Phaedo

Author: Plato

Show Summary

The Death of Socrates

[399 B.C.]

I will begin at the beginning, and try to repeat the entire conversation. You must understand that previously we had been in the habit of convening in early morning at the court in which the trial was held, and which is near the prison. We conversed there one with another until the prison doors were opened (for they were not opened very early). We then went in and passed the day with Socrates.

On the last morning the meeting took place earlier than usual. This was because we had heard on the previous evening that the sacred ship had arrived from Delos: hence we agreed to meet very early at the accustomed place. When we came to the prison, the jailer who answered the door, instead of admitting us, came out and requested us to wait until he would call us.

"The Eleven," he said, "are now with Socrates. They are now removing his chains and giving orders that he is to die today."

Soon he returned and said that we might come in. We found Socrates just freed of his chains. Xantippe, whom you know, was sitting by him, and holding his child in her arms. When she saw us she uttered a cry and, as women will, said: "Oh, Socrates, this is the last time that you will converse with your friends, or they with you!"

Socrates turned to Crito and said: "Crito, let some one take her home."

Some of Crito’s people accordingly led her away, as she cried and beat herself. When she was gone, Socrates, who was sitting on the couch, began to bend and rub his leg, speaking as he rubbed: "’How singular is this thing called pleasure! And curiously is it related to pain, which might be thought to be the opposite of it. Pleasure and pain never come to a man together, yet he who pursues either one of them is usually compelled to take the other. They are two, and yet they grow together out of one head or stem. I cannot help but think that if Aesop had noticed them, he would have composed a fable about God trying to reconcile their struggle, and when he could not, he fastened their heads together. That is the reason why when one comes the other follows. I find in my own case that pleasure comes after the pain in my leg, which was caused by the chain.

"I do not mean to say that the description which I have given of the soul and her houses is exactly true—a man of good sense ought hardly to insist on that. But I do say that, since the soul is shown to be immortal, he may indeed venture to think, not properly or unworthily, that something of the kind is true. The venture is a glorious one. He should comfort himself with words like these. That is why I make my story longer.

"Wherefore, I say, let a man be of good cheer about his soul, especially if he has cast away the pleasures and ornaments of the body as alien to him and indeed harmful in their effects, and had pursued the pleasures of knowledge in this life. The soul can be adorned in her own proper jewels, such as temperance, justice, courage, nobility, and truth; thus arrayed she is ready to go on her journey to the world below—when her time comes.

"You, Simmias and Cebes, and all other men, will depart from this life at some time or other. As the tragic poet would say: ’The voice of fate already calls me.’ Soon I must drink the poison. I think I had better repair to the bath first, so that the women may not be troubled with washing my body after I am dead."

When he had finished speaking, Crito said: "And have you any commands for us, Socrates—anything to say about your children, or any other matter in which we can serve you?"

"Nothing in particular," he replied. "Only, as I have told you, I advise you to look to yourselves. That is a service which you may always be doing to me and mine as well as to yourselves. And you need not make professions. For if you take no thought for yourselves, and do not walk according to the precepts which I have given you, not now for the first time, the warmth of your professions will be of no avail."

"We will do our best," Crito rejoined. "But how would you have us bury you?"

"In any way that you like. Only you must take hold of me and take good care that I do not walk away from you."

Then he turned to us and added with a smile: "I do not seem to be abe to make Crito believe that I am the same Socrates who has been talking and conducting the argument. He fancies that I am the other Socrates whom he will soon see, the dead body. Hence he asks: ’How shall he bury me?’ And though I have tried very hard to show that when I have drunk the poison I shall leave you and go to the joys of the blessed—these words of mine, with which I have comforted both you and myself, have had, as I see, no effect upon Crito.

"I would not have him sorrow at my hard lot, or say at the burial: ’Thus we lay out Socrates,’ or ’Thus we follow him to the grave or bury him.’ False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Be of good cheer, then, my dear Crito, and say that you are burying my body only. Do with that what is usually done and as you deem best."

When he had spoken these words, he arose and went into the bath chamber. He left us thinking about what he had said and of the greatness of our sorrow. He was like a father who was being taken from us and we were about to spend the rest of our lives as orphans.

When he had taken a bath, his children, two young sons and an elder one, were brought to him. The women of his family also came. He gave them a few directions in the presence of Crito. Then he dismissed them and returned to us.

Now the hour of sunset was near, for some time had passed while he was within. When he came out, he sat down with us again after his bath, but not much was said.

Soon the jailer, who was the servant of the Eleven, entered and took a place near him, saying: "To you, Socrates, whom I know to be the noblest and gentlest and best of all who ever came to this place, I will not impute the angry feelings of other men. They rage and swear at me when, in obedience to the authorities, I bid them drink the poison. I feel sure that you will not be angry with me, since others, not I, as you undoubtedly know, are the guilty cause. Fate thee well. Try to bear lightly what must needs be. Please understand my errand." Then, bursting into tears he turned away and left.

Socrates looked at him and said: "I return your good wishes and will do as you bid."

Then, turning to us, he added: "How charming that man is! Ever since I have been in this prison he has always come to see me. At times he would talk to me. He was as good to me as he could be. Now see how generously he sorrows for me. But we must do as he says, Crito. Let the cup be brought, if the poison is prepared. If not, let the attendant prepare some."

"The sun is still upon the hilltops," cried Crito. "Many have taken the draught late, and after the announcement has been made to him, he has eaten and drunk, and indulged in sensual delights. Do not hurry then, there is still time."

"Yes, Crito," Socrates countered, "they of whom you speak are right in doing this, for they think that they will gain something by the delay. But I am tight in not doing thus, since I do not believe that I shall gain anything by drinking the poison a little later. I should be sparing and saving a life which is already gone. I could only laugh at myself for this. Please, then, do as I say. Do not refuse me."

When he heard this, Crito made a sign to the servant. The latter went in, remained for some time, and then returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison.

Socrates then said: "You, my good friend, who are experienced in such matters, shall give me directions as to how I am to proceed."

"You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then lie down, and the poison will act."

As he said this he gave the cup to Socrates, who, in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or feature, looking the man straight in the eye, as was his manner, took the cup and said: "What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not?"

"We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough."

"I understand. Yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this world to the other. May this, then, which is my prayer, be granted to me!"

Then holding the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison.

Until this point most of us had been able to control out sorrow. But now, when we saw him drinking and saw, too, that he had finished the draught, we could no longer control ourselves. In spite of myself my tears began to flow quickly. I covered my face and began to weep, not over him but over myself at the thought of my own calamity in having lost such a companion.

Nor was I the first, for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had gotten up and moved away. I followed. At that moment, Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out into a loud cry which made cowards of us all.

Socrates alone retained his calm spirit. "What is this strange outcry?" he asked. "I sent the women away mainly that they might not offend in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience."

When we heard him say that, we were ashamed, and we restrained our tears.

He walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail. Then he lay on his back, according to the directions. The man who had given him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs. After a while he pressed his foot hard and asked him if he could feel. Socrates replied: "No." Then his leg, and so on upward and upward, showing us that Socrates was cold and stiff. Then he said: "When the poison reaches his heart, that will be the end."

Socrates was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said (they were his last words): "Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepsius. Will you remember to pay the debt?"

"The debt shall be paid," said Crito. "Is there anything else?"

There was no answer to this question. But in a minute or two a movement was heard. The attendants uncovered him. His eyes were set. Crito closed his eyes and mouth.

Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, whom I may truly call the wisest, the justest, and the best of all the men whom I have ever known.

1A subdivision of Attica.

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Chicago: Plato, Phaedo in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1951), Original Sources, accessed September 24, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DEF6M243A6PZ4NC.

MLA: Plato. Phaedo, in History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, edited by Louis Leo Snyder and Richard B. Morris, Harrisburg, Pa., Stackpole Co., 1951, Original Sources. 24 Sep. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DEF6M243A6PZ4NC.

Harvard: Plato, Phaedo. cited in 1951, History in the First Person: Eyewitnesses of Great Events: They Saw It Happen, ed. , Stackpole Co., Harrisburg, Pa.. Original Sources, retrieved 24 September 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DEF6M243A6PZ4NC.