Socrates (Voltaire)/Act III

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ACT III.SCENE I.


THE JUDGES seated on the Tribunal, SOCRATES below.

JUDGE.

[To Anitus.

You should not sit here, you are priest of Ceres.

ANITUS.

I am only here for edification.

MELITUS.

Silence there: Socrates, you are accused of being a bad citizen, of corrupting youth, of denying a plurality of gods, of being a heretic, deist, and atheist: answer to the charge.

SOCRATES.

Judges of Athens, I exhort you all to be as good citizens as I have always myself endeavored to be: to shed your blood for your country, as I have done in many a battle: with regard to youth, guide them by your counsels, and, above all, direct them by your example; teach them to love true virtue, and to avoid the miserable philosophy of the schools: the article concerning a plurality of gods is a little more difficult to discuss, but hear what I have to say upon it. Know then, ye judges of Athens, there is but one God.

MELITUS and another judge.

O the impious wretch!

SOCRATES.

I say, there is but one God, in his nature infinite, nor can any being partake of his infinity. Turn your eyes towards the celestial globes, to the earth and seas; all correspond together, all are made one for the other: each being is intimately connected with other beings, all formed with one design, by one great architect, one sole master, and preserver: perhaps he hath deigned to create genii, and demons, more powerful and more wise than men; if such exist, they are creatures like you, his first subjects, not gods: but nothing in nature proves to us that they do exist, whilst all nature speaks one God and one father: this God hath no need of Mercury and Iris to deliver his commands to us: he hath only to will, and that is enough. If by Minerva you understand no more than the wisdom of God; if by Neptune you only mean his immutable laws, which raise or depress the sea, you may still reverence Neptune and Minerva, provided that under these emblems you adore none but the supreme being, and that the people are not deceived by you into false opinions.

Be careful above all not to turn religion into metaphysics, its essence is morality: dispute not, but worship. If our ancestors believed that the supreme God came down into the arms of Alcmene, Danæ, and Semele, and had children by them, our ancestors imagined dangerous and idle fables. 'Tis an insult on the divinity to conceive that he could possibly, in any manner whatsoever, commit with woman the crime which we call adultery. It is a discouragement to the rest of mankind to say that, to be a great man, it is necessary to be produced from the mysterious union of Jupiter and one of our own wives and daughters. Miltiades, Cimon, Themistocles, and Aristides, whom you persecuted, were perhaps much greater than Perseus, Hercules, or Bacchus. The only way to become the children of God, is to endeavor to please him. Deserve therefore that title, by never passing an unjust sentence.

MELITUS.

What insolence! what blasphemy!

ANOTHER JUDGE.

What absurdities! one can't tell what he means.

MELITUS.

Socrates, you are always too fond of argument: answer briefly, and with precision: did you, or did you not, laugh at Minerva's owl?

SOCRATES.

Judges of Athens, take care of your owls; when you propose ridiculous things as objects of belief too many are apt to resolve that they will believe nothing: they have sense enough to find out that your doctrine is absurd, though they have not elevation of mind sufficient to discover the law of truth; they know how to laugh at your little deceits, but not to adore the first of beings, the one incomprehensible, incommunicable being, the eternal, all-just, and all-powerful God.

MELITUS.

O the blasphemer! the monster! he has said too much already: I condemn him to death.

MANY OF THE JUDGES.

And so do we.

ONE OF THE JUDGES.

Several of us are of another opinion; Socrates has spoken wisely; we believe men would be more wise and just if they thought like him: for my part, far from condemning him, I think he ought to be rewarded.

MANY OF THE JUDGES.

We think so too.

MELITUS.

The opinions seem to be divided.

ANITUS.

Gentlemen of the Areopagus, permit me to interrogate him a little. Do you believe, Socrates, that the sun turns round, and that the Areopagus acts by divine right?

SOCRATES.

You have no authority to ask any questions, but I have authority to teach you what you are ignorant of: it is of little importance to society, whether the sun or the earth turns round, but it is of the utmost consequence, whether the men who turn with them be just or unjust: virtue only acts from the right divine, and you and the Areopagus have no rights but those which your country has bestowed on you.

ANITUS.

Illustrious and most equitable judges, let Socrates retire.

[Melitus makes a sign, Socrates is carried out.

ANITUS.

[Proceeds.

Most august Areopagus, instituted by heaven, you hear what he says: this dangerous fellow denies that the sun turns round, and that you act by right divine: if these opinions prevail, adieu to magistracy, and adieu to the sun: you are no longer judges appointed by Minerva; you will become accountable for your proceedings; you must no longer determine but according to the laws; and if you once depend on the laws, you are undone: punish rebellion therefore, revenge earth and heaven: I am going: dread you the anger of the gods if Socrates is permitted to live.

[Anitus goes out, and the Judges demur.

ONE OF THE JUDGES.

I don't care to quarrel with Anitus; he is a dangerous man to offend. If he troubled himself with the gods only it would not signify.

ANOTHER JUDGE.

[To his brother sitting near him.

Between you and me, Socrates is in the right; but then he should not be in the right so publicly. I care no more for Ceres and Neptune than he does; but he should not speak out to the whole Areopagus what he ought to have whispered: yet after all, what is there in poisoning a philosopher, especially when he is old and ugly?

ANOTHER JUDGE.

If there be any injustice in condemning Socrates, it is Anitus' business and not mine: I lay it all upon his conscience: besides, it grows late, we lose our time; let us talk no more about it: to death with him.

ANOTHER.

Ay, ay, they say he's a heretic, and an atheist; to death with him.

MELITUS.

Call Socrates.

[He is brought in.

Blessed be the gods, the plurality of voices is for death; Socrates, the gods by us condemn you to drink hemlock.

SOCRATES.

We are all mortal: nature condemns you also to death in a short time, probably you may meet with a more unhappy end than mine: the distempers which bring on death are much more painful than a cup of hemlock. I thank those amongst my judges who pleaded in favor of innocence; for the rest, they have my pity.

ONE OF THE JUDGES.

[Going out.

Certainly this man deserved a pension from the state, rather than a cup of poison.

ANOTHER JUDGE.

I think so too; but why would he quarrel with a priest of Ceres?

ANOTHER.

After all, it is best to get rid of a philosopher: those fellows have always a certain fierceness of spirit which should be damped a little.

ANOTHER.

One word with you, gentlemen: would not it be right, whilst our hand is in, to make an end of all the geometricians, who pretend that the three angles of a triangle are equal to two right ones? they are a mighty scandal to the foolish people that read their works.

ANOTHER.

Ay, ay, we'll hang them all the next session; let's go to dinner.


SCENE II.


SOCRATES.

[Alone.

I have been long prepared for death; all I fear at present is, that my wife Xantippe will be troubling me in my last moments, and interrupt me in the sweet employment of recollecting my soul, and preparing myself for eternity: I ought to busy myself only in the contemplation of that supreme being, before whom I am soon to appear: but here she comes; I must be resigned to all things.


SCENE III.


SOCRATES, XANTIPPE, with the Disciples of Socrates.

XANTIPPE.

Well, my poor man, what have these gentlemen of the law concluded? have they fined you, are you banished, or acquitted? my God! how uneasy have I been about you! pray take care this don't happen a second time.

SOCRATES.

No, my dear, this will not happen a second time, I'll answer for it; give yourself no uneasiness about anything. My dear disciples, my friends, welcome.

CRITO.

[At the head of his disciples.

You see us, beloved Socrates, no less concerned for you than Xantippe; we have gained permission of the judges to visit you; just heaven! must we behold Socrates in chains! permit us to kiss those bonds which reflect shame on Athens. How could Anitus and his friends reduce you to this condition?

SOCRATES.

Let us think no more of these trifles, my friends, but continue the examination we were making yesterday into the soul's immortality. We observed, I remember, that nothing could be more probable, or at the same time more full of comfort and satisfaction, than this sweet idea; in fact, matter we know changes, but perishes not; why then should the soul perish? can it be that, raised as we are to the knowledge of a God through the veil of this mortal body, we should cease to know him when that veil is removed? no, as we think now, we must always think; thought is the very essence of man; and this being must appear before a just God, who will recompense virtue, punish vice, and pardon weakness and error.

XANTIPPE.

Nobly said: but what does this fellow here with his cup?

[Enter the Jailer, or Executioner of the Eleven, carrying a cup of Hemlock.

JAILER.

Here Socrates, the senate have sent you this.

XANTIPPE.

Thou vile poisoner of the commonwealth, would you kill my husband before my face? monster, I'll tear you to pieces.

SOCRATES.

My dear friend, I ask your pardon for my wife's rude behavior: she has scolded me all her life; she only treats you as she does her husband; excuse her impertinence: give me the cup.

[He takes the cup.

ONE OF THE DISCIPLES.

O divine Socrates! why may not we take that poison for you? horrible injustice! shall the guilty thus condemn the innocent, and fools destroy the wise? you go then to death!

SOCRATES.

No, my friends, to life: this is the cup of immortality: it is not this perishable body that has loved and instructed you; it is my soul alone that has lived with you, and that shall love you forever.

[He is going to drink.

JAILER.

I must take off your fetters first; 'tis always done.

SOCRATES.

Do it then, I beg you.

[He scratches his leg.

ONE OF THE DISCIPLES.

You smile!

SOCRATES.

I smile at the reflection, that pleasure should arise from pain: thus it is that eternal felicity shall spring from the miseries of this life.

[Drinks the poison.

CRITO.

Alas! what have you done?

XANTIPPE.

Ay, for a thousand ridiculous discourses of this kind the poor man has lost his life: indeed, my dear, you will break my heart; I could strangle all the judges with my own hands. I did use to scold you indeed, but I always loved you notwithstanding; these polite well-bred gentlemen have put you to death: O my dear, dear husband!

SOCRATES.

Be calm, my good Xantippe; weep not, my friends; it becomes not the disciples of Socrates to shed tears.

CRITO.

How can we avoid it on so dreadful an occasion? this legal murder!

SOCRATES.

Thus it is that men will often behave to the worshippers of one true God, and the enemies of superstition.

CRITO.

And must Socrates be one of those unhappy victims?

SOCRATES.

'Tis noble to be the victim of the deity: I die contented. I wish indeed that, to the satisfaction of seeing you, my friends, I could have added the happiness of embracing Sophronimus and Aglae: I wonder they are not here: they would have made my last moments more welcome.

CRITO.

Alas! they know not that you have already undergone the judges' dreadful sentence: they have been talking to the people, and praising those magistrates who would have acquitted you. Aglae has laid open the guilt of Anitus, and published his shame and dishonor: they perhaps might have saved your life: O dear Socrates, why would you thus precipitate your fate?


SCENE the last.


AGLAE, SOPHRONIMUS.

AGLAE.

[Entering.

Divine Socrates, be not afraid: be comforted, Xantippe: worthy disciples of Socrates, do not weep.

SOPHRONIMUS.

Your enemies are confounded: the people rise in your defence.

AGLAE.

We have been talking to them; we have laid open the intrigues and jealousy of the wicked Anitus: it was my duty to demand justice for his crime, as I was the cause of it.

SOPHRONIMUS.

Anitus hath saved himself by flight from the rage of the people: he and his accomplices are pursued: solemn thanks have been given to those judges who appeared in your favor: the people are now at the gates of the prison, and wait to conduct you home in triumph.

XANTIPPE.

Alas! 'tis lost labor!

ONE OF THE DISCIPLES.

O Socrates, why would you so hastily obey?

AGLAE.

Live, dear Socrates, the benefactor of your country, the model of future ages; O live for the general happiness of mankind!

CRITO.

Ye noble pair, my virtuous friends, it is too late.

XANTIPPE.

You stayed too long.

AGLAE.

Alas! too late? what mean you? just heaven!

SOPHRONIMUS.

Has he then already drunk the fatal draught?

SOCRATES.

Sweet Aglae and dear Sophronimus, the law ordained that I should take the poison: I obeyed the law, unjust as it is, because it oppressed myself alone: had the injustice been done to another, I would have resisted it. I go to death, but the example of friendship which you give the world, and your nobleness of soul shall never perish: your virtue is greater, much greater, than the guilt of those who accused me. I bless that fate which the world may call misfortune, because it hath set in the fairest light the goodness of your hearts. My dear Xantippe, be happy; and remember, that to be so, you must curb your impetuous temper. My beloved disciples, listen always to the voice of that philosophy which will teach you to despise your persecutors, and pity human weakness: and you, my daughter Aglae, and my son Sophronimus, be always what you now are.

AGLAE.

How wretched, are we that we cannot die for you!

SOCRATES.

Your lives are valuable, mine would have been useless: take my tender last farewell; the doors of eternity are opened to receive me.

XANTIPPE.

He was a great man! O I will rouse up the whole nation.

SOPHRONIMUS.

May we raise up temples to Socrates, if ever mortal man deserved it!

CRITO.

At least may his wisdom teach mankind that temples should be raised to God alone!

End of the Third and Last Act.