39 pages 1 hour read


The Last Days of Socrates

Nonfiction | Biography | Adult | BCE

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Summary and Study Guide


The Last Days of Socrates by Plato is a collection of four texts—Euthyphro, Apology, Crito, and Phaedo—about the trial and execution of Socrates. (Alternate titles for collection include The Trial and Death of Socrates.) These texts, believed to have been composed between 399 and 395 BCE, are considered founding works of Western philosophy that investigate piety, justice, and the immortality of the soul via Socrates’s defense speeches at his trial and his conversations with his acquaintances and followers.

Not much is known about the historical figure of Socrates, and no writing attributed to him survives, leading scholars to advise caution when considering the theories and beliefs attributed to him by Plato. Though Socrates was a historical person, everything that Plato writes about Socrates must be viewed as Plato’s creation.

This study guide uses the 2010 Penguin Classics edition, translated by Christopher Rowe. Rowe was a Professor of Greek at the UK’s Durham University and University of Bristol. He has published numerous scholarly works on Greek philosophy as well as translations of Plato and Aristotle.


In the first dialogue, Euthyphro, Socrates and Euthyphro meet outside the Athenian court. Since Euthyphro is confident he knows what piety is, Socrates asks to be taught so that he can defend himself against charges that he has harmed the city in various ways. Each definition Euthyphro provides crumbles in the face of Socrates’s questions.

The Apology of Socrates presents Socrates’s defense in court against the charges of not worshipping the city’s gods, worshipping new gods, and corrupting the youth of Athens. Socrates tells the story of the oracle at Delphi naming him the wisest man. Socrates challenged himself to converse with people throughout the city in various professions, finally concluding that he had a specific type of wisdom: He could recognize and acknowledge what he did not know, while others pretended to know things that they did not.

Throughout his defense, which includes a cross-examination of one of his accusers, Meletus, Socrates argues that his conversational method is done in the service of the gods to improve the men of Athens. According to Socrates, he is serving both the gods and the city. His defense is not successful, however, and he is condemned to death by drinking hemlock.

In the dialogue Crito, Socrates’s eponymous follower attempts to convince him to escape from the city into exile. He worries what public opinion will be if his friends allow Socrates to die and urges him to flee. To show why he believes this would be unjust, Socrates conducts an imagined dialogue with a personification of the laws of Athens. His conclusion is that by remaining in Athens as an adult and participating in the life of a citizen—serving in the military and fulfilling his political obligations—Socrates voluntarily subjected himself to the city’s laws. Since he was not able to convince the citizen jury that he should be acquitted, he must now submit to their decision.

Phaedo presents Socrates’s final dialogue with his followers after the fact, as a narrative that the titular Phaedo tells a friend who was absent from Socrates’s final day. During this final dialogue, Socrates explained that he does not fear death because he believes that it is the separation of the soul from the body and the passage of the soul into a place where gods and good men dwell. The work of philosophy is preparing oneself for this separation, in other words for death. Doing philosophy purifies the soul the way the rituals of mystery cults purify the body.

Socrates offers three arguments for the immortality of the soul. When the time comes for him to drink the hemlock, his followers weep and despair, but he urges them to be calm and strong. His last words are to remind his followers to give an offering to Asclepius, the god of healing.