Shock news from Cambridge University, reports the Telegraph:
Through the centuries, historians have portrayed the 399BC trial as a travesty, with Socrates forced to face charges invented by his ignorant fellow citizens.
He was found guilty of “impiety” and “corrupting the young”, sentenced to death, and then required to carry out his own execution by consuming a deadly potion of the poisonous plant hemlock.
But, in a new study launched today, Professor Paul Cartledge has concluded that the trial was legally just and Socrates was guilty as charged.
Prof Cartledge said: “Everyone knows that the Greeks invented democracy, but it was not democracy as we know it, and we have misread history as a result.
“The charges Socrates faced seem ridiculous to us, but in Ancient Athens they were genuinely felt to serve the communal good.”
Historians have traditionally claimed that Socrates’ open criticism of prominent Athenian politicians had made him many enemies, who used the trial to get rid of him.
Socrates was made a scapegoat for a series of disasters to strike
But Prof Cartledge pointed out that many citizens would have seen these events as a sign that their gods had been offended by undesirable elements.
He argued that Socrates, who had questioned the legitimacy and authority of many deities, fitted the latter description.
With the gods clearly furious and more disasters perhaps just around the corner, Prof Cartledge said that a charge of impiety was seen not only as appropriate, but in the public interest.
The professor’s study also concluded that Socrates essentially invited his own death. Under the Athenian system, in this kind of trial a defendant could suggest his own penalty.
Socrates first joked that he should be rewarded, and eventually suggested a small fine but his jurors did not see the funny side and passed the death sentence.
“By removing him, society had in, Athenians’ eyes, been cleansed and reaffirmed,” Prof Cartledge concluded.
The study is included in the professor’s new book, Ancient Greek Political Thought in Practice.