My name is Socrates and I was born in Athens, Greece, in 470 BC. My father was a stonemason, and his
were needed because Athens had almost been destroyed nine years earlier by the
Persians. My mother was a mid-wife, who delivered babies for many of the wealthy
families in the city.
When I was very young, I started going to the sculpture studio with my
father. He taught me how to make stone sculptures by asking me to copy some of
his carvings (like a horse and chariot). Sometimes my father would stop me and
tell me to use a different angle with the chisel. I liked his help, but I always
asked—"Why?" Many years later, my father remarked that it wasn't the
sculpting that made me famous. It was the fact that I always asked questions.
When it was time for lunch, Father would send me to market place to buy some
food. You may find it hard to believe, but all of the Greek men and boys wore
togas and tunics. Our legs were bare and we wore leather sandals on our feet, if we could afford them. The women wore
one large piece of cloth wrapped around them and
pinned in various ways to make it stay. When it was
cold, we wore blankets to keep ourselves warm.
Everyone in Athens took games of all kinds
very seriously. Ancient Greeks loved to see strong, fit,
and handsome human bodies, especially in boys and men. We believed that we would
get on the good side of the gods if we exercised, ate right, and oiled our skin.
As I walked to the
market, I could see many young men training for the
Olympic Games. I was jealous for two reasons. First, it was
only the rich young men who could afford to spend every day training for competition.
Second, I was short and stocky, so I knew I'd never look like a Greek
Ancient Greeks were also very interested in knowledge and learning. I
was very fortunate to be able to study drama, science, astronomy, math, and
geometry. I continued to ask "why" throughout my studies. I especially enjoyed
being able to debate with my teachers. I always asked questions about how to
determine what was right and what was wrong.
When I was much older, my father died, and I inherited his property and place
in the government. Being a man of property, I was
also obligated to serve in the Athenian army. I fought in many wars, and I was a
very good warrior, although I did not like the fighting.
When I returned from the wars, I was able to do what I really enjoyed —
teaching. I would wander the streets of Athens, asking questions, debating
issues, and seeking answers. Most of the other teachers charged for
their knowledge, but my lessons were free. All I wanted was to inspire others to
think and reason. Sometimes my students would get frustrated with me because I
would not simply give lectures or answers. Instead, I insisted that they learn
by asking questions, debating issues, and finding a logical conclusion.
Unfortunately, my teaching methods and my desire
to share knowledge turned out to be my downfall.
When I was 70 years old, I was brought to trial for
worshipping strange gods. My accusers said that I taught
young men to think dangerous thoughts. I was found guilty of these
"crimes" and sentenced to death. Although my friends had a plan to
help me escape from prison, I refused. After spending my life searching for the meaning of
right and wrong, I felt it was wrong to run away from the government's verdict.
I told my friends, "No greater good
can happen to a man than to discuss virtue every day,
and an unexamined life is not worth living."
So, in February of the year 399 BC, I chose to end my life quickly by drinking a potion of poisoned Hemlock.
My last words were, "The
hour of departure has arrived. We go our separate ways—I to die and you to live. Which is better is
known to God alone."
One of my most famous students (Plato) wrote many stories about my life.
Shortly after my death, Plato wrote that I had been: "A man, I think, who was, of all men of
his time, the wisest and best and most just." It warms my soul to know that
even now, 2500 years later, I am remembered as one of the greatest teachers of
all times. The strategy of learning by asking questions is known as the Socratic
Method, and it is used throughout the world.
Map of Greece. Athens is the capital.