A man sits pensively on his bed, in the middle of his prison cell. It is midday. He is waiting to die.
Enter Guard through cell door.
Guard: Socrates, will you tell your friends to stop knocking at my door. I’ve told them before but they don’t listen to me. When the sign is up it means they can’t come in. But they keep doing it. We’ve got rules in this place. I don’t know what I have to say. People can’t do anything they want, can they?
Socrates: I’ll speak to them.
Guard: Good. I knew I could talk to you. I’ve had to tell them to come back later. We’ve got official business on. The Clerk of the Justice is here. He’s come to read you your terms before tomorrow. Get yourself ready.
Clerk: By authority of the Chief Justice of Athens, I have come to read you your final terms.
Clerk: You Socrates, son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete, were charged with the offence of corruption of the youth and impiety. You pleaded innocence but were found guilty by the people of Athens. You have been sentenced to death. In accordance with the customs of the land, no blood may be shed during the Dionysian Festival. As of tomorrow this period of grace will come to a close. You will consume Hemlock at dusk. As per the conditions of legal detainment you are entitled to your last rites which will be performed prior to this act. Do you have anything you wish to declare?
Clerk: Then I will leave you. I will arrive at 1800 with a priest who will administer your last rites. May Zeus bring you peace!
Enter Anytus, Meletus, Lycon
Anytus: Look here.
Socrates: How did you get in here?
Lycon: Look at that, the guard’s been held up. He’s left the door open and he’s talking to one of our friends. How did that happen? One of those coincidences.
Anytus: We wanted to have one last word with you before tomorrow. See how you are?
Meletus: See what you’re up to. Any plans?
Lycon: Samos? Delos? Carthage?
Socrates: Why would I go there?
Anytus: We thought we might see you getting on a boat sometime soon, what with the people going for the Democrats in the assembly and the trial not working out for you.
Meletus: Crito has got family in Samos hasn’t he?
Socrates: I am a subject under the law, like any other man. I will suffer the consequences of the law, like any other man, be it true or false.
Anytus: Be it true or false?
Lycon: Do you hear this man? Still he protests.
Meletus: You were tried by the people of Athens and you were found guilty. There is no true or false, outside of that.
Anytus: Is the judgement of the people of Athens not enough?
Socrates: It is not just.
Lycon: You find the voice of the people is not legitimate?
Socrates: I believe in the spirit of the laws as much as any man.
Meletus: But you don’t believe what the law actually is? You don’t believe what it says?
Socrates: That depends on what it says.
Lycon: Another offence!
Socrates: I may disagree with people, but I believe in their right to an opinion. I believe in free speech and the right to discuss what should happen. That is all that I’ve been jailed for; for performing my duties as a citizen. Crito’s men have been suppressed so you can rule the people with a whistle in one hand and a club in the other. You are a wolf in sheep’s clothing. This is not a democracy, it’s a mob.
Lycon: We know you don’t think much about the voice of the people. But the voice of the people is the will of the people. That is Democracy.
Meletus: This is typical of your arrogance. The people have spoken, but you think you know better. And of course you do because “What do the Plebs no compared to Socrates?”
Anytus: You’re father was a Blacksmith and you’re Mother was a midwife.
Socrates: I have never made any claim to knowledge.
Meletus: That’s right and just you remember that. You know nothing about what means to lead the people.
Anytus: You talk of reason Socrates, but the people will not follow you. You are not a practical man. This is your problem. This philosophy is a fine thing. Good laugh when you’re drinking. But you have to be realistic in politics. People don’t know about reason. People don’t understand you. People want to know about how they can feed their families. About how they can stay safe. People only know what their bodies tell them. Whether its fear or hope. You don’t talk to them about what they want. You agitate them and unsettle them. Most people just want an easy life. But you won’t let them will you
Socrates: What people want one day is different to the next, but what people need is always the same. People need something to believe in. To know what is right from what is wrong. When I was appointed to the assembly I was the only man that demanded that the Head of the Sicilian expedition be returned here and face due process. The others wanted to hang him. I am a citizen first and last.
Anytus: If you were a citizen you would know what the people wanted.
Socrates: And you speak for the people? The people don’t know what they want. They need to be led. They don’t need to be followed. You cheat the people by giving them whatever they want to hear. Like a child is bought off by its parents to behave itself instead of by a good example. You would let people’s bellies decide the fate of our nation. You would let the walls of the city stand or fall on whim and caprice. You would have everyday a festival, everyday a feast. The body politic is ruled by the head and not by the heart.
Anytus: And what of your family now? How can a man speak about leadership when he’s left his wife without a Husband and his children without a Father. You have left your household without an income and your family without a man to fend for it. Is that moral? Is that leadership?
Socrates: I’ve always been there for my family.
Meletus: Apparently your boy came in to some trouble the other day. I’m not as clever as you Socrates but I can’t help but think If only he had his Father there to help him.
Socrates: I havn’t heard anything.
Meletus: He’s been taken in to the Doctors.
Socrates: You can hurt me, but not the boy.
Meletus: Who said it was us? It’s unfortunate what happens out there in the streets these days. There’s a real rough element in town. We need someone to look out for them. Law and order ain’t what it used to be.
Anytus: What is good for us, is good for us all. That which is bad for us, makes all but a few suffer. That is Democratic Socrates.
Socrates: That is not how the gods see it.
Meletus: I wonder how you got here, y’know. People say that your wife used to give you a right earful in the morning. You could hear it from out in the street. People say she wasn’t very happy with you. That must have been a real pain being henpecked like that. People are saying that’s why you always spent the day roaming around the streets, keeping out the way, causing other people trouble. Taking out on other people what your wife took out on you. Is that right?
Socrates: Don’t believe it.
Lycon: She’s a battle axe alright. I’ve seen ‘em arguing away in the street. She was always bossing him around.
Anytus: So the man can’t even rule his own house. That is a pity.
Lycon: I wouldn’t mind keeping her company though.
Anytus: Well you’ll have lots of time for that now my friend. Would you like that? See your wife with another man?
Lycon: I reckon he would.
Anytus: You’re going to die just like Alcibiades did. Like a traitor.
Socrates: He was the only man who could ever lead Athens. He was the best of us.
Anytus: He was an enemy of the people.
A noise from outside interrupts the conversation.
Crito: What’s this?
Anytus: Don’t mind us gentleman. We’re just going.
Simmias: You better be.
Anytus: Come Meletus. Lycon.
Crito: Why have they come here?
Socrates: Never mind. How is the appeal?
Crito: No luck. But we’re here for you Socrates, all you need. We’ll keep on trying.
Apollodorus: Last night we were knocking down the door of the Clerk of the Justice to get him to grant a reprieve.
Socrates: How did that happen?
Apollodorus: We were down at the Old Red Lion getting some refreshment and guess who turns up? Meletus and his mates. You can imagine how that went down. Simmias here starts giving him the eye. Meletus sees this and starts getting worked up. He comes up and confronts our man. He says to him “what do you think you’re doing?”. Simmias looks at us and turns back to his man and says “I’m causing some trouble”. He then goes on to smash him in the face and it all kicked off. The next minute the whole bar is in uproar. Tables and chairs all over the place. Fists and legs flying in all directions.
Apollodorus: Then the fight went out in to the streets and the Nights Watch came in and broke it all up. We took off in all directions.
Simmias: The next moment we were walking through the streets calling out your name. Whole bunch of us. “Reprieve, reprieve, reprieve for Socrates”. There’s a whole group of us and we’re heading through the streets to the Clerk of the Justices house. We get there and we start knocking.
Appollodorus: We’re knocking it down and he’s shouting from the window “disperse”. Then the Night’s Watch turn up again and force us all to break up.
Socrates: They’ll have the Guard out all night now then.
Simmias: Let ‘em. You should be happy. We were standing up for you.
Socrates: Your friendship is always important to me Simmias.
Simmias: You’ve got until tomorrow to get out of this. If you leave tomorrow on the ship that’s coming for you, you can still make it.
Socrates: I cannot change what has been said.
Simmias: Why not?
Socrates: It is not Just.
Simmias: Oh, what is Justice anyway? It’s all very well talking about Justice but this is life and death. Was it justice when Athens was struck by the plague in 430BC? Was it justice when they killed Alcibiades at Elaphus? The Gods don’t know justice. They only know power.
Crito: You’re being facetious Simmias. Of course the gods know justice.
Simmias: Are you saying the gods get it wrong?
Crito: I’m saying that what appears to be unjust may in reality be just.
Apollodorus: So what of Socrates? Are you saying he deserves this?
Crito: No I’m not. Justice is like when Sammorus plays the harp. When Sammoras plays the harp you know that there has never been a harp played as perfectly as when Sammoras plays it.
Simmias: So it is the same as Excellence?
Crito: Excellence is Justice isn’t it.
Simmias: Perhaps? What if the instrument is out of tune?
Crito: Then something has gone amiss.
Apollodorus: I’ve always felt it’s more like the carpenter who matches up his work so that it all fits in together. It’s like a marriage between form and function.
Socrates: Let me ask you this, can a ruler be just if he sentences a man to death for robbing food for his family?
Crito: Certainly not.
Simmias: But he would be just if the man was stealing out of greed.
Socrates: But how are you to judge when this is done out of necessity or out of greed?
Appolodorus: It’s his intention. If it seems like he has otherwise good character then you can plausibly say that it is unlikely that this would be done out of greed.
Socrates: Then it’s a matter of what is “good”?
Simmias: Well, it is, but hang on there. Don’t you confuse me. I hate it when you do that.
Socrates: I wouldn’t dream of it.
Simmias: It’s always been my view that the good is that which gives pleasure and the bad is that which gives pain. You’ve said so yourself. Sometimes someone else’s pain can be your pleasure and sometimes someone else’s pleasure can be your pain.
Socrates: So it depends on what side you’re on?
Simmias: I dare say it does. I’m no nihilist but they say politics is friendship and that is politics for you. For example, Socrates trial caused me a great deal of pain. But when I punched Meletus in the face last night, I can tell you that brought me a lot of pleasure.
Crito: Really Simmias. Have you never heard about the higher good?
Simmias: I’ve heard of it, but I don’t believe in it. The higher good hasn’t served Socrates very well.
Apollodorus: Is this a poem Socrates?
Simmias: A poem? (laughs). Read it out Apollodorus.
Socrates: I havn’t finished it yet. Don’t judge me too harshly for it.
Apollodorus: We have every faith in you.
That this all too frail flesh would melt
And trouble my aching soul no more
That I might free myself from this cell
And soar out in to the great beyond.
How I might fly far above the skies
How I might see what I’d never saw.
Apollodorus: A little morbid.
Simmias: The problem Apollodorus, is it’s overwrought. Classic problem with philosophers. Poets have a levity of touch, but philosophers trash about with big heavy feet and big clumsy hands. Philosophers will never be poets and poets will never be philosophers. Never the two shall meet.
Crito: I think it’s well enough. Beauty is truth. It has your mark on it Socrates. I like it very much.
Socrates: You are very kind Crito. The rest of you are as harsh with me as you ever were. True friendship indeed.
Guard: Time to go Ladies and Gentleman.
Simmias: Why’s that?
Guard: End of visitation at 20:00. Time to close up and call it a day
Crito: We’ll be back tomorrow Socrates. Don’t lose hope.
Guard: How’s your last proper day on this earth been then?
Socrates: As well as can be.
Guard: That’s the spirit. That is may I say, given the circumstances, very philosophical of you. (Laughs)
Guard: You know what I always say. You’ve always got your health. Besides as my old dear always says, people aren’t really interested in how you are. It’s just small talk innit.
Guard: Say tell me this Socrates, while I’ve still got a chance. I’ve got a mate whose having trouble with his wife like. It’s the last night of the Dionysus tonight and he wants to go out drinking with his mates, don’t he. But his wife, see, she won’t let him. In this “hypothetical” situation what would you say to this man?
Socrates: Why won’t she let him?
Guard: Well I don’t’ want to get in to the details but, she saying he’s been going out enough of late. She says he needs to spend more time at home with his wife and kids like.
Socrates: Has he?
Guard: Well how much is enough? It’s enough when it’s enough innit. Between me and you with a wife like his, you’d be happy to have a break whenever you can.
Socrates. Has he been out all the other nights this week?
Guard: Well, he has. But this is the last night tonight. On the last night they do this huge sacrifice in the square to Dionysus and you can’t miss that, can ‘yer. They gonna sacrifice this like big animal this year, they got from Persia. Anyway tomorrow’s the end. After that he’ll be at home anyway.
Socrates: I see
Guard: A day don’t make no difference does it. What I want to know is can I get out tonight?
Socrates: What you need to do is show how much you are doing for her, then she’ll soften up. Tell her you’re working all the hours you can get to put food on the table and you need to relax.
Guard: That’s good that is, what else?
Socrates: If you are going to give her something that she doesn’t like give her something she does like first.
Guard: Like what?
Socrates: Are you expecting any good news coming up?
Guard: They say I’m gonna get a promotion soon. I’ll be the deputy of the Night Watch.
Socrates: Tell her that then.
Guard: See the thing is. Last time I tried to be clever like this, it didn’t work out very well.
Socates: What happened?
Guard: I bought her a bunch of flowers. She weren’t in at the time, so I left ‘em on the table with a note and then I just went out anyway………. She didn’t sleep with me for a month, after that.
Guard: Maybe I’ll leave it this time.
Socrates: If you think that’s right.
Guard: Yeah. Oh well. That’s it then. Well there’s your grub.
Socrates: I have a message for my wife.
Guard: Not another one. Sorry mate. I can’t do that. It’s too late now. I’ve got to get back.
Guard: It’s not me it’s the rules. Anyway, enjoy your last night!
Socrates wanders to the window and gazes outside. He turns to his bed and lies down to reflect.
Enter Xanthippe at door
Socrates: You came. I thought you had finished with me.
Xanthippe sobs in to his chest through the jail door.
Xanthippe: Socrates! Hold me please. It’s been awful. Our poor boy. He was on the floor in the street. We didn’t know where he was. He’d run away. He got in to a fight with these boys. It was after the trial and they attacked him.
Socrates: What happened?
Xanthippe: They were shouting “See what your Father has done”. He was standing up for you and saying you hadn’t done anything. They started fighting with him, then beat him down to the floor and cut his eyes out. They beat him and left him to die on the street.
Xanthippe goes back to sob in Socrates chest.
Socrates: Gods above!
Xanthippe: They said it was because of you. Why did you have to get involved with this?
Socrates: They’ve made me a scapegoat.
Xanthippe: Going around with all of your fancy friends. Talking politics. Leaving us all at home. Leaving your family alone. You should be there for us.
Socrates: I was doing what any good man does. You can’t look after your home if you havn’t got a hand in the politics of the city. I was looking after you.
Xanthippe: You’re job was to protect your family. How are you going to protect your family in jail?
Socrates: I should have been more careful when they killed Alcibiades. But I didn’t see it coming. When the trial came I thought I could just talk them round. I thought I could reason it out with them.
Xanthippe: You never let me know what was happening.
Socrates: It’s the same problem.
Xanthippe: Between who?
Socrates: Between who it’s always been between.
Xanthippe: What’s different now?
Socrates: Anytus wants to establish a mine in Delos. He’s been trying to get finances from the government to create investment. The Assembly have been blocking any involvement in that area and he wants to overturn them.
Xanthippe: Why don’t we just go? Start again somewhere else?
Socrates: I’m not going to leave Athens.
Xanthippe: Why not?
Socrates: Athens is my home.
Xanthippe: We can find a home somewhere else.
Socrates: I’m not going to shame myself and run away. I won’t accept guilt for what I havn’t done.
Xanthippe: Not if it means staying alive?
Socrates: I will not (shouts).
Xanthippe: It feels like you’ve given up.
Socrates: Crito is working something out.
Xanthippe: Doesn’t Crito have a boat coming for you?
Socrates: I will not do it (shouts). I have been accused of corrupting the young. Of impiety. How can I corrupt the young. How is one man able to corrupt them all. They come to me not for answers but for questions. They come to find out what is right from wrong. I don’t condemn them for having the right or the wrong opinions. Yet I corrupt the young? And they call me impious? I have given my life to law and order. My gods are the same as everyone else’s gods. The gods that have always ruled over Athens. Zeus as my witness!
Xanthippe: All they wanted at the trial was a show of humility. How can they all be wrong?
Socrates: A belief may be popular but that does not make it right. Only the gods know that.
Messenger: Xanthippe. Come quick. It’s your boy. He’s stabbed himself.
Prisoner: You telling me you never nicked a loaf of bread when nobody were looking.
Guard: Nicking things ain’t none of my business. What’s more it ain’t none of your business.
Prisoner: I’ve gotta wife and three kids guv: mouths to feed, a wife to please.
Guard: I understand alright. But you go around stealing from people in the community you’ve got to understand. It’s gonna bite you on the bum. Besides this ain’t the first time is it? We’ve seen you in here before.
Prisoner: Familiarity ain’t no crime. People always think they’ve see me before. I just got one of those faces. I make an impression on people. It’s a blessing and a curse.
Guard: That’s enough. You get in there and shut up.
Prisoner: Well it ain’t too bad in ‘ere really. Peace and quiet. Regular meals. Better than my place. My place has got a hole in the roof. When it rains, it comes down through the roof. It gets everywhere. Sometimes I don’t even need to wash. I just stand underneath the hole and all my dirt comes right off.
Prisoner: Then there’s the kids. Always on the bloody want. Have you got this, have you got that and the wife she ain’t much better. Always nagging me to do this, that and the other. You know what I mean mate. You can’t get no peace.
Socrates: Call no man happy until he is dead.
Prisoner: Well that’s about right innit. So what you in here for then?
Socrates: I was charged with heresy.
Prisoner: Good god. I only stole a loaf of bread. You’re a proper criminal.
Prisoner: Hang on a minute. I don’t forget a face. You’re that Socrates ain’t you. You still in here.
Socrates: I’ve been in here since the beginning of the month.
Prisoner: I’m sorry to see how it all turned out.
Socrates: As am I.
Prisoner: I was surprised about that y’know. I didn’t think you’d get prosecuted. I thought you’d be alright.
Prisoner: There was this guy outside that day. I wondered who he was. He was handing out bribes by the register for the jury. He gave me ten drachmas that day. Funny business that. Anyway I had a right good dinner that night. Chicken, chicken and more chicken.
Socrates: You voted against me in the trial?
Prisoner: Well it weren’t nothing personal. It was business. You can’t begrudge a man getting his dinner. Just one of those things.
Socrates: (Bitterly) Thank you.
Prisoner: It would be a sad day when anything interfered in a day of business. The wheels of industry can’t stop for no one.
Guard: You (Points) . Come with me.
Prisoner: I ain’t done nothing guv.
Guard: It don’t matter what you ain’t done. You’re in the wrong cell. Inferior persons are downstairs in the dungeon.
Prisoner: This is typical. The criminal classes of this city is treated like second class citizens.
Some time later
Crito: Socrates. How are you?
Socrates: Well enough Crito.
Crito: Our friends are outside. I asked to speak with you privately. The boat has come in this morning.
Socrates: What about the reprieve?
Crito: I’m sorry, Socrates. The moves we made were blocked. There are too many of Anytus’s supporters in the assembly to drive through any emergency powers.
Socrates: What about a deferral?
Crito: We were trying to work through the backchannels but the men we needed to speak to have been forced out of town. We have failed you my friend. Come with us on the boat and you may yet live.
Socrates: I will not run from here dear friend. I am seventy years old. I have lived my life. He who is not willing to die, is not ready to live.
Crito: Nobody expected you to stay here. Everyone expected you to go in to exile. That was the point to send a warning to us. If you stay here people will think that we abandoned you. If not for yourself, do it for us. Do it for your family.
Socrates: I could never run away. Alcibiades regretted it all his life.
Crito: What else then Socrates? Death? It is foolish to die.
Socrates: The Spartans talked about the perfect death taking place on the battlefield. They say to die on the battlefield is the consummation of their highest aspirations.
Crito: In a war men fight out of duty. They fight for the safety of their families and the security of the state. If men have to die in war, they die in a noble cause. Suicide is nothing like this. Suicide is an act of cowardice. It leaves those who are left behind more desperate than ever before. In what circumstances can this be justified?
Socrates: If the customs of our land that are meant to deliver justice, fail us.
Crito: Socrates. Does not everything that happen, happen for a reason. Is this not for the gods to decide?
Socrates: Where have the gods been here? I cannot believe that the gods stand by the circumstances we find ourselves in now.
Crito: This is lunacy. You’ve gone mad. You have been possessed by some type of Daimon. It is not for men to decide to take their own life. You cannot take that which is not your own. Give to Zeus what is Zeus’s!
Socrates: Have I not already been condemned? To be banished from Athens is to die a death if not in body then in name. I have not taken my own life. I am a subject of the law. We will let the law take its course. When the people see it doesn’t work they will see it is false. When that moment comes the people will be ready for change. If one man must suffer for the good of all, then so be it.
Crito: Socrates you must reconsider. This is impiety. If you believe in your own soul, preserve what remains and live to fight another day.
Socrates: It is because I do believe in my own soul that I must do this. The city believes that I have committed treachery. It is through taking what is ours that we will redeem our fate. My death will help us win back the assembly from the Democrats. For the sake of the greater good, we can recover that which must be, out of the embers of the fire.
Crito: You think we can win back the assembly?
Socrates: If I die this day the Democrats will look unfit to rule. It will look like law and order has been lost.
Crito: Politics is one thing but your life is another. No man can ask you to make this sacrifice.
Socrates: No man has asked me. Reason speaks for itself. As I have always said: Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Therefore Socrates must be mortal. I will die but reason lives on. What will be, will be. They have made a pawn of me, but I will check them.
Crito: This seems mad.
Socrates: They have misjudged me. I am not afraid to die. To philosophise is to learn how to die. When I stand up to the law it will break.
Crito: I see you are decided. I do not see it like you my friend. But I can see your mind is made up.
Clerk: Socrates. It is time to carry out our task.
Socrates: Thank you. I believe my friends are outside. Grant me that I may say one last goodbye.
Clerk: That may be so Socrates.
Socrates: I have had great fortune in life to make a great many friends. We have walked through the streets of the city. We have talked over many matters. It has been my great fortune to take part in these discussions with you. But today these matters must come to an end. Some of you expected me to run away and seek refuge from this place. But the law is for all men and I am no exception. Do not feel sorrow for me for I have lived a long life. Do not feel remorse, for what will be, will be. But I ask thee one last thing before I am gone. Do not forget me. I ask thee to grant me this one last thing, for all men die two deaths. Once when they leave their body and twice when they are last remembered.
Simmias: Forgive us Socrates. I can’t help but feel that our friendship was not enough for you. Forgive us for being less than we should have been to you.
Socrates: Not at all.
Simmias: I’m sorry but I feel we have failed you.
Socrates: Not another word of it. Do not torture yourself, my friend. There is no guilt amongst you. There is no shame to bear. Speak truth to power and your conscience will remain pure.
Apollodorus: I do not feel sorrow Socrates. For I believe as you have said before that this life is but a shadow of that which is to come. Do you still believe that to be true?
Apollodorus: Then in that case, can you tell us about what you believe about the soul?
Socrates: As god is to man, so the soul is to the body. The body has a mortal form that lives and dies, but the soul is immortal. The soul has no form but lives on through many lives. So it is that this life is but a shadow of the next.
Simmias: What happens when the soul leaves the body?
Socrates: The soul attains its truth. According to how he has lived, he will find the state of his soul. Strife ceases and the soul is no longer subject to the changing passions of the body: fear and despair are left behind, anger and hate depart, lust and obsession gone, ambition and envy all but forgotten. Pleasure and pain are but two sides of the same coin. If he has lived a good life then he will find himself in a better place.
Simmias: May it be so with you Socrates.
Socrates: Come guardsman. I am ready. Give me my medicine.
Priest administers the rites
Guard delivers Socrates a cup of Hemlock.
Socrates holds the cup aloft in the air.
Socrates: The brides of Dionysus will find their pleasure tonight.
Socrates: My death is your absolution.
Xanthippe: You monster. He’s dead. He’s dead (shouts).
Crito: What is this Xanthippe?
Xanthippe: Our boy is dead. He took his own life. For shame. My heart breaks. For shame.
Socrates: The gods have forsaken me.
Crito: Cruel it is, to lose your son. The world turns upside down.
Socrates: The gods have no mercy.
Crito: My soul sinks at your pains.
Socrates: This veil of tears.
Xanthippe: Why did you do this to us?
Crito: The gods themselves conspire against us. The fault does not lie with any of us here. Blame Anytus and his men.
Xanthippe: You have cursed us Socrates. Damn you to hell. May you never find peace.