The Great Events by Famous Historians/Volume 2/Condemnation and Death of Socrates


B.C. 399


(The death of Socrates was brought about under the restored democracy by three of his enemies—Lycon, Meletus, and Anytus, the last a man of high rank and reputation in the state. Socrates was accused by them of despising the ancient gods of the state, introducing new divinities and corrupting the youth of Athens. He was charged with having taught his followers, young men of the first Athenian families, to despise the established government, to be turbulent and seditious, and his accusors pointed to Alcibiades and Critias, notorious for their lawlessness, as examples of the fruits of his teaching.

It is quite certain that Socrates disliked the Athenian government and considered democracy as tyrannical as despotism. But there was no law at Athens by which he could be put to death for his words and actions, and the vague charge could never have been made unless the whole trial of the philosopher had been a party movement, headed by men like Lycon and Anytus, whose support of the unjust measure made the condemnation of Socrates a foregone conclusion. Xenophon, the pupil and admirer of the philosopher, expresses in his Memorabilia of Socrates his surprise that the Athenians should have condemned to death a man of such exalted character and transparent innocence. But the influence of the teacher with his pupils, most of them sons of the wealthiest citizens, might well have been dreaded by those in office and engaged in the conduct of public business. By them, the common politicians of the day, Socrates, with his keen and witty criticism of political corruption and demagogism, must have been considered a formidable adversary.

Accordingly, by the decision of the Athenian court, the philosopher was sentenced to death by drinking a cup of hemlock. Although it was usual for criminals to be executed the day following their condemnation, he enjoyed a respite of thirty days, during which time his friends had access to his prison cell. It was the time when the ceremonial galley was crowned and sent on her pilgrimage to the holy Isle of Delos, and no criminal could be executed until her return. Socrates exhibited heroic constancy and cheerfulness during this interval, and repudiated the offers of his friends to aid in his escape, though they had chartered a ship to carry him to Thessaly. With calm composure he reasoned on the immortality of the soul, and cheered his visitors with words of hope.

The literary portraits of Socrates furnished by himself, and the writings of Plato, are among the most precious monuments of antiquity, and the life and death of such a man form a memorable era in the moral and intellectual history of mankind.

Plato, in his Phædo, or the Immortality of the Soul, gives the following dialogue between Echecrates and Phædo—two friends and disciples of the late philosopher—evidently with no other purpose in view than to lend to the account of the great teacher's last hours, and the last words his followers were to hear from his lips, the additional force and dramatic value of a personal narrative in the mouth of a loving pupil and an actual eyewitness of his death.)

Echecrates. Were you personally present, Phaedo, with Socrates on that day when he drank the poison in prison? or did you hear an account of it from someone else?

Phæd. I was there myself, Echecrates.

Ech. What then did he say before his death? and how did he die? for I should be glad to hear; for scarcely any citizen of Phlius[1] ever visits Athens now, nor has any stranger for a long time come from thence, who was able to give us a clear account of the particulars, except that he died from drinking poison; but he was unable to tell us anything more.

Phæd. And did you not hear about the trial how it went off?

Ech. Yes; some one told me this; and I wondered, that as it took place so long ago, he appears to have died long afterward. What was the reason of this, Phaedo?

Phæd. An accidental circumstance happened in his favor, Echecrates: for the poop of the ship which the Athenians send to Delos, chanced to be crowned on the day before the trial.

Ech. But what is this ship?

Phæd. It is the ship, as the Athenians say, in which Theseus formerly conveyed the fourteen boys and girls to Crete and saved both them and himself. They, therefore, made a vow to Apollo on that occasion, as it is said, that if they were saved they would every year despatch a solemn embassy to Delos; which, from that time to the present, they send yearly to the god. When they begin the preparations for this solemn embassy, they have a law that the city shall be purified during this period, and that no public execution shall take place until the ship has reached Delos, and returned to Athens: and this occasionally takes a long time, when the winds happen to impede their passage. The commencement of the embassy is when the priest of Apollo has crowned the poop of the ship. And this was done, as I said, on the day before the trial: on this account Socrates had a long interval in prison between the trial and his death.

Ech. And what, Phædo, were the circumstances of his death? what was said and done? and who of his friends were with him? or would not the magistrates allow them to be present, but did he die destitute of friends?

Phæd. By no means; but some, indeed several, were present.

Ech. Take the trouble, then, to relate to me all the particulars as clearly as you can, unless you have any pressing business.

Phæd. I am at leisure, and will endeavor to give you a full account: for to call Socrates to mind, whether speaking myself or listening to some one else, is always most delightful to me.

Ech. And indeed, Phaedo, you have others to listen to you who are of the same mind. However, endeavor to relate everything as accurately as you can.

Phæd. I was indeed wonderfully affected by being present, for I was not impressed with a feeling of pity, like one present at the death of a friend; for the man appeared to me to be happy, Echecrates, both from his manner and discourse, so fearlessly and nobly did he meet his death: so much so that it occurred to me that in going to Hades he was not going without a divine destiny, but that when he arrived there he would be happy, if anyone ever was. For this reason I was entirely uninfluenced by any feeling of pity, as would seem likely to be the case with one present on so mournful an occasion; nor was I affected by pleasure from being engaged in philosophical discussions, as was our custom; for our conversation was of that kind. But an altogether unaccountable feeling possessed me, a kind of unusual mixture compounded of pleasure and pain together, when I considered that he was immediately about to die. And all of us who were present were affected in much the same manner, at one time laughing, at another weeping one of us especially, Apollodorus, for you know the man and his manner.

Ech. How should I not?

Phæd. He, then, was entirely overcome by these emotions; and I too was troubled, as well as the others.

Ech. But who were present, Phaedo?

Phæd. Of his fellow-countrymen, this Apollodorus was present, and Critobulus, and his father Crito, moreover Hermogenes, Epigenes, Æschines, and Antisthenes; Ctesippus the Pæanian, Menexenus, and some other of his countrymen were also there: Plato I think was sick.

Ech. Were any strangers present?

Phæd. Yes: Simmias the Theban, Cebes, and Phaedondes: and from Megara, Euclides and Terpsion.

Ech. But what! were not Aristippus and Cleombrotus present?

Phæd. No: for they were said to be at Ægina.

Ech. Was anyone else there?

Phæd. I think that these were nearly all who were present.

Ech. Well, now, what do you say was the subject of conversation?

Phæd. I will endeavor to relate the whole to you from the beginning. On the preceding days I and the others were constantly in the habit of visiting Socrates, meeting early in the morning at the court-house where the trial took place, for it was near the prison. Here then we waited every day till the prison was opened, conversing with each other; for it was not opened very early, but, as soon as it was opened we went in to Socrates, and usually spent the day with him. On that occasion, however, we met earlier than usual; for on the preceding day, when we left the prison in the evening, we heard that the ship had arrived from Delos. We therefore urged each other to come as early as possible to the accustomed place; accordingly we came, and the porter, who used to admit us, coming out, told us to wait, and not enter until he called us. "For," he said, "the Eleven are now freeing Socrates from his bonds, and announcing to him that he must die to-day." But in no long time he returned, and bade us enter.

When we entered, we found Socrates just freed from his bonds, and Xantippe (you know her), holding his little boy and sitting by him. As soon as Xantippe saw us, she wept aloud and said such things as women usually do on such occasions, as, "Socrates, your friends will now converse with you for the last time, and you with them." But Socrates, looking toward Crito, said, "Crito, let some one take her home." Upon which some of Crito's attendants led her away, wailing and beating herself.

But Socrates, sitting up in bed, drew up his leg and rubbed it with his hand, and as he rubbed it said: "What an unaccountable thing, my friends, that seems to be which men call pleasure; and how wonderfully is it related toward that which appears to be its contrary, pain; in that they will not both be present to a man at the same time, yet, if anyone pursues and attains the one, he is almost always compelled to receive the other, as if they were both united together from one head.

"And it seems to me," he said, "that if Æsop had observed this he would have made a fable from it, how the Deity, wishing to reconcile these warring principles, when he could not do so, united their heads together, and from hence whomsoever the one visits the other attends immediately after; as appears to be the case with me, since I suffered pain in my leg before from the chain, but now pleasure seems to have succeeded."

Hereupon Cebes, interrupting him, said: "By Jupiter, Socrates, you have done well in reminding me. With respect to the poems which you made, by putting into metre those Fables of Æsop and the hymn to Apollo, several other persons asked me, and especially Evenus recently, with what design you made them after you came here, whereas before, you had never made any. If, therefore, you care at all that I should be able to answer Evenus when he asks me again—for I am sure he will do so—tell me what I must say to him."

"Tell him the truth then, Cebes," he replied, "that I did not make them from a wish to compete with him, or his poems, for I knew that this would be no easy matter; but that I might discover the meaning of certain dreams, and discharge my conscience, if this should happen to be the music which they have often ordered me to apply myself to. For they were to the following purport: often in my past life the same dream visited me, appearing at different times in different forms, yet always saying the same thing. 'Socrates,' it said, 'apply yourself to and practise music.' And I formerly supposed that it exhorted and encouraged me to continue the pursuit I was engaged in, as those who cheer on racers, so that the dream encouraged me to continue the pursuit I was engaged in, namely, to apply myself to music, since philosophy is the highest music, and I was devoted to it. But now since my trial took place, and the festival of the god retarded my death, it appeared to me that, if by chance the dream so frequently enjoined me to apply myself to popular music, I ought not to disobey it but do so, for that it would be safer for me not to depart hence before I had discharged my conscience by making some poems in obedience to the dream. Thus, then, I first of all composed a hymn to the god whose festival was present, and after the god, considering that a poet, if he means to be a poet, ought to make fables and not discourses, and knowing that I was not skilled in making fables, I therefore put into verse those fables of Æsop, which were at hand, and were known to me, and which first occurred to me.

"Tell this then to Evenus, Cebes, and bid him farewell, and, if he is wise, to follow me as soon as he can. But I depart, as it seems, to-day; for so the Athenians order."

To this Simmias said: "What is this, Socrates, which you exhort Evenus to do? for I often meet with him; and from what I know of him, I am pretty certain that he will not at all be willing to comply with your advice."

"What then," said he, "is not Evenus a philosopher?"

"To me he seems to be so," said Simmias.

"Then he will be willing," rejoined Socrates, "and so will everyone who worthily engages in this study; perhaps indeed he will not commit violence on himself, for that they say is not allowable." And as he said this he let down his leg from the bed on the ground, and in this posture continued during the remainder of the discussion.

Cebes then asked him: "What do you mean, Socrates, by saying that it is not lawful to commit violence on one's self, but that a philosopher should be willing to follow one who is dying?"

"What, Cebes, have not you and Simmias, who have conversed familiarly with Philolaus[2] on this subject, heard?"

"Nothing very clearly, Socrates."

"I however speak only from hearsay; what then I have heard I have no scruple in telling. And perhaps it is most becoming for one who is about to travel there, to inquire and speculate about the journey thither, what kind we think it is. What else can one do in the interval before sunset?"

"Why, then, Socrates, do they say that it is not allowable to kill one's self? for I, as you asked just now, have heard both Philolaus, when he lived with us, and several others say that it was not right to do this; but I never heard anything clear upon the subject from anyone."

"Then you should consider it attentively," said Socrates, "for perhaps you may hear: probably, however, it will appear wonderful to you, if this alone of all other things is an universal truth,[3] and it never happens to a man, as is the case in all other things, that at some times and to some persons only it is better to die than to live; yet that these men for whom it is better to die—this probably will appear wonderful to you—may not, without impiety, do this good to themselves, but must await another benefactor."

Then Cebes, gently smiling, said, speaking in his own dialect, "Jove be witness."

"And indeed," said Socrates, "it would appear to be unreasonable, yet still perhaps it has some reason on its side. The maxim indeed given on this subject in the mystical doctrines,[4] that we men are in a kind of prison, and that we ought not to free ourselves from it and escape, appears to me difficult to be understood, and not easy to penetrate. This however appears to me, Cebes, to be well said, that the gods take care of us, and that we men are one of their possessions. Does it not seem so to you?"

"It does," replied Cebes.

"Therefore," said he, "if one of your slaves were to kill himself, without your having intimated that you wished him to die, should you not be angry with him, and should you not punish him if you could?"

"Certainly," he replied.

"Perhaps then, in this point of view, it is not unreasonable to assert, that a man ought not to kill himself before the deity lays him under a necessity of doing so, such as that now laid on me."

"This, indeed," said Cebes, "appears to be probable. But what you said just now, Socrates, that philosophers should be very willing to die, appears to be an absurdity, if what we said just now is agreeable to reason, that it is God who takes care of us, and that we are his property. For that the wisest men should not be grieved at leaving that service in which they govern them who are the best of all masters, namely, the gods, is not consistent with reason. For surely he cannot think that he will take better care of himself when he has become free: but a foolish man might perhaps think thus, that he should fly from his master, and would not reflect that he ought not to fly from a good one, but should cling to him as much as possible, therefore he would fly against all reason; but a man of sense would desire to be constantly with one better than himself. Thus, Socrates, the contrary of what you just now said is likely to be the case; for it becomes the wise to be grieved at dying, but the foolish to rejoice."

Socrates, on hearing this, appeared to me to be pleased with the pertinacity of Cebes, and looking toward us said: "Cebes, you see, always searches out arguments, and is not at all willing to admit at once anything one has said."

Whereupon Simmias replied: "But indeed, Socrates, Cebes appears to me, now, to say something to the purpose; for with what design should men really wise fly from masters who are better than themselves, and so readily leave them? And Cebes appears to me to direct his argument against you, because you so easily endure to abandon both us and those good rulers—as you yourself confess—the gods."

"You speak justly," said Socrates, "for I think you mean that I ought to make my defence to this charge, as if I were in a court of justice."

"Certainly," replied Simmias.

"Come then," said he, "I will endeavor to defend myself more successfully before you than before the judges. For," he proceeded, "Simmias and Cebes, if I did not think that I should go first of all among other deities who are both wise and good, and next among men who have departed this life better than any here, I should be wrong in not grieving at death: but now be assured, I hope to go among good men, though I would not positively assert it; that, however, I shall go among gods who are perfectly good masters, be assured I can positively assert this, if I can anything of the kind. So that, on this account, I am not so much troubled, but I entertain a good hope that something awaits those who die, and that, as was said long since, it will be far better for the good than the evil."

"What then, Socrates," said Simmias, "would you go away keeping this persuasion to yourself, or would you impart it to us? For this good appears to me to be also common to us; and at the same time it will be an apology for you, if you can persuade us to believe what you say."

"I will endeavor to do so," he said. "But first let us attend to Crito here, and see what it is he seems to have for some time wished to say."

"What else, Socrates," said Crito, "but what he who is to give you the poison told me some time ago, that I should tell you to speak as little as possible? For he says that men become too much heated by speaking, and that nothing of this kind ought to interfere with the poison, and that, otherwise, those who did so were sometimes compelled to drink two or three times."

To which Socrates replied: "Let him alone, and let him attend to his own business, and prepare to give it me twice, or, if occasion requires, even thrice."

"I was almost certain what you would say," answered Crito, "but he has been some time pestering me."

"Never mind him," he rejoined.

"But now I wish to render an account to you, my judges, of the reason why a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy, when he is about to die appears to me, on good grounds, to have confidence, and to entertain a firm hope that the greatest good will befall him in the other world, when he has departed this life. How then this comes to pass, Simmias and Cebes, I will endeavor to explain.

"For as many as rightly apply themselves to philosophy seem to have left all others in ignorance, that they aim at nothing else than to die and be dead. If this then is true, it would surely be absurd to be anxious about nothing else than this during their whole life, but when it arrives, to be grieved at what they have been long anxious about and aimed at."

Upon this, Simmias, smiling, said: "By Jupiter, Socrates, though I am not now at all inclined to smile, you have made me do so; for I think that the multitude, if they heard this, would think it was very well said in reference to philosophers, and that our countrymen particularly would agree with you, that true philosophers do desire death, and that they are by no means ignorant that they deserve to suffer it."

"And indeed, Simmias, they would speak the truth, except in asserting that they are not ignorant; for they are ignorant of the sense in which true philosophers desire to die, and in what sense they deserve death, and what kind of death. But," he said, "let us take leave of them, and speak to one another. Do we think that death is anything?"

"Certainly," replied Simmias.

"Is it anything else than the separation of the soul from the body? and is not this to die, for the body to be apart by itself separated from the soul, and for the soul to subsist apart by itself separated from the body? Is death anything else than this?"

"No, but this," he replied.

"Consider then, my good friend, whether you are of the same opinion as me; for thus I think we shall understand better the subject we are considering. Does it appear to you to be becoming in a philosopher to be anxious about pleasures, as they are called, such as meats and drinks?"

"By no means, Socrates," said Simmias.

"But what? about the pleasures of love?"

"Not at all"

"What then? does such a man appear to you to think other bodily indulgences of value? for instance, does he seem to you to value or despise the possession of magnificent garments and sandals, and other ornaments of the body, except so far as necessity compels him to use them?"

"The true philosopher," he answered, "appears to me to despise them."

"Does not, then," he continued, "the whole employment of such a man appear to you to be, not about the body, but to separate himself from it as much as possible, and be occupied about his soul?"

"It does."

"First of all, then, in such matters, does not the philosopher, above all other men, evidently free his soul as much as he can from communion with the body?"

"It appears so."

"And it appears, Simmias, to the generality of men, that he who takes no pleasure in such things, and who does not use them, does not deserve to live; but that he nearly approaches to death who cares nothing for the pleasures that subsist through the body."

"You speak very truly."

"But what with respect to the acquisition of wisdom, is the body an impediment or not, if anyone takes it with him as a partner in the search? What I mean is this: Do sight and hearing convey any truth to men, or are they such as the poets constantly sing, who say that we neither hear nor see anything with accuracy? If, however, these bodily senses are neither accurate nor clear, much less can the others be so: for they are all far inferior to these. Do they not seem so to you?"

"Certainly," he replied.

"When, then," said he, "does the soul light on the truth? for, when it attempts to consider anything in conjunction with the body, it is plain that it is then led astray by it."

"You say truly."

"Must it not then be by reasoning, if at all, that any of the things that really are become known to it?"


"And surely the soul then reasons best when none of these things disturbs it, neither hearing, nor sight, nor pain, nor pleasure of any kind, but it retires as much as possible within itself, taking leave of the body, and, as far as it can, not communicating or being in contact with it, it aims at the discovery of that which is."

"Such is the case."

"Does not then the soul of the philosopher, in these cases, despise the body, and flee from it, and seek to retire within itself?"

"It appears so."

"But what as to such things as these, Simmias? Do we say that justice itself is something or nothing?"

"We say it is something, by Jupiter."

"And that beauty and goodness are something?"

"How not?"

"Now, then, have you ever seen anything of this kind with your eyes?"

"By no means," he replied.

"Did you ever lay hold of them by any other bodily sense? but I speak generally, as of magnitude, health, strength, and, in a word, of the essence of everything, that is to say, what each is. Is then the exact truth of these perceived by means of the body, or is it thus, whoever among us habituates himself to reflect most deeply and accurately on each several thing about which he is considering, he will make the nearest approach to the knowledge of it?"


"Would not he, then, do this with the utmost purity, who should in the highest degree approach each subject by means of the mere mental faculties, neither employing the sight in conjunction with the reflective faculty, nor introducing any other sense together with reasoning; but who, using pure reflection by itself, should attempt to search out each essence purely by itself, freed as much as possible from the eyes and ears, and, in a word, from the whole body, as disturbing the soul, and not suffering it to acquire truth and wisdom, when it is in communion with it. Is not he the person, Simmias, if any one can, who will arrive at the knowledge of that which is?"

"You speak with wonderful truth, Socrates," replied Simmias.

"Wherefore," he said, "it necessarily follows from all this, that some such opinion as this should be entertained by genuine philosophers, so that they should speak among themselves as follows: 'A by-path, as it were, seems to lead us on in our researches undertaken by reason,' because as long as we are encumbered with the body, and our soul is contaminated with such an evil, we can never fully attain to what we desire; and this, we say, is truth. For the body subjects us to innumerable hinderances on account of its necessary support, and moreover if any diseases befall us, they impede us in our search after that which is; and it fills us with longings, desires, fears, all kinds of fancies, and a multitude of absurdities, so that, as it is said in real truth, by reason of the body it is never possible for us to make any advances in wisdom.

"For nothing else but the body and its desires occasions wars, seditions, and contests; for all wars among us arise on account of our desire to acquire wealth; and we are compelled to acquire wealth on account of the body, being enslaved to its service; and consequently on all these accounts we are hindered in the pursuit of philosophy. But the worst of all is, that if it leaves us any leisure, and we apply ourselves to the consideration of any subject, it constantly obtrudes itself in the midst of our researches, and occasions trouble and disturbance, and confounds us so that we are not able by reason of it to discern the truth. It has then in reality been demonstrated to us, that if we are ever to know anything purely, we must be separated from the body, and contemplate the things themselves by the mere soul. And then, as it seems, we shall obtain that which we desire, and which we profess ourselves to be lovers of, wisdom, when we are dead, as reason shows, but not while we are alive. For if it is not possible to know anything purely in conjunction with the body, one of these two things must follow, either that we can never acquire knowledge, or only after we are dead; for then the soul will subsist apart by itself, separate from the body, but not before. And while we live, we shall thus, as it seems, approach nearest to knowledge, if we hold no intercourse or communion at all with the body, except what absolute necessity requires, nor suffer ourselves to be polluted by its nature, but purify ourselves from it, until God himself shall release us. And thus being pure, and freed from the folly of body, we shall in all likelihood be with others like ourselves, and shall of ourselves know the whole real essence, and that probably is truth; for it is not allowable for the impure to attain to the pure. Such things, I think, Simmias, all true lovers of wisdom must both think and say to one another. Does it not seem so to you?"

"Most assuredly, Socrates."

"If this, then," said Socrates, "is true, my friend, there is great hope for one who arrives where I am going, there, if anywhere, to acquire that perfection for the sake of which we have taken so much pains during our past life; so that the journey now appointed me is set out upon with good hope, and will be so by any other man who thinks that his mind has been as it were purified.

"This earth and the whole region here are decayed and corroded, as things in the sea by the saltness; for nothing of any value grows in the sea, nor, in a word, does it contain anything perfect, but there are caverns, and sand, and mud in abundance, and filth in whatever parts of the sea there is earth, nor are they at all worthy to be compared with the beautiful things with us. But, on the other hand, those things in the upper regions of the earth would appear far more to excel the things with us. For, if we may tell a beautiful fable, it is well worth hearing, Simmias, what kind the things are on the earth beneath the heavens."

"Indeed, Socrates," said Simmias, "we should be very glad to hear that fable."

"First of all, then, my friend," he continued, "this earth, if anyone should survey it from above, is said to have the appearance of balls covered with twelve different pieces of leather, variegated and distinguished with colors, of which the colors found here, and which painters use, are as it were copies. But there the whole earth is composed of such, and far more brilliant and pure than these; for one part of it is purple, and of wonderful beauty, part of a golden color, and part of white, more white than chalk or snow, and in like manner composed of other colors, and those more in number and more beautiful than any we have ever beheld. And those very hollow parts of the earth, though filled with water and air, exhibit a certain species of color, shining among the variety of other colors, so that one continually variegated aspect presents itself to the view. In this earth, being such, all things that grow grow in a manner proportioned to its nature—trees, flowers, and fruits; and again, in like manner, its mountains and stones possess, in the same proportion, smoothness and transparency and more beautiful colors; of which the well-known stones here that are so highly prized are but fragments, such as sardin-stones, jaspers, and emeralds, and all of that kind. But there, there is nothing subsists that is not of this character, and even more beautiful than these.

"But the reason of this is, because the stones there are pure, and not eaten up and decayed, like those here, by rottenness and saltness, which flow down hither together, and which produce deformity and disease in the stones and the earth, and in other things, even animals and plants. But that earth is adorned with all these, and moreover with gold and silver, and other things of the kind: for they are naturally conspicuous, being numerous and large, and in all parts of the earth; so that to behold it is a sight for the blessed. There are also many other animals and men upon it, some dwelling in mid-earth, others about the air, as we do about the sea, and others in islands which the air flows round, and which are near the continent: and in one word, what water and the sea are to us for our necessities, the air is to them; and what air is to us, that ether is to them.

"But their seasons are of such a temperament that they are free from disease, and live for a much longer time than those here, and surpass us in sight, hearing, and smelling, and everything of this kind, as much as air excels water, and ether air, in purity. Moreover, they have abodes and temples of the gods, in which gods really dwell, and voices and oracles, and sensible visions of the gods, and such-like intercourse with them; the sun, too, and moon, and stars, are seen by them such as they really are, and their felicity in other respects is correspondent with these things.

"And such, indeed, is the nature of the whole earth and the parts about the earth; but there are many places all round it throughout its cavities, some deeper and more open than that in which we dwell: but others that are deeper have less chasm than in our region, and other are shallower in depth than they are here, and broader.

"But all these are in many places perforated one into another under the earth, some with narrower and some with wider channels, and have passages through, by which a great quantity of water flows from one into another, as into basins, and there are immense bulks of ever-flowing rivers under the earth, both of hot and cold water, and a great quantity of fire, and mighty rivers of fire, and many of liquid mire, some purer and some more miry, as in Sicily there are rivers of mud that flow before the lava, and the lava itself, and from these the several places are filled, according as the overflow from time to time happens to come to each of them. But all these move up and down as it were by a certain oscillation existing in the earth. And this oscillation proceeds from such natural cause as this: one of the chasms of the earth is exceedingly large, and perforated through the entire earth, and is that which Homer[5] speaks of, 'very far off, where is the most profound abyss beneath the earth,' which elsewhere both he and many other poets have called Tartarus. For into this chasm all rivers flow together, and from it flow out again, but they severally derive their character from the earth through which they flow."

"And the reason why all streams flow out from thence and flow into it is because this liquid has neither bottom nor base. Therefore it oscillates and fluctuates up and down, and the air and the wind around it do the same; for they accompany it, both when it rushes to those parts of the earth, and when to these. And as in respiration the flowing breath is continually breathed out and drawn in, so there the wind, oscillating with the liquid, causes certain vehement and irresistible winds both as it enters and goes out. When, therefore, the water rushing in descends to the place which we call the lower region, it flows through the earth into the streams there and fills them, just as men pump up water. But when again it leaves those regions and rushes hither, it again fills the rivers here, and these, when filled, flow through channels and through the earth, and having severally reached the several places to which they are journeying, they make seas, lakes, rivers, and fountains.

"Then sinking again from thence beneath the earth, some of them having gone round longer and more numerous places, and others round fewer and shorter, they again discharge themselves into Tartarus, some much lower than they were drawn up, others only a little so, but all of them flow in again beneath the point at which they flowed out. And some issue out directly opposite the place by which they flow in, others on the same side: there are also some which having gone round altogether in a circle, folding themselves once or several times round the earth, like serpents, when they had descended as low as possible, discharge themselves again; and it is possible for them to descend on either side as far as the middle, but not beyond; for in each direction there is an acclivity to the streams both ways.

"Now there are many other large and various streams, and among this great number there are four certain streams, of which the largest, and that which flows most outwardly round the earth, is called Ocean, but directly opposite this, and flowing in a contrary direction, is Acheron, which flows through other desert places, and moreover passing under the earth, reaches the Acherusian lake, where the souls of most who die arrive, and having remained there for certain destined periods, some longer and some shorter, are again sent forth into the generations of animals. A third river issues midway between these, and near its source falls into a vast region, burning with abundance of fire, and forms a lake larger than our sea, boiling with water and mud; from hence it proceeds in a circle, turbulent and muddy, and folding itself round it reaches both other places and the extremity of the Acherusian lake, but does not mingle with its water; but folding itself oftentimes beneath the earth, it discharges itself into the lower parts of Tartarus. And this is the river which they call Pyriphlegethon, whose burning streams emit dissevered fragments in whatever part of the earth they happen to be. Opposite to this again the fourth river first falls into a place dreadful and savage, as it is said, having its whole color like cyanus: this they call Stygian, and the lake which the river forms by its discharge, Styx. This river having fallen in here, and received awful power in the water, sinking beneath the earth, proceeds, folding itself round, in an opposite course to Pyriphlegethon, and meets it in the Acherusian lake from a contrary direction. Neither does the water of this river mingle with any other, but it, too, having gone round in a circle, discharges itself into Tartarus opposite to Pyriphlegethon. Its name, as the poets say, is Cocytus.

"These things being thus constituted, when the dead arrive at the place to which their demon leads them severally, first of all they are judged, as well those who have lived well and piously as those who have not. And those who appear to have passed a middle kind of life, proceeding to Acheron, and embarking in the vessels they have, on these arrive at the lake, and there dwell, and when they are purified, and have suffered punishment for the iniquities they may have committed, they are set free, and each receives the reward of his good deeds, according to his deserts: but those who appear to be incurable, through the magnitude of their offences, either from having committed many and great sacrileges, or many unjust and lawless murders, or other similar crimes, these a suitable destiny hurls into Tartarus, whence they never come forth.

"But those who appear to have been guilty of curable yet great offences, such as those who through anger have committed any violence against father or mother, and have lived the remainder of their life in a state of penitence, or they who have become homicides in a similar manner, these must of necessity fall into Tartarus, but after they have fallen, and have been there for a year, the wave casts them forth, the homicides into Cocytus, but the parricides and matricides into Pyriphlegethon: but when, being borne along, they arrive at the Acherusian lake, there they cry out to and invoke, some those whom they slew, others those whom they injured, and invoking them they entreat and implore them to suffer them to go out into the lake, and to receive them, and if they persuade them they go out and are freed from their sufferings; but if not, they are borne back to Tartarus, and thence again to the rivers, and they do not cease from suffering this until they have persuaded those whom they have injured, for this sentence was imposed on them by the judges.

"But those who are found to have lived an eminently holy life, these are they who, being freed and set at large from these regions in the earth, as from a prison, arrive at the pure abode above, and dwell on the upper parts of the earth. And among these, they who have sufficiently purified themselves by philosophy shall live without bodies, throughout all future time, and shall arrive at habitations yet more beautiful than these, which it is neither easy to describe nor at present is there sufficient time for the purpose.

"But for the sake of these things which we have described, we should use every endeavor, Simmias, so as to acquire virtue and wisdom in this life; for the reward is noble, and the hope great.

"To affirm positively, indeed, that these things are exactly as I have described them does not become a man of sense; that however either this or something of the kind takes place with respect to our souls and their habitations—since our soul is certainly immortal—this appears to me most fitting to be believed, and worthy the hazard for one who trusts in its reality; for the hazard is noble, and it is right to allure ourselves with such things, as with enchantments; for which reason I have prolonged my story to such a length.

"On account of these things, then, a man ought to be confident about his soul who during this life has disregarded all the pleasures and ornaments of the body as foreign from his nature, and who, having thought that they do more harm than good, has zealously applied himself to the acquirement of knowledge, and who having adorned his soul not with a foreign but its own proper ornament—temperance, justice, fortitude, freedom, and truth—thus waits for his passage to Hades, as one who is ready to depart whenever destiny shall summon him. You, then," he continued, "Simmias and Cebes, and the rest, will each of you depart at some future time; but now 'destiny summons me,' as a tragic writer would say, and it is nearly time for me to betake myself to the bath; for it appears to me to be better to drink the poison after I have bathed myself, and not to trouble the women with washing my dead body."

When he had thus spoken, Crito said: "So be it, Socrates, but what commands have you to give to these or to me, either respecting your children or any other matter, in attending to which we can most oblige you?"

"What I always say, Crito," he replied, "nothing new; that by taking care of yourselves you will oblige both me and mine and yourselves, whatever you do, though you should not now promise it; but if you neglect yourselves, and will not live as it were in the footsteps of what has been now and formerly said, even though you should promise much at present, and that earnestly, you will do no good at all."

"We will endeavor then so to do," he said; "but how shall we bury you?"

"Just as you please," he said, "if only you can catch me, and I do not escape from you." And at the same time smiling gently, and looking round on us, he said: "I cannot persuade Crito, my friends, that I am that Socrates who is now conversing with you, and who methodizes each part of the discourse; but he thinks that I am he whom he will shortly behold dead, and asks how he should bury me. But that which I some time since argued at length, that when I have drunk the poison I shall no longer remain with you, but shall depart to some happy state of the blessed, this I seem to have urged to him in vain, though I meant at the same time to console both you and myself. Be ye then my sureties to Crito," he said, "in an obligation contrary to that which he made to the judges; for he undertook that I should remain; but do you be sureties that, when I die, I shall not remain, but shall depart, that Crito may more easily bear it, and when he sees my body either burnt or buried, may not be afflicted for me, as if I suffered some dreadful thing, nor say at my interment that Socrates is laid out, or is carried out, or is buried.

"For be well assured," he said, "most excellent Crito, that to speak improperly is not only culpable as to the thing itself, but likewise occasions some injury to our souls. You must have a good courage, then, and say that you bury my body, and bury it in such a manner as is pleasing to you, and as you think is most agreeable to our laws."

When he had said thus he rose and went into a chamber to bathe, and Crito followed him, but he directed us to wait for him. We waited, therefore, conversing among ourselves about what had been said, and considering it again, and sometimes speaking about our calamity, how severe it would be to us, sincerely thinking that, like those who are deprived of a father, we should pass the rest of our life as orphans. When he had bathed, and his children were brought to him, for he had two little sons, and one grown up; and the women belonging to his family were come, having conversed with them in the presence of Crito and given them such injunctions as he wished, he directed the women and children to go away, and then returned to us. And it was now near sunset; for he spent a considerable time within.

But when he came from bathing he sat down, and did not speak much afterward; then the officer of the Eleven came in, and standing near him, said: "Socrates, I shall not have to find that fault with you that I do with others, that they are angry with me and curse me, when, by order of the archons, I bid them drink the poison. But you, on all other occasions during the time you have been here, I have found to be the most noble, meek, and excellent man of all that ever came into this place; and therefore I am now well convinced that you will not be angry with me (for you know who are to blame) but with them. Now, then, for you know what I came to announce to you, farewell; and endeavor to bear what is inevitable as easily as possible." And at the same time, bursting into tears, he turned away and withdrew.

And Socrates, looking after him, said: "And thou too, farewell; we will do as you direct." At the same time turning to us, he said: "How courteous the man is; during the whole time I have been here he has visited me, and conversed with me sometimes, and proved the worthiest of men; and now how generously he weeps for me. But come, Crito, let us obey him, and let some one bring the poison, if it is ready pounded, but if not, let the man pound it."

Then Crito said: "But I think, Socrates, that the sun is still on the mountains and has not yet set. Besides, I know that others have drunk the poison very late, after it had been announced to them, and have supped and drunk freely, and some even have enjoyed the objects of their love. Do not hasten, then, for there is yet time."

Upon this Socrates replied: "These men whom you mention, Crito, do these things with good reason, for they think they shall gain by so doing, and I too with good reason shall not do so; for I think I shall gain nothing by drinking a little later, except to become ridiculous to myself, in being so fond of life, and sparing of it when none any longer remains. Go, then," he said, "obey, and do not resist."

Crito having heard this, nodded to the boy that stood near. And the boy having gone out, and stayed for some time, came, bringing with him the man that was to administer the poison, who brought it ready pounded in a cup. And Socrates, on seeing the man, said: "Well, my good friend, as you are skilled in these matters, what must I do?"

"Nothing else," he replied, "than when you have drunk it walk about until there is a heaviness in your legs, then lie down; thus it will do its purpose." And at the same time he held out the cup to Socrates. And he having received it very cheerfully, Echecrates, neither trembling nor changing at all in color or countenance, but, as he was wont, looking steadfastly at the man, said: "What say you of this potion, with respect to making a libation to anyone, is it lawful or not?"

"We only pound so much, Socrates," he said, "as we think sufficient to drink."

"I understand you," he said; "but it is certainly both lawful and right to pray to the gods, that my departure hence thither may be happy; which therefore I pray, and so may it be." And as he said this he drank it off readily and calmly. Thus far, most of us were with difficulty able to restrain ourselves from weeping, but when we saw him drinking, and having finished the draught, we could do so no longer; but in spite of myself the tears came in full torrent, so that, covering my face, I wept for myself, for I did not weep for him, but for my own fortune, in being deprived of such a friend. But Crito, even before me when he could not restrain his tears, had risen up.

But Apollodorus, even before this, had not ceased weeping, and then bursting into an agony of grief, weeping and lamenting, he pierced the heart of everyone present except Socrates himself. But he said: "What are you doing, my admirable friends? I indeed, for this reason chiefly, sent away the women that they might not commit any folly of this kind. For I have heard that it is right to die with good omens. Be quiet, therefore, and bear up."

When we heard this we were ashamed and restrained our tears. But he, having walked about, when he said that his legs were growing heavy, laid down on his back; for the man so directed him. And at the same time he who gave him the poison, taking hold of him, after a short interval examined his feet and legs; and then having pressed his foot hard, he asked if he felt it.

He said that he did not.

And after this he pressed his thighs; and thus going higher, he showed us that he was growing cold and stiff.

Then Socrates touched himself, and said that when the poison reached his heart he should then depart.

But now the parts around the lower belly were almost cold; when, uncovering himself (for he had been covered over), he said, and they were his last words: "Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius; pay it, therefore, and do not neglect it!"

"It shall be done," said Crito; "but consider whether you have anything else to say?"

To this question he gave no reply; but shortly after he gave a convulsive movement, and the man covered him, and his eyes were fixed; and Crito, perceiving it, closed his mouth and eyes.

This, Echecrates, was the end of our friend, a man, as we may say, the best of all of his time that we have known, and, moreover, the most wise and just.


  1. Phlius, to which Echecrates belonged, was a town of Sicyonia in Peloponnesus.
  2. A Pythagorean of Crotona.
  3. Namely, "that it is better to die than live."
  4. Of Pythagoras.
  5. Iliad, lib. viii., v. 14.