previous next




An Athenian philosopher, whose teaching revolutionized the whole drift of subsequent philosophical speculation. He was born in the deme Alopecé, near Athens, B.C. 469. His father, Sophroniscus, was a sculptor, and his mother, Phaenareté, was a midwife. In his youth Socrates for a time followed his father's occupation, and a group of sculptured Graces, preserved in the Acropolis, was exhibited as his work down to the time of Pausanias; but there is reason to believe that this arose from a confusion of names. It is thought by some that the relief of draped Graces in the Museo Chiaramonte in Rome represents the Athenian group, in which case it must have belonged to an earlier period of art than the century in which Socrates lived.

The personal qualities of Socrates were marked, and such as would readily attract attention. He enjoyed vigorous health, and was so robust as to be capable of enduring fatigue and hardship to a degree that astonished all who knew him. He went barefooted at all seasons of the year; and this not merely at Athens, but when serving as a soldier in the much colder climate of Thrace; and he wore the same clothing in winter as in summer. His features were of remarkable ugliness; and his flat nose, thick lips, and bulging eyes led to his being compared to a satyr.

As to the particulars of his life, there is no connected account. It is known that he served as a heavy-armed soldier at Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis; but he seems not to have filled any public office until B.C. 406, when he was a member of the Senate of Five Hundred, and as such refused, in spite of all personal risk, to put an unconstitutional question to vote. He displayed the same moral courage in refusing to obey the order of the Thirty Tyrants for the arrest of Leon of Salamis.

From the period of his middle life, at any rate, he devoted his time wholly to the self-imposed task of teaching, giving up all other business, both public and private, and neglecting all means of acquiring a fortune. It was probably his remissness in this respect which was responsible for the ill-temper and fretfulness of his wife Xanthippé, whose name has passed into all modern tongues as the type of a shrew. Socrates never opened a school and never lectured publicly, nor did he receive any money for his teaching, but went about in the most public parts of the city, such as the

Socrates. (Vatican.)

market-place, the gymnasia, and the work-shops, seeking opportunities for awakening in the young and old alike moral consciousness and an impulse towards self-knowledge with respect to the end and value of human action. His object, however, was only to aid those with whom he talked in developing such germs of knowledge as were already present in them, and not to communicate to them dogmatically

So-called Prison of Socrates at Athens.

any knowledge of his own. He was especially severe upon false pretences and intellectual conceit; and, consequently, to many persons he became exceedingly obnoxious, and was the object of much dislike and misrepresentation. This is probably the reason why Aristophanes, in The Clouds, selected Socrates as the type of men engaged in philosophical and rhetorical teaching; the more so, as his grotesque physiognomy admitted so well of being imitated in the mask which the actor wore. The audience at the theatre would more readily recognize the peculiar figure which they were accustomed to see every day in the market-place than if Prodicus or Protagoras, whom most of them did not know by sight, had been brought on the stage; nor was it of much importance either to them or to Aristophanes whether Socrates was represented as teaching what he did really teach, or something utterly different.

Attached to none of the prevailing parties, Socrates found in each of them his friends and his enemies. Hated and persecuted by Critias , Charicles, and others among the Thirty Tyrants, who had a special reference to him in the decree which they issued, forbidding the teaching of the art of oratory, he was impeached after their banishment and by their opponents. An orator named Lycon, and a poet (a friend of Thrasybulus) named Meletus, had united in the impeachment with the powerful demagogue Anytus, an embittered antagonist of the Sophists and their system, and one of the leaders of the band which, setting out from Phylé, forced their way into the Piraeus, and drove out the Thirty Tyrants. The judges also are described as persons who had been banished, and who had returned with Thrasybulus. The chief articles of impeachment were that Socrates was guilty of corrupting the youth and of despising the tutelary deities of the State, putting in their place other new divinities. At the same time it had been made a matter of accusation against him that Critias , the most ruthless of the Tyrants, had come forth from his school. Some expressions of his, in which he had found fault with the democratic mode of electing by lot, had also been brought up against him; and there can be little doubt that use was made of his friendly relations with Theramenes, one of the most influential of the Thirty, with Plato's uncle Charmides, who fell by the side of Critias in the struggle with the popular party, and with other aristocrats, in order to irritate against him the party which at that time was dominant. The substance of the speech which Socrates delivered in his defence is probably preserved by Plato in the discourse which goes under the name of the “Apology of Socrates.” Being condemned by a majority of only six votes, he expresses the conviction that he deserved to be maintained at the public cost in the Prytaneum, and refuses to acquiesce in the adjudication of imprisonment or a large fine or banishment. He will assent to nothing more than a fine of sixty minae, on the security of Plato, Crito , and other friends. Condemned to death by the judges, who were incensed by this speech, by a majority of eighty votes, he departs from them with the protestation that he would rather die after such a defence than live after one in which he should have endeavoured to excite their pity. The sentence of death could not be carried into execution until after the return of the vessel which had been sent to Delos on the periodical Theoric mission. The thirty days which intervened between its return and the condemnation of Socrates were devoted by him in prison to poetic attempts (the first he had made in his life) and to his usual conversation with his friends. One of these conversations, on the duty of obedience to the laws, Plato has reported in the Crito, so called after the faithful follower of Socrates, who had endeavoured without success to persuade him to make his escape. In another, imitated or worked up by Plato in the Phaedo, Socrates immediately before he drank the cup of hemlock developed the grounds of his immovable conviction of the immortality of the soul. He died with composure and cheerfulness in his seventieth year, B.C. 399.

Three peculiarities distinguished Socrates: (a) His long life passed in contented poverty and in public dialectics, of which we have already spoken. (b) His persuasion of a special religious mission. He had been accustomed constantly to hear, even from his childhood, a divine voice— interfering, at moments when he was about to act, in the way of restraint, but never in the way of instigation. Such prohibitory warning was wont to come upon him very frequently, not merely on great but even on small occasions, intercepting what he was about to do or to say. Though later writers speak of this as the Daemon or Genius of Socrates, he himself did not personify it, but treated it merely as a “divine sign, a prophetic or supernatural voice.” He was accustomed not only to obey it implicitly, but to speak of it publicly and familiarly to others, so that the fact was well known both to his friends and to his enemies. See a paper by H. Jackson in the English Journal of Philology, vol. v., and Freymüller, De Socratis Daemonio (1864). (c) His great intellectual originality, both of subject and of method, and his power of stirring and forcing the germ of inquiry and ratiocination in others. He was the first who turned his thoughts and discussions distinctly to the subject of ethics, and was the first to proclaim that “the proper study of mankind is man.” With the philosophers who preceded him, the subject of examination had been Nature, or the Cosmos as one undistinguishable whole, blending together cosmogony, astronomy, geometry, physics, metaphysics, etc. In discussing ethical subjects Socrates employed the dialectic method, and thus laid the foundation of formal logic, which was afterwards expanded by Plato and systematized by Aristotle.

The originality of Socrates is shown by the results he achieved. Out of his intellectual school sprang not merely Plato, himself a host, but all the other leaders of Grecian speculation for the next half century, and all those who continued the great line of speculative philosophy down to later times. Euclid and the Megaric School of philosophers—Aristippus and the Cyrenaic Antisthenes and Diogenes, the first of those called the Cynics—all emanated more or less directly from the stimulus imparted by Socrates, and so, for that matter, did the Stoics and Epicureans, though each followed a different vein of thought. Ethics continued to be what Socrates had first made them —a distinct branch of philosophy—alongside of which politics, rhetoric, logic, and other speculations relating to man and society gradually arranged themselves; all of them more popular, as well as more keenly controverted, than physics, which at that time presented comparatively little charm, and still less of attainable certainty. There can be no doubt that the individual influence of Socrates permanently enlarged the horizon, improved the method, and multiplied the ascendant minds, of the Grecian speculative world, in a manner never since paralleled. Subsequent philosophers had a more elaborate doctrine and a larger number of disciples who imbibed their ideas; but none of them applied the same stimulating method with the same efficacy, and none of them so struck out of other minds that fire which sets light to original thought.

See Zeller, Socrates and the Socratic Schools, Engl. trans. (1877); Alberti, Sokrates (1869); Bertram, Der Sokrates d. Xenoph. und Aristoph. (1865); Carran, La Sophistique de Socrate (1886); Guttmann, Ueber den wissenschaftlichen Standpunkt des Sokrates (1881). The best ancient sources are Xenophon's Memorabilia and Symposium, with Plato's Crito, Symposium, Apologia, and Phaedo. See Philosophia.


An ecclesiastical historian, born at Constantinople about A.D. 379. He was a pupil of Ammonius and Helladius, and followed the profession of an advocate in his native city, whence he is surnamed Scholasticus. The Ecclesiastical History (Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ Ἱστορία) of Socrates extends from the reign of Constantine the Great, 306, to that of the younger Theodosius, 439. He appears to have been a man of less bigotry than most of his contemporaries, and the very difficulty of determining from internal evidence some points of his religious belief may be considered as arguing his comparative liberality. His history is divided into seven books. His work is edited by Hussey (1853) and Bright, with an introduction (1878); and is translated into English in Schaff's Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2d series, vol. ii. (New York, 1891).

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: