Why Socrates Died, By Robin Waterfield

The execution of Socrates in Athens in 399BC has given rise to almost as much post-mortem fury as the crucifixion of Jesus. In Socrates' case, the dialogues of his pupil Plato – more novels-of-ideas than faithful chronicles - have further skewed the record. Robin Waterfield's learned but fluent book takes a historian's hatchet to the myths.

It paints the bloody background of war-weakened Athens, torn between the messy idealism of citizens' rule and the lure of charismatic tyranny. And it shows the suspicions jurors might have held about this mystical oddball with posh anti-democratic friends: to their enemies, an upper-crust gay coterie. Would you have voted for the hemlock, such an easy death? A foe to hindsight and sentiment, Waterfield sees both sides with clarity and perspective.

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