Socrates was the first of the three famous Athenian philosophers (the other two being Aristotle and Plato). Born in the Greek capital in the year 469 BC, he lived during the reign of Pericles at a time when the Athenian empire was at its peak. It is believed that he did not come from an elite family, in fact evidence points to his father being a stone-carver, a skill at which he himself developed and used on occasion. His mother worked as midwife helping to attend to thousands of women around Athens.

After the Peloponnesian war had ended, Socrates who was then in his late forties, began to ask deep questions about the nature of existence and the world that surrounded him. For example, he would question “what is beauty”, “what is wisdom’, and “what is the correct direction to take”. These questions were rhetorical, that is to say, he was aware that they were almost impossible to answer, and that there could often be no conclusive answer.

At first, his approach was rather unconventional. He would wander around the streets and squares of Athens asking those people who stopped to chat the most deep and meaningful questions. The responses that he was given are not to dissimilar to what would be experienced today if we also took such an approach. People would ignore him, or befriend him, and occasionally get angry and resort to violence when his questions seemed irrational or confusing.

Over time he developed a group of young male followers who were very interested in his words and philosophy. One of these men was Plato who himself went on to become one of the ancient world’s greatest minds. Socrates opened an academy which was free of charge for all attendees.

Unfortunately, his growing stature was looked at disapprovingly by a number of Athenian officials. In 399 BC he was charged with the crime of impiety (being disrespectful to the gods), and corrupting young minds. It was suggested that his beliefs went against the democratic ideas that had taken root in Greece. In fact it could be said that he was undemocratic because he believed that the smartest in society should be the rulers, and not those individuals who were the most popular.

The Athenians were not able to prosecute Socrates for being anti democratic, instead he was charged for his violations of religion. Sadly he was convicted and sentenced to death. It is believed that his actual death was caused by drinking a cup of water infused with the poisonous plant hemlock that was given to him by his prison guards.

Socrates never put his thoughts and beliefs down on paper. Only after his death did Plato write down some of the concepts that had been taught by this great man.

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