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By Emily Wilson

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Additional info for Death of Socrates: Hero, Villain, Chatterbox, Saint

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Hit them! Hurl your weapons at them! ’ From the perspective of many modern readers, the end of the Clouds makes for disturbing reading. It suggests that we should cheer – or, worse, laugh – when new ideas are suppressed. Those who challenge received wisdom deserve to be lynched. Equally worrying is Aristophanes’ failure to distinguish those aspects of Socratic philosophy that might be dangerous from those that are merely silly. The play mixes up at least four distinct stereotypes about intellectuals.

In Plato’s Phaedo, his last words are an injunction to make a traditional blood sacrifice to a named god: ‘Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius. ’ But it is very likely that Socrates questioned many of the traditional Greek myths about the gods. In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates says he does not believe that Zeus chained up his father, Cronos, for eating his children, or that Cronos in turn had castrated his own father. Socrates is talking just before his trial, outside the courthouse, and he suggests that his religious doubts are the reason for the prosecution.

By comparison, Socrates’ doubts about the old stories seem relatively mild. 32 the death of socrates But Socratic religion may have seemed even more liable to corrupt the young, because it was more insidious. Socrates presented his own rationalised, highly moralised conception of the gods as the ‘true’ religion of Athens. Socrates may have been seen as more impious even than Xenophanes and Anaxagoras, because he presented his religious radicalism as an ideal form of piety. introducing new divinities The prosecutors claimed not only that Socrates ‘does not believe in the city’s gods’, but also that he ‘introduces new divinities’ (daimonia).

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