The trial and ultimate death of Socrates may possibly be one of the most unjust verdicts imposed in the worlds history. Socrates was merely a radical thinker in a transitional time in Athens, and after Athens lost the Peloponnesian War to Sparta, Socrates principles were just not tolerated. Roman westward expansion and militant domination had yet to happen, as did the trial and death of Jesus Christ. The year was 399 BCE and Athens was a strong and proven democratic government. Athenians were wonderfully romantic people.
They loved their arts, nature, and literature, and their democracy. They had produced great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, and Xenophon. Athenian society was better educated in reading and writing compared to others. They had a well-established middle class that was the supporting structure for their trading government. The Athenians were at a patriotic climax after resisting Persian expansion side by side with their Spartan allies. Even though both converged to defend their freedom against Persia in the Fifth Century BCE, the tyranny of the Spartans had a habit of clashing with the democracy of Athens. Sparta was a militaristic state.
They enslaved their citizens and in prevention of a slave revolt, had also become a police state as well. Its youth was trained in war tactics and Sparta was well known for having some of the best soldiers in Greece. Sparta was not a trading state and not nearly as creative as Athens. This lack of understanding very basically led to the Peloponnesian War (431 404 BCE). Athens devastatingly lost the Peloponnesian War. They had lost their democracy, and one of their greatest philosophical speakers was about to follow.
Five years after the war ended, Socrates was put to trial on counts of impiety to the gods and corruption of the youth. These charges seemed to lack any real substance; they seemed to be thought up by the threatened leaders of the state. It seemed as if “men [had] established laws to serve their own advantages” (Cicero, On Justice) and Socrates was rather on trial for his non-conformity and threatening curiosity. It was similar to the hidden agenda of America’s Republican partisans in dealing with the recent Clinton scandals. Although Socrates was not the leader of a world super power in the twentieth century, the conservative elite attempted to illegitimately take away his influence on his society.
At the age of seventy years old, Socrates was put on trial to defend his life. One of his pupils, Plato, was there for the historical account of the trial. As the trial progressed, we were allowed to get a second-hand look over Platos shoulder into the mind of Socrates. Socrates was a curious person whos curiosity led to accusations of being an evildoer who searches for answers to life under the earth and above in the heavens. But how can a civilization push forward in its theology if there is not someone there to question it? To me, the fear and confusion of many of Socrates fellow Athenians can not be displayed more clearly than in this accusation.
Even if Socrates did search for different answers and different gods, would not the supposed divine solidity of the majoritys religious belief prevail in any such test? There were rumors that Socrates had been strangely asserting himself to be the wisest man of all. These rumors may have been true considering that upon news that the Delphian Oracle had pronounced Socrates to be the wisest of all men, Socrates tested his apparent wisdom by speaking with other wise men. “What can the God mean?” Socrates thought, “I know that I have no wisdom”. So Socrates proceeded to search for men who he knew had to be wiser than he was because knew that he, in fact, knew nothing at all. Socrates interviewed politicians, artisans, and poets finding they were poor interpreters of their own talents and knowledge. Ironically, it was his knowledge of lack of knowledge that made Socrates wiser than any of the individuals he had interviewed.
Again, this seemed to childishly threaten and scare his accusers Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon. Socrates was obviously a man of modesty. He urged society to explore itself from within; pushing Athenian civilization like as a gadfly to “examine” all aspects of life and to question everything. The first step in this process being to acknowledge the lack of knowledge. This would ultimately lead to the one truth that Socrates prophesized about.
Succeeding that trial, Athens lost one of their greatest philosophical speakers in Socrates. Socrates was found guilty of both charges and poisoned to death. Athenians had hoped to make an example out of the repercussions of being a nonconformist, a supposed sophist, and a corrupter. Instead, they ultimately martyred a true citizen for his right to freedom of thought. That verdict not only put Socrates to death, but the Athenian curious motive as well.
Although there was a stagnant lull succeeding the death of Socrates, it did not take long for arms of Roman expansion to grab hold of the beautiful Athenian culture. Upon being conquered by the Romans, the Greeks were militantly raped of there essence. The Greeks had become slaves not only physically, but mentally as well. Greek mythology had been reinterpreted; gods renamed and stories retold. In return, the Romans had introduced savageness to the Greek civilization.
Romans forced harsh labor conditions. Yes, Roman architecture was astounding, but their buildings were erected with the unglued effort of enforced slave labor on the Greek Plebs. Roman self-destruction was on the horizon. Their atrocious conquest had reached too many corners of the map. It was simply too far out of Constantinoples reach, and they could not possibly maintain rule over so much land.
Thus leaving their spread out rule vulnerable to Barbarian siege. Do not count religion out as one of the reason why Rome crumbled to the ground. Rome found another way to make enemies was to oppress others with their introduction of Christianity to parts of the world; their missionary movement preached about different lands, denouncing the moral integrity of other societies. Roman missionaries were paid for their noble efforts with the soldiers earnings. Romans of both church and state found themselves in the middle of religious strife that they had created. Roman power was becoming diluted; the distractions Rome had brought with its overly zealous rule were leading to the weakening of their structure. Before Rome knew it, they had more rivals than they could count. They had trounced upon much that was sacred to many people and it was time for a change.
The Huns from the East were marching straight for the power of the West; their numbers were growing. On the horizon, the Romans saw an offensive storm headed their way. The Dark Ages were coming. It is rather unfortunate for them that they had not seen what was coming earlier; they had such an accessible clear view from up above every one else.