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Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  104 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews

A revisionist account of the most famous trial and execution in Western civilization— one with great resonance for American society today.

In the spring of 399 BCE, Socrates stood trial in his native Athens. The court was packed, and after being found guilty by his peers, Socrates died by drinking a cup of the poison hemlock, a defining moment in ancient civilization. Yet

Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 11th 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company
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Aug 02, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ancient_greece
A superb little book that re-creates the historical background of Socrates's trial for corrupting Greek youth in 399 B.C. Author Robin Waterfield steps back and sketches in the events of the Peloponnesian War as they affected public opinion relating to the trial and sentencing of the Greek philosopher. It appears that Socrates was extensively associated with Alcibiades, Critias, and other members of the oligarchic party that -- whether true or not -- were widely blamed for (1) Athens's loss to S ...more
Jim Coughenour
I recently reread Plato's four "death of Socrates" dialogues (Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, Phaedo) and wanted a bit more historical background than I could glean from the Penguin introduction. Waterfield's study, sub-titled "Dispelling the Myths," delivered exactly what it promised. Waterfield places Socrates's trial in the perilous context of the recently-lost Peloponnesian war and just-overthrown tyranny of "the Thirty." Throughout his life Socrates had never bothered to hide his contempt for ...more
Ryan Patrick
Socrates is presented as a martyr and the scapegoat for Athens's sins during the Peloponnesian War, a willing scapegoat who had failed to achieve his political mission of renewing the city through training moral experts to be political leaders, and dangerously associated with the more obviously blameworthy (and infamous) Alcibiades.
Jul 19, 2012 Stewart rated it liked it
While we hear about a “trial of the century” every 10 or 12 years in this country, there are only two trials that command our attention after two millenniums. One is the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate in Roman-occupied Judea and the other the trial of Socrates about 400 years before in Athens, Greece. The 2009 book “Why Socrates Died: Dispelling the Myths” by Robin Waterfield looks at that second trial, a trial of the Greek philosopher by a jury of 500 people.
Waterfield, who lives on a f
Jul 06, 2010 Bruce rated it liked it
This is the sort of book I would ordinarily have enjoyed a good deal if I wasn't already somewhat familiar with the substance of its thesis. Waterfield has an engaging authorial voice and does an excellent job providing fuller historical context for Socrates's arraignment, trial, and execution. Treated in full here are not only the usual analyses of Plato's and Xenophon's respective failings as objective biographers (among other primary source material), but summaries of the Pelopennesian War, a ...more
Masen Production
Oct 17, 2013 Masen Production rated it it was amazing
“For anyone who has read Xenophon's Retreat (Greece, Persia & the end of Golden age) well he is in for a treat again with this book. It's a riveting analogy of what might have happened, a very in-depth analysis of the last days of the greatest philosopher ever.
His track of thought is that Socrates was a great philosopher & very eccentric at the same time he believes that the much read theories of the last days of the great man was basically something his two illustrious students creatio
Apr 02, 2011 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Waterfield builds a strong case for the logical inevitability of Socrates trial and execution. Set against a backdrop of civil war, loss of empire, and the murderous but blessedly brief reign of the 30 tyrants, Socrates' lack of love for democracy, and close association with the oligarchs, left him looking like the enemy of a threatened people.

In the course of a gallop through the Peloponnesian Wars, Waterfield shines a light on areas not covered by Thucydides, filling in many gaps for the reade
Feb 19, 2016 Julian rated it really liked it
It is a long while since I read this book (and I may be too influenced by my memories of IF Stone's The Trial of Socrates) but I do not recognize the book I read from the summary here. Socrates died because he was anti-democratic and associated with and encouraged young aristocratic men of anti-democratic leanings, this at a time when the city had suffered horribly from the oligarchic dictatorships of the Four Hundred and the Thirty. Socrates corruption of youth was to encourage them in ...more
Mar 27, 2012 Larry rated it liked it
I admire the in-debt knowledge of the author on all matters Greece during the turmoil of its misbegotten period of attempted empire building. The title in reflection doesn't in my humble opinion reflect the content of the book. The trial and death of Socrates is covered in the first few chapters and then the history lesson begins and continues pretty well for most of the book until Socrates is again brought up in the context of the aforementioned history. I appreciate the thorough review of the ...more
Willem van der Scheun
This book about Socrates actually is much more about Alcibiades and the fate of Athens during the Peloponnesian War. Socrates is shown as deeply involved with the Athenian aristocrats and linked to the Thirty tyrants, choosing to stay in Athens after the turn back to democracy, and basically accepting his being a scapegoat to cleanse the Athenian democracy for it's errors that brought it down in the war against Sparta.

I would be very interested in a Freudian perspective on the relation between S
Jan 13, 2012 Ernest rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Socrates is a (fairly) well-known name in modern culture, but understanding what he actually did and the circumstances of his death are generally vague and not well understood. In this book, Robin Waterfield investigates why Socrates died. In doing so, he not only sets out there mere facts of what happened, but explains the context of the Greek culture and historical events that led to the culmination of the event in question. I admit to getting somewhat lost in the midst of the names, but this ...more
Aug 16, 2009 R. rated it really liked it
This is the only book I've read on the historical Socrates question, so I can't evaluate it professionally, but it was plausible and convincing. Since part of the task of the book is to set up Socrates' context, the book proves to be an excellent synopsis of the Peloponnesian War. Waterfield's conclusions are similar to I. F. Stone's: Socrates is far closer to Plato than the conventional wisdom suggests, and the motivation for prosecuting him is his association with, and advocacy of, oligarchic ...more
Apr 30, 2010 Bill rated it really liked it
At first, I was a little hostile over how much care and research this man has done into the minutiae of ancient Athenian culture (which does tend to happen when you read for a living and have to take special pains into how something is properly pronounced--since it actually was "all Greek to me"). However, when you realize the care and research it must've taken for Waterfield to reconstruct what was going on in Athens at the time of Socrates' life, you have to be impressed. And, he tidies up all ...more
Nov 28, 2009 Colin rated it it was amazing
This book attempts to unravel some of the seeming mystery behind the death of Socrates - portrayed as so obviously unfair by our major sources (Plato and Xenophon, both sympathetic to Socrates) as to make any reasonable modern person find it hard to believe that such a thing could have happened. Waterfield tries to examine as many of the facts as possible and not just rely on the traditional accounts in Plato and Xenophon to reconstruct the reasons why Athens in 399 B.C.E. thought it necessary ...more
Dec 21, 2015 Bob rated it liked it
A look at the politics behind Socrates and his execution...too many of his followers were involved in assassinations of democratic Athenians or opposed to the Athenian democracy.
Feb 25, 2016 Nisha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: feb-16
This was an informative book, but it told me more about ancient Greece and Athens than about Socrates. It was not boring in the way it was narrated, though.
Si Barron
Only read the first part- Didn't get onto the Alciabiades bit- I'll probs give this another bash laters- well written, a trifle worth perhaps. :)
Margaret Sankey
Jul 05, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Because it is never too early to start trying (and inevitably failing) to outsmart my next HIST 312 class!
Jan 02, 2015 Alex rated it really liked it
Really interesting look into why Socrates was so dangerous in his time. Dude hated democracy, by the way.
Dec 23, 2009 Milton rated it it was amazing
Understanding of Athenian and modern Greek Law and what really happened before Socrates drank a cup of the poison hemlock.
Jun 04, 2014 Oscar rated it really liked it
Well written, well researched. But truthfully, I read a few chapters, then found a good review on the net. I got what I wanted out of the book in the summary.
Amanda rated it really liked it
Mar 11, 2016
Rick rated it it was amazing
Feb 12, 2016
Deirdre Lautrefin
Deirdre Lautrefin rated it liked it
Feb 11, 2015
Daniel Graham
Daniel Graham rated it really liked it
Jan 17, 2015
Matt rated it it was ok
Dec 22, 2012
Gregory Rivera
Gregory Rivera rated it really liked it
Jul 29, 2013
Jimm Wetherbee
Jimm Wetherbee rated it liked it
Jul 26, 2011
Bruno Coimbra
Bruno Coimbra rated it it was amazing
May 21, 2015
Kari Yokochi
Kari Yokochi rated it really liked it
Sep 18, 2013
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Robin Anthony Herschel Waterfield was born in 1952 and studied Classics at the University of Manchester, specialising in ancient Greek Philosophy. He lectured at Newcastle University and St Andrews before joining Penguin books as an editor. Currently he is a self-employed author whose output includes books on the ancient world as well as Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.
More about Robin A.H. Waterfield...

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