Socrates. 470/469 B.C.E. – 399 B.C.E., Ancient Greek philosopher.


Life and Work:

1. One of the chapters of Mikhail Gasparov's book Entertaining Greece is named “The 'Clouds' are Condensing.” If we know that he means Aristophanes' comedy The Clouds, it is clear that they condensed above Socrates' head. Because the ancient Greek philosopher became the protagonist of Aristophanes' comedy.


2. No encyclopedia in the world has the exact date of Socrates' birth. But indirect data indicate that he was born on the 4th of June, 470 B.C.E.


3. The great scholar, who turned philosophy from studying nature to studying the human, was born into a family of stone cutter and sculptor Sophroniscus and midwife Phaenarete in Athens. He received education that was considered good for those times.


4. When he was young, Socrates studied arts from Damon and Сonon, and listened to Anaxagoras and Archelaus. It is known that he could read and write.


5. Socrates took part in the Peloponnesian war, fought at Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis.


6. Socrates was not keen on partaking in social life, but sometimes had to defend the truth and his friends. He defended strategists unjustly condemned to death, including the son of his friends Pericles and Aspasia.


7. Socrates mentored Athenian politician and military leader Alcibiades and saved his life in a battle. Researchers believe that this good deed was not left unpunished: salvation of Alcibiades, who had done harm to Athens, triggered its citizens' wrath and led to court and a death sentence.


8. Socrates' works cannot be found in libraries, he did not appreciate written speech and never used it – he believed it made souls forgetful and weakened the memory.


9. Socrates' philosophical views and circumstances of his life and death reached us through stories told by his disciples Plato and Xenophon. From their testimony we get the image of a barefoot philosopher, who believed that the object of philosophy was not nature, but humans and their moral qualities: “I decided that I will stop studying inanimate nature and will try to understand why it happens so that a man knows what is good, but does what is bad.”


10. To study these issues, Socrates invented his own Socratic method, which can simply be explained as the art of dialectic argument. He argued with his disciples while walking the streets or sitting at home by the fire – his disciples came to him with bundles of wood, as he did not take money for teaching.


11. The philosopher's aphorisms and advice can be quoted for hours: it was Socrates who taught us that the beginning of all wisdom is wonder, that we eat to live, not live to eat, and that drunkenness does not give rise to vice, it only reveals it. He called justice fair retribution, and advised those, who want to move the world, to move themselves first.


12. However, Socrates told his disciples not to listen to anyone's advice, including his own.


13. Socrates discussed the topic of what a human is with his disciples, and when he heard the answer that it was a naked two-legged creature, he immediately pointed at a pulled chicken.


14. When asked whether one should marry, Socrates answered that one certainly should, because, if one gets a good wife, he will be happy, and if one gets a bad wife, he will become a philosopher. He knew it from his own experience, as his fights with wife Xantippe also made it into history, and Xantippe became a household name for an angry, quarrelsome wife. “Among these squabbles, he found time to think!” admired poet Heinrich Heine.


15. In Alexander Herzen's apt words, they tried to cure Socrates' wit and sense by hemlock. In 399 B.C.E., he was accused of disrespecting the gods and corrupting the youth.


16. As a free Athenian citizen, Socrates was not executed, but took poison himself.


17. “Master, why are you dying innocent?” his disciple cried, seeing that he was holding the adjudged cup of poison next to his lips. “Would you like me to die guilty?” replied Socrates in astonishment.


18. For many years, thanks to Xenophon, it was believed that Socrates was poisoned by hemlock. However, the death scene described by Plato does not match the classic picture of hemlock poisoning.


19. Modern researchers believe that the poisonous plant used to kill Socrates was spotted parsley (Lat. Conium maculatum).


20. There are many famous people among Socrates' disciples. These are the abovementioned politician Alcibiades, politician, writer and historian Xenophon, philosopher and creator of the Academy Plato, philosopher and founder of cynicism Antisthenes, philosopher Aristippus and many others.


21. Socrates' great phrase about him knowing that he knows nothing has little known continuation – but others know even less.