In 399 B. C. Socrates was tried by a jury of 500 for refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state and for corrupting the youth. 280 of the 500 Athenian jurors found him guilty. But censorship then was much harsher than today.
They sentenced him to death.
He was taken to a jail where the execution would be performed and the executioner would be himself. Athenian custom was that executions were performed by drinking a cup of hemlock. The following is Plato’s description of the ordered suicide of Socrates.
The Suicide of Socrates
-When Crito heard, he signaled to the slave who was standing by. The boy went out, and returned after a few moments with the man who was to administer the poison which he brought ready mixed in a cup.
When Socrates saw him, he said, ‘Now, good sir, you understand these things. What must I do?’
‘Just drink it and walk around until your legs begin to feel heavy, then lie down. It will soon act.’ With that he offered Socrates the cup.
The latter took it quite cheerfully without a tremor, with no change of color or expression. He just gave the man his stolid look, and asked, ‘How say you, is it permissible to pledge this drink to anyone? May I?’
The answer came, ‘We allow reasonable time in which to drink it.’
Beyond The Grave
‘I understand’, he said, ‘we can and must pray to the gods that our sojourn on earth will continue happy beyond the grave. This is my prayer, and may it come to pass.’ With these words, he stoically drank the potion, quite readily and cheerfully.
Up till this moment most of us were able with some decency to hold back our tears, but when we saw him drinking the poison to the last drop, we could restrain ourselves no longer. In spite of myself, the tears came in floods, so that I covered my face and wept – not for him, but at my own misfortune at losing such a man as my friend. Crito, even before me, rose and went out when he could check his tears no longer.
Apollodorus was already steadily weeping, and by drying his eyes, crying again and sobbing, he affected everyone present except for Socrates himself.
He said, ‘You are strange fellows; what is wrong with you? I sent the women away for this very purpose, to stop their creating such a scene. I have heard that one should die in silence. So please be quiet and keep control of yourselves.’ These words made us ashamed, and we stopped crying.
Socrates walked around until he said that his legs were becoming heavy, when he lay on his back, as the attendant instructed. This fellow felt him, and then a moment later examined his feet and legs again. Squeezing a foot hard, he asked him if he felt anything. Socrates said that he did not. He did the same to his calves and, going higher, showed us that he was becoming cold and stiff. Then he felt him a last time and said that when the poison reached the heart he would be gone.
As the chill sensation got to his waist, Socrates uncovered his head (he had put something over it) and said his last words: ‘Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. Do pay it. Don’t forget.’
‘Of course’, said Crito. ‘Do you want to say anything else?’
There was no reply to this question, but after a while he gave a slight stir, and the attendant uncovered him and examined his eyes. Then Crito saw that he was dead, he closed his mouth and eyelids.
This was the end of our friend, the best, wisest and most upright man of any that I have ever known-
Today we live win a society that welcomes the free flow of ideas. Anyone can have a blog, speak about almost anything or teach on any subject they choose. Censorship today is nothing compared to the past. There is nothing stopping you from going out and having influence. Start now.