83. Crito by Plato (c.399-387 BC)

Socrates is languishing in gaol – his death postponed until a ship returns to Athens from Delos, in annual celebration of Theseus’ defeat of the Minotaur. Crito, a friend of Socrates, has bribed the gaoler to allow him to sit with Socrates in his cell, and is trying to convince him to escape.

Crito entreats Socrates to reconsider escape and fleeing to another city, that there are friends with money enough to pay off the guards and support him. But Socrates, true to form, examines the situation in his usual philosophic style, and decides he must act in a just and honourable way regardless of the palatability of the result, which is to remain in prison until he is justly released or put to death according to law.

To make his point clearer to Crito, Socrates personifies the Laws of Athens and has them asking him the questions which he must answer (a role reversal indeed). As Socrates was born, raised and educated in Athens and has lived his entire life in the city, he must admit being satisfied with the city and its Laws, and cannot justly try to run away now and destroy the Laws because they are now inconvenient to him, and jeopardise all his beliefs and works in upholding virtue and law.

The text is included in the Penguin edition of Socratic dialogues The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, translated by Hugh Tredennick and Harold Tarrant (ISBN 0140449280)

Favourite lines/passages:

“The really important thing is not to live, but to live well” (page 87)

Personal rating:   6

Next :   The final part of Plato’s story of the last days of Socrates, The Phaedo.



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