The Death of Socrates was on a day in 399 BC. at dusk after sunset, Socrates, the wisest and best of men, hurried the glass of hemlock (a well common plant in our geographical area) that will produce death, in the presence of his close friends who desolate attend the moral fortitude with which he faces the judgment. Socrates was 70 or 71 years old. An unjust sentence, following the infamous complaints of three opportunist, envious and resentful citizens with their teacher, made in a favorable overall environment for it, killed the teacher and gave him everlasting fame that in no way could suspect his contemporaries.
Since then until now we have not stopped to wonder in amazement how it was possible that the world’s first democracy condemned “the best man … of which … we met, and, very prominently, the smarter and more just” with the expression Plato just ends his dialog “Phaedo“.
We have several accounts of the death of Socrates, the main of Plato, his disciple, which focuses on this issue two of his “Dialogues“: the “Defense or Apology of Socrates” in which the philosopher himself dismantled the arguments of his accusers and courageously assumed the unjust sentence, and the Phaedo, known with the subtitle “On the immortality of the soul“, but certainly his real intention is to exalt the exemplary figure of Socrates. He also makes reference to it on other dialogues, as in the Crito and Euthyphro. The death of Socrates certainly deeply impressed his disciple Plato.
Another disciple, Xenophon (circa 431 BC-354 BC), wrote “Memories of Socrates” and a brief Apology in which naturally recalls his unjust condemnation and death.
Why was Socrates condemned to die?
Socrates was accused basically of three crimes: to introduce new gods and to despise existing, to transform with the art of the word the truth into falsehood without respecting the law, to corrupt the youth.
Plato makes Socrates remove all the accusations of his opponents in his Apology.
See the explanation of themain reasons of his death at http://www.antiquitatem.com/en/socrates-condemned-apology-the-clouds
Plato narrates in Phaedo the last days of Socrates‘ life, especially the latter, one in which with all serenity and grief of his friends he hurries the glass of hemlock, which paralyzes your muscles to final death.
What is hemlock and how does it cause death?
Hemlock or cicuta is abundant in our geographical mediterranean area; it is similar to parsley or fennel, and it has a neurotoxin that inhibits the function of the central nervous system and causes paralysis rising from the extremities to paralyze muscles and essential functions like heart and breathing and cause death accordingly. Its effect is similar to that produced by the Amazonian curare.
Some paragraphs from the Phaedo that speak of the last day of Socrates’ life
Well, I persistent in my quest to meet and promote genuine knowledge of ancient texts, so often away from our educational methods, let me reproduce some paragraphs of the Phaedo.
It is considered that Plato wrote the Phaedo in his mature period, when he has made up his philosophical system, especially the theory of ideas; and ethics and politics according to his idealistic conception about the universe and about the man. At that time he has acquired considerable expertise as a writer and a complete mastery of literary expression, which often translate into dialogue form, giving them a huge drama. Plato would be 40 or 45 years old.
In his dialogues Socrates is precisely the spokesman of his own opinions (those of Plato).
I shamelessly confess emotion that reading this text has always given me, the Phaedo, a masterpiece of world literature, witnessed the folly and wickedness that often men show and example of moral integrity of a good citizen whom the practice of philosophy has taught him how to die.
Otherwise the example of Socrates also serves to comfort and viaticum for every human being who knows and faces the inevitable and near end of his life.
When Socrates was condemned, the annual pilgrimage to Delos were held to commemorate the journey of Theseus to Crete for liberate Greece from tribute of seven boys and seven girls whom monster of Labyrinth devoured. His sentence could not be performed during these holidays because the city must to be purified. So It was a long month until the ship returned from Delos. During those days his friends visited and accompanied him his grieved friends who argued still with him about philosophical issues. What a more appropriate topic, then, that of the “immortality of the soul” and its fate after death of the body? But then the fateful day came.
I will reproduce a good part of this exemplary dialogue without comment unnecessary. I recommend the complete reading this vibrant dialogue; and also the reader will check among other things how Christianity is indebted to Plato in his theories on the soul.
You can find the full text of the Phaedo in many Web pages for example in the following link:
(Execrates and Phaedo. Socrates -. Apolodoro – Cebes – Simmias – Crito Phaedo -. Xanthippe – Eleven server. (Phaedo, witness of the conversation the last day of Socrates’ life, he tells Execrates, neighbor of Phlius. Together with Two other people together with Socrates, join in the dialogue, almost in the manner of the tragedy, Simnias and Cebes. )
57a and ss.
Echecrates: Were you with Socrates yourself, Phaedo, on the day when he drank the poison in prison, or did you hear about it from someone else?
Phaedo: I was there myself, Echecrates.
Echecrates: Then what did he say before his death? and how did he die? I should like to hear, for nowadays none of the Phliasians go to Athens at all, and no stranger has come from there for a long time, who could tell us anything definite about this matter, except that he drank poison and died, so we could learn no further details.
Phaedo: Did you not even hear about the trial and how it was conducted?
Echecrates: Yes, some one told us about that, and we wondered that although it took place a long time ago, he was put to death much later. Now why was that, Phaedo?
Phaedo: It was a matter of chance, Echecrates. It happened that the stern of the ship which the Athenians send to Delos was crowned on the day before the trial.
Echecrates: What ship is this?
Phaedo: This is the ship, as the Athenians say, in which Theseus once went to Crete with the fourteen youths and maidens, and saved them and himself. Now the Athenians made a vow to Apollo, as the story goes, that if they were saved they would send a mission every year to Delos. And from that time even to the present day they send it annually in honor of the god. Now it is their law that after the mission begins the city must be pure and no one may be publicly executed until the ship has gone to Delos and back; and sometimes, when contrary winds detain it, this takes a long time. The beginning of the mission is when the priest of Apollo crowns the stern of the ship; and this took place, as I say, on the day before the trial. For that reason Socrates passed a long time in prison between his trial and his death.
Echecrates: What took place at his death, Phaedo? What was said and done? And which of his friends were with him? Or did the authorities forbid them to be present, so that he died without his friends?
Phaedo: Not at all. Some were there, in fact, a good many.
Echecrates: Be so good as to tell us as exactly as you can about all these things, if you are not too busy.
Phaedo: I am not busy and I will try to tell you. It is always my greatest pleasure to be reminded of Socrates whether by speaking of him myself or by listening to someone else.
Echecrates: Well, Phaedo, you will have hearers who feel as you do; so try to tell us everything as accurately as you can.
Phaedo: For my part, I had strange emotions when I was there. For I was not filled with pity as I might naturally be when present at the death of a friend; since he seemed to me to be happy, both in his bearing and his words, he was meeting death so fearlessly and nobly. And so I thought that even in going to the abode of the dead he was not going without the protection of the gods, and that when he arrived there it would be well with him, if it ever was well with anyone. And for this reason I was not at all filled with pity, as might seem natural when I was present at a scene of mourning; nor on the other hand did I feel pleasure because we were occupied with philosophy, as was our custom—and our talk was of philosophy;—but a very strange feeling came over me, an unaccustomed mixture of pleasure and of pain together, when I thought that Socrates was presently to die. And all of us who were there were in much the same condition, sometimes laughing and sometimes weeping; especially one of us, Apollodorus; you know him and his character.
Echecrates: To be sure I do.
Phaedo: He was quite unrestrained, and I was much agitated myself, as were the others.
Echecrates: Who were these, Phaedo?
Phaedo: Of native Athenians there was this Apollodorus, and Critobulus and his father, and Hermogenes and Epiganes and Aeschines and Antisthenes; and Ctesippus the Paeanian was there too, and Menexenus and some other Athenians. But Plato, I think, was ill.
Echecrates: Were any foreigners there?
Phaedo: Yes, Simmias of Thebes and Cebes and Phaedonides, and from Megara Euclides and Terpsion.
Echecrates: What? Were Aristippus and Cleombrotus there?
Phaedo: No. They were said to be in Aegina.
Echecrates: Was anyone else there?
Phaedo: I think these were about all.
Echecrates: Well then, what was the conversation?
Phaedo: much was said, and the servant of the eleven came and stood beside him and said: “Socrates, I shall not find fault with you, as I do with others, for being angry and cursing me, when at the behest of the autho I will try to tell you everything from the beginning. On the previous days I and the others had always been in the habit of visiting Socrates. We used to meet at daybreak in the court where the trial took place, for it was near the prison; and every day we used to wait about, talking with each other, until the prison was opened, for it was not opened early; and when it was opened, we went in to Socrates and passed most of the day with him. On that day we came together earlier; for the day before, when we left the prison in the evening we heard that the ship had arrived from Delos. So we agreed to come to the usual place as early in the morning as possible. And we came, and the jailer who usually answered the door came out and told us to wait and not go in until he told us. “For,” he said, “the eleven are releasing Socrates from his fetters and giving directions how he is to die today.” So after a little delay he came and told us to go in. We went in then and found Socrates just released from his fetters and Xanthippe—you know her—with his little son in her arms, sitting beside him. Now when Xanthippe saw us, she cried out and said the kind of thing that women always do say: “Oh Socrates, this is the last time now that your friends will speak to you or you to them.”
And Socrates glanced at Crito and said, “Crito, let somebody take her home.”
And some of Crito’s people took her away wailing and beating her breast. But Socrates sat up on his couch and bent his leg and rubbed it with his hand, and while he was rubbing it, he said, “What a strange thing, my friends, that seems to be which men call pleasure! How wonderfully it is related to that which seems to be its opposite, pain, in that they will not both come to a man at the same time, and yet if he pursues the one and captures it he is generally obliged to take the other also, as if the two were joined together in one head. And I think,” he said, “if Aesop had thought of them, he would have made a fable telling how they were at war and god wished to reconcile them, and when he could not do that, he fastened their heads together, and for that reason, when one of them comes to anyone, the other follows after. Just so it seems that in my case, after pain was in my leg on account of the fetter, pleasure appears to have come following after.”
Here Cebes interrupted and said, “By Zeus, Socrates, I am glad you reminded me. Several others have asked about the poems you have composed, the metrical versions of Aesop’s fables and the hymn to Apollo, and Evenus asked me the day before yesterday why you never wrote any poetry before, composed these verses after you came to prison. Now, if you care that I should be able to answer Evenus when he asks me again—and I know he will ask me—tell me what to say.”
“Then tell him, Cebes,” said he, “the truth, that I composed these verses not because I wished to rival him or his poems, for I knew that would not be easy, but because I wished to test the meaning of certain dreams, and to make sure that I was neglecting no duty in case their repeated commands meant that I must cultivate the Muses in this way. They were something like this. The same dream came to me often in my past life, sometimes in one form and sometimes in another, but always saying the same thing: ‘Socrates,’ it said, ‘make music and work at it.’ And I formerly thought it was urging and encouraging me to do what I was doing already and that just as people encourage runners by cheering, so the dream was encouraging me to do what I was doing, that is, to make music, because philosophy was the greatest kind of music and I was working at that. But now, after the trial and while the festival of the god delayed my execution, I thought, in case the repeated dream really meant to tell me to make this which is ordinarily called music, I ought to do so and not to disobey. For I thought it was safer not to go hence before making sure that I had done what I ought, by obeying the dream and composing verses. So first I composed a hymn to the god whose festival it was; and after the god, considering that a poet, if he is really to be a poet, must compose myths and not speeches, since I was not a maker of myths, I took the myths of Aesop, which I had at hand and knew, and turned into verse the first I came upon. So tell Evenus that, Cebes, and bid him farewell, and tell him, if he is wise, to come after me as quickly as he can. I, it seems, am going today; for that is the order of the Athenians.”
And Simmias said, “What a message that is, Socrates, for Evenus! I have met him often, and from what I have seen of him, I should say that he will not take your advice in the least if he can help it.”
“Why so?” said he. “Is not Evenus a philosopher?”
“I think so,” said Simmias.
“Then Evenus will take my advice, and so will every man who has any worthy interest in philosophy. Perhaps, however, he will not take his own life, for they say that is not permitted.” And as he spoke he put his feet down on the ground and remained sitting in this way through the rest of the conversation.
Then Cebes asked him: “What do you mean by this, Socrates, that it is not permitted to take one’s life, but that the philosopher would desire to follow after the dying?”
“How is this, Cebes? Have you and Simmias, who are pupils of Philolaus, not heard about such things?”
“Nothing definite, Socrates.”
“I myself speak of them only from hearsay; but I have no objection to telling what I have heard. And indeed it is perhaps especially fitting, as I am going to the other world, to tell stories about the life there and consider what we think about it; for what else could one do in the time between now and sunset?”
“Why in the world do they say that it is not permitted to kill oneself, Socrates? I heard Philolaus, when he was living in our city, say the same thing you just said, and I have heard it from others, too, that one must not do this; but I never heard anyone say anything definite about it.”
“You must have courage,” said he, “and perhaps you might hear something. But perhaps it will seem strange to you that this alone of all laws is without exception, and it never happens to mankind, as in other matters, that only at some times and for some persons it is better to die than to live; and it will perhaps seem strange to you that these human beings for whom it is better to die cannot without impiety do good to themselves, but must wait for some other benefactor.”
And Cebes, smiling gently, said, “Gawd knows it doos,” speaking in his own dialect.
“It would seem unreasonable, if put in this way,” said Socrates, “but perhaps there is some reason in it. Now the doctrine that is taught in secret about this matter, that we men are in a kind of prison and must not set ourselves free or run away, seems to me to be weighty and not easy to understand. But this at least, Cebes, I do believe is sound, that the gods are our guardians and that we men are one of the chattels of the gods. Do you not believe this?”
“Yes,” said Cebes, “I do.”
“Well then,” said he, “if one of your chattels should kill itself when you had not indicated that you wished it to die, would you be angry with it and punish it if you could?”
“Certainly,” he replied.
“Then perhaps from this point of view it is not unreasonable to say that a man must not kill himself until god sends some necessity upon him, such as has now come upon me.”
“That,” said Cebes, “seems sensible. But what you said just now, Socrates, that philosophers ought to be ready and willing to die, that seems strange if we were right just now in saying that god is our guardian and we are his possessions. For it is not reasonable that the wisest men should not be troubled when they leave that service in which the gods, who are the best overseers in the world, are watching over them. A wise man certainly does not think that when he is free he can take better care of himself than they do. A foolish man might perhaps think so, that he ought to run away from his master, and he would not consider that he must not run away from a good master, but ought to stay with him as long as possible; and so he might thoughtlessly run away; but a man of sense would wish to be always with one who is better than himself. And yet, Socrates, if we look at it in this way, the contrary of what we just said seems natural; for the wise ought to be troubled at dying and the foolish to rejoice.”
When Socrates heard this I thought he was pleased by Cebes’ earnestness, and glancing at us, he said, “Cebes is always on the track of arguments and will not be easily convinced by whatever anyone says.”
And Simmias said, “Well, Socrates, this time I think myself that Cebes is right. For why should really wise men run away from masters who are better than they and lightly separate themselves from them? And it strikes me that Cebes is aiming his argument at you, because you are so ready to leave us and the gods, who are, as you yourself agree, good rulers.”
“You have a right to say that,” he replied; “for I think you mean that I must defend myself against this accusation, as if we were in a law court.”
“Precisely,” said Simmias.
“Well, then,” said he, “I will try to make a more convincing defence than I did before the judges. For if I did not believe,” said he, “that I was going to other wise and good gods, and, moreover, to men who have died, better men than those here, I should be wrong in not grieving at death. But as it is, you may rest assured that I expect to go to good men, though I should not care to assert this positively; but I would assert as positively as anything about such matters that I am going to gods who are good masters. And therefore, so far as that is concerned, I not only do not grieve, but I have great hopes that there is something in store for the dead, and, as has been said of old, something better for the good than for the wicked.”
“Well,” said Simmias, “do you intend to go away, Socrates, and keep your opinion to yourself, or would you let us share it? It seems to me that this is a good which belongs in common to us also, and at the same time, if you convince us by what you say, that will serve as your defence.”
“I will try,” he replied. “But first let us ask Crito there what he wants. He has apparently been trying to say something for a long time.”
“Only, Socrates,” said Crito, “that the man who is to administer the poison to you has been telling me for some time to warn you to talk as little as possible. He says people get warm when they talk and heat has a bad effect on the action of the poison; so sometimes he has to make those who talk too much drink twice or even three times.”
And Socrates said: “Never mind him. Just let him do his part and prepare to give it twice or even, if necessary, three times.”
“I was pretty sure that was what you would say,” said Crito, “but he has been bothering me for a long time.”
“Never mind him,” said Socrates. “I wish now to explain to you, my judges, the reason why I think a man who has really spent his life in philosophy is naturally of good courage when he is to die, and has strong hopes that when he is dead he will attain the greatest blessings in that other land. So I will try to tell you, Simmias, and Cebes, how this would be.
“Other people are likely not to be aware that those who pursue philosophy aright study nothing but dying and being dead. Now if this is true, it would be absurd to be eager for nothing but this all their lives, and then to be troubled when that came for which they had all along been eagerly practicing.”
Socrates’ spiritual reflection on death
Socrates continues explaining how the true philosopher must be prepared for death, which is only the separation of the soul from the body, wrap in which it is enclosed and imprisoned and that impedes access to the truth. The psyche, the soul, is the spiritual, the rational, the vital, facing the body, soma, sensory envelope and perishable: a radical dualism between body and soul is supported. The true philosopher who throughout his life has only tried purified from the corporeal and attend to the care of the soul, eternal bliss awaits watching the gods and talking with them, seeing the sun, moon and stars, in the company of their beloved.
Then it is posed whether the soul disappears completely or it is immortal. This is undoubtedly a matter adequate to time. The various friends present are giving their opinion. The affirmation of the immortality of the soul requires that the necessary tests are given and explain where it goes when it separates from the body at death. Socrates gives arguments, one of the most powerful is the “anamnesis” or “remembrance“, the knowledge of things as memory of something already known before. The eternal and exemplary ideas are the causes of real things, participating in them.
The arguments and tone of the discussion may seem too cold, but the cold is only apparent if you think on time prior to the death of Socrates that we are witnessing now. If Socrates‘ arguments are true, his accepted death worth it.
In the dialogue on these issues, Socrates‘ friends, aware of the moment, they do not want to annoy the teacher, who asks them to raise their objections, to which he will respond.
And Simmias said: “Socrates, I will tell you the truth. For some time each of us has been in doubt and has been egging the other on and urging him to ask a question, because we wish to hear your answer, but hesitate to trouble you, for fear that it may be disagreeable to you in your present misfortune.”
And when he heard is, he laughed gently and said: “Ah, Simmias! I should have hard work to persuade other people that I do not regard my present situation as a misfortune, when I cannot even make you believe it, but you are afraid I am more churlish now than I used to be. And you seem to think I am inferior in prophetic power to the swans who sing at other times also, but when they feel that they are to die, sing most and best in their joy that they are to go to the god whose servants they are. But men, because of their own fear of death, misrepresent the swans and say that they sing for sorrow, in mourning for their own death. They do not consider that no bird sings when it is hungry or cold or has any other trouble; no, not even the nightingale or the swallow or the hoopoe which are said to sing in lamentation. I do not believe they sing for grief, nor do the swans; but since they are Apollo’s birds, I believe they have prophetic vision, and because they have foreknowledge of the blessings in the other world they sing and rejoice on that day more than ever before. And I think that I am myself a fellow-servant of the swans; and am consecrated to the same God and have received from our master a gift of prophecy no whit inferior to theirs, and that I go out from life with as little sorrow as they. So far as this is concerned, then, speak and ask what ever questions you please, so long as the eleven of the Athenians permit.”
“Good,” said Simmias. “I will tell you my difficulty, and then Cebes in turn will say why he does not agree to all you have said. I think, Socrates, as perhaps you do yourself, that it is either impossible or very difficult to acquire clear knowledge about these matters in this life. And yet he is a weakling who does not test in every way what is said about them and persevere until he is worn out by studying them on every side. For he must do one of two things; either he must learn or discover the truth about these matters, or if that is impossible, he must take whatever human doctrine is best and hardest to disprove and, embarking upon it as upon a raft, sail upon it through life in the midst of dangers, unless he can sail upon some stronger vessel, some divine revelation, and make his voyage more safely and securely. And so now I am not ashamed to ask questions, since you encourage me to do so, and I shall not have to blame myself hereafter for not saying now what I think. For, Socrates, when I examine what has been said, either alone or with Cebes, it does not seem quite satisfactory.” And Socrates replied: “Perhaps, my friend, you are right. But tell me in what respect it is not satisfactory.”
And the dialogue continues. From 107c to 115a Plato introduces the eschatological myth of trip to the Hereafter, the description of the fabulous geography of the other world, and the fate of souls after the judgment. The Greek word ἔσχατος, eschatos means ultimate, final, last and therefore “eschatological” refers to belonging or relating to the aftermath of the grave. Then follows:
“Such is the nature of these things.of this river, as the Poets say, is Cocytus.
Now when the dead have come to the place where each is led by his genius, first they are judged and sentenced, as they have lived well and piously, or not. And those who are found to have lived neither well nor ill, go to the Acheron and, embarking upon vessels provided for them, arrive in them at the lake; there they dwell and are purified, and if they have done any wrong they are absolved by paying the penalty for their wrong doings, and for their good deeds they receive rewards, each according to his merits. But those who appear to be incurable, on account of the greatness of their wrongdoings, because they have committed many great deeds of sacrilege, or wicked and abominable murders, or any other such crimes, are cast by their fitting destiny into Tartarus, whence they never emerge. Those, however, who are curable, but are found to have committed great sins—who have, for example, in a moment of passion done some act of violence against father or mother and have lived in repentance the rest of their lives, or who have slain some other person under similar conditions—these must needs be thrown into Tartarus, and when they have been there a year the wave casts them out, the homicides by way of Cocytus, those who have outraged their parents by way of Pyriphlegethon. And when they have been brought by the current to the Acherusian lake, they shout and cry out, calling to those whom they have slain or outraged, begging and beseeching them to be gracious and to let them come out into the lake; and if they prevail they come out and cease from their ills, but if not, they are borne away again to Tartarus and thence back into the rivers, and this goes on until they prevail upon those whom they have wronged; for this is the penalty imposed upon them by the judges. But those who are found to have excelled in holy living are freed from these regions within the earth and are released as from prisons; they mount upward into their pure abode and dwell upon the earth. And of these, all who have duly purified themselves by philosophy live henceforth altogether without bodies, and pass to still more beautiful abodes which it is not easy to describe, nor have we now time enough.
“But, Simmias, because of all these things which we have recounted we ought to do our best to acquire virtue and wisdom in life. For the prize is fair and the hope great. “Now it would not be fitting for a man of sense to maintain that all this is just as I have described it, but that this or something like it is true concerning our souls and their abodes, since the soul is shown to be immortal, I think he may properly and worthily venture to believe; for the venture is well worth while; and he ought to repeat such things to himself as if they were magic charms, which is the reason why I have been lengthening out the story so long. This then is why a man should be of good cheer about his soul, who in his life has rejected the pleasures and ornaments of the body, thinking they are alien to him and more likely to do him harm than good, and has sought eagerly for those of learning, and after adorning his soul with no alien ornaments, but with its own proper adornment of self-restraint and justice and courage and freedom and truth, awaits his departure to the other world, ready to go when fate calls him. You, Simmias and Cebes and the rest,” he said, “will go hereafter, each in his own time; but I am now already, as a tragedian would say, called by fate, and it is about time for me to go to the bath; for I think it is better to bathe before drinking the poison, that the women may not have the trouble of bathing the corpse.”
When he had finished speaking, Crito said: “Well, Socrates, do you wish to leave any directions with us about your children or anything else—anything we can do to serve you?”
“What I always say, Crito,” he replied, “nothing new. If you take care of yourselves you will serve me and mine and yourselves, whatever you do, even if you make no promises now; but if you neglect yourselves and are not willing to live following step by step, as it were, in the path marked out by our present and past discussions, you will accomplish nothing, no matter how much or how eagerly you promise at present.”
“We will certainly try hard to do as you say,” he replied. “But how shall we bury you?”
“However you please,” he replied, “if you can catch me and I do not get away from you.” And he laughed gently, and looking towards us, said: “I cannot persuade Crito, my friends, that the Socrates who is now conversing and arranging the details of his argument is really I; he thinks I am the one whom he will presently see as a corpse, and he asks how to bury me. And though I have been saying at great length that after I drink the poison I shall no longer be with you, but shall go away to the joys of the blessed you know of, he seems to think that was idle talk uttered to encourage you and myself. So,” he said, “give security for me to Crito, the opposite of that which he gave the judges at my trial; for he gave security that I would remain, but you must give security that I shall not remain when I die, but shall go away, so that Crito may bear it more easily, and may not be troubled when he sees my body being burnt or buried, or think I am undergoing terrible treatment, and may not say at the funeral that he is laying out Socrates, or following him to the grave, or burying him. For, dear Crito, you may be sure that such wrong words are not only undesirable in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. No, you must be of good courage, and say that you bury my body,—and bury it as you think best and as seems to you most fitting.”
When he had said this, he got up and went into another room to bathe; Crito followed him, but he told us to wait. So we waited, talking over with each other and discussing the discourse we had heard, and then speaking of the great misfortune that had befallen us, for we felt that he was like a father to us and that when bereft of him we should pass the rest of our lives as orphans. And when he had bathed and his children had been brought to him—for he had two little sons and one big one—and the women of the family had come, he talked with them in Crito’s presence and gave them such directions as he wished; then he told the women to go away, and he came to us. And it was now nearly sunset; for he had spent a long time within. And he came and sat down fresh from the bath. After that not
rities, I tell them to drink the poison. No, I have found you in all this time in every way the noblest and gentlest and best man who has ever come here, and now I know your anger is directed against others, not against me, for you know who are blame. Now, for you know the message I came to bring you, farewell and try to bear what you must as easily as you can.” And he burst into tears and turned and went away. And Socrates looked up at him and said: “Fare you well, too; I will do as you say.” And then he said to us: “How charming the man is! Ever since I have been here he has been coming to see me and talking with me from time to time, and has been the best of men, and now how nobly he weeps for me! But come, Crito, let us obey him, and let someone bring the poison, if it is ready; and if not, let the man prepare it.” And Crito said: “But I think, Socrates, the sun is still upon the mountains and has not yet set; and I know that others have taken the poison very late, after the order has come to them, and in the meantime have eaten and drunk and some of them enjoyed the society of those whom they loved. Do not hurry; for there is still time.”
And Socrates said: “Crito, those whom you mention are right in doing as they do, for they think they gain by it; and I shall be right in not doing as they do; for I think I should gain nothing by taking the poison a little later. I should only make myself ridiculous in my own eyes if I clung to life and spared it, when there is no more profit in it. Come,” he said, “do as I ask and do not refuse.”
Thereupon Crito nodded to the boy who was standing near. The boy went out and stayed a long time, then came back with the man who was to administer the poison, which he brought with him in a cup ready for use. And when Socrates saw him, he said: “Well, my good man, you know about these things; what must I do?” “Nothing,” he replied, “except drink the poison and walk about till your legs feel heavy; then lie down, and the poison will take effect of itself.”
At the same time he held out the cup to Socrates. He took it, and very gently, Echecrates, without trembling or changing color or expression, but looking up at the man with wide open eyes, as was his custom, said: “What do you say about pouring a libation to some deity from this cup? May I, or not?” “Socrates,” said he, “we prepare only as much as we think is enough.” “I understand,” said Socrates; “but I may and must pray to the gods that my departure hence be a fortunate one; so I offer this prayer, and may it be granted.” With these words he raised the cup to his lips and very cheerfully and quietly drained it. Up to that time most of us had been able to restrain our tears fairly well, but when we watched him drinking and saw that he had drunk the poison, we could do so no longer, but in spite of myself my tears rolled down in floods, so that I wrapped my face in my cloak and wept for myself; for it was not for him that I wept, but for my own misfortune in being deprived of such a friend. Crito had got up and gone away even before I did, because he could not restrain his tears. But Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time before, then wailed aloud in his grief and made us all break down, except Socrates himself. But he said, “What conduct is this, you strange men! I sent the women away chiefly for this very reason, that they might not behave in this absurd way; for I have heard that it is best to die in silence. Keep quiet and be brave.” Then we were ashamed and controlled our tears. He walked about and, when he said his legs were heavy, lay down on his back, for such was the advice of the attendant. The man who had administered the poison laid his hands on him and after a while examined his feet and legs, then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said “No”; then after that, his thighs; and passing upwards in this way he showed us that he was growing cold and rigid. And again he touched him and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said—and these were his last words—
“Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius. Pay it and do not neglect it.”
“That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.”
To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.
Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, who was, as we may say, of all those of his time whom we have known, the best and wisest and most righteous man.
(Translated by Harold North Fowler; Introduction by W.R.M. Lamb. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.)