How hard it is to help your friends

Socrates had more ways out than most people realize.

When the famous Athenian philosopher was put on trial, in 399 B.C., for allegedly “corrupting the youth” and introducing “new gods” into the city, his friends did everything they could to get him acquitted.

One of these friends was Lysias.

Lysias had already lost his brother to a cup of hemlock.  Polemarchus (a character in Plato’s Republic) was arrested four years earlier by an oligarchic junta controlling Athens, called The Thirty, and executed on trumped up charges.  His real crime: The Thirty needed his family’s money

Lysias and Polemarchus were sons of a wealthy entrepreneur from Syracuse.  His family had moved to Athens for the great opportunities the growing city afforded.  They ran a very successful armory business, making the shields, helmets, and breastplates that protected Athenian soldiers during the great Peloponnesian war.

(Plato’s Republic takes place in the house of Lysias’ father, Cephalus – they were very close to Socrates.)

Lysias offered Socrates a defense speech for his trial.  Lysias already had a reputation as a professional speechwriter – he is still regarded as one of antiquity’s finest.  His clients would pay large sums for a speech by Lysias, which they could discreetly memorize and deliver at their own trial.

(At Athens, you couldn’t hire a lawyer to make your case for you – citizens did their own pleading in court.)

Socrates read Lysias’ speech.  It was a good speech.  If he used it, he would probably win.  But he said to his friend,  “The speech seems to me to be eloquent and becoming of an orator, but not fearless and manly.”

Socrates did not want to win. Or rather, he defined winning differently.  Winning, to him, was performing in a way consistent with his own character.  The speech fit the occasion, but it did not not fit Socrates.

Stay Ancient,