Humanities › History & Culture Profile of Socrates An Ancient Philosopher and Sage Share Flipboard Email Print Hiroshi Higuchi / Getty Images History & Culture Ancient History and Culture Greece Figures & Events Ancient Languages Egypt Asia Rome Mythology & Religion American History African American History African History Asian History European History Genealogy Inventions Latin American History Medieval & Renaissance History Military History The 20th Century Women's History View More By N.S. Gill Ancient History and Latin Expert M.A., Linguistics, University of Minnesota B.A., Latin, University of Minnesota N.S. Gill is a Latinist, writer, and teacher of ancient history and Latin. She has been featured by NPR and National Geographic for her ancient history expertise. our editorial process N.S. Gill Updated March 25, 2019 The Greek philosopher Socrates was born c. 470/469 B.C., in Athens, and died in 399 B.C. To put this in the context of the other great men of his time, the sculptor Pheidias died c. 430; Sophocles and Euripides died c. 406; Pericles died in 429; Thucydides died c. 399; and the architect Ictinus completed the Parthenon in c. 438. Athens was producing the extraordinary art and monuments for which she would be remembered. Beauty, including personal, was vital. It was linked with being good. However, Socrates was ugly, according to all accounts, a fact that made him a good target for Aristophanes in his comedies. Who Was Socrates? Socrates was a great Greek philosopher, possibly the wisest sage of all time. He is famous for contributing to philosophy: Pithy sayingsThe Socratic method of discussion or dialogue"Socratic irony" A discussion of Greek democracy often focuses on a sadder aspect of his life: his state-mandated execution. Family Although we have many details about his death, we know little about the life of Socrates. Plato provides us the names of some of his family members: Socrates' father was Sophroniscus (thought to have been a stonemason), his mother was Phaenarete, and his wife, Xanthippe (a proverbial shrew). Socrates had 3 sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus. The oldest, Lamprocles, was about 15 at the time his father died. Death The Council of 500 [see Athenian Officials in the Time of Pericles] condemned Socrates to death for impiety for not believing in the gods of the city and for introducing new gods. He was offered an alternative to death, paying a fine, but refused it. Socrates fulfilled his sentence by drinking a cup of poison hemlock in front of friends. Socrates as Citizen of Athens Socrates is remembered chiefly as a philosopher and the teacher of Plato, but he was also a citizen of Athens, and served the military as a hoplite during the Peloponnesian War, at Potidaea (432–429), where he saved Alcibiades' life in a skirmish, Delium (424), where he remained calm while most around him were in a panic, and Amphipolis (422). Socrates also participated in the Athenian democratic political organ, the Council of the 500. As a Sophist The 5th century B.C. sophists, a name based on the Greek word for wisdom, are familiar to us mostly from the writings of Aristophanes, Plato, and Xenophon, who opposed them. Sophists taught valuable skills, especially rhetoric, for a price. Although Plato shows Socrates opposing the sophists, and not charging for his instruction, Aristophanes, in his comedy Clouds, portrays Socrates as a greedy master of the sophists' craft. Although Plato is considered the most reliable source on Socrates and he says Socrates was not a sophist, opinions differ on whether Socrates was essentially different from the (other) sophists. Contemporary Sources Socrates is not known to have written anything. He is best known for the dialogues of Plato, but before Plato painted his memorable portrait in his dialogues, Socrates was an object of ridicule, described as a sophist, by Aristophanes. In addition to writing about his life and teaching, Plato and Xenophon wrote about Socrates' defense at his trial, in separate works both called Apology. The Socratic Method Socrates is known for the Socratic method (elenchus), Socratic irony, and the pursuit of knowledge. Socrates is famous for saying that he knows nothing and that the unexamined life is not worth living. The Socratic method involves asking a series of questions until a contradiction emerges invalidating the initial assumption. Socratic irony is the position that the inquisitor takes that he knows nothing while leading the questioning.