In 399 BC Socrates is condemned to death for impiety and corruption of the young.

The trial of Socrates is possibly the only historical fact of his life which we can claim with absolute certainty. It is also the fact that triggers Plato’s desire to turn to philosophy, both because of his disenchantment with politics as he experienced it, but also because of the hope he developed for a new model of political regime.

The main accuser was Meletus, a young unknown man according to Plato’s testimony (Euthyphro 2b8). Two more accusers sided with Meletus, namely Anytus and Lycon. Anytus was certainly the most prominent of the accusers. Having raised a significant fortune, he had been elected as a general. For Lycon our information is very limited. Socrates was condemned by a thin majority of a jury of 501 judges, who had been drawn by lot among citizens.

Both the identity of the accusers, but also the fact that after the restoration of the democracy a political amnesty had been passed for cases that were connected to the tyranny of the Thirties, has led to the widespread hypothesis that impiety was the pretext behind which the Athenians wished to condemn the political attitude or the views of Socrates. Similar motives are often traced in other cases of impiety.

In any case, what must have bothered the Athenians in relation to Socrates was the content of his teaching and his association with, and thus also his impact as a teacher on, people who had indeed harmed the democracy, since both Charmides and Critias but most primarily Alcibiades had been regarded as threats for the constitution.

Socrates’ trial is registered as a dark moment in the history of democracy, since it implies the execution of a philosopher, not for his deeds but rather for his ideas.

Author: Chloe Balla
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