52 in 52 Week 32: Plato's Euthyphro, Apologia, Phaedo, and Crito

My "Great Books 100" list has all four of these titles under Plato, but once I started reading I wondered whether this was the book, The Last Days of Socrates, which Michael had read five years ago in classical literature, and it is! 

This is written by Plato with dialogues Socrates had with others related to his trial and execution. I will make a general comment that many times I felt like I was reading Paul the apostle. I believe Paul was educated in the classics and borrowed wording from the Greeks in order to relate to the Greeks!

Apologia is not his apology but his defense before the court. He was accused of  not recognizing the gods recognized by the state, inventing new deities, and corrupting the youth of Athens. It is clear and easy to understand. 

Euthyphro is about Socrates' encounter with Euthyphro outside the court of Athens. It is a discussion about holiness. This link is helpful in understanding:


Phaedo is a recounting of the final hours of Socrates by Phaedo. Socrates proposes that suicide is wrong if one is a true philosopher because a true one should look forward to death. He suggests that the soul is immortal. Since the philosopher spends his life trying to separate from his body that this is appropriate that he should look forward to death since this is the ultimate separation of soul and body. 

I read this article about how Plato's Phaedo and Symposium influenced one of my favorite dead Russian authors, Tolstoy: 
Tolstoy first read the philosophical dialogues of Plato, who lived from 427 B.C.E. to 347 B.C.E., in French translation as a young man. He returned to them when he learned to read Greek in the period just before writing Anna Karenina. Plato's dialogues showcase Plato's teacher, Socrates, often even presenting him in an almost beatific light. They usually also show Socrates in action—or rather in dialogue with his pupils. Using what has come to be known as the "Socratic method," Socrates does not come out and tell them the truth, but rather involves his pupils in the process. He asks a series of leading questions, designed to lead to the truth indirectly. Scholars have felt that Tolstoy engages in a similar process in his novels. 
The two works that Tolstoy singles out, the Symposium and the Phaedo, are about love and death, respectively. These are two topics at the heart of Anna Karenina. In the Symposium, friends discuss different forms of love at a gathering that features drink and food. The dialogue culminates with Socrates advancing the notion that there is, in addition to physical love, a love of the soul. (He does not necessarily exclude physical love but suggests that under the right circumstances lovers may move from physical love to something higher.) Tolstoy pays direct tribute to the Symposium in Anna Karenina. Chapters 10 and 11 of Part One (pp. 33-43) are a remake of Plato's Symposium featuring Oblonsky and Levin, eating and drinking while discussing love. Oblonsky argues that there's nothing he can do about his sexual appetites and what's wrong with indulging in pleasure anyway? Levin takes a different line, arguing that love can be clear and pure. He even cites the Symposium to back it up (p. 42). 

In the Phaedo, Plato meditates on death and the immortality of the soul. In this dialogue, Socrates and his friends gather together one last time in his prison cell. Socrates was tried and condemned to death by the Athenian state. (The parallels between what happened to him and what happened to Jesus were certainly not lost on Tolstoy.) The dialogue reenacts what takes place between him and his friends in his final hours as Socrates takes the poison hemlock that kills him. Socrates faces death with equanimity as he argues for the immortality of the soul. Facing death is a major concern of all of Tolstoy's writings and Anna Karenina is no exception. Part Eight shows Levin struggling to achieve a Socratic acceptance of his own mortality. Tolstoy pays tribute to Plato the philosopher by having a peasant with the same name—Platon is the Russian form of this name—serve as an example to Levin of what it means to love God and live for the soul. (p. 794)
Read more: http://www.oprah.com/oprahsbookclub/What-Was-on-Leo-Tolstoys-Bookshelf/8#ixzz1pooE8EGz
(Fun fact: I participated in Oprah's reading of Anna Karenina in 2004 and even was part of a video montage when the book was reviewed)

Crito recounts the last minutes in Socrates' prison cell as recounted by his old friend, Crito. Crito wants to help Socrates escape, and Socrates gives all the logical reasons why that would not be appropriate. 

I was surprised at how readable these were and easy to understand!

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