Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus and Phaenarete, a citizen of Athens, was born about 470 B.C., and followed at first his father's profession of sculptor, giving it up to start on a sort of moral and intellectual mission, to which he was urged, he conceived, by divine impulse. However, he discharged the duties of a citizen; first as a soldier at Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis (where he showed courage and steadfastness), later as a senator, when he boldly resisted unconstitutional measures. But the work of his life was to convict his fellow creatures of ignorance, and, above all, to expose the spurious teaching of the Sophists. His method was to lead chance people, whom he met in the public places, into conversations on moral and social topics, and by a skilful process of questioning, to unveil the falsity or inadequacy of their ideas and principles. The results were negative, though the tendency of the process was towards establishing a higher ethical standard than that of the age. Many took part in the discnssions as mere lessons in the art of verbal fencing. A smaller number sought counsel and strengthening for the duties of life; whilst a few grasped the true significance of the master's mission, and formed the nucleus of a school. The power of the man may be inferred from the fact that characters so widely different as Plato, Alcibiades, Xenophon, and Critias came nnder his influence. Personally he was shorb, stout, grotesque and sensual in feature, his appearance suggesting a Silenus rather than a saint, yet his habits were simple to austerity. He wore the same clothes summer and winter, dispensed with shoes, ate and drank like the poorest slave, but did not abjure social pleasures or advocate asceticism as an end in itself. Ironic humour was one of his most potent instruments, but he used it as a philanthropist, and for grave wrongs he had sterner weapons of direct reproof. Socrates showed profound respect for even the conventional religion of his age and country, observing the usual rites, and accepting the signs and oracles, whilst he rejected the grosser legends and superstitions, which he attributed to lying poets. He claimed, however, to have a special divine sign or voice, sometimes called his "daemon," and the precise nature of this belief of his has provoked much controversy. Probably he meant no more than is expressed by our word conscience, with the addition of a direct religious sanction, such as fervent piety often accepts as an objective phenomenon. With his wife, Xanthippe, a shrew, and a woman incapable of appreciating his aims, he seems to have led a wretched existence, tempered by his philosophic forbearance. Though opposed to the oligarchical tyranny or the Four Hundred and the Thirty, Socrates was even more adverse to the unmixed democracy, with its election by lot and its payment for political services. Accordingly, on the triumph of the demagogues, he was in 399 accused of denying the gods and corrupting the young, and being convicted by an overwhelming majority of the jury, was sentenced to death. He passed thirty days before execution in the noble discourses on the immortality of the soul, which are recorded in Plato's Phaedo, drank the cnp of hemlock, and died.