NOTES ON THE PHAEDO

Phaedo of Elis tells Echecrates of the day Socrates died. He first explains why there was such a long delay (one month) between the verdict and the execution. This was due to the mission to Delos to commemorate the victory of Theseus in saving Athens’s young people from the Minotaur. Then he describes his own feelings as the time approached and he waited in the cell with Socrates and some friends for the hour. He says he felt a strange mixture of pleasure and pain. He did not feel sorry for Socrates at all, he was so fearless and happy. Phaedo felt sure that the gods were caring for him and bringing him to a better place. Everyone was alternating between tears and laughter. Apollodorus was the most emotional and went out of control. Some of the others there were Crito, Critobulus, Simmias and Cebes. Plato though was ill. As always he and the others had met at dawn at the prison. On that day they had heard of the boat’s arrival from Delos. As they went in, they found Xanthippe, Socrates’ wife, in a state, so Socrates gets Crito to take her home. Socrates then talks of how close the sensations of pleasure and pain are to each other as he massages his leg, just released from the pain of the fetter. He says that pleasure and pain always argued so God stuck their heads together and wherever there is one, the other is always close by. Cebes then says he has a question from Evenus the poet, who wants to know why he has started writing poetry (on the stories of Aesop) while in prison. Socrates says he is not trying to rival Evenus, but in a dream he has often had, the voice has urged him to follow the arts. He always assumed that this meant to study Philosophy. But it occurred to him that he had never tried poetry and that he should give it a chance before he dies. He ends by telling Cebes to tell Evenus to follow him (to death) as soon as he can if he has any sense. Simmias is horrified by this advice. He doesn’t think that Evenus will want to follow it. Socrates says that any philosopher should welcome death, but no one should ever try to hasten their own death. Cebes asks him to explain. He says that for anyone who questions things, surely one of the most interesting questions is what happens after death. But, he says, suicide is not right for the following reason: no matter how hard and painful your life is, you must accept that your life is not your

own. Your life is, in fact in the care of the gods, and in their possession. So, it is not for us to decide when it ends. God must decide this. Cebes says that this makes sense, but he still wonders about the idea of welcoming death. He says that this, surely, is like a slave wanting to run away from a good master. Socrates is delighted with Cebes’s questioning attitude, and praises him for not just accepting everything he hears, but instead, testing it for truth. (Large section of the Phaedo not prescribed here) Crito then asks Socrates if he has any special requests about his burial. He laughs and says they can do whatever they like, if they can catch him. He points out that it will not be him that they bury, only his body, he will in fact be far away in a better place. He says that it is important that they all remember this as he does not want their spirits to be low, he will not be what they bury that will be only his body. He goes then to have a bath, and then his three children are brought to see him along with the women of the household. He sends them away and it is now sunset. Now the prison guard comes with the hemlock and thanks Socrates for being such a nice prisoner, not fighting with him and he says he is “the noblest and gentlest and bravest of all the men that have ever come here”. He knows that Socrates will not be angry with him personally for doing his job and as he says goodbye he bursts into tears. Socrates comments on what a charming person he is and on the good chats they have had. He asks for the hemlock to be brought in, Crito urges him to wait and says there is no rush, they could still have dinner and wine. Socrates says that this is foolish as there is nothing to be gained by it, it would be ridiculous to cling to life when it has no more to offer. The slave arrives with the hemlock and tells him what to do. He is to drink it and walk around till his legs feel heavy and then lie down. Socrates takes it cheerfully and looking up “bull-like” asks if it is alright to make a libation to the gods with it. The slave says just the right amount is there to kill him, so maybe not. However, he does pray to the gods for a prosperous journey to the other world. He drinks calmly. Now Phaedo says he breaks down and weeps along with Crito (who had to leave) and Apollodorus who is hysterical. Socrates tries to calm him

down and points out that he has sent the women home to avoid this kind of scene. “Calm yourselves and be brave”. All are ashamed and stop crying. Socrates walks about and then lies down, the slave returns and pinches his legs to check for sensation. He is getting cold and numb. As this feeling reaches his waist, he covers his face and says “Crito, we ought to offer a cock to Asclepius. See to it and don’t forget”. Then he dies. “This Echecrates, was the end of our comrade, who was, we may fairly say, of all those whom we knew in our time, the bravest and also the wisest and most just.

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