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The trial and death of Socrates (469-399 BC) have almost as central a place in Western consciousness as the trial and death of Jesus. In four superb 'dialogues', Plato provided the classic account. Socrates spent a lifetime analysing ethical issues, and the Euthyphro finds him outside the court-house, still debating the nature of piety with an arrogant acquaintance.
The Apology is both a robust rebuttal to the charges of impiety and corrupting young minds and a definitive defence of the philosopher's life.
Later, condemned and imprisoned in the Crito, Socrates counters the arguments of friends urging him to escape.
And finally, in the Phaedo, Plato shows him calmly confident in the face of death, skilfully arguing the case for the immortality of the soul.
Such works, as Harold Tarrant explains in his fine introduction, are no longer regarded by scholars as direct transcriptions of real events; their power to move us-and to challenge our moral assumptions-remains undiminished.
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