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Trial of Socrates

* Translated into 18 Different Languages *

In unraveling the long-hidden issues of the most famous free speech case of all time, noted author I.F. Stone ranges far and wide over Roman as well as Greek history to present an engaging and rewarding introduction to classical antiquity and its relevance to society today. The New York Times called this national best-seller an "intellectual thriller."

Izzy on Izzy on Socrates in the New York Times
A New York Times magazine article of April 8, 1979 in which Izzy interviews himself on his work on Greek studies and Socrates can be found here.

MacNeil Lehrer
Interview with I.F. Stone about the Trial of Socrates
Click the image above to view

Review in The Nation
by John Leonard

From this altogether engaging do-it-yourself detective kit, philological meander and owner's manual on free speech and class animus in ancient Athens, we learn as much about I.F. Stone as we do about Socrates. If Socrates felt himself to be too good for his world and almost everybody in it, Stone is the sort of Jeffersonian democrat quite at home in the messy quotidian, with his magnifying glass, inspecting the pores of the polis. The more Socrates goes on about absolute definitions of universals like Virtue, the more Stone wants him to get an honest...   (to purchase and read the entire review, click here).  

Review in the Washington Post
Dateline Athens: I.F. Stone Reopens The Socrates Case
By Allan Bloom, February 14, 1988

Actually, in spite of the journalistic pose, [Stone] is in Greece on a mission, having had a clear view of what he wants to do before he went. He wants to cleanse Athens of the Socratic blood guilt. Athens is a tragic protagonist, having itself violated what it holds most dear, its sacred principle of free speech. Socrates and his propagandists, Plato and Xenophon, succeeded in making Athens look bad to all later times. Socrates poses as the disinterested seeker for the truth, the man trying to turn from the darkness of the cave to the light of the sun, brought down by the prejudice of the city. Stone turns this around: Athens sought the truth and was tricked by the duplicitous Socrates. He really did engage in a conspiracy to discredit democratic openness and succeeded in getting Athens to betray itself. Lesson: philosophic detachment is inauthentic, a snare and a delusion. The thinker must be a participant in the progressive struggle of the people against the dark forces of reaction. History is the triumph of reason; distancing oneself from it in order to be reasonable is unreasonable and merely disguises old class interests. The true philosopher is éngage or committed. Thus Stone is Socrates' accuser, the voice of Athens now become fully self-conscious and philosophic.  (This review can be purchased at this link.)

The New York Times

SOCRATES' drinking of the hemlock in 399 B.C. must surely be counted among the most dramatic acts of human history. Yet is anyone clear on why exactly the ancient Greek philosopher insisted on accepting his death sentence from the Athenian court when he could probably have escaped into exile, or on what the events were that led to his indictment and trial in the first place?

Plato, who made Socrates the hero of his famous dialogues, seems to suggest his mentor got into trouble for exhorting his fellow citizens to virtue. Some classical scholars take literally the apparent language of the court's indictment, which, according to Plato's paraphrase of it in his ''Apology,'' read in part that ''Socrates is a wrongdoer because he corrupts the youth'' of Athens. Still others focus on the second part of the indictment, that Socrates ''does not believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other new spiritual beings,'' and suggest he was only the most famous victim in a wave of persecutions aimed at irreligious philosophers.

The issue has continued to tantalize posterity, and now I. F. Stone has joined the chase in his 12th book, ''The Trial of Socrates.'' I. F. Stone!? Why is this maverick journalist, this dogged civil libertarian, this one-man investigative gang who put out I. F. Stone's Weekly for 19 years, this author of such books as ''Underground to Palestine'' (1946), ''Hidden History of the Korean War'' (1952), ''The Haunted Fifties'' (1964) and ''The Killings at Kent State'' (1971), suddenly grazing in the peaceful pastures of ancient history?

The answer is itself a complicated story involving the angina pectoris that forced Mr. Stone to give up editing his weekly in 1971 at the age of 64; a word processor producing bold enough type for him to overcome a cataract in writing the present book; a lifelong passion for philosophy that led him to fall ''in love with the Greeks,'' and a need to understand how the trial of Socrates could have happened in so free a society as in his beloved Athens. How could it have happened? One can give away his answer because there's so much more to his book than the conclusions he arrives at. Essentially, Mr. Stone reasons, Socrates was put on trial because he didn't believe in democracy as the city-state of Athens practiced it, but rather in an absolutist form of leadership by ''the one who knows.'' What precipitated his indictment at the age of 70 were the upheavals brought on by the Peloponnesian War and the threat in 401 B.C. of yet another takeover by anti-democratic people who had been students of Socrates and whose like had seized leadership in 411 and 404.

As for why Socrates refused to defend himself and provoked the court into imposing his death sentence: Mr. Stone believes that the philosopher wished to die in any case and that to have articulated the defenses available to him, such as the right of free speech, would have meant conceding democratic principles to a system he held in contempt.

Now, the portrait of Socrates that emerges from Mr. Stone's reasoning is far from flattering. In point of fact Western civilization's first great philosopher stands accused of snobbery, class prejudice, conceit, arrogance, negativism and coldness to his wife. Behind the famous irony lay an insulting sneer of contempt, or so Mr. Stone argues. The man's very philosophy stands condemned. ''Even at its best,'' Mr. Stone writes, ''the Socratic negative dialectic provided an irrelevant standard by which to judge the competence of statesmen, tragic poets, or shoemakers in their respective crafts. Above all, it was no way to question the right of common men to participate in the government of their own lives and city.'' (For the complete review see this link)

The New York Times Magazine
Interview of I. F. Stone
April 8, 1979
Last year, on his 70th birthday, in an interview with himself for this Magazine, retired journalist I.S. Stone spoke of his new-found joy in Greek studies and his hope of finding in them "one last scoop" that would help clear up some of the mystery which still surrounds the trial of Socrates, that cause célèbre which has tantalized scholars and historians for centuries. Now, he believes he has found new evidence that sheds light not only on the trial itself but on the complex politics of fifth-century Athens. Here — again in a self-interview — Mr. Stone sets forth his discovery and, at the same time, takes us on an adventure in learning and an armchair tour of the ancient world.
(For the complete interview see this link).

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