Page:EB1911 - Volume 25.djvu/348

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defied them. He was found guilty by 280 votes, it is supposed, against 220. Meletus having called for capital punishment, it now rested with the accused to make a counter-proposition; and there can be little doubt that, had Socrates without further remark suggested some smaller but yet substantial penalty, the proposal would have been accepted. But, to the amazement of the judges and the distress of his friends, Socrates proudly declared that for the services which he had rendered to the city he deserved, not punishment, but the reward of a public benefactor—maintenance in the Prytaneum at the cost of the state; and, although at the close of his speech he professed himself willing to pay a fine of one mina, and upon the urgent entreaties of his friends raised the amount of his offer to thirty minas, he made no attempt to disguise his indifference to the result. His attitude exasperated the judges, and the penalty of death was decreed by an increased majority. Then in a short address Socrates declared his contentment with his own conduct and with the sentence. Whether death was a dreamless sleep, or a new life in Hades, where he would have opportunities of testing the wisdom of the heroes and the sages of antiquity, in either case he esteemed it a gain to die. In the same spirit he refused to take advantage of a scheme arranged by his friend Crito for an escape from prison. Under ordinary circumstances the condemned criminal drank the cup of hemlock on the day after the trial; but in the case of Socrates the rule that during the absence of the sacred ship sent annually to Delos no one should be put to death caused an exceptional delay. For thirty days he remained in imprisonment, receiving his intimates and conversing with them in his accustomed manner. How in his last conversation he argued that the wise man will regard approaching death with a cheerful confidence Plato relates in the Phaedo; and, while the central argument—which rests the doctrine of the soul's immortality upon the theory of ideas—must be accounted Platonic, in all other respects the narrative, though not that of an eye-witness, has the air of accuracy and truth.

Happily, though Socrates left no writings behind him, and indeed, as will hereafter appear, was by his principles precluded from dogmatic exposition, we have in the Ἀπομνημονεύματα or Memoirs and other works of Xenophon records of Socrates's conversation, and in the dialogues of Plato refined applications of his method. Xenophon, having no philosophical views of his own to develop, and no imagination to lead him astray—being, in fact, to Socrates what Boswell was to Johnson—is an excellent witness. The Ἀπομνημονεύματα or Memorabilia are indeed confessedly apologetic, and it is easy to see that nothing is introduced which might embitter those who, hating Socrates, were ready to persecute the Socratics; but the plain, straightforward narrative of Socrates's talk, on many occasions, with many dissimilar interlocutors, carries with it in its simplicity and congruity the evidence of substantial justice and truth. Plato, though he understood his master better, is a less trustworthy authority, as he makes Socrates the mouthpiece of his own more advanced and even antagonistic doctrine. Yet to all appearance the Apology is a careful and exact account of Socrates's habits and principles of action; the earlier dialogues, those which are commonly called “Socratic,” represent, with such changes only as are necessitated by their form, Socrates's method; and, if in the later and more important dialogues the doctrine is the doctrine of Plato, echoes of the master's teaching are still discoverable, approving themselves as such by their accord with the Xenophontean testimony. In the face of these two principal witnesses other evidence is of small importance.

Personal Characteristics.—What, then, were the personal characteristics of the man? Outwardly his presence was mean and his countenance grotesque. Short of stature, thick-necked and somewhat corpulent, with prominent eyes, with nose upturned and nostrils outspread, with large mouth and coarse lips, he seemed the embodiment of sensuality and even stupidity. Inwardly he was, as his friends knew, “so pious that he did nothing without taking counsel of the gods, so just that he never did an injury to any man, whilst he was the benefactor of his associates, so temperate that he never preferred pleasure to right, so wise that in judging of good and evil he was never at fault—in a word, the best and the happiest of men.” “His self-control was absolute; his powers of endurance were unfailing; he had so schooled himself to moderation that his scanty means satisfied all his wants.” “To want nothing,” he said himself, is divine; to want as little as possible is the nearest possible approach to the divine life” and accordingly he practised temperance and self-denial to a degree which some thought ostentatious and affected. Yet the hearty enjoyment of social pleasures was another of his marked characteristics; for to abstain from innocent gratification from fear of falling into excess would have seemed to him to imply a pedantic formalism or a lack of self-control. In short, his strength of will, if by its very perfection it led to his theoretical identification of virtue and knowledge, secured him in practice against the ascetic extravagances of his associate Antisthenes.

The intellectual gifts of Socrates were hardly less remarkable than his moral virtues. Naturally observant, acute, and thoughtful, he developed these qualities by constant and systematic use. The exercise of the mental powers was, he conceived, no mere occupation of leisure hours, but rather a sacred and ever-present duty; because, moral error being intellectual error translated into act, he who would live virtuously must first rid himself of ignorance and folly. He had, it may be conjectured, but little turn for philosophical speculation; yet by the careful study of the ethical problems which met him in himself and in others he acquired a remarkable tact in dealing with questions of practical morality; and in the course of the lifelong war which he waged against vagueness of thought and laxity of speech he made himself a singularly apt and ready reasoner.

While he regarded the improvement, not only of himself but also of others, as a task divinely appointed to him, there was in his demeanour nothing exclusive or pharisaical. On the contrary, deeply conscious of his own limitations and infirmities, he felt and cherished a profound sympathy with erring humanity, and loved with a love passing the love of women fellow men who had not learnt, as he had done, to overcome human frailties and weaknesses. Nevertheless great wrongs roused in him a righteous indignation which sometimes found expression in fierce and angry rebuke. Indeed it would seem that Plato in his idealized portrait gives his hero credit not only for a deeper philosophical insight but also for a greater urbanity than facts warranted. Hence, whilst those who knew him best met his affection with a regard equal to his own, there were, as will be seen hereafter, some who never forgave his stern reproofs, and many who regarded him as an impertinent busybody.

He was a true patriot. Deeply sensible of his debt to the city in which he had been born and bred, he thought that in giving his life to the teaching of sounder views in regard to ethical and political subjects he made no more than an imperfect return; and, when in the exercise of constitutional authority that city brought him to trial and threatened him with death, it was not so much his local attachment, strong though that sentiment was, as rather his sense of duty, which forbade him to retire into exile before the trial began, to acquiesce in a sentence of banishment when the verdict had been given against him, and to accept the opportunity of escape which was offered him during his imprisonment. Yet his patriotism had none of the narrowness which was characteristic of the patriotism of his Greek contemporaries. His generous benevolence and unaffected philanthropy taught him to overstep the limits of the Athenian demus and the Hellenic race, and to regard himself as a “citizen of the world.”

He was blest with an all-pervading humour, a subtle but kindly appreciation of the incongruities of human nature and conduct. In a less robust character this quality might have degenerated into sentimentality or cynicism; in Socrates, who had not a trace of either, it showed itself principally in what his contemporaries knew as his “accustomed irony.” Profoundly sensible of the inconsistencies of his own thoughts and words and actions, and shrewdly suspecting that the like inconsistencies were to be found in other men, he was careful always to place himself upon the standpoint of ignorance and to invite others to join him there, in order that, proving all things, he and they might hold fast that which is good. “Intellectually the acutest man of his age,” says W. H. Thompson in a brilliant