The Final Days of Socrates: On Imitating Socrates and Jesus

Death of Socrates [Public Domain]

The Final Days of Socrates: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and PhaedoThe Final Days of Socrates: Euthyphro, Apology, Crito and Phaedo by Plato
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Four of Plato's dialogues (a tetralogy), Euthyphro, The Apology, Crito, and Phaedo, outline Socrates' final days before he ended his life by drinking hemlock - his sentence for 'impiety' and 'corrupting' Athens' youth. The similarities to the death of Jesus and the underpinnings of Stoic philosophy were not lost on me.

Reading the original works, rather than relying on the snippets of Plato taught through secondary sources, reveals contradictions and oversimplifications of key ideas. For example, 'the unexamined life is not worth living' is a snippet. The important first part of the sentence refers to the 'divine command' that drives Socrates, and that 'the greatest good of man [sic] is daily to converse about virtue' (Apology, p. 49). Hardly the navel-gazing and identity politics approach that is encouraged by the snippet. Indeed, examining one's life against the virtues requires much more than fitting in with the opinion of the many (a problem Socrates warns about in Crito, p. 56).

The parallels with the last days of Jesus include the symbolism of three days before the ship arrives from Delos (signalling the time for Socrates to die), and also Socrates' vision that he will go to the mythical city of Phthia in three days ('The third day hence, to Phthia shalt thou go', Crito, p. 56). This coincides with Socrates' faith in an afterlife, echoing Jesus' death and subsequent resurrection. In Phaedo there are echoes of the Garden of Eden and the captivity in Babylon (p. 99) and of being 'born again' (p. 83).

Ideas that were later captured in Stoicism are evident in Phaedo. For example, not trusting our perceptions to our senses (p. 99), that philosophy is about practising to die well (p. 97), that suicide is an option (Phaedo, p. 74), and one's ruling principle comes from the soul (p. 112).

Key to Stoic philosophy are the four virtues: Wisdom, Courage, Temperance, and Justice. For Socrates, the virtues are Temperance, Justice, Courage, Nobility, and Truth (Phaedo, p.135).

The coinciding themes of Christianity and Stoicism are captured in the closing pages of Phaedo, notably that, for the 'immortal soul' (p. 128):
...there is no release or salvation from evil except the attainment of the highest virtue and wisdom.
This tetralogy left me rather stunned that, despite how far humans have advanced in technology, we owe much of our spiritual development to the ancients. Those currently virtue-signalling in Australian politics would benefit from testing their contemporary sense of virtue with the wise Socrates.

Benjamin Franklin's Virtues Journal suggests that to practice humility, one should imitate Jesus and Socrates. In light of this work, Franklin's comparison is well justified.

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