I skipped reading poetry this morning to finish Emily Wilson’s lively, entertaining book, The Death of Socrates. I have been reading a library copy. Sometimes I intensify my reading of a book simply because it’s due soon. Wilson came to my attention with her recent new translation of the Odyssey. A copy of this book is sitting on my to read stack which is quite big these days and not literally stacked but spread all over the living room.
You wouldn’t think that a book about the death of Socrates would be lively and entertaining, but that’s how I found this one. Wilson shrewdly picks apart many accounts of Socrates from Plato to Satie’s “Socrate” to a comic piece by Woody Allen.
I had never really thought much about how prevalent Socrates is in western art, literature, entertainment and thought. I have read much of Plato’s account of Socrates and it is this Socrates that I think most informs my own idea of him. But Wilson shows how philosophers re-imagine Socrates factoring in their own world view. She clearly outlines how each thinker’s Socrates comes together and compares and contrasts it to the more contemporary initial accounts of Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes.
An added pleasure for me is that in my Greek study I have been reading excerpts of Plato and Xenophon including Plato’s description of the death of Socrates.
Throughout the text, Wilson discusses how visual artists have presented Socrates with an emphasis on the story of his death. There are even a few paragraphs on The Hemlock Society which has apparently changed its name to “Compassion and Choices” to distance itself from elitism and controversy of Socrates the dead white male.
I now have a list of follow up books to check out including Mary Renault’s The Last of the Wine and the sci fi time travel novel, The Plot to Save Socrates, by Paul Levinson. Time to break out my vinyl recording of “Socrate.”