The Story of the Greeks
Page: 79But, in spite of all his goodness and constant uprightness, Socrates the philosopher was condemned to the shameful death of a base criminal.
Now, in Greece, criminals were forced to drink a cup of deadly poison at sunset on the day of their condemnation, and there was generally but a few hours' delay between the sentence and its execution. But the law said that during one month in the year no such punishment should be inflicted. This was while an Athenian vessel[Pg 177] was away on a voyage to the Island of De´los to bear the annual offerings to Apollo's shrine.
As Socrates was tried and condemned at this season, the people were forced to await the return of the vessel before they could kill him: so they put him in prison. Here he was chained fast, yet his friends were allowed to visit him and to talk with him.
Day after day the small band of his pupils gathered around him in prison; and, as some of them were very rich, they bribed the jailer, and arranged everything for their beloved master's escape.
When the time came, and Socrates was told that he could leave the prison unseen, and be taken to a place of safety, he refused to go, saying that it would be against the law, which he had never yet disobeyed.
In vain his friends and disciples begged him to save his life: he would not consent. Then Cri´to, one of his pupils, began to weep, in his distress, and exclaimed indignantly, "Master, will you then remain here, and die innocent?"
"Of course," replied Socrates, gravely. "Would you rather I should die guilty?"
Then, gathering his disciples around him, he began to talk to them in the most beautiful and solemn way about life and death, and especially about the immortality of the soul.
This last conversation of Socrates was so attentively listened to by his disciple Plato, the wisest among them all, that he afterward wrote it down from memory almost word for word, and thus kept it so that we can still read it.
As the sun was slowly setting on that last day, the [Pg 179][Pg 178]sacred vessel came back from Delos. The time of waiting was ended, and now the prisoner must die. The jailer interrupted this beautiful last talk, and entered the cell, bringing the cup of poison.
Socrates took the cup from his hand and drained it, unmoved, telling his disciples that he felt sure that death was only birth into another and better world. Then he bade them all farewell.
As he was a good and scrupulous man, very careful about paying his debts and keeping his promises, he now told Crito to remember that he had promised to sacrifice a cock to Æs-cu-la´pi-us, the god of medicine, and bade him do it in his stead.
He then lay down upon his hard prison bed, and, while he felt the chill of death slowly creeping upward toward his heart, he continued to teach and exhort his pupils to love virtue and do right.