English 287: Great Books
Links relating to Plato's Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo
In these four works, the Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 BCE) provides a glimpse of the last days of his mentor Socrates (470-399 BCE).
In the first, we see Socrates putting his Athenian neighbor Euthyphro through an uncomfortable investigation of his supposed understanding of the virtue of piety.
In the traumatic days following Athens' defeat in the decades-long war with Sparta (The Peloponnesian War), Socrates himself was charged with what his accusers considered "impiety" (disbelief in the gods recognized by Athens) and corrupting the youth of his community. In The Apology (the term here means "defense," not a plea for pardon), we have Plato's version of the Socrates' conduct during the trial.
The execution decreed by the assembly -- death by poison -- had to be delayed until the return of a ship the city had sent on a religious mission. In the meanwhile, Crito and others among Socrates' friends sought to persuade him to avail himself of the opportunity that they could arrange for him to escape and go into exile. In The Crito, Socrates leads his friends through an examination of the question of whether it would be right for him to accept their proposal.
In the last, Socrates' friend Phaedo relates to two other philosophers how Socrates died. The narrative begins as news comes that the ship has been sighted and will shortly be in port. Socrates' friends gather to console him, but end up having to be consoled by the condemned man himself, who leads them through an examination of whether it makes sense, for a philosopher, to fear death, explains in quasi-mythological terms his own views of what the afterlife might be like, and drinks the hemlock.
Taken together, these four short works open many avenues into the issues examined by the other readings we are undertaking in this course:
How does Socrates' conception of what makes life worth living compare with that of Odysseus? Dante? Brecht? Black Elk? (to name only a few protagonists or authors whom we encounter in the course)
Is honor the most important thing to seek, and (if so) what are the essential conditions for its preservation?
Is there a life beyond the one we are in?
If so, can we know what it is like?
How does our conception of death affect our understanding of the worth of life, and of living it in this way or that?
What should we regard as authoritative in our conduct (including our efforts to know)?
What is justice?
How are we to adjudicate the competing claims of traditional norms and understandings on the one hand and individual conscience and critical inquiry on the other?
What can be the relation between religious intuition and rational inquiry? Are they complementary? antagonistic? Does one presuppose or take precedence over the other?
What is the role of reason in determining truth? Are there alternative ways of knowing the truth?
How can we decide what are our rights and duties?
Helpful contexts: maps, timelines, photos
Large map of ancient Greece
- 4500 - 700 BCE
- Major Events in Greek History 700 - 169 BCE
- Dr. J's Illustrated Color-Coded Classical Age Timeline (499 - 338 BCE): the Persian conflict through Alexander the Great.
The Peloponnesian War
- Richard Hooker's summary of The Peloponnesian War.
On the Euthyphro
On the Apology of Socrates
On the Crito
On the Phaedo
Yet further afield:
Suggestions are welcome. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org .
Contents copyright © 2005 by Lyman A. Baker.
Permission is granted for non-commercial educational use; all other rights reserved.
This page last updated 03 April 2005.