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International Journal of English and Literature (IJEL) ISSN 2249-6912 Vol. 2 Issue 4 Dec - 2012 69-72 TJPRC Pvt.

. Ltd.,


RAJ KISHOR SINGH Ph. D. Scholar, L. N. Mithila University, Darbhanga, Bihar, India

The present paper deals with the classical problem and mystery regarding the great philosopher of all the timeSocrates. Some writers, historians and critics raise questions on existence of Socrates- Was he really born? Did he really live in the earth? Such questions have been also raised on existence of Shakespeare. I have consulted some resources and found logical evidences that forward the truth that Socrates really existed in the earth, without any doubt.

KEYWORDS: Existence, Kilpatrick, Enigma, Aristophanes, Xenophon, Plato, Socratic Problem, Mac Flecknoe,
Caricature, Mock-Heroic, Sherlock Holmes, Mythology, Skepticism, Robinson Crusoe, Alexander Selkirk, Phaedo

Jorge Luis Borges can inspire anybody to look into the history and solve any hidden mystery. Borges investigated the historical case of Kilpatrick, the secret and glorious leading Irish revolutionary captain, who turns to be the hero and the traitor, the same, at the same time. He suggests us that history must be interpreted. Enigmas must be exposed, explored and publicized. Socrates was a classical Greek Athenian philosopher. His birth is often quoted as c. 469 BC - 399 BC. 1 He is the founder of Western philosophy. However, details about him are unclear, paradoxical, and inaccurate. Socrates did not write anything. All the details come from others, from his students like Plato and from his contemporaries like Aristophanes and Xenophon. Inaccurate and inconsistent details have created a problem, which is called the Socratic problem. Purpose behind this paper is to get into the issue and explore the truth. The Socratic Problem Richard Tarnas is right to say all great people have suffered in history at the birth of a new thought. 2 Jesus, Buddha, Galileo and many others suffered at their innovations. Socrates is still suffering from vigorous dispute over his identity and existence, though he is believed to have died at the birth of philosophy. His enigmatic and inscrutable identity is moving in the whirlpool set by historians, authors and interpreters. Socrates is an enigma, the whole issue standing as the Socratic problem, in his appearance, personality, and behavior, views and methods. The extant sources such as Plato's 'Theaetetus' (143e) and 'Symposium' (215 a-c, 216 c-d, 221 d-e), Xenophon's 'Symposium' (4.19, 5.5 - 7), and Aristophanes's 'Clouds' (362) describe Socrates as an ugly character - with bulging eyes, bulged out stomach, a flat, upturned nose with flaring nostrils, large fleshy lips, and swaggering gait.

The man with

knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, geometry, music, ancient history, linguistics, etc. was very strange that he didn't work to earn a living and neither took voluntary participation in the state affairs. Another wonderful description is that he denied being a teacher. Neither had he taken any money for his works done. The poor man lived in poverty whole life. Such a man of knowledge and wisdom had the upper hand in every discussion though he never claimed that he knew anything important.


Raj Kishor Singh

Socrates is an enigmatic character still in our study because of various details and various interpretations by litterateurs like Aristophanes (Playwright, 450 - 386), historians like Xenophon, philosophers like Plato, and many others. Aristophanes claims to have known Socrates in his early years. Xenophon claims to have known him as his companion, as in his words "I was never acquainted with anyone who took greater care to find out what each of his companions knew" (Memorabilia 4.7.1). Plato's details in his works claim that he had known Socrates in his later years. These three people differ with their accounts, and that was possible because they were from three different professions. Details and interpretations from these and many others have rather developed the complexities - arising the major issue over the skeptic identity and existence of Socrates, with a sense of puzzle, the Socratic problem, that many have worked hard to solve and many are still making efforts. Cornelia de Vogel (1955) argues that all the interpretations that we have by this time represent only a theoretically possible Socrates. 4 I have made my effort to link the 'Socratic problem' with some important literary, historical and mythological events and dare to find a way out.


The playwrights Aristophanes and John Dryden have much similarity in this regard. Aristophanes mockingly caricatures Socrates in his play 'Clouds' (423 BC). In the play, the character Socrates is shown as to be leading the young men in the part 'Think-o-Rama.' They do not show any respect for the Athenian sense of propriety. Caricatured Socrates makes fun of the traditional gods of Athens (lines 247-48, 367, 423-24). The play's Socrates caricatures real Socrates and presents naturalistic explanations of those phenomena that the Athenians believed to be divine's phenomena (lines 227-33). Socrates in the play teaches the young men to avoid repayment of debts (lines 1214-1302). This fake Socrates also teaches them to beat their parents into submission (lines 1408-46). 5 John Dryden's 'Mac Flecknoe' is a mock-heroic satire in verse. This one is a mocking caricature of a real man Thomas Shadwell. Dryden and Shadwell had disagreements over literary issues. The poem has allusions to the 17th century literary works and classic Greek and Roman literature. Dryden disliked Shadwell because Shadwell didn't like Dryden's wits, style, rhyme and comedies in general. Both of them were associated with two different parties (Shadwell 'Whig', and Dryden 'Stuart monarchy'). 6 Were there similar situations and oppositions between Socrates and Aristophanes? Aristophanes might have many reasons for the mocking caricature of real Socrates: 1. He wished to present Socrates with comic exaggeration for his strange physical, social, religious, moral and intellectual character. 2. He did not like Socrates for his deleterious effect on the youth of the city, and also for his neglecting of the poets. These complaints are observed in Birds (line 414) and Frogs (line 405). Socrates in Plato's Apology (18 a-b, 19 c) speaks in his defense during the trial that all false things about him were raised and spread about by Aristophanes in his plays. From the above details, it is obvious that both Aristophanes and Socrates had some disagreements and oppositions between them. Like Dryden's Mac Flecknoe and Shadwell, Socrates in the plays of Aristophanes and Socrates as the Athenian philosopher were the same and real, after all, in existence.

The Socratic Problem: A Possible Solution



Arthur Conan Doyle is well known for his detective stories, but the detective character of his stories is much better known than him among readers. When he wished to slay Holmes and "winding him up for good and all" because Holmes took his mind from better things, his mother responded, "You won't !, You can't !, You mustn't ! 7 When Holmes was really pulled to death in his story "The Final Problem", there is a saying that his readers cried and many of them went to the Baker Street in search of Holmes and his home. The author was bound to bring back Holmes to life in his next story. The above details, I think, can provide the impression that an author may have on his readers. Socrates can be a fictional character and may have given better impression on the readers as a real one. This can be an argument on one side, but we must not deny the truth that Conan Doyle's fictional character Holmes was identical to his former university teacher Joseph Bell, for his ways of deduction, inference and observation.

This correlation between

fictional character and real character can be related to fictional character and real character of Socrates. Without real identity and existence, Socrates would not have been born in the play of Aristophanes in the history of Xenophon and in the philosophy and dialogues of Plato.


Socrates was not born out of mythology. Jesus was real and he got his place in the Bible. Mohammad was real and he got his place in the Quran. Buddha was real and he got his place in the Buddhist scripture. There are several magical and miraculous incidents illustrated in the scriptures, which can be taken as fictional and mythological exaggerations, but such exaggerations are not found in Plato's works. Nothing is magical and miraculous in the works of Aristophanes, Xenophon and Plato. Therefore, Socrates is not fictional and mythological character. He is not an enigma any way.


Three people are the extant sources that report acquaintance with Socrates in different periods of his life. Aristophanes presented Socrates in the form of mocking caricature. Xenophon was a soldier - historian. He was a practical man and loved horses and horsemanship. Naturally, we can expect biographical and historical details from this man. Plato was a philosopher, a learned and well-privileged man. He presented Socrates as a man of knowledge and wisdom. Three people observed and presented the same man Socrates in three different ways. I don't think that is impossible. A book can be read, comprehended and interpreted in ten different ways by ten different people. The same man can be acquainted, observed and characterized in three different ways by three different people. Unlike Aristophanes and Xenophon, Plato might have been acquainted with Socrates philosophy. A man may play different roles in different periods of his life youth, soldier and philosopher. Skepticism is inherent in man's nature. That can go too far - doubting the real identity and existence of Socrates.


At the age of sixty, he Daniel Defoe published his first novel Robinson Crusoe in 1719. The story details the life and adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York. He was a mariner. He lived eight and twenty years, all alone in an uninhabited island on the coast of America, near the mouth of the great river of Oroonoque. 9 He was cast on shore by shipwreck, wherein all the men perished except him. The novel is an account how he was at last as strangely delivered by pirates. The story is supposed to be the details of a real person, called Alexander Selkirk, a Scottish castaway who lived for four years on the Pacific island called "Ms a Tierra", Chile. 10 Defoe had read the news in the newspaper. Only the


Raj Kishor Singh

difference is of the period of living on the island. The story was detailed on purpose by Defoe to give shape of literary work. I want to relate to the influence of the real person in the novel. Aristophanes, Xenophanes and Plato had influence of a real person. Their personal feelings, experiences, and analysis might have lots of variations but they had Socrates in their mind, no doubt.

In Phaedo, Plato writes that Socrates was smiling and had a highly fascinating face when he took the bowl of hemlock and drank the poison in a gulp. There was a long period of gap between trial and declaration of death penalty and the day of execution. During this period, Socrates might have prepared himself, climbing different stages of approaching death. He must have accepted (acceptance being one of the stages) the death with peace of mind, and that might have been exaggerated as daring of the wisest and upright man, Socrates, by Plato, as he was his disciple.

In conclusions, I would like to allude to the above details to confirm with surety that Socrates was a real man, not an enigma, and his entire existence can be justified, without any skepticism. Though I am afraid I have dared with the interpretations above to justify the truth that the 'Socratic problem' is just a falsehood against Socrates, and my interpretations may add further complexities to the problem.

1. 2. 3. Retrieved from

Tarnas, Richard. 1993. The Passion of the Western Mind. UK: Random House Publishing Group. Nails, Debra. Socrates, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL= 2010/entries/socrates/

4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9.

Ibid. Ibid. Ibid. Defoe, Daniel. 2009. The Life and most surprising adventures of Robinson Crusoe. S. Hedgeland. Title part.

10. Howell, John. 1829. The life and adventures of Alexander Selkirk. London: Oliver and Boyd, Tweeddale-court: and Geo. B. Whittaker.