November 9, 2017. Athens, Greece.
After I woke up at the crack of noon and drank a half pot of coffee in a failed Tim Burton movie, I shimmied out of the neo-Agora and down to the classic Agora, where everything interesting in ancient philosophy took place.
The agora is somewhat touristy, but not nearly as bad as, say, the Coliseum or the Acropolis (more on that later), because to appreciate that this particular pile of rocks has any historical or cultural relevance you have to read things. That’s not to say I’m better than my fellow Rock Selfiers because I have historical context. It’s cuz I shower.
I found the literal hill Socrates died on, and then I wandered up a bit closer to the Temple of Hephaestus and sat on a bench overlooking modern Athens, as well as the ruined archaeological site that is previous Athens, and I got to thinking about my boy Socrates.
Everybody knows he died sucking down hemlock, and the Greeks were immediately so sorry about it that they built him a statue shortly after they killed him, which was discovered in the Athenian state prison (and likely destroyed by a Roman sacking. Romans can’t get enough sacking). The thing about Socrates’ death, though, is it wasn’t really that big a deal. Yes, he was sentenced to be executed for corrupting the youth because he explained to them that previous philosophers thought the sun wasn’t a flaming chariot pulled by an incorporeal sky dude. And though it carried the death penalty, it wasn’t that serious a charge.
The option given him was “either get killed or leave Athens”. He could’ve moved like a mile outside of Athens, that would’ve been totally kosher. They just didn’t want him hassling people in the market anymore. And Socrates, stubborn bastard as he was, said, “Kill me then. You won’t.”
And the judges looked at each other and said, “Yeah man, we… we will. But we’d rather not. Just quit being a dick.”
And Socrates said, “I physically can’t stop being a dick. My whole deal is being a dick to people in the marketplace. It’s all I’ve done since I quit being a hoplite, it’s what I’ll be remembered for, and the fact that I could is the reason I love Athens so much. And if Athens thinks that’s reason to put me down, well, that sucks, but I love Athens so much that I yield to her judgment.”
And the yea, spake the judges: “Come on, man.”
But Socrates would not come on. So he’s sitting in the state prison, the ruins of which are shown here:
And all of his friends are coming through saying, “Socrates, just leave, dude. This is ridiculous. You’re gonna die.”
Socrates told them, “Yeah, but I’m real old and my wife’s kind of a bitch. Besides, how bad is death, really? It’s probably just like sleep, and when I sleep I either don’t remember it at all, or I have dreams, which rule. Neither of those things seem awful.”
Other friends brought guards with them and said, “See this guy? I just paid him like $5 to let you go. Nobody even CARES, Socrates. Let’s just get out of here.”
“Sorry. Athens has spoken. They’re gonna kill me, so as a good Athenian citizen, I’m gonna have to die.”
Guard was like, “It’s really okay, dude. Ancient Greece is a lot like modern Greece in that the police don’t care about anything. Just leave.”
Socrates would not. He drank the poison and became Philosophy Jesus, and everyone felt so guilty that they built him a statue.
Sitting on that hill, looking down on what was once the center of Western civilization, I could sort of understand where the man was coming from. I also love Athens. I wouldn’t die for it, but I’m not Socrates. He was the proto-troll, and every dialogue he had demonstrated that his interlocutor, whichever poor sap that might be today, didn’t have a firm enough grasp on the concepts he was championing to make truly rational judgments. He died to demonstrate their ignorance of justice in particular, and to demonstrate that conviction is the most important, most virtuous thing. Practice what you preach, up until you’re drinking the poison and then beyond.
I started hunting for the exit, which proved to be daunting since the map was unreadable. I did, however, encounter a turtle who seemed to be terribly lost.
That’s when I realized turtles were everywhere. I saw what appeared to be a turtle brawl… at first.
Well, that was enough David Attenborough bullshit for me. I got out of the Agora and got hustled into eating a gigantic bowl of cukes, tomatoes, olives, onions, peppers, and cheese that they daringly called a “Greek salad” and a chicken souvlaki, which, as it turns out, is just not enough chicken thigh on a stick. After that, I tried to find my way up to the Acropolis.
To be continued.