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.
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.
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.
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.
on 25 June 2012
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.
on 19 December 2010
The life and legacy of Socrates can be interpreted in many different ways, and have been so interpreted. While that is frustrating, it could be argued that it's also inevitable. The words and deeds of great men have different effects on different people. Most scholars base their accounts of Socrates on Plato's dialogues, especially the four dialogues included in this volume: "Euthyphro", "Apology", "Crito" and "Phaedo". They deal with Socrates' trial, execution and death. And no, they don't answer the eternal questions. Rather, they raise more questions than they answer. But then, that's the point!
What makes Socrates so important? The reason, of course, is his philosophy. The whole point of philosophy is to reject tradition and revelation as automatic sources of knowledge, to be taken simply on faith. Instead, human reason is paramount. True, philosophy doesn't *necessarily* reject tradition and revelation, but it does say that such sources of knowledge should be scrutinized by reason. In this sense, philosophy is subversive and radical. At least in a society gone terribly wrong... I mean, who would need philosophy if society had been perfect?
Socrates wasn't the first philosopher, nor even necessarily the "best" one. The reason why his name has been associated with the philosophical endeavour is, of course, the story of his life and above all his death. Socrates became the first known martyr of philosophy, placing his conscience and convictions above politic. Socrates showed how dangerous philosophy can be, by questioning both the oligarchic regime of the Thirty Tyrants in Athens, and the later democracy. He was the perennial dissident, the man who questioned everyone and everything. Ironically, it was the democrats who had him railroaded and executed. A warning for the future?
I don't think Socrates was necessarily a "radical" in the modern sense of that term. He seems to have mingled in high society, and some of his friends and disciples had connections with the oligarchic regime. Neither his disciple Plato nor Plato's pupil Aristotle were democrats, not even by Greek standards. Socrates didn't seem to believe that society could be changed, and therefore tended to avoid politics, except when he was duty bound as a citizen to perform political tasks (he also fought as a soldier). In some ways, Socrates actually resembled a guru. His teachings were oral, he had a circle of admirers and disciples, and he may have imparted somewhat different teachings to each of them. There are also hints at a fundamentally religious worldview, as when Socrates says that a little god or daemon were giving him advice, when he talks of reincarnation and Heaven in "Phaedo", or when he takes seriously the oracular statements of the priestess at Delphi.
Yet, by his bold questioning of established politics, ethics and religion, Socrates nevertheless showed the radical potential of philosophy and rational discourse. On a more somber note, the trial and execution of Socrates also shows that some people, even in a democracy, simply can't stand the truth.
Free soup for Socrates? Still today, many people, rulers and commoners alike, would consider that proposal to be very provocative indeed.
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.
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.
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.
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.