The Trial of Socrates by I. F. Stone

the trial of socrates

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I like to go through topical phases with my reading… choosing a country or time in history and reading a combination of 8 or 10 related books. Mixing it up with a combination of history, bios, memoirs, and fiction helps give a clear perspective and adds depth to understanding. Right now the focus is on Ancient Greece.

The 4th book into my Ancient Greek phase is The Trial of Socrates. The first 2 were history books covering the Trojan, Messenian, Persian, and the Peloponnesian Wars. The stories of many armed conflicts were mixed with philosophy, theology, politics, and cultural issues. The 3rd was a novel titled Aphrodite written in 1896 by the French author Pierre Louys. The Trial of Socrates therefore, followed as a welcome variation.

Focusing on politics, culture, and philosophy during the Greek Classical period of Democracy, I. F. Stone tells the story of Socrates’ rise to infamy, with analytical details about his trial and execution.

Aside from the fascinating well-told story of Socrates, there are always valuable lessons to be learned from history. Examples: One of the first- and most primary- rights to be taken away when obliterating democracy is the right to free speech. And one of the surest and most efficient ways to insure the downfall of democracy is to deprive the citizens of the right to bear arms.

Throughout the book are references to the Dialogues of Plato and Stone’s analysis provides enlightenment as to why Socrates became a martyr. He was Plato’s mentor and hero. Stone summarizes “his (Socrates) martyrdom, and the genius of Plato, made him a secular saint, the superior man confronting the ignorant mob with serenity and humor. This was Socrates’ triumph and Plato’s masterpiece. Socrates needed the hemlock, as Jesus needed the Crucifixion, to fulfill a mission. The mission left a stain forever on democracy. That remains Athens’ tragic crime.”

I can’t help but wonder though… if Socrates had been allowed to live, would he have lost his charm and faded into obscurity? At best, he appeared to be a clownish buffoon. At worst, his peers viewed him as a pompous ass. If by time travel he could miraculously be transported to America today he would be despised by everyone. He did not believe in democracy, free speech, equality, education for the poor, or the paid profession of teaching. He didn’t believe in education at all except for the elite ruling class under private tutors. For Stone to compare him to Jesus in any way is blasphemy. Socrates and Jesus were polar opposites. Nevertheless, Socrates will always be revered as the “father of philosophy.” The one thing he did bring to civilization was the power of free thought.

The Trial of Socrates is an easy book to read, rich in historical detail, deep in philosophical reflection, and sound in theory.

Rated 5 Stars.

All contents © 2015 Lois Weisberg. All rights reserved.

 

 

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