One of the greatest thinkers of Athens, Socrates is credited with being one of the founders of Western philosophy. He infamously met his demise due to the cutthroat politics of his time. A critic of his city’s policies who commended the ways of rival power Sparta, he was tried for being disrespectful to established gods of his polis and for corrupting the minds of young people. In 399 BC, Socrates was executed by ingestion of a poisonous hemlock brewage.
The story, which was made famous by Socrates’ student Plato, is very reminiscent of how modern cancel culture operates – at least that seems to have been the suggestion made by Anthony Sabatini. The Republican Florida state representative wrote that, in modern America, Socrates would have been “canceled real quick.”
Users of the platform found the thought quite engaging, with Socrates’ name soon starting to trend on Twitter. However, many commenters apparently decided that Sabatini was ignorant of Socrates’ trial and death, and “pointed out” the presumed slight in their comments – as Twitter helpfully explained in the trend’s description.
Others saw it as an opportunity to make jokes mixing modern culture with the realities of Ancient Greece.
The Socrates trial came amid a period of rapid deterioration in Athenian society, which followed the loss in the Peloponnesian War with Sparta. There were two bloody oligarchic coups, the second of which brought to power a brutal government dubbed the ‘Thirty Tyrants’. It was headed by Critias, a former pupil of the philosopher.
Sources friendly to Socrates, who was in his 70s at the time of the coup, claim that he lived in non-violent opposition to the regime. But it’s been suggested that the trial, which happened five years after the dictatorship was ousted, was meant to hold Socrates accountable for teaching an anti-democratic ideology that helped Critias and his co-tyrants grasp power and unleash their reign of terror.
Plato’s account of the trial is a condemnation of democracy – or the rule of the mob in his terms – that unjustly killed a great man for his ideas. One can only wonder what the political affiliations of Socrates and his students would be in modern day America.
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