The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life
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From the celebrated British author and historian: a brilliant new book combining historical inquiry and storytelling élan to paint an unprecedentedly vivid portrait of Socrates and the Golden Age of classical Athens.
We think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did; in his unwavering commitment to truth and in the example of his own life, he set the standard for all subsequent Western philosophy. And yet, for twenty-five centuries, he has remained an enigma: a man who left no written legacy and about whom everything we know is hearsay. His life spanned “seventy of the busiest, most wonderful and tragic years in Athenian history.” Athens in the fifth century B.C. was a city devastated by war, but, at the same time, transformed by the burgeoning process of democracy. Drawing on the latest sources—archaeological, topographical, and textual—Hughes re-creates the streets where Socrates walked, to place him there, and to illuminate for us the world as he experienced it.
She takes us through the great, teeming Agora—the massive marketplace, the heart of ancient Athens—where Socrates engaged in philosophical dialogue and where he would be condemned to death. We visit the battlefields where he fought, the red-light district and gymnasia he frequented and the religious festivals he attended. We meet the men and the few women—including his wife, Xanthippe, and his “inspiration” and confidante, Aspasia—who were central to his life. We travel to where he was born and where he died. And we come to understand the profound influences of time and place in the evolution of his eternally provocative philosophy.
only thirteen years before in order to provide an effective crossing point, and to control trade: planks from those trees, gold from those hills. This is what Socrates had been sent out to defend. In 424 BC the historian Thucydides had already tried to do his patriotic duty in this region. The Spartan commander Brasidas, backed by a motley crew of Peloponnesian hoplites and helots in hoplite armour, had made a surprise sortie here. A message was sent to Thucydides, who was manning and
(1997). 26 Plato, Republic, 8.558a-c. Trans. G. M. A. Grube, rev. C. D. C. Reeve, in Cooper (1997) [adapt.]. 27 Authors include Aristophanes, Thucydides, Xenophon, Plato, Plutarch, Andocides, Lysias and Demosthenes. 28 See recent discussion of this mosaic by H. A. Shapiro in Art in Athens during the Peloponnesian War ed. Olga Palagia. CUP 2009. Chap 10 passim. CHAPTER FOURTEEN Paddling in the river, sweating in the gym: Socratic youth 1 Trans. J. Fogel (2002) [adapt.]. 2 See Chapter
THIRTY-NINE Alcibiades: violet-crowned, punch-drunk 1 Trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff (1997). 2 Plato, Symposium, 213c. 3 Lysias, Against Andokides, 51. See also M. Reinhold’s fascinating ‘The history of purple’ (1970). 4 Plutarch, Alcibiades, 11.2. Trans. I. Scott-Kilvert (1960). 5 Aristotle, Politics, 1254b.34–6. Trans. T. A. Sinclair, rev. T. J. Saunders (1981). 6 Plato, Symposium, 218d. Trans. A. Nehamas and P. Woodruff (1997). 7 Plato, Symposium, 215d–e. Trans. C. D. C.
remove spoil from the Agora – this waste was sent out to be dumped along the Sacred Way leading to Eleusis. Pot menders at work in 1937. The diggers who helped to expose a Bronze Age Mycenaean chamber tomb beneath the Agora in 1939. Athena – the goddess both of war and of reason and wisdom. In this depiction from c.460 BC, Athena’s spear is resting on her shoulder, her shield on her thigh; it is the writing tablet in her hand that holds the goddess rapt, a stylus held up to her mouth. The
could not afford simply to indulge his time with humble-born, thinking men such as Socrates and Anaxagoras – scintillating as they might be – to play around with ground-breaking political experiments. Because he now had not only a citystate, but a burgeoning empire to run. 12 DELOS – AND THE BIRTH OF AN EMPIRE The Cyclades, the Mediterranean basin, 478/7–454 BC CALLICLES: What do you mean? SOCRATES: I mean that every man is his own ruler; or is there no need of one’s ruling oneself, but only