Socrates the Philosopher
Socrates was born in 469 b.c. He was not a noble like Alcibiades, but a man of humble birth. Nor was he handsome as was his disciple, but plain, even ugly, the people said. He was small, too, and dressed with little care.
If anyone wished to find the philosopher, he knew that he had only to go to the market-place or into the streets. Here, from early morning until late at night, Socrates was to be seen, and always he was talking, talking to all who were willing to listen. And there were ever many who were not only willing but eager to hear what the teacher had to say, for his words were so wise, his conversations so strange.
Socrates believed that the gods had sent him to teach the Athenians. From his boyhood he had heard a voice within him, bidding him to do this, not to do that. He often spoke of this voice to those who became his disciples. It became known as the dæmon of Socrates.
The philosopher was a soldier as well as a teacher, and his philosophy taught him how to endure hardship as well as or even better than could the ordinary Athenian.
In heat or in cold he wore the same clothing, and in all weathers he walked with bare feet. He ate little and drank less whether he was in the camp or in the city.
Xanthippe, the wife of Socrates, had not a good temper, and she would often scold the philosopher. That may have been because while he was teaching wisdom in the market-place, Xanthippe was at home wondering how to provide food for her husband and their children with the few coins she possessed. Socrates was never paid by his disciples, and so it often happened that Xanthippe found it difficult to get food and clothing for her household.
The philosopher taught for many years, but at length, in 399 b.c. , his enemies accused him of speaking against the gods of Athens. He had even dared, so they said, to speak of new gods whom the people should worship, and that was a crime worthy of death.
Socrates took little trouble to defend himself against the accusations of his enemies. His dæmon, he said, would not allow him to plead for his life. So he was condemned to death, but only by a majority of five or six votes out of six hundred.
For thirty days Socrates was in prison, and he spent the time in talking to his friends just as he had been used to do in the market-place.
One of his disciples, named Crito, bribed the jailer to allow his prisoner to escape, but Socrates refused to flee. He did not fear death, but faced it calmly as he had faced life.
On the day before the sentence was carried out, he talked quietly to his disciples of the life to which he was going, for he believed that his soul, which was his real self, would live after he had laid aside his body as a garment.
When the cup of hemlock, a poisoned draught, was brought to him, his friends wept, but he took the cup in his hand, and drank the contents as though it were a draught of wine.
His last words to Crito were to remind him to pay a debt. "Crito, we owe a cock to Asclepius," he said. "Discharge the debt and by no means omit it." Asclepius was the god of medicine, and in this way Socrates showed his reverence for the religious customs of his country.
This was the man who found in Alcibiades, despite his wild ways, a noble mind and a kind heart. These he determined to educate. And his pupil was quick to see that Socrates spoke truth to him. He soon learned to appreciate his kindness and to stand in awe of his virtue. Sometimes, indeed, the words of his master "overcame him so much as to draw tears from his eyes, and to disturb his very soul."
So dear did the philosopher become to Alcibiades that he often lived in the same tent with him and shared his simple meals. Yet sometimes he was tempted by his flatterers when they begged him to come to spend the days in pleasure and the nights in feasting. Then he would yield to their entreaties and for a while desert and even avoid his master.
But the philosopher did not leave his pupil unchecked to do as he wished. He "would pursue him as if he had been a fugitive slave. . . . He reduced and corrected him by his addresses, and made him humble and modest, by showing him in how many things he was deficient, and how very far from perfection in virtue."