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Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths [Hardcover]

Robin Waterfield
3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
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Book Description

19 Feb 2009
Socrates' trial and death together form an iconic moment in Western civilization. The picture we have of it - created by his immediate followers and perpetuated in countless works of literature and art ever since - is that a noble man was put to death in a fit of folly by the ancient Athenian democracy. But an icon, an image, is not reality. The trial was, in part, a response to troubled times - a catastrophic war and turbulent social changes - and so provides a good lens through which to explore the history of the period; the historical facts allow us to strip away some of the veneer that has for so long denied us glimpses of the real Socrates. Written by a scholar, but not only for scholars, this is an accessible, authoritative account of one of the defining periods of Western civilization.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Faber & Faber; First Edition edition (19 Feb 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571235506
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571235506
  • Product Dimensions: 2.7 x 16.2 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 317,564 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Starred Review. Of the many introductory studies on the Athenian judicial system, the trial of Socrates, the conflict between Athens and Sparta and the reasons that democracy gave way to oligarchy in Athens, this is among the clearest, most well-organized and most concise. " --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

The real story behind one of the great philosophical scandals of history - Socrates' trial and condemnation.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
3.6 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very insightful and very interesting 19 Aug 2010
By Keen Reader TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I don't think that the author of this book suggests that Socrates supported 'the Thirty' at all. Surely it is more the case that the book argues that Socrates was sacrificed because he was seen by some as a 'sophist'; and that he taught his followers, in a very public manner, to question the underlying assumptions of Athens' way of life.

This book is very insightful and interesting; well-written and very thorough. I recommend it highly. The author's book on Xenophon is also very good, and I would recommend that too.

Both these books offer very good background and interesting historical analysis of Athens during its imperial phase and its struggles with Sparta and Persia.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Possible Answer, not the only one 29 July 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book by Robin Waterfield provides a good account of classical Athenian history as the background to the trial of Socrates and of the mechanics and course of the trial itself. After an introduction, he discusses how the Athenian courts worked, the prosecution and defence and how the jury voting system. Next, Waterfield gives a readable account of the Peloponnesian War and the effect it had on Athenian politics, promoting both extreme democracy or demagogy and brutal oligarchy. In this, the main figure is Alcibiades, handsome and wealthy and hungry for power, either fighting for Athenian democracy or plotting against it.

Socrates had a turbulent relationship with Alcibiades as his teacher and possibly lover, and many of Socrates's student followers were rich and opponents of the Athenian democracy, including Critias, violently anti-democratic and one of the main leaders of the oligarchic coups. Waterfield argues in a final section that, although by 399BC, Critias and Alcibiades were both dead, Socrates was tarnished by his association with them. The charges he faced, impiety, worshipping new gods and corrupting the young were motivated by political revenge rather than moral or religious concerns.

However, Waterfield argues that Socrates' death was caused by his own suicidal behaviour. The jury convicted him by only a narrow majority, after which, the prosecutor and Socrates each proposed a penalty. By not proposing a fine or exile instead of death, but dinners at public expense, he created outrage which ensured a big majority for the death penalty. This is an intriguing argument, but an alternative to Waterfield's view is that Socrates was so out of touch he really believed that his actions were more worthy of praise than condemnation.

Overall an interesting book, but only one of many theories about Socrates's trial and death. He idea that Socrates deliberately sought death is not really proved.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
"Why Socrates Died?" by Robin Waterfield is a fresh, carefully researched and very coherent account of Athenian democracy at its best and worst.

The most surprising theme of the book, was that democratic Athens was so deeply divided on class lines: perhaps that is why for much of this time Athens was, despite its disasters, such a success.

The detailed analysis and description of the life and death of Alcibiades was the strongest part of the book. Alcibaides can be dismissed as just a maverick and a loose cannon. Robin Waterfield reveals the complexity, driven nature and strange genius of the man.

It was rather sad in the end, that the probable reason for Socrates demise, was the revenge of fathers for Socrates supposedly leading astray the youth of Athens: I had hoped that Athenian democracy would have been stronger than that and on another day or year Socrates would have survived.

One does not need to be a Greek scholar (which I am not) to enjoy this book, which drew one back into the world of classical Greece. Although the book highlighted the weaknesses and unpleasantness of much of the Athenian polity, it reinforced in me my longstanding fascination, respect, admiration and even love for democratic Athens.

After having read the book, I found the review by Mr McCormack rather puzzling: Robin Waterfield's books ( I have also read Xenophon's Retreat) present the evidence and his well thought out views, in a story which is comprehensible for the reader (whether a scholar or layman). Perhaps Mr McCormack was disappointed that Robin Waterfield took time to explain to the reader the political, religious and cultural context which lead to the death of Socrates, rather than concentrating the whole of the book on Socrates himself.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
This is not a difficult book to read - it is engaging and presents the information clearly and in a well structured way. Waterfield manages to present 5th Century Athenian history from the end of the Persian wars within the framework of Sokrates' life, explaining about Sokrates' association with the young oligarchic element of Athenian culture and the issues that come from this with regards to Alkibiades and the end of the Peloponnesian War, the 30 Tyrants and the restoration of Democracy.

A very well written book - an essential introduction to 5th century Athenian politics looking back from 399BC.
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