Over the last few days I have dedicated myself to read The Last Days of Socrates. It is not a single book per se, but rather 4 books by Plato, those being: Euthephro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo. I have just finished reading the final of the four books and it is the one in which Socrates utters his last words. Although the books are really a preparation for the final calamity, they attempt to give an explanation and consolation for his impending death. Although Socrates’ consolation does suffice, for the characters at least, they, like the reader, are moved to tears by the loss of their friend. Below is at final part of the Phaedo where Socrates takes the poison that will claim his life:
And when Socrates saw him, he said: “Well, my good man, you know about these things; what must I do?” “Nothing,” he replied, “except drink the poison and walk about [117b] till your legs feel heavy; then lie down, and the poison will take effect of itself.”
At the same time he held out the cup to Socrates. He took it, and very gently, Echecrates, without trembling or changing color or expression, but looking up at the man with wide open eyes, as was his custom, said: “What do you say about pouring a libation to some deity from this cup? May I, or not?” “Socrates,” said he, “we prepare only as much as we think is enough.” “I understand,” said Socrates; [117c] “but I may and must pray to the gods that my departure hence be a fortunate one; so I offer this prayer, and may it be granted.” With these words he raised the cup to his lips and very cheerfully and quietly drained it. Up to that time most of us had been able to restrain our tears fairly well, but when we watched him drinking and saw that he had drunk the poison, we could do so no longer, but in spite of myself my tears rolled down in floods, so that I wrapped my face in my cloak and wept for myself; for it was not for him that I wept, [117d] but for my own misfortune in being deprived of such a friend. Crito had got up and gone away even before I did, because he could not restrain his tears. But Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time before, then wailed aloud in his grief and made us all break down, except Socrates himself. But he said, “What conduct is this, you strange men! I sent the women away chiefly for this very reason, that they might not behave in this absurd way; for I have heard that [117e] it is best to die in silence. Keep quiet and be brave.” Then we were ashamed and controlled our tears. He walked about and, when he said his legs were heavy, lay down on his back, for such was the advice of the attendant. The man who had administered the poison laid his hands on him and after a while examined his feet and legs, then pinched his foot hard and asked if he felt it. He said “No”; then after that, his thighs; and passing upwards in this way he showed us that he was growing cold and rigid. And again he touched him and said that when it reached his heart, he would be gone. The chill had now reached the region about the groin, and uncovering his face, which had been covered, he said—and these were his last words—“Crito, we owe a cock to Aesculapius. Pay it and do not neglect it.” “That,” said Crito, “shall be done; but see if you have anything else to say.” To this question he made no reply, but after a little while he moved; the attendant uncovered him; his eyes were fixed. And Crito when he saw it, closed his mouth and eyes.
Such was the end, Echecrates, of our friend, who was, as we may say, of all those of his time whom we have known, the best and wisest and most righteous man.
It is a heart-wrenching passage, one that is far more intimate if the reader is acquainted with the works of Plato and the wonderful man that was Socrates. It is because of this that Socrates’ death remains the most famous death in history, even above religious figures like Jesus of Nazareth and Siddhārtha Gautama. Socrates ushered in a different era of thought, an Empire of the Mind.