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4.8 out of 5 stars
The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Classics)
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 19 April 2008
The last days of Socrates is Plato's main work concerned with Socrates and his beliefs. The book is set out in four dialogues between Socrates and his followers (apart from one monologue):

Euthyphro: Socrates questions what it is to be holy and just and in doing so raises questions of God.

Apology: Socrates refutes charges against him to a jury.

Crito: Socrates is condemned to death and explains why it would be 'unjust' for him to escape jail.

Phaedo: The most important dialogue where Socrates gives his account for the immortality of the soul.

Whether Socrates was real or just created by Plato doesn't matter, he is an extremely admirable character and over the course of the book you will like him more and more which makes the ending where he faces death all the more depressing.

This book is a good introduction to Socrates, Plato or Philosophy as a whole and it is very unlikely that something in this book will not stay with you forever. As for further reading I would recommend 'The republic' Plato's blueprint for an ideal society which contains most of his philosophy and where Plato explains 'the myth of the cave'. one of the most influential ideas in philosophy.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 11 July 2008
I thought I might be getting in over my head with this,considering the antiquity and seemingly academic nature of the subject.Then I thought "well your just reading it to impress people",finally in the quest for knowledge I relented and purchased it.
I was suprised from the start how my fears where unfounded and found the book very illuminating and understandable.The basic concepts of Greek philosophy are put forward and validated through dialogues in such a way as to be accessable to all.On completing this I immediately ordered the Republic and found this to be slightly more demanding in some areas but on the whole understandable.
Overall the experience of reading these two books has spurred me on to read more on this subject and you should not hesitate to purchase them.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Plato brings to life completely the incredible character of Socrates in four short books.

The first, "Euthyphro" shows the Philosopher in action, cross-examining and pretty much destroying the pious pretensions of another; "The Apology", Socrates' case for his innocence at his trial; "Crito", a conversation with this close friend while the philosopher is incarcerated in an Athenian prison, and "Phaedo", an account of Socrates' final conversation with his followers on the eve of his execution in 399 BCE.

Although the author is Plato, many of the words of his master Socrates are probably quoted verbatim, particularly likely in the detailed accounts of his legal self-defence, giving us a true glimpse of an extraordinarily larger than life character with a philosophy that baffled (and indeed outraged) many of his peers.

In other areas some of the dialogue spoken by others in conversations with Socrates seems very similar, leading at least this reader to believe that Plato is really concentrating on showing the character of Socrates and less so that of the many people he spoke with. Alternatively it could be that Socrates' oratory was so mindbogglingly intense that nobody could get a word in edgeways, and thus all of those he conversed with had no choice but to reply, when they got the chance, with the same "Yes Socrates" and "I suppose it must be, Socrates" responses, or words to this effect.

I loved Socrates by the end of this book, my second and long overdue re-read of it; but I'm under no illusion that he most certainly wouldn't be a person I'd want to get sat next to in a pub. Genuinely and passionately believing himself to be, somewhat Blues-Brothers like, on a mission from God (though via the Oracle at Delphi rather than Whoopi Goldberg), his task to prove to anyone who thought they might be wise that infact they couldn't possibly be.

Naturally both Socrates' premise and methodology - that of an intense philosophical cross-examination inflicted upon his subjects often randomly, and certainly not at their request - landed him in trouble. Intelligent, witty and sarcastic by turn, Socrates demolished his opponents with such rigour that he attracted an abundance of young hangers-on who promptly went forth and emulated his questioning style to the point where he was finally arrested on charges of "corrupting the young".

There is much humour here, and very accessible it is too; while the past is indeed a different country when it comes to the logic behind Athenian sentencing, any modern reader will recognise and very probably laugh out loud at Socrates' use of sarcastic flattery while he slowly and laboriously pulls to pieces the arguments of his subjects.

There is of course tragedy here too; Socrates is so highly principled that he has no fear of death and will not kow-tow just to get himself off the hook. Instead, in his defence he makes a lengthy philosophical speech which clearly irritates and bores the court - but also angers them as in typical style, Socrates blows their case out of the water with his famed use of logic.

Nevertheless the story still ends in tragedy; but at the same time Plato, determined to immortalise his master, has ensured that the (mostly) true stories of Socrates' religious and philosophical beliefs, his character and personality, and his amazing and unshakable strength of character in the face of death, have indeed always remained with us.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on 10 November 2003
This was my first attempt at Plato's work, and I have to say I was impressed. Expecting a complex and difficult text (having just worked through Kant's 'Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals' and being forced to read each sentence three times!) 'The Last Days of Socrates' was a relief. It was easy to read and a fantastic introduction to Plato; as a Philosophy A-level student I found the ideas both accessible and interesting. The ideas contained in 'Phaedo' in paticular were extremely useful in relation to Plato's concept of life after death, while 'Apology' is a magnificent defence of philosophy based on Plato's memory of Socrates. Overall a fantastic read, a brilliant book to begin any study of Platonic ideas and a great groundwork to begin a course in Philosophy because, as Whitehead said, the entire history of philosophy since has been simply 'a series of footnotes to Plato'. After reading this I would recommend 'The Republic', one of Plato's most famous works, if you want to investigate further.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 31 August 2005
I guess if you're reading this review you are probably already going to buy this book. If you're still thinking about it then just buy it. It aids in your understanding of the ancient Greek psyche in so many ways, Socrates (Plato) idea of the afterlife and its insight into the metaphysics of the day still strike chords with the modern psyche. It is also massively important as a (maybe) historical document dealing with classical Athens.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I am new to reading Plato's works on Socrates and have never studied philosophy at any educational level. Therefore, I came to this book as a 30 year old with no previous knowledge of Socrates (aside from knowing of him) or Plato's dialogues.

It has been said in other reviews but I totally agree that these four dialogues that make up this book are the best place to start for reading Socratic philosophy. I actually tried to read Early Socratic Dialogues (Penguin Classics) first but aside from an excellent introduction on the life and work of Socrates, I found the book very difficult to read. It is filled with extensive footnotes and explanations during each dialogue that make reading it disruptive and difficult. I did read most of that book but gave up towards the end, with a view to coming back to it in future when I am more familiar with Plato's work.

I then began reading The Last Days of Socrates and this was a completely different experience. There again is a great introduction but reading the dialogues this time is a much more involving and understood journey. As the title suggests, these four dialogues of Plato's tell the end of Socrates and do so in a way that has much less commentary during the text (though there is some) and generally aims not to confuse or patronise the reader.

As I understand it, the first 3 dialogues of this book were written around the same time and are much shorter in length than the final dialogue Phaedo. Phaedo is considered a much later work of Plato and is the most difficult to get your head round but is still a very enthralling and enlightening discussion as Socrates is about to drink the cup of poison.

The highlight for me though is Apology. This is the dialogue concerned with Socrates trial and sentencing, and is one of those writings that simply blew me away. I don't want to go into much detail how and why, but it's simply to do with how Socrates speaks to the jury (his condemners) after he has been told he will die. It really is extraordinary and eye-opening stuff.

In conclusion, I whole-heartedly recommend this book. I think it is enjoyable, enlightening and a fantastic introduction to the work of Plato and Socrates.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 27 December 2012
What have we got here? Plato gives us four glimpses of the last few days of the life of his friend Socrates, an old man (70) who is put on trial, condemned and dies at Athens in 399BC.

Socrates spends his last days in conversation with his friends (not including Plato):

On his way to his trial, he talks to Euthyphro. Appropriately, they discuss what might make an accurate definition of right and wrong. They fail to arrive at such a definition.

In his defence speech before a jury of Athenians, Socrates is more defiant than defensive, and far from apologetic. He stands accused of corrupting the youth of Athens, and of rejecting state religion in favour of his own ideas. Although he speaks honestly, he fails to win the hearts and minds of the jurymen. Socrates is condemned to death by hemlock.

Next, we find him visited in prison by his friend Crito, who tries to convince Socrates to take the opportunity to escape, flee Athens and live happily ever after in, say, Thessaly. Socrates refuses, on the grounds that he would thus be breaking the law, which can never be right. Besides, he's never liked Thessaly.

So, hemlock it is, then. In the final dialogue in the book, and of Socrates' life, Plato shows us the noble death of an original and radical thinker. We are left moved and improved by the example of a man who lived and died according to his principles and only his principles.

Good book, if a little short on laughs.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 8 December 2012
The story of the trial of Socrates, his condemnation to death and the serenity with which he drinks the poison on execution day is compelling and dramatic. It offers hope and comfort to the average mortal that death can be conquered by conquering the fear of death. "Ordinary people", Socrates says, "seem not to realize that those who really apply themselves in the right way to philosophy are directly and of their own accord preparing themselves for dying and death."

As a philosophical work it is less satisfying. In particular, the last and longest dialogue of the collection, Phaedo, is an effort by Plato to prove that the soul is everlasting. As the translator notes in his introduction, "To those readers who do not share Plato's concepts of soul and of its desired objects of knowledge (...) the whole work might in that case be found irritating and pointless, a logical exercise based on unacceptable premises." I am one of those readers and reacted as he had predicted to this dialogue.

Nevertheless, Plato's literary skills make the dialogues easy and entertaining to read. The Penguin edition is complemented by short but helpful introductions to each dialogue, summaries of key arguments, and background notes that place the discussions in the context of pre-Socratic philosophy and that explain contemporary literary references.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 5 September 2008
I've kept this paperback, bought with my school pocket money in the early 1960s, and still treasure it, the same copy. The Apology (Court Defence, on rigged charges) is, to say the least, electrifying. It's deep, deep thinking - yet put so plainly and in such an engaging way that you can't let go without feeling dishonest. It's become my own way of thinking and discussion. Be warned: there are some people who won't become your friends if you follow its processes: 'Tell me what you mean by.....' Those who avoid the questions are the shallow, the superficial people you don't want as friends. You make them think, and they're annoyed. So it was then (399 BCE), and so it is now. Read any tabloid, listen to political conference speeches, and you well understand why we could never have done without Sokrates, and Plato who preserved his teachings. Know yourself, however painful, and you come to know others too, for better or worse.
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The Penguin Classics series is a long established series and anyone familiar with them knows they are a recommendation in themselves. If books have been published in the series, they must be good and they deserve that familiar dark coloured section on bookshelves.

Socrates' philosophies and last days as written by Plato is no exception. For anyone who wants a direct link to ancient philosophy of the highest standard, this book contains two and is an ideal introduction to both. I am sure readers will be pleasantly surprised by how accessible this is; all credit to the original speaker, the writer and the translator.

Typical of the series, at these prices, it is perfect for students and the generally interested alike.
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