Lampooned in 406 B.C.E. in a blistering Aristophanic satire, Socrates was tried in 399 B.C.E. on a charge of corrupting the youth, convicted by a jury of about five hundred of his peers, and condemned to death. Glimpsed today through the extant writings of his contemporaries and near-contemporaries, he remains for us as compelling, enigmatic, and elusive a figure as Jesus or Buddha. Although present-day (like ancient Greek) opinion on "the real Socrates" diverges widely, six classic texts that any informed judgment of him must take into account appear together, for the first time, in this volume. Those of Plato and Xenophon appear in new, previously unpublished translations that combine accuracy, accessibility, and readability; that of Aristophanes' Clouds offers these same qualities in an unbowdlerized translation that captures brilliantly the bite of Aristophanes' wit. An Introduction to each text and judicious footnotes provide crucial background information and important cross-references.
Socrates has puzzled thinkers and historians for 2,400 years. Loved by some, lampooned by others, both revered and reviled, as an old man he was put to death. We know little for certain about Socrates because he never wrote down his philosophy. Most of what we do know comes from his star pupil, Plato, who wrote a couple dozen dialogues about his teacher's encounters with other Athenians. With The Trials of Socrates
, editor C.D.C. Reeve has broadened our view of Socrates by adding the perspectives of Aristophanes and Xenophon to some of Plato's best-known writing on the great philosopher.
In Plato's dialogues--Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito, and a short excerpt of Phaedo--readers will find Socrates at his most moral, compelling, defiant, and wry. But other accounts of the famous philosopher, including Aristophanes' hit play The Clouds and Xenophon's Socrates' Defense to the Jury, cast the man in a different light. The Socrates of Aristophanes is a somewhat silly sophist (in fact, Socrates later referred to this play as his first trial in Athens). The Socrates of Xenophon, on the other hand, is practical and conservative.
By including all three authors, Reeve has done a great service for those interested in Socrates. Reeve provides short but helpful interpretive pieces that will guide the reader through the book, and the translations and explanatory footnotes are exceptional. The Trials of Socrates is an excellent volume for readers just coming to Socrates, or for those wanting to broaden their understanding of him. --Eric de Place