The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life
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From the celebrated British author and historian: a brilliant new book combining historical inquiry and storytelling élan to paint an unprecedentedly vivid portrait of Socrates and the Golden Age of classical Athens.
We think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did; in his unwavering commitment to truth and in the example of his own life, he set the standard for all subsequent Western philosophy. And yet, for twenty-five centuries, he has remained an enigma: a man who left no written legacy and about whom everything we know is hearsay. His life spanned “seventy of the busiest, most wonderful and tragic years in Athenian history.” Athens in the fifth century B.C. was a city devastated by war, but, at the same time, transformed by the burgeoning process of democracy. Drawing on the latest sources—archaeological, topographical, and textual—Hughes re-creates the streets where Socrates walked, to place him there, and to illuminate for us the world as he experienced it.
She takes us through the great, teeming Agora—the massive marketplace, the heart of ancient Athens—where Socrates engaged in philosophical dialogue and where he would be condemned to death. We visit the battlefields where he fought, the red-light district and gymnasia he frequented and the religious festivals he attended. We meet the men and the few women—including his wife, Xanthippe, and his “inspiration” and confidante, Aspasia—who were central to his life. We travel to where he was born and where he died. And we come to understand the profound influences of time and place in the evolution of his eternally provocative philosophy.
truculent geographically. Too many islands, too many shores; mountains too high to conquer easily. Greek colonists might be establishing settlements right across the eastern Mediterranean, but there is an admission that, in spirit, the Greek world has shrunk.14 Men are no longer achieving that which the heroes of the Age of Heroes once did; they are not walking through palaces decorated with lapis lazuli from the Caucasus, not sitting on rock-crystal thrones, not boasting that they possess the
fifth century BC the mechanics of the fleet (which meant a big boost to the economy and a massive influx of people to Attica) encouraged the Athenians to define ‘metics’ (literally someone who has transferred homes) as foreigners, as ‘others’ (as opposed to citizens). Then in 445/4, the citizenship lists were purged: Philochorus, FGr Hist 328 F119; Plutarch, Pericles, 37.4; Stadter (1989), 336–9 (from p.137 of Raaflaub, The Origins of Democracy). CHAPTER SEVENTEEN Aspasia – Sophe Kai Politike
popular, loved by all, Tomorrow, blaming the innocent for the harm he’s done, Getting away with every crime, till finally The law-courts let him off scot-free! The common man! Incapable of plain reasoning, how can he guide A city in sound policy?5 And Socrates – the man we credit as the champion of free speech and liberty – asked another, disconcerting question of democracy. Persuasive speech is all very well, but how much room does persuasion allow for goodness, for truth?6 Speaking freely in
Corinth dispatched 1,600 hoplites and 400 lightly armed troops to protect its threatened city-child. The Greeks were at war – with one another. Socrates at war Greek encampments were untidy and relatively haphazard. Trees were cleared for firewood and rough shelters, soldiers would huddle under animal skins – one-man bivouacs. Those who could not afford tents companioned around camp fires.6 The nights were chill at that time of year; the campaign fell some time between September and November in
bacterium. And now they were doubly, triply occupied – by city dwellers, by refugees and by a killer. As the disease spread the courtyards began to fill with bodies, and men, women and children desperately tried to find some relief from the searing heat of their internal cellular battle. At first week by week, and then day by day, more and more Athenians needed to be buried. The eye-witness accounts make for unbearable reading. Words indeed fail one when one tries to give a general picture of