Socrates

Socrates is the celebrated Greek philosopher and moralist, was born at Athens in the year 469 B.C. His father, Sophroniskus, was a sculptor and he followed the same profession in the early part of his life. His family was respectable in descent, but humble in point of means.

He had the usual education of the Athenian citizen, and readings in the Greek poets, but also the elements of arithmetic, geometry and astronomy as then known. Excepting in connection with his philosophical career, few circumstances of his life are known. He served as a hoplite, or heavy-armed foot-soldier, at the siege of Potidaea, at the battle of Deliurn, and at Amphipolis, and his bravery and endurance were greatly extolled by his friends.

Apart from a brief spell in the army, it is not clear how Socrates earnt a living; but he attracted a group of young men, who came to learn and study with Socrates. Socrates sought to teach through a path of self-enquiry. He did not claim to have the answers; he would merely ask questions to his students, forcing them to think for themselves and question their own dogmas and beliefs.

During Socrates's life, Athens was going through a dramatic transition from hegemony in the classical world to its decline after a humiliating defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. Athenians entered a period of instability and doubt about their identity and place in the world. As a result, they clung to past glories, notions of wealth, and a fixation with physical beauty.

Socrates attacked these values with his insistent emphasis on the greater importance of the mind. While many Athenians admired Socrates's challenges to Greek conventional wisdom and the humorous way he went about it, an equal number grew angry and felt he threatened their way of life and uncertain future.

The jury was not swayed by Socrates's defense and convicted him by a vote of 280 to 221. Possibly the defiant tone of his defense contributed to the verdict and he made things worse during the deliberation over his punishment. Athenian law allowed a convicted citizen to propose an alternative punishment to the one called for by the prosecution and the jury would decide.

Instead of proposing he be exiled, Socrates suggested he be honored by the city for his contribution to their enlightenment and be paid for his services. The jury was not amused and sentenced him to death by drinking a mixture of poison hemlock.

Before Socrates's execution, friends offered to bribe the guards and rescue him so he could flee into exile. He declined, stating he wasn't afraid of death.

He died on 399 BC at the city of Athens