The elderly in society



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THE ELDERLY IN SOCIETY

APPENDIX 3 SOCRATES VIEWS ON AGE & DYING


1 Xenothon’s Account The Apology [extracts] Translation by H. G. Dakyns

from http://ancienthistory.about.com/library/bl/bl_text_xenophon_apology.htm
Xenophon the Athenian was born 431 B.C. He was a pupil of Socrates. The Apology describes Socrates' state of mind at his trial and execution, and especially his view that it was better to die before senility set in than to escape execution by humbling himself before an unjust persecution. Xenophon was away at the time, involved in the events of the march of the ten thousand.
Among the reminiscences of Socrates, none, as it seems to me, is more deserving of record than the counsel he took with himself [2] …. but also as to the ending of his life. Others have written on this theme, and all without exception have touched upon [3] the lofty style of the philosopher,[4] which may be taken as a proof that the language used by Socrates was really of that type. But none of these writers has brought out clearly the fact that Socrates had come to regard death as for himself preferable to life; and consequently there is just a suspicion of foolhardiness in the arrogancy of his address.[5] We have, however, from the lips of one of his intimate acquaintances, Hermogenes… says that, ……"That is strange!" he answered again: "Strange, do you call it, that to God it should seem better for me to die at once? Do you not know that up to this moment I will not concede to any man to have lived a better life than I have; since what can exceed the pleasure, which has been mine, of knowing[10] that my whole life has been spent holily and justly? ….And now if my age is still to be prolonged,[12] I know that I cannot escape paying[13] the penalty of old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dulness of hearing. I shall find myself slower to learn new lessons, and apter to forget the lessons I have learnt. And if to these be added the consciousness of failing powers, the sting of self- reproach, what prospect have I of any further joy in living? It may be, you know," he added, "that God out of his great kindness is intervening in my behalf[14] to suffer me to close my life in the ripeness of age, and by the gentlest of deaths….
"No doubt," he added, "the gods were right in opposing me at that time (touching the inquiry, what I was to say in my defence),[16] when you all thought the great thing was to discover some means of acquittal;[17] since, had I effected that, it is clear I should have prepared for myself, not that surcease from life which is in store for me anon, but to end my days wasted by disease, or by old age, on which a confluent stream of evil things most alien to joyousness converges."[18]
2 Plato’s Account From http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/greek/philosopher/phaedo.html
As related in the Crito Socrates is imprisoned awaiting the time when a sacred ship returns from Delos as this will lift a prohibition on the completion of the sentence he faces - the drinking of the fatal poison - Hemlock.
Socrates' friends offer him a sure escape to Thessaly but Socrates insists that he cannot return evil for evil. He has a duty to respect the due process of the Law in the city that had nurtured him.
The very last days of Socrates are related in Plato's the Phaedo. The sacred ship has arrived back from Delos, Socrates shackles are removed and he is allowed a final visit from his weeping wife Xanthippe who has brought with her their infant son in her arms.
Following Xanthippe's visit Socrates' final hours were spent in discussion with a group of his friends, the subjects of discussion including "the immortality of the soul". This discussion was later written about by Plato who was not actually present on this last day possibly because his own distress might well have disappointed his friend Socrates.
The discussions set out in the Phaedo feature a justification of a life lived with a view to the "cultivation of the Soul". The Orphic and Pythagorean faith background against which Socrates lives accepted the deathlessness of the Soul, and accepted physical death as also involving the release of the Soul.

Where a person had lived a good life, - had cultivated their Soul, - they were held to merit a far more pleasant situation in an afterlife reincarnation than where a person had led a bad life.

The very fact of belief in an afterlife making the cultivation of the Soul a matter of the utmost importance.

People were deemed to be "chattels of God" however and were not deemed to be free to seeking induction into the afterlife by taking their own lives.

Crito asks Socrates in what way would he like to be buried. Socrates replied that he would be happy to be buried any way Crito likes, provided the Crito can get hold of him and takes care that he does not walk away.
Socrates then addressed the whole company present and smilingly commented that Crito had difficulty in perceiving that the real Socrates would soon depart to the joys of the blessed and that only his body would remain to be buried.

Socrates went into the bath chamber in order to wash and save the womenfolk the task of washing his body after death. While he was gone his friends considered amongst thenselves how like a father Socrates was to them and how like orphans they would be before long.

After a final visit from Socrates sons and womenfolk just before sunset a jailer entered and respectfully and tearfully told Socrates that the time was come for him to drink the cup of Hemlock.

Shortly thereafter the Hemlock was brought to Socrates who drank it as if a libation to the Gods. Socrates upbraided some of his assembled friends for the extremity of their distress.


As was usual in such cases Socrates was required to walk about a little until a certain heaviness, due to the effects of the Hemlock, crept into his legs. Thereafter condemned persons could expect their bodies to be increasingly overtaken by a fatal numbness.
Just before his death Socrates last words were:-
Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius; please pay it and don't let it pass.
Aesculapius was the God of Medicine and these words implied that Socrates felt that he owed a debt to the God of Medicine because of the cup of Hemlock he had just drunk.
After Socrates' death opinion in Athens turned against his accusers.
3 From Plato, “Phaedo” 64A supplied by Bryan Halson
Ordinary people seem not to realise that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death. If this is true, and they have actually been looking forward to death all their lives, it would of course be absurd to be troubled when the thing comes for which they have so long been preparing and looking forward.
4 From Wiki
According to his pupil, Xenophon of Athens [Greek historian, soldier, mercenary, philosopher – about 430-354 BCE], Socrates purposefully gave a defiant defense to the jury because "he believed he would be better off dead" - explaining the rigors of old age, and how Socrates would be glad to circumvent them by being sentenced to death. It is also understood that Socrates also wished to die because he "actually believed the right time had come for him to die."
5 From web http://www.deathreference.com/Sh-Sy/Socrates.html
In Phaedo, he told his friend that there was nothing to fear. Death will turn out either to be a long sleep or, even better, the entry to a splendid new form of life. Socrates's ability to accept his death with equanimity became a model for wisdom and courage on the verge of death. He lived his philosophy to the last moment, treating the unfortunate jailer with kindness as he brought forward the cup of deadly hemlock.
Read more: http://www.deathreference.com/Sh-Sy/Socrates.html#ixzz2VAfIx5ja

CD compiled May 2013


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