1.5 The Death of Socrates


By the end of this section you will discover:

  • How Socrates died without fear.
  • How many philosophers approach the question of death and what lies beyond.

Although likely offered an option to avoid the death sentence and go into exile, Socrates chose death.   To that end, the Athenians condemned him to drink a cup of hemlock, a poison.  Plato’s Phaedo recounts his teacher’s last moments.

Excerpt from Plato’s Phaedo
A painting of Socrates on his deathbed, taking hemlock
Jacques-Louis David: The Death of Socrates, (1787)

Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by; and he went out, and having been absent for some time, returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates said: You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, shall give me directions how I am to proceed. The man answered: You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act. At the same time, he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or feature, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or not? The man answered: We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough. I understand, he said: but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world—even so—and so be it according to my prayer. Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. And hitherto most of us had been able to control our sorrow; but now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished the draught, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast; so that I covered my face and wept, not for him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having to part from such a friend. Nor was I the first; for Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up, and I followed; and at that moment, Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness: What is this strange outcry? he said. I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience. When we heard his words we were ashamed and refrained our tears; and he walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions, and the man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; and after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked him if he could feel; and he said, No; and then his leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. And he felt them himself, and said: When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end. He was beginning to grow cold about the groin, when he uncovered his face, for he had covered himself up, and said—they were his last words—he said: Crito, I owe a cock to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt? The debt shall be paid, said Crito; is there anything else? There was no answer to this question; but in a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him; his eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth. (Gutenberg, Jowett, Plato, Phaedo)

What are we to make of Death here? Socrates seems not to have feared it. Here are some possible reasons:


Perspectives on Death: Crash Course Philosophy #17

 Or watch the video here



Works Cited

CrashCourse, director. Perspectives on Death: Crash Course Philosophy #17. YouTube, YouTube, 13 June 2016, https://youtu.be/mjQwedC1WzI. Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.

Pharos. “The Death of Socrates MET DT40.” Wikimedia Commons, Wikimedia Commons, 2 Apr. 2017, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Death_of_Socrates_MET_DT40.jpg. Accessed 29 Mar. 2022.


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PPSC PHI 1011: The Philosopher's Quest by Daniel G. Shaw, Ph.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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