Friday, 26 March 2010

The Flea on the Dog

That's how he described himself, "The Flea on the Dog", and that's how the Elders of Athens treated him all that time ago, 500 years before the birth of Christ - like an irritating flea on the great body of Athens, to be eradicated by self-administered poison, willingly drunk by Socrates just after a public holiday during which the execution of criminals was forbidden.

He could have escaped Greece during that holy period, but decided to stay - against all his friends' advice - to live out the life he had spent so much time examining in the market place and 'corrupting the youth of Athens', for which crime he was sentenced to death.

The above portrait is taken from a bronze which no longer exists, commissioned by the guilt-ridden citizens, a few years too late in recognising his value and the benign influence of his rhetoric.

All we know about Socrates is due to Plato, who was in attendance when his teacher drank the hemlock. Everyone was in tears as the great man lay covered in a white sheet, the effects of the tea rising from his toes to his chest until it reached his heart. His heart.

We are all citizens of that Athens - and beneficiaries of his good, honest, common sense - and I for one actually miss him as much as if I had been there at the time. It is a rare thing that such a brutal act of execution can be so unavoidably carried out by the State, and yet so universally regretted even as judgement had been passed, and before sentence was carried out.

It seems like like yesterday to me.


  1. Your words are really pulling on my brain and senses. I wonder, why we have to kill all the things that we need in such a simple, essential way? Socrates was taking all we know and making it lucid. But sometimes simple words drive fear. The closer we are to truth, the farther we move away.

    Probably not making sense since I'm tired and my tea isn't working.

    Beautiful post.

  2. To have believed the oracle of Delphi (or whatever may be it's present day equivalent) is/was self-delusional, and self-destructive. Probably would have been 'wiser' to have been more philosophical, and less anti-Athenian.

  3. I don't understand what you are saying, Cro. Are you saying he was anti-Athenian? As far as the Delphic oracles go, there couldn't have been a more rational and less self-delusional philosopher than Socrates at that time, or any other time, come to that. Maybe I am misinterpreting your words? He also had a great sense of humour, and was invited to many dinners just for his entertainment value. His wife thought he was a pain in the arse, though, which is probably why he spent so much time down the market.

    I'm glad the tea isn't working Amy!

  4. Oh dear, It's all such a long time ago. But didn't the Spartans ravage Athens and Socrates side with Sparta? I thought the reason why he drank the famous hemlock was that he considered force more effective than democracy, and he was found guilty of treason.

    The oracle (as all oracles) spoke with forked tongue, and convinced S that he was ALWAYS right. Dangerous.

  5. That's not how I remember it, Cro. I think he was just hanging around, using the market as a place to blog, and the authorities got pissed off with him. He was no traitor, and you are confusing him with someone else, I think.

    Also, the oracle at Delphi was not a bad place to hang out if you were into horse racing, by all accounts.