- NAME: Socrates
- OCCUPATION: Philosopher
- BIRTH DATE: c. 470 BCE
- DEATH DATE: c. 399 BCE
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Athens, Greece
- PLACE OF DEATH: Athens, Greece
- Full Name: Socrates
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Socrates was a Greek philosopher and the main source of Western thought. Little is known of his life except what was recorded by his students, including Plato.
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Socrates was born circa 470 BC, in Athens, Greece. We know of his life through the writings of his students, including Plato and Xenophon. His "Socratic method," laid the groundwork for Western systems of logic and philosophy. When the political climate of Greece turned, Socrates was sentenced to death by hemlock poisoning in 399 BC. He accepted this judgment rather than fleeing into exile.
Born circa 470 BC in Athens, Greece, Socrates's life is chronicled through only a few sources—the dialogues of Plato and Xenophon and the plays of Aristophanes. Because these writings had other purposes than reporting his life, it is likely none present a completely accurate picture. However, collectively, they provide a unique and vivid portrayal of Socrates's philosophy and personality.
Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, an Athenian stone mason and sculptor, and Phaenarete, a midwife. Because he wasn't from a noble family, he probably received a basic Greek education and learned his father's craft at a young age. It is believed Socrates worked as mason for many years before he devoted his life to philosophy. Contemporaries differ in their account of how Socrates supported himself as a philosopher. Both Xenophon and Aristophanes state Socrates received payment for teaching, while Plato writes Socrates explicitly denied accepting payment, citing his poverty as proof.
Socrates married Xanthippe, a younger woman, who bore him three sons—Lamprocles, Sophroniscus and Menexenus. There is little known about her except for Xenophon's characterization of Xanthippe as "undesirable." He writes she was not happy with Socrates's second profession and complained that he wasn’t supporting family as a philosopher. By his own words, Socrates had little to do with his sons' upbringing and expressed far more interest in the intellectual development of Athens' young boys.
Athenian law required all able bodied males serve as citizen soldiers, on call for duty from ages 18 until 60. According to Plato, Socrates served in the armored infantry—known as the hoplite—with shield, long spear and face mask. He participated in three military campaigns during the Peloponnesian War, at Delium, Amphipolis, and Potidaea, where he saved the life of Alcibiades, a popular Athenian general. Socrates was known for his courage in battle and fearlessness, a trait that stayed with him throughout his life. After his trial, he compared his refusal to retreat from his legal troubles to a soldier's refusal to retreat from battle when threatened with death.
Plato's Symposium provides the best details of Socrates's physical appearance. He was not the ideal of Athenian masculinity. Short and stocky, with a snub nose and bulging eyes, Socrates always seemed to appear to be staring. However, Plato pointed out that in the eyes of his students, Socrates possessed a different kind of attractiveness, not based on a physical ideal but on his brilliant debates and penetrating thought. Socrates always emphasized the importance of the mind over the relative unimportance of the human body.
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