By Plato Edited/analyzed by Nancy Nieto
Summary and Analysis Phaedo
After an interval of some months or years, an account of the last hours of Socrates is narrated to Echecrates and other interested persons by Phaedo, a beloved disciple of the great teacher. The narration takes place at Phlius, a town of Sicyon. The dialog takes the form of a narrative because Socrates is described acting as well as speaking, and the particulars of the event are interesting to distant friends as well as to the narrator himself. Phaedo is asked if he had been present with Socrates on the day that he drank the poison. He replies that he was present, and he also mentions several of the other persons who were there at the time. These included Simmias, Cebes, Crito, Apollodorus, and several other people. Plato was not present at this meeting, having been kept away because of illness. The chief topic of conversation had been Socrates' conception of the soul. Inasmuch as all of those present were aware of the fact that Socrates would be put to death that day, they wanted to know what their beloved teacher believed concerning the nature of the soul. There were many questions that they would like to have answered, including: What assurance or proof do we have that souls actually exist? How is the soul related to the body? What happens to the soul at the time of death? Does it disintegrate into nothingness, or does it continue to exist in some form? Are souls immortal in the sense that they have neither a beginning nor an end? Are souls influenced by contact with the body? Are there both good and bad souls, and if so, what constitutes the difference between them? Are souls either punished or rewarded in some future life? These questions, along with others closely related to them, are discussed at some length as Socrates attempts to present his ideas in a manner that is both clear and convincing. The dialog begins with a request that Phaedo report to the group of visitors about the death of Socrates, telling them what he had to say during his last hours. Some of those who were present had heard that Socrates had been condemned to drink poison, but they knew very little about it and were anxious to learn more of the details. Phaedo explained the reason why the execution had been delayed for a month, pending the return of the ship from the island of Delos. He also described something of his own feelings as he witnessed the death of his very dear friend. He did not pity Socrates, for his mien and his language were so noble and fearless in the hour of death that he appeared to be blessed. After having mentioned the names of several of those who were present at the time of Socrates' death, Phaedo states that he will endeavor to repeat the entire conversation as he remembers the way in which it took place. As the group entered the prison on the morning of Socrates last day, they observed that he had just been released from chains. His wife, Xanthippe, was sitting by him, holding their child in her arms. She was weeping because this was the last time she could converse with her husband. Socrates turned to Crito and asked that he have someone take her home. After this had been done and some remarks had been made concerning the readiness with which a true philosopher would approach death, Cebes asks Socrates why it is that he believes it is wrong for one to commit suicide since death is not something to be feared? Socrates admits that there is an apparent inconsistency in his position, but a careful consideration of the problem will reveal no real inconsistency. The reason is that we as human beings are in the hands of the gods. They are our guardians and we are their possessions. Since we belong to the gods, it is wrong for us to destroy their possessions, except in those instances that are in accordance with their will. Neither Cebes nor Simmias is satisfied with this statement, and Socrates proceeds...