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Level 5

5AACTL30 The Trial and Death of Socrates

Credit value: 15
Module convenor/tutor 2018/19: Professor Michael Trapp
Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour seminars (weekly)
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 2 x essay of 2,000 words (higher marked essay is weighted at 70%, while the lower is weighted at 30%)

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

The trial and execution of the philosopher Socrates in 399 BC, on charges of religious eccentricity and corruption of the young, besides being a crucial event in the history of Greek philosophy and of Greek philosophical writing, remained a focus of controversy for the remainder of antiquity and beyond. Was this a case of a malevolent subversive receiving his just deserts, or a scandalous instance of the failure of a democracy to tolerate disturbing criticism and defend the rights of an individual? Did Socrates die as a martyr to his principled quest for truth, or as a victim of democratic failure and the misdeeds of his pupils? 

This course re-examines the primary accounts of the trial and death – Plato's Apology and Phaedo and the Apology of Xenophon – but looks also at the reverberations of these events, and the image of Socrates arising from them, in later antiquity and the modern world.

Suggested introductory reading

This is suggested reading and purchase of these books is not mandatory.

  • Ahbel-Rappe, S., and Kamtekar, R., Companion to Socrates (Blackwell 2008)
  • Bloch, E., 'Hemlock poisoning and the death of Socrates', in Journal of the International Plato Society
  • Brickhouse, T. and Smith, N., The Trial and Execution of Socrates: sources and controversies (OUP 2002)
  • Danzig, G, Apologizing for Socrates (Rowman and Littlefield 2010)
  • Ferguson, J., Socrates, a sourcebook (Macmillan 1970)
  • Field, G., Plato and His Contemporaries (Methuen 1930)
  • Gill, C. 'The Death of Socrates', Classical Quarterly 23 (1973) 25-8
  • Hansen, M., The Trial of Sokrates: from the Athenian Point of View (Royal Danish Academy 1995)
  • Stokes, M.C. (ed.), Plato: Apology (Aris & Phillips 1997)
  • Trapp, M. (ed.), Socrates from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (Ashgate 2007)
  • Trapp, M. (ed.), Socrates in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Ashgate 2010)
  • Waterfield, R., Why Socrates Died (Faber 2009)
  • Wilson, E., The Death of Socrates (Profile 2007)
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