury him; for false words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Be of good cheer then, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only, and do with that whatever is usual, and what you think best.
When he had spoken these words, he arose and went into a chamber to bathe; Crito followed him and told us to wait.
So we remained behind, talking and thinking of the subject of discourse, and also of the greatness of our sorrow; he was like a father of whom we were being bereaved, and we were about to pass the rest of our lives as orphans. When he had taken the bath his children were brought to him (he had two young sons and an elder one); and the women of his family also came, and he talked to them and gave them a few directions in the presence of Crito; then he dismissed them and returned to us.
Now the hour of sunset was near, for a good deal of time had passed while he was within. When he came out, he sat down with us again after his bath, but not much was said. Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven, entered and stood by him, saying: To you, Socrates, whom I know to be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men, who rage and swear at me, when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison indeed, I am sure that you will not be angry with me; for others, as you are aware, and not I, are to blame. And so fare you well, and try to bear lightly what must needs be — you know my errand. Then bursting into tears he turned away and went out.
Socrates looked at him and said: / return your good wishes, and mill do as you bid. Then turning to us, he said,
— How charming the man is: since I have been in prison he has always been coming to see me, and at times he would talk to me, and was as good to me as could be, and now see how generously he sorrows on my account. We must do as he says, Crito; and therefore let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared: if not, let the attendant prepare some.
— Yet, said Crito, the sun is still upon the hill-tops, and I know that many a one has taken the draught late, and after the announcement has been made to him, he has eaten and drunk, and enjoyed the society of his beloved; do not hurry
there is time enough.
Socrates said — Yes, Crito, and they of whom you speak are right in so acting, for they think that they will be gamers by the delay; but I am right in not following their example, for I do not think that I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later; I should only be ridiculous in my own eyes for sparing and saving a life which is already forfeit. Please then to do as I say, and not to refuse me.
Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by; and he went out, and having been absent for some time, returned with the. jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed. The man answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of colour or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not? The man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough. Iunderstand, he said: but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world even so and so be it according to my prayer. Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept, not for him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having to part from such a friend. Nor was I the first; for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up, and I followed; and at that moment,
Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: What is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet then, and have patience. When we heard his words we were ashamed, and refrained our tears; and he walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked him if he could feel; and he said, No; and then his leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said they were his last words he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth. Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend; concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his" time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.
Translation by Benjamin Jowett (abridged)
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The Death of Socrates by David (detail)
Top: The theatre at Dodona and the mountains of Epirus in the back-ground. In Dodona, Zeus' oracle spoke through the rustling leaves of an age-old sacred oak tree.
Right: at Delos, the sacred island of Apollo, a processional way, 7th century BC
Left page: Apollo (Temple of Zeus, Olympia, c.470 BC)