Reprinted from The Trial & Death of Socrates
The jury now votes again and sentences Socrates to death
"...Let us reflect that there is good hope that death
is a blessing, for it is one of two things: either the dead are nothing and have no perception of anything, or it is, as we are told, like a dreamless sleep, then death would be a great advantage. For I think that if one had to pick out that night during which a man slept soundly and did not dream, put beside it the other nights and days of his life
, and then see how many days and nights had been better and more pleasant than that night, not only a private person but the great king would find them easy to count compared with the other days and nights. If death is like this I say it is an advantage, for all eternity would then seem to be no more than a single night. If, on the other hand, death is a change from here to another place, and what we are told is true and all who have died are there, what greater blessing could there be, gentlemen of the jury?
If any one arriving in Hades will have escaped from those who call themselves judges here, and will find those true judges who are said to sit in judgement there, Minos
and the other demi-gods who have been upright in their own life, would that be a poor kind of change? Again, what would one of you give to keep company with Orpheus
? I am willing to die many times if that is true.
It would be an extraordinary happiness to talk with them, to keep company with them and examine them. In any case, they would certainly not put one to death for doing so. They are happier there than we are here in other respects, and for the rest of time they are deathless, if indeed what were are told is true.
You too must be of good hope as regards death, gentlemen of the jury, and keep this one truth in mind, that a good man cannot be harmed either in life or in death, and that his affairs are not neglected by the gods
. What has happened to me now has not happened of itself, but it is clear to me that it was better for me to die now and to escape from trouble.
Now the hour to part has come. I go to die, you go to live. Which of us goes to the better lot is known to no one, except the god."
It's incredibly uplifting to hear a respected historical philosopher
weigh in on death and dying in a manner more meaningful and heartfelt than Pascal's Wager
. The clarity of Socrates’ intransigent mind and moral code is refreshing, especially in today’s age bereft of philosophic certainty.
In a historical sense, this monologue also provides an excellent basis against which to delineate Greek
schools of thought vis-à-vis death and the underworld.