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The Last Days of Socrates (Penguin Classics) Paperback – 27 Mar 2003
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The trial and condemnation of Socrates on charges of heresy and corrupting young minds is a defining moment in the history of Classical Athens. In tracing these events through four dialogues, Plato also developed his own philosophy, based on Socrates' manifesto for a life guided by self-responsibility. Euthyphro finds Socrates outside the court-house, debating the nature of piety, while The Apology is his robust rebuttal of the charges of impiety and a defence of the philosopher's life. In the Crito, while awaiting execution in prison, Socrates counters the arguments of friends urging him to escape. Finally, in the Phaedo, he is shown calmly confident in the face of death, skilfully arguing the case for the immortality of the soul.
About the Author
Plato (c.427-347 BC) stands with Socrates and Aristotle as one of the shapers of the whole intellectual tradition of the West. He founded the Athenian Academy, the first permanent institution devoted to philosophical research and teaching, and the prototype of all Western universities.
Hugh Tredennick was Dean of the Faculty of Arts at London University. Harold Tarrant is Senior Lecturer in Classics at the Univesity of Sydney.
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Despite this I still found it to be engaging and the writing is especially good. As I said in a previous review, it is more than likely a far cry from the original but you can still admire Plato's simplicity and perfection when it comes to story telling. Like many of the classic Greek writers there is a playful hand here, a man who loved writing and telling stories to the future.
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.
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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