Greek Society Vs. Socrates Essay, Research Paper
Greek Society vs. Socrates
What make a man virtuous? Throughout many texts of Greek society the picture of a perfect man is painted and apparent. This man, the ?perfect man?, is the virtuous Greek citizen. Who is virtuous not only in the eyes of society, but also at home, in war, and in his relationship to the God(s). Also in Greek society, there was a man named Socrates who?s opinion differed with his culture?s thoughts, and he constructed his own thoughts and beliefs of what characteristics a virtuous man should hold. Not only did Greek society have thoughts of what their virtuous man should be; Roman society did as well. All cultures have a belief of what a virtuous human is and it is described in four ways: in the home, at war, political life, and one?s relationship to the God(s).
First, Greek society?s virtuous man was noble. Noble men in Greek society ?lived to prove their strength and honor in combat against their equals, which was the one true test of social value? (Kishlansky 44). The virtuous man is described as a great warrior in Greek society. For example, in Homer?s
The Iliad, Achilles is described as the greatest warrior in the world. Also, he was practically invulnerable as a fighter because at birth, his moth had dipped him in the River Styx, rendering him immortal everywhere but the heel, where she had held him (Sources of the West 40). As apparent by Achilles reputation as the greatest warrior in the world it is evident that society held him up as the example of a virtuous man.
Virtuous men in Greek society were not only warriors but fathers as well. The head of the household was in charge of perpetuating the family, worshiping acncestors, maintaining family?s economic worth, insisted good dowries for children, and took care of elderly parents. A virtuous man was not only noble and head of the household, but a leader in the political aspect of the polis he lived within. Aristocrats, who were free men, had the privilege of sitting on juries and also to help make the laws that governed the polis.
The virtuous man was also very religious and in charge of his family?s worshiping of the polis? Gods and also the worshiping of the family?s ancestors. Noble men were very athletic and participated in games to help honor the Gods and prepare themselves for war. These athletic competitions were held in gymnasiums; which was the central feature of the polis. The gymnasiums gave the successful athlete the opportunity to honor his family and polis, and also brought the athlete closer to the Gods after winning.
The picture of a virtuous man in Greek society was one that was able to obtain many victories, serve his polis politically, worship the Gods, and run a household. The man all men tried to become is perfect in every way in personal and public life. He was powerful, intelligent, resourceful, cunning, and skillful. This man would take care of his family and make the decisions of the house, serve in the army, serve his polis on juries, and also worship his Gods. It is hard to believe one man would be able to accomplish so much and if he would be able to he would be considered virtuous by his polis and family.
Secondly, a man named Socrates had a different way to think about what characteristics a virtuous man should hold. Socrates had eminently contrary beliefs than the polis of Athens that he lived within. In Plato?s Apology, Socrates states in his own defense to the jury, that his main interests in life lie in moral conduct and the soul?s welfare. He did not believe that being a virtuous man pertains to only those who serve in the army or the political realm of the polis, but only those who look within themselves and only do what God would want them to do. This to Socrates was a virtuous man.
Socrates believes a virtuous man is one who can understand his own being and worth. During his trial in Apology, an oracle said Socrates is the wisest of men. Socrates himself was disturbed by such a bold allegation, but continued to question a group of wise men to determine if they were indeed wise. He came to the conclusion that he oracle was indeed correct: whereas others are unaware of their limitations, Socrates at least knows and acknowledges his own ignorance. Further investigation by Socrates leads him to the final conclusion that many Athenians
who consider themselves wise are more foolish than lesser men (Plato, Apology). Socrates understands his being by knowing his limits and own ignorance. This makes him a virtuous man in his mind.
Knowing one?s true self is not the only characteristic of a virtuous man to Socrates. A virtuous man does not question other human beings, but takes what they have bestowed upon him as God?s command. Socrates believed that one God decides the fate of every human being, and that if he was to die by the hands of Athens then he shall. Crito urged Socrates to escape the prison, which he was being held within, but Socrates knew he would only be disgracing himself if he escaped. Socrates would not be able to live with himself because he would be disobeying God in order to save his own life. To Socrates, death is preferable to disgrace. He chose to live according to God?s command in order to fulfill his mission as a philosopher. Socrates believes that escaping from an imposed prison sentence would be wrong and would jeopardize his principles for which he stands. He also realizes that he has a duty to Athens and must pay back the judgment of the courts. Socrates notes that the obedience to the law will be the supreme test of Socrates? lifelong philosophy, therefore, he must not avoid death at the cost of principle (Crito).
Socrates was a virtuous man because of the principles he stood upon. He would not crumble and escape from his death sentence because of his morals. He not only died at the expense of not disgracing his own self, but also because of what God would have thought of him. To Socrates there was no excuse to be a disgrace in his God?s eyes.
Greek society and Socrates both had very different examples of the virtuous man. In Greek society the polis and peers deemed whether a man was virtuous or not. However, in Socrates? view the only kind of person who would be named virtuous was one who was able to follow God?s order without question. Hence, society believed they where able to create themselves virtuous, but in the eyes of Socrates God was the only one who was able to reward a person of virtuousness. Ways society judged virtuousness was by the man?s ability to fight, maintain control of his household, and worshiping his ancestors and the polis? Gods. These virtues where not important to Socrates, because he believed in himself and his morals. Things Socrates did that God deemed moral was the way in which Socrates measured his own virtues. I think Socrates was correct; it should not matter what a person?s peers think but only what God thinks, because when the time comes God?s judgement is the only one that really matters.