The classical Athenian philosopher Socrates was tried in 399 BCE on the basis of two notoriously ambiguous charges: corrupting the youth and impiety. A majority of the 501 dikasts (Athenian citizen-jurors) voted to convict him. Socrates was ultimately sentenced to death by drinking a hemlock-based liquid. This well-known account of the trial is by Plato. Whether Socrates was punished unjustly is a contested issue which to this day inspires discussions about the nature and meaning of justice.
THESE dialogues contain a unique picture of
Socrates in the closing scenes of his life, his
trial, his imprisonment, and his death. And
they contain a description also of that unflagging
search after truth, that persistent and merciless
examination and sifting of men who were wise
only in their own conceit, to which his latter
years were devoted. Within these limits he
is the most familiar figure of ancient Greek
history. No one else stands out before us with
so individual and distinct a personality of his
own. Of the rest of Socrates’ life, however, we
are almost completely ignorant. All that we
know of it consists of a few scattered and
isolated facts, most of which are referred to in
these dialogues. A considerable number of
stories are told about him by late writers : but
to scarcely any of them can credit be given.
Plato and Xenophon are almost the only trust-
worthy authorities about him who remain ; and
they describe him almost altogether as an old
man. The earlier part of his life is to us
scarcely more than a blank.