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Was Socrates A Democrat?

Melissa Lane looks at the reputation of the great philosopher. both at the time of is death and in subsequent debates about democracy.

Born to a humble artisan family in fifth-century democratic Athens, Socrates (469-399 bc) attracted a circle of prominent disciples, with whom he pursued the question of how to live well. His conversations with all-comers in search of knowledge, on the grounds that ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’ (Plato, Apology 38a); his ugly face, which concealed the beauty of his soul; his legendary self-control, which enabled him to stand for hours in the cold while meditating; his rejection of the commitment to retaliation which was central to Greek ethics: these are among the characteristics ascribed to him by his closest disciples.

But the life of Socrates might never have become resonant were it not for the manner of his death. Indicted in 399 bc at the age of seventy on the charges of neglecting the  Athenian gods, introducing new gods, and corrupting the young, Socrates was tried before a popular jury, convicted and sentenced to death. When ordered to do so, he obediently drank a cup of poisonous hemlock and calmly died, having declared that he did not fear death since he could not know it to be an evil (Plato, Apology 29a).

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