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Why Socrates Died Hardcover – 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Socrates and Alcibiades were an unlikely couple: an ugly old philosopher and a charming, intelligent, ambitious and arrogant aristocrat. The fallout from this relationship and an unpopular war toppled the world's most significant philosophical figure. By placing the execution of Socrates against the context of the Peloponnesian War, classicist Waterfield (Xenophon's Retreat) argues that a guilty verdict against the philosopher, charged with impiety and corrupting Athens's youth, was a rational outcome. Athens of the last third of the fifth century B.C. was affected by a striking list of stress factors. Old certainties were being undermined by prolonged warfare, morally subversive ideas, population displacement and other forms of social upheaval. Sitting atop a solid foundation of scholarship, this valuable survey of an important period of ancient history is especially useful as a prelude to texts by Plato, Xenophon and Thucydides. Of the many introductory studies on the Athenian judicial system, the trial of Socrates, the conflict between Athens and Sparta and the reasons that democracy gave way to oligarchy in Athens, this is among the clearest, most well-organized and most concise. 4 pages of illus., maps. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* In The Death of Socrates (2007), Emily Wilson illuminated the mythmaking process that converted the execution of a famous ancient philosopher into a symbolic tableau incorporated into a wide range of religious and political ideologies. In this much-needed complementary study, Waterfield deflates that mythmaking by probing the historical dynamics surrounding the trial itself. The analysis will surprise readers accustomed to viewing Socrates’ accusers as paranoid defenders of religious superstitions. For a careful parsing of the evidence reveals that when Athenian judges condemned Socrates, they were defending principles still cherished by most twenty-first-century readers: namely, the principles of democracy. Waterfield convincingly establishes that Socrates fell under hostile suspicion largely because of his close ties to young students of deeply anti-democratic sympathies. One of these arrogant young men joined other oligarchs in conspiring against Athens during its bitter war against Sparta; another scripted the atrocities committed by the Thirty Tyrants when they temporarily overthrew Athens’ democratic government. Waterfield shows that even Socrates’ own belief in an ideal government by experts legitimated, elitist, not democratic governance. Such a belief, readers soon realize, would have appeared particularly menacing to Athenian democrats traumatized by the twin shocks of external assault and internal discord. Impressive scholarship redefining an iconic event. --Bryce Christensen --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
This book is next-level scholarship, in that it takes a broad base of knowledge and, through reason, presents a very likely conclusion, which, by the way, does not contradict current scholarly thought; it is simply a new idea, as far as I know, and it complements popular scholarly thought.
Another important aspect of this book is the relationship between history and philosophy. I am staunchly in the camp that believes that there is an innate importance to understanding history for the sake of understanding philosophy. While this is one of the smaller details regarding this book, I still think that Waterfield serves in advancing our understanding of the relationship between history and philosophy. Furthermore, Waterfields subtle insights are rather interesting when put into perspective.
I think my one complaint is that I wished Waterfield applied a number at the end of sentences that correspond to his references in the bibliography. Of course, Waterfield's mastery of the subject matter is probably such that he didn't actually refer to the books while writing this book, but it would have been helpful to me.
There is something very refreshing I find in academics that are not associated with a university, and Waterfield is another example of this.