From The Last Days of Socrates, translated and with
an introduction by Hugh Tredennick
(Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1954).
57 ECHECRATES: Were you there with Socrates yourself, Phaedo, when he was executed, or did you hear about it from somebody else?
PHAEDO: No. I was there myself. Echecrates.
ECHECRATES: Then what did the master say before he died, and how did he meet his end? I should very much like to know. None of the people in Phlius go to Athens much in these days, and it is a long time
b since we had any visitor from there who could give us any definite information, except that he was executed by drinking hemlock. Nobody could tell us anything more than that.
58 PHAEDO : Then haven't you even heard how his trial went?
ECHETECRATES: Yes. someone told us about that, and we were surprised because there was obviously a long interval between it and the execution. How was that. Phaedo?
PHAEDO: A fortunate coincidence, Echecrates. It so happened that on the day before the trial they had just finished garlanding the stern of the ship which Athens sends to Delos.
ECHECRATES What ship is that?
PHAEDO : The Athenians say that it is the one in which Theseus sailed away to Crete with the seven youths and seven maidens, and saved their lives and his own as well. The story says that the Athenians
b made a vow to Apollo that if these young people's lives were saved they would send a solemn mission to Delos every year, and ever since then they have kept their vow to the god, right down to the present day. They have a law that as soon as this mission begins the city must be kept pure, and no public executions may take place until the ship has reached Delos and returned again, which sometimes takes a long time,
c if the winds happen to hold it back. The mission is considered to begin as soon as the priest of Apollo has garlanded the stern of the ship, and this happened, as I say, on the day before the trial. That is why Socrates spent such a long time in prison between his trial and execution.
ECHECRATES: But what about the actual circumstances of his death. Phaedo? What was said and done, and which of the master's companions were with him? Or did the authorities refuse them admission, so that he passed away without a friend at his side?
d PHAEDO: Oh no, some of them were there—quite a number, in fact.
ECHECRATES: I wish you would be kind enough to give us a really detailed account --unless You are pressed for time.
PHAEDO: No, not at all. I will try to describe it for you. Nothing gives me more pleasure than recalling the memory of Socrates, either by talking myself or by listening to someone else.
ECHECRATES : Well, Phaedo, you will find that your audience feels just the same about it. Now try to describe every detail as carefully as you can.
e PHAEDO: In the first place, my own feelings at the time were quite extraordinary. It never occurred to me to feel sorry for him, as you might have expected me to feel at the deathbed of a very dear friend. The master seemed quite happy, Echecrates, both in his manner and in what he said; he met his death so fearlessly and nobly. I could not help feeling that even on his way to the other world he would be
59 under the providence of God, and that when he arrived there all would be well with him, if it ever has been so with anybody. So I felt no sorrow at all, as you might have expected on such a solemn occasion, and at the same time I felt no pleasure at being occupied in our usual philosophical discussions—that was the form that our conversation took. I felt an absolutely incomprehensible emotion, a sort of curious blend of pleasure and pain combined, as my mind took it in that in a little while my friend was going to die. All of us who were there were affected in much the same way, between laughing and crying; one of us
b in particular, Apollodorus—you know what he is like, don't you?
ECHECRATES : Of course I do.
PHAEDO: Well, he quite lost control of himself, and I and the others were very much upset.
ECHECRATES : Who were actually there, Phaedo?
PHAEDO: Why, of the local people there were this man Apollodorus, and Critobulus and his father, and then there were Hermogenes and Epigenes and Aeschines and Antisthenes. Oh yes, and Ctesippus of Paeania, and Menexenus, and some other local people. I believe that Plato was ill.
ECHECRATES : Were there any visitors from outside?
c PHAEDO : Yes, Simmias of Thebes, with Cebes and Phaedondas, and Euclides and Terpsion from Megara.
ECHECRATES : Why, weren't Aristippus and Cleombrotus there? PIIAEDO : No, they were in Aegina, apparently.
ECHECRATES : Was there anybody else?
PHAEDO : I think that's about all.
ECHECRATES: Well, what form did the discussion take?
PHAEDO: I will try to tell you all about it from the very beginning.
d We had all made it our regular practice, even in the period before, to visit Socrates every day. We used to meet at daybreak by the courthouse where the trial was held, because it was close to the prison. We always spent some time in conversation while we waited for the door to open, which was never very early, and when it did open, we used to go in to see Socrates, and generally spent the day with him. On this particular
e day we met earlier than usual, because when we left the prison on the evening before, we heard that the boat had just arrived back from Delos; so we urged one another to meet at the same place as early as possible. When we arrived, the porter, instead of letting us in as usual, told us to wait and not to come in until he gave us the word. The commissioners are taking off Socrates' chains, he said, and warning him that he is to die today.
After a short interval he came back and told us to go in. When we
60 went inside we found Socrates just released from his chains, and Xanthippe—you know her!—sitting by him with the little boy on her knee. As soon as Xanthippe saw us she broke out into the sort of remark you would expect from a woman, Oh, Socrates, this is the last time that you and your friends will be able to talk together!
Socrates looked at Crito. Crito, he said, someone had better take her home.
Some of Crito's servants led her away crying hysterically. Socrates sat
b up on the bed and drew up his leg and massaged it, saying as[b]he did so, What a queer thing it is, my friends, this sensation which is popularly called pleasure! It is remarkable how closely it is connected with its conventional opposite, pain. They will never come to a man both at once, but if you pursue one of them and catch it, you are nearly always compelled to have the other as well; they are like two bodies
c attached to the same head. I am sure that if Aesop had thought of it he would have made up a fable about them, something like this—God wanted to stop their continual quarreling, and when he found that it was impossible, he fastened their heads together; so wherever one of them appears, the other is sure to follow after. That is exactly what seems to be happening to me. I had a pain in my leg from the fetter, and now I feel the pleasure coming that follows it.
Here Cebes broke in and said, Oh yes, Socrates, I am glad you reminded me. Evenus asked me a day or two ago, as others have done before, about the lyrics which you have been composing lately by
d adapting Aesop's fables and 'The Prelude' to Apollo. He wanted to know what induced you to write them now after you had gone to prison, when you had never done anything of the kind before. If you would like me to be able to answer Evenus when he asks me again—as I am sure he will—tell me what I am to say.
Tell him the truth, said Socrates, that I did not compose them to rival either him or his poetry—which I knew would not be easy. I did it
e in the attempt to discover the meaning of certain dreams, and to clear my conscience, in case this was the art which I had been told to practice. It is like this, you see. In the course of my life I have often had the same dream, appearing in different forms at different times, but always saying the same thing, 'Socrates, practice and cultivate the arts.' In the past I used to think that it was impelling and exhorting me to do what I was actually doing; I mean that the dream, like a spectator encouraging a runner in a race, was urging me on to do what I was doing already,
61 that is, practicing the arts, because philosophy is the greatest of the arts, and I was practicing it. But ever since my trial, while the festival of the god has been delaying my execution, I have felt that perhaps it might be this popular form of art that the dream intended me to practice, in which case I ought to practice it and not disobey. I thought it would be
b safer not to take my departure before I had cleared my conscience by writing poetry and so obeying the dream. I began with some verses in honor of the god whose festival it was. When I had finished my hymn, I reflected that a poet, if he is to be worthy of the name, ought to work on imaginative themes, not descriptive ones, and I was not good at inventing stories. So I availed myself of some of Aesop's fables which were ready to hand and familiar to me, and I versified the first of them that suggested themselves. You can tell Evenus this, Cebes, and bid him farewell from me, and tell him, if he is wise, to follow me as
c quickly as he can. I shall be going today, it seems; those are my country's orders.
What a piece of advice for Evenus, Socrates! said Simmias. I have had a good deal to do with him before now, and from what I know of him he will not be at all ready to obey you.
Why? he asked. Isr Evenus a philosopher?
So I believe, said Si mias.
Well then, he will )e quite willing, just like anyone else who is properly grounded in philosophy. However, he will hardly do himself violence, because they say that it is not legitimate.
As he spoke he lowered his feet to the ground, and sat like this for
d the rest of the discussion.
Cebes now asked him, Socrates, what do you mean by saying that it is not legitimate to do oneself violence, although a philosopher will be willing to follow a friend who dies?
Why, Cebes, have you and Simmias never heard about these things while you have been with Philolaus?
Nothing definite, Socrates.
Well, even my information is only based on hearsay, but I don't mind at all telling you what I have heard. I suppose that for one who is
e soon to leave this world there is no more suitable occupation than inquiring into our views about the future life, and trying to imagine what it is like. What else can one do in the time before sunset?
Tell me then, Socrates, what arc the grounds for saying that suicide is not legitimate? I have heard it described as wrong before now, as you suggested, both by Philolaus, when he was staying with us, and by others as well, but I have never yet heard any definite explanation for it.
62 Well, you must not lose heart, he said. Perhaps you will hear one someday. However, no doubt you will feel it strange that this should be the one question that has an unqualified answer—I mean, if it never happens in the case of life and death, as it does in all other connections, that sometimes and for some people death is better than life. And it probably seems strange to you that it should not be right for those to whom death would be an advantage to benefit themselves, but that they should have to await the services of someone else.
Cebes laughed gently and, dropping into his own dialect, said, Aye, that it does.
Yes, went on Socrates, put in that way it certainly might seem un-
b reasonable, though perhaps it has some justification. The allegory which the mystics tell us—that we men are put in a sort of guard post, from which one must not release oneself or run away—seems to me to be a high doctrine with difficult implications. All the same, Cebes, I believe that this much is true, that the gods are our keepers, and we men are one of their possessions. Don't you think so?
Yes, I do, said Cebes.
c Then take your own case. If one of your possessions were to destroy itself without intimation from you that you wanted it to die, wouldn't you be angry with it and punish it, if you had any means of doing so?
So if you look at it in this way I suppose it is not unreasonable to say that we must not put an end to ourselves until God sends some compulsion like the one which we are facing now.
That seems likely, I admit, said Cebes. But what you were saying just now, that philosophers would be readily willing to die—that seems illogical, Socrates, assuming that we were right in saying a moment ago
d that God is our keeper and we are his possessions. If this[d]service is directed by the gods, who are the very best of masters, it is inexplicable that the very wisest of men should not be grieved at quitting it, because he surely cannot expect to provide for himself any better when he is free. On the other hand a stupid person might get the idea that it would be to his advantage to escape from his master. He might not
e reason it out that one should not escape from a good[e]master, but remain with him as long as possible, and so he might run away unreflectingly. A sensible man would wish to remain always with his superior. If you look at it in this way, Socrates, the probable thing is just the opposite of what we said just now. It is natural for the wise to be grieved when they die, and for fools to be happy.
When Socrates had listened to this he seemed to me to be amused at
63 Cebes' persistence, and looking round at us he said, You know, Cebes is always investigating arguments, and he is not at all willing to accept every statement at its face value.
Simmias said, Well, but, Socrates, I think that this time there is something in what he says. Why should a really wise man want to desert masters who are better than himself, and to get rid of them so lightly? I think Cebes is aiming his criticism at you, because you are making so light of leaving us, and the gods too, who as you admit are good masters.
What you and Cebes say is perfectly fair, said Socrates. You mean, I
b suppose, that I must make a formal defense against this charge.
Exactly, said Simmias.
Very well then, let me try to make a more convincing defense to you than I made at my trial. If I did not expect to enter the company, first, of other wise and good gods, and secondly of men now dead who are better than those who are in this world now, it is true that I should be wrong in not grieving at death. As it is, you can be assured that I expect
c to find myself among good men. I would not insist particularly on this point, but on the other I assure you that I shall insist most strongly—that I shall find there divine masters who are supremely good. That is why I am not so much distressed as I might be, and why I have a firm hope that there is something in store for those who have died, and, as we have been told for many years, something much better for the good than for the wicked.
Well, what is your idea, Socrates? asked Simmias. Do you mean to keep this knowledge to yourself now that you are leaving us, or wili you communicate it to us too? I think that we ought to have a share in this
d comfort; besides, it will serve as your defense, if we are satisfied with what you say.
Very well, I will try, he replied. But before I begin, Crito here seems to have been wanting to say something for some time. Let us find out what it is.
Only this, Socrates, said Crito, that the man who is to give you the poison has been asking me for a long time to tell you to talk as little as possible. He says that talking makes you heated, and that you ought not to do anything to affect the action of the poison. Otherwise it is some-
e times necessary to take a second close, or even a third.
That is his affair, said Socrates. Let him make his own preparations for administering it twice or three times if necessary.
I was pretty sure you would say that, said Crito, but he's been bothering me for a long time.
Never mind him, said Socrates. Now for you, my jury. I want to explain to you how it seems to me natural that a man who has really devoted his life to philosophy should be cheerful in the face of death,
64 and confident of finding the greatest blessing in the next world when his life is finished. I will try to make clear to you, Simmias and Cebes, how this can be so.
Ordinary people seem not to realize 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.
Simmias laughed and said, Upon my word, Socrates, you have made
b me laugh, though I was not at all in the mood for it. I am sure that if they heard what you said, most people would think—and; our fellow countrymen would heartily agree—that it was a very good hit at the philosophers to say that they are half dead already, and that they, the normal people, are quite aware that death would serve the philosophers right.
And they would be quite correct, Simmias—except in thinking that they are 'quite aware.' They are not at all aware in what sense true philosophers are half dead, or in what sense they deserve death, or what sort of death they deserve. But let us dismiss them and talk among
c ourselves. Do we believe that there is such a thing as death?
Most certainly, said Simmias, taking up the role of answering.
Is it simply the release of the soul from the body? Is death nothing more or less than this, the separate condition of the body by itself when it is released from the soul, and the separate condition by itself of the soul when released from the body? Is death anything else than this?
No, just that.
Well then, my boy, see whether you agree with me. I fancy that this will help us to find out the answer to our problem. Do you think that it
d is right for a philosopher to concern himself with the so-called pleasures connected with food and drink?
Certainly not, Socrates, said Simmias.
What about sexual pleasures?
No, not at all.
And what about the other attentions that we pay to our bodies? Do you think that a philosopher attaches any importance to them? I mean things like providing himself with smart clothes and shoes and other bodily ornaments; do you think that he values them or despises them—in so far as there is no real necessity for him to go in for that sort of thing?
I think the true philosopher despises them, he said.
Then it is your opinion in general that a man of this kind is not concerned with the body, but keeps his attention directed as much as he can away from it and toward the soul?
Yes, it is.
So it is clear first of all in the case of physical pleasures that the philosopher frees his soul from association with the body, so far as is
65 possible, to a greater extent than other men?
It seems so.
And most people think, do they not, Simmias, that a man who finds no pleasure and takes no part in these things does not deserve to live, and that anyone who thinks nothing of physical pleasures has one foot in the grave?
That is perfectly true.
Now take the acquisition of knowledge. Is the body a hindrance or not, if one takes it into partnership to share an investigation? What I mean is this. Is there any certainty in human sight and hearing, or is it
b true, as the poets are always dinning into our ears, that we neither hear nor see anything accurately? Yet if these senses are not clear and accurate, the rest can hardly be so, because they are all inferior to the first two. Don't you agree?
Then when is it that the soul attains to truth? When it tries to investigate anything with the help of the body, it is obviously led astray.
c Quite so.
Is it not in the course of reflection, if at all, that the soul gets a clear view of facts?
Surely the soul can best reflect when it is free of all distractions such as hearing or sight or pain or pleasure of any kind—that is, when it ignores the body and becomes as far as possible independent, avoiding all physical contacts and associations as much as it can, in its search for reality.
That is so.
Then here too—in despising the body and avoiding it, and en-
d deavoring to become independent—the philosopher's soul is ahead of all the rest.
It seems so.
Here are some more questions, Simmias. Do we recognize such a thing as absolute uprightness?
Indeed we do.
And absolute beauty and goodness too?
Have you ever seen any of these things with your eyes?
Certainly not, said he.
Well, have you ever apprehended them with any other bodily sense? By 'them' I mean not only absolute tallness or health or strength, but the real nature of any given thing—what it actually is. Is it through the
e body that we get the truest perception of them? Isn't it true that in any inquiry you are likely to attain more nearly to knowledge of your object in proportion to the care and accuracy with which you have prepared yourself to understand that object in itself?
Don't you think that the person who is likely to succeed in this attempt most perfectly is the one who approaches each object, as far as possible, with the unaided intellect, without taking account of any sense
66 of sight in his thinking, or dragging any other sense into his reckoning—the man who pursues the truth by applying his pure and unadulterated thought to the pure and unadulterated object, cutting himself off as much as possible from his eyes and ears and virtually all the rest of his body, as an impediment which by its presence prevent? the soul from attaining to truth and clear thinking? Is not this the person, Simmias, who will reach the goal of reality, if anybody can?
What you say is absolutely true, Socrates, said Simmias.
All these considerations, said Socrates, must surely prompt[b]serious philosophers to review the position in some such way as this. It looks as though this were a bypath leading to the right track. So long as we keep to the body and our soul is contaminated with this imperfection, there is no chance of our ever attaining satisfactorily to our object, which we assert to be truth. In the first place, the body provides us with innumerable distractions in the pursuit of our necessary sustenance, and any diseases which attack us hinder our quest[c]for reality. Besides, the body fills us with loves and desires and fears and all sorts of fancies and a great deal of nonsense, with the result that we literally never get an opportunity to think at all about anything. Wars and revolutions and battles are due simply and solely to the body and its desires. All wars are undertaken for the acquisition of wealth, and the reason why we have to acquire wealth is the body, because we are slaves in its service. That is why, on all these ac-[d] counts, we have so little time for philosophy. Worst of all, if we do obtain any leisure from the body's claims and turn to some line of inquiry, the body intrudes once more into our investigations, interrupting, disturbing, distracting, and preventing us from getting a glimpse of the truth. We are in fact convinced that if we are ever to have pure knowledge of anything, we must get rid of the body and contemplate things by themselves with the soul by itself. It seems, to[e]judge from the argument, that the wisdom which we desire and upon which we profess to have set our hearts will be attainable only when we are dead, and not in our lifetime. If no pure knowledge is possible in the company of the body, then either it is totally impossible to acquire knowledge, or it is only possible after death, because it is only then that the soul will be separate and independent of the body. It