Why Was Socrates Found Guilty? Was He Fairly Tried

2988 words - 12 pages

At the time of Socrates' trial in 399 BC, Athens was still badly shaken by it's unstable political and military past. The surrender at the Battle of Aegospotami marked the loss of the Peloponnesian war to Sparta, a long and hard fought war which waged from 432-404 BC. Earlier in 411 BC a group of discontent Athenians led by Antiphon, Critias and Charmides briefly overthrew Athens? democracy and established an oligarchy. While it only lasted until 410 BC, it was still fresh in the memory of Athenian citizens when it occurred again with Sparta's victory. Sparta established a government of oligarchs known as the Thirty Tyrants in 404 BC. Critias and Charmides were both involved again, Crit ...view middle of the document...

Another important factor came about through Athens' shaky political past. The citizens became fearful and easily manipulated, well illustrated by Cleon's rise to power. The citizens soon realized what was going on however, and became rather hostile towards the Sophists who had taught the demagogues such manipulative skills. Though Socrates had little to do with this, most of the general public made no distinction between him and the Sophists, and thus again by association he was the target of hostility.The last factor was of Socrates' own doing. His daily ritual of questioning people and exposing their ignorance left the subject embarrassed and destroyed their reputation. The practice was understandably not appreciated, as Socrates acknowledges in his defense (?I incurred the resentment of the man himself and a number of others?). This resentment was only compounded when the youth who followed Socrates began to imitate his techniques and question their elders.All of these factors left people angry and resentful of Socrates, and with the decline of Athens he was just the scapegoat they were looking for. His associations with Critias and Charmides would have made it easy for Socrates to be such a scapegoat, were it not for the amnesty declared following the Thirty Tyrants which did not allow him to be tried for such ties. Thus it may have been that these ties were the real reason for his trial, but due to the amnesty the charges had to rest elsewhere. To quote Xenophon from Memorabilia, "The indictment was to this effect: "Socrates is guilty of crime in refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, and importing strange divinities of his own; he is further guilty of corrupting the young."" Facing these charges in 399 BC Socrates was brought to trial, with the prosecution led by Meletus and his two sunêgoroi (supporting prosecutors), Lycon and Anytus (a powerful politician). A jury of 501 found him guilty by a narrow margin and he was subsequently sentenced to death. But was it a just decision? The greatest problem faced in the study of Socrates is that Socrates never wrote anything himself. Everything we know of him is drawn from a variety of sources, all of which have their own biases and inaccuracies to account for. The death of Socrates gave birth to a whole new literary genre of 'Socratic' dialogues. Many were by close friends keen to defend his name, while some, such as the works of the Sophist Polycrates (who wrote a pamphlet which reproduced a version of Anytus' prosecution speech, justifying Socrates' execution) were hostile to Socrates. Unfortunately, of these dialogues only the works of Plato and Xenophon survive. There are, however, a few other sources that we can draw information from.Of all the surviving works those of Plato are both best known and most numerous. We have many of his Socratic dialogues, though it may be argued that some of the later dialogues are less representative of the real Socrates, as Plato te...


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