Socrates And Impiety Essay, Research Paper
Who was Socrates?
Socrates was born and raised as a native Athenian. He was a stonecutter by trade and spent most of his life in poverty. He was married to his wife Xanthippe and had three sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus (named for Socrates’ father), and Menexenus. Socrates spent much of his time in the agora conversing about ethical issues to his many followers. He had a fondness for exposing hypocrisy, ignorance, and conceit among his fellow Athenians. At the time of his trial Socrates was approximately 70. He was admired as a philosopher and for his willingness to explore arguments their conclusion and his moral courage to accept the consequences.
The Judicial Process:
At the time of Socrates trial Athens had no police as we have today. Justice was kept through the citizens. If an injustice had been committed it was the responsibility of some individual to put forth a charge. He then had to attend the trial and present a case before a jury consisting of 501 men. The jury commonly consisted of a wide range of men. Some of the jurors were old men who attended court as a hobby for their free time, the very poor who attended just to receive a small wage and the very rich who could afford to spend their free time in such ways. After the prosecution made their speech, the defense had a change to present their case. Each of which was timed, usually by a water clock (fig 2). After each argument the jury voted. If a man was found guilty then the next step was to determine the punishment. The prosecution argued for one punishment, the defense another, and the jury chose between the two.
In 399 B.C Socrates was charged for “not believing in the gods in which the city believes, and of introducing other new divinities. He is also guilty of corrupting the young. The penalty proposed is death.” Socrates accusers consisted of three men, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. Meletus was considered young for his day and was probably far less skilled in the political sense than his counterpart Anytus. Anytus, a wealthy man and failed general, was a strong political leader. Whereas Meletus was concerned for Socrates religious impiety, Anytus was more concerned with Socrates corrupting the youth. Little is known about the third accuser Lycon but it is thought that he too held a grudge against Socrates.
Socrates faced the difficult task of presenting his case before an audience far larger than he was used to, and arguing his innocence in less than a day. Socrates case is depicted in Plato’s Apology. He argued his case and stated his innocence before concluding on a note about his integrity and his family. The jury then voted on the charge against him and found him guilty 281 to not guilty 220. Thus the trial moved on to the second stage of determining the punishment. Meletus argued for the death penalty while Socrates after initially arguing that he should be rewarded argued for a fine. The jury once again sided with Meletus and Socrates was sentenced to death. Before ended the trial Socrates presented a closing argument to the jury. He told those who voted to
kill him that they were doing a great injustice. To those who would have acquitted him, he said that he was not afraid of dying but looked forward to continuing his philosophical questioning with the heroes in Hades.
Socrates was not well liked by many of his fellow Athenians. He was notorious for exposing the hypocrisy and ignorance of men considered to be wise or powerful. Socrates was also regarded as a Sophist. Sophists were professional teachers hired by the rich to give their children higher education. These men were notorious for imposing new attitudes on their disciples about traditions, myths, and morals. In a society that revered the gods and feared punishment it was no laughing matter that many of the young aristocrats were mocking superstition. They tempted the gods, dined on unlucky days, mutilated the sacred hermae. Many may have thought this impiety as the cause of years of hardship faced by Athens shortly before the trial. In 431 BC Athens, the greatest power in the Greek world, was attacked and overthrown and not re-established until 403 BC.