Socrates in the Agora

It must have been a thrill to consort with the greatest minds of Athens.  There was a culture of reason and depth and intellectual adventure.  (From what we read in standard Western history books, this was the first such culture in the history of civilization.)  Athens was a community of more than 200,000, and among these was an elite group of people who thought for themselves, and discussed matters of current interest, as well as matters of perennial interest.

Of course, everyone reasoned from a common set of facts, and a common view of how the world worked.  They took for granted that “man is the measure of all things,” and that a dozen super-humans ruled the world from their perch on Mt Olympus.  When Zeus was jealous of Hera, there was trouble in the world.  When Aphrodite came to visit, young people were stricken with love.  Triumph in war belonged to the army chosen by Hermes for victory.

When people reasoned from within this framework, free and independent thought was encouraged.  But questioning the power or the primacy of the gods was just silly, a waste of time.  Worse, it could pervert the minds of the young and the impressionable.  The government of the people had an interest in seeing that the society remained coherent, and that people were having productive discussions, not pointless and dangerous questioning of what everyone knows to be true.

No one wanted to ostracize Socrates.  They would much rather have kept his able mind within the fold.  He was warned repeatedly and humanely, including much appreciation for the solid ideas he had contributed to Athenian culture.  People tried to reason with him:  He had such a powerful role to play, if only he would not persist in his perverse and captious attacks on the gods.  If people of Athens were permitted to talk dismissively of the gods, surely the entire city would be punished with a thunderbolt.

These reasonable people bore Socrates no ill will.  They would much preferred to negotiate rationally with him, but when he insisted on his dangerous nonsense, they had no choice but to take his posters down from the public square.  They steered young disciples away from his dangerous ramblings, but he seemed to be a magnet for youth.  What a shame that they had to kill Socrates with hemlock, but his lies could not be allowed to distract the public dialog.

Once he was gone, the Assembly voted to downgrade search results for “Socrates” and “republic”, assuring that the top Google results would direct readers toward sources that could educate them about the omnipotence of the gods.

Socrates Drinking the Hemlock

Socrates drinks hemlock, Antonio Zucci (1726-1796)

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