Ancient Athens

Phaedo by Plato

5th century BC, Ancient Greek. Athens

Those who have ignored the principals of justice, or lived their lives by violence, will become wolves, or hawks. But some are much happier than this...


Oh Simias, isn’t there one thing more valuable than all the riches in the world, and that is wisdom? And is not virtue always accompanied by wisdom, and virtue without wisdom as its constant companion is just a mere shadow of virtue? The founders of the mysteries would seem to have been speaking the truth when they hinted long ago that the uninitiated will arrive in the afterlife unprepared, but the initiated will dwell with the gods... and the soul that is weighted down by material things and believes in the reality only of that which it can see with the eyes in its head is afraid of the invisible when it dies, and of the world below, prowling instead around tombs and crypts where it is seen as a ghostly apparition and will eventually find its way into a new body that is wholly compatible with its ignorant nature.


What sort of body is that, Socrates?


An ass, or an animal of that sort. And those who have ignored the principals of justice, or lived their lives by violence, will become wolves, or hawks. And some are much happier than this, because they have given thought during their lives to temperance and justice and will become some gentle and sociable creature whose life will suit their happy nature, such as a bee or an ant, or back again into the form of a man, and a just and moderate man may be expected to be the result...

For, as they say in the mysteries, ‘the thyrsus-bearers are many but the true mystics are few’ – meaning, as I understand it, that the true philosophers are few and among whom I have spent my entire life trying to be included, though whether I have succeeded or not is a matter that I shall know soon enough, since I am shortly to receive the poison and die.

4th century BC. Plato's account of the death of Socrates, recounted from: Phaedo, by Plato. Translated by Benjamin Jowett. Project Gutenberg.

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Phaedo by Plato – Project Gutenberg eText, English translation. Translator: Benjamin Jowett, 1817–93.

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