The trial and ultimate death of Socrates may possibly be one of the most unjust verdicts imposed in the world’s history. Socrates was merely a radical thinker in a transitional time in Athens, and after Athens lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta, Socrates’ principles were just not tolerated. Roman westward expansion and militant domination had yet to happen, as did the trial and death of Jesus Christ.
The year was 399 BCE and Athens was a strong and proven democratic government. Athenians were wonderfully romantic people. They loved their arts, nature, and literature, and their democracy. They had produced great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon. Athenian society was better educated in reading and writing compared to others. They had a well-established middle class that was the supporting structure for their trading government. The Athenians were at a patriotic climax after resisting Persian expansion side by side with their Spartan allies. Even though both converged to defend their freedom against Persia in the Fifth
Century BCE, the tyranny of the Spartans had a habit of clashing with the democracy of Athens. Sparta was a militaristic state. They enslaved their citizens and in prevention of a slave revolt, had also become a police state as well. Its youth was trained in war tactics and Sparta was well known for having some of the best soldiers in Greece. Sparta was not a trading state and not nearly as creative as Athens. This lack of understanding very basically led to the Peloponnesian War (431 – 404 BCE).
Athens devastatingly lost the Peloponnesian War. They had lost their democracy, and one of their greatest philosophical speakers was about to follow. Five years after the war ended, Socrates was put to trial on counts of impiety to the gods and corruption of the youth. These charges seemed to lack any real substance; they seemed to be thought up by the threatened leaders of the state. It seemed as if "…men [had] established laws to serve their own advantages" (Cicero, On Justice) and Socrates was rather on trial for his non-conformity and threatening curiosity. It was similar to the hidden agenda of America\'s Republican partisans in dealing with the recent Clinton scandals. Although Socrates was not the leader of a world super power in the twentieth century, the conservative elite attempted to illegitimately take away his influence on his society. At the age of seventy years old, Socrates was put on trial to defend his life. One of his pupils, Plato, was there for the historical account of the trial. As the trial progressed, we were allowed to get a second-hand look over Plato’s shoulder into the mind of Socrates.
Socrates was a curious person who’s curiosity led to accusations of being an evildoer who searches for answers to life under the earth and above in the heavens. But how can a civilization push forward in its theology if there is not someone there to question it? To me, the fear and confusion of many of Socrates’ fellow Athenians can not be displayed more clearly than in this accusation. Even if Socrates did search for different answers and different gods, would not the supposed divine solidity of the majority’s religious belief prevail in any such test?
There were rumors that Socrates had been strangely asserting himself to be the wisest man of all. These rumors may have been true considering that upon news that the Delphian Oracle had pronounced Socrates to be the wisest of all men, Socrates tested his apparent wisdom by speaking with other wise men. "What can the God mean?" Socrates thought, "…I know that I have no wisdom". So Socrates proceeded to search for men who he knew had to be wiser than he was because knew that he, in fact, knew nothing at all. Socrates interviewed politicians, artisans, and poets finding they were poor interpreters of their own talents and knowledge. Ironically, it was his knowledge of lack of knowledge that made Socrates wiser than any of the individuals he had interviewed. Again, this seemed to childishly threaten and scare his accusers Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon.
Socrates was obviously a man of modesty. He urged society to explore itself from within; pushing Athenian civilization like as a gadfly to "examine" all aspects of life and to