Book Review- Plato’s Phaedo

Phaedo by Plato was, if I’m being honest, a very long, and drawn out conversation that felt repetitious in the chosen topics. That is not to say that what was said wasn’t interesting and compelling. Though I felt myself tire of the continued examples of the same issues, I did like what Socrates was saying and felt it was very fitting before his death. Sometimes I wasn’t completely sure what was being said but in general I believe I got the gist of Socrates’s final message and I really liked it. Phaedo was a great story of a great man making sure that his followers understood his message that he tried to convey throughout his life. Socrates wanted to express to them the joys he would soon be having.

Like I said before, I believe this story was very long because Socrates and others kept repeating and reiterating the same stories to try and explain what they meant. Though there was a lot of repetition, the issues dealt with in this piece were very complex. The main issue at hand is the contemplation of Socrates’ death. Many of Socrates’s followers came, though not all, to speak to and to hear the final words of such a great man. When they came to be with him, they realized that he seemed not to be afraid or grieved by his impending death. The men wanted to know why. The biggest issue that they spoke about was about the afterlife. The men wondered how he couldn’t be terrified and Socrates explained to them why he was in fact more or less looking forward to what comes next. They spoke of many things during their little time with Socrates, they spoke of suicides and how we are possessions of the gods and how if we took our selves away from our master, of course they would be angry. The men spoke of knowledge and whether or not knowledge is really just recollections from some past. This topic of knowledge being just recollections brought on the more in depth conversation about mortality and the physical body versus the soul. The men wanted to be consoled and to have proof from Socrates that the soul is long lasting, they wanted proof so that they could understand why Socrates wouldn’t be afraid of death. Socrates was very in depth in the discussion about the soul being eternal. One of the last issues was of final judgement. If the soul is long-lasting, where does it go? There were mentions of Tartarus and the opposite would be with the gods. They spoke of revival and the meaning of life. This story had many issues dealt with.

There were many themes going around in this story. The main themes were of death and the philosophy surrounding the ideas of death. Socrates was a man of philosophical nature, this is what he lived for. It was, as he put it, his way of cultivating music, which he was told to do so in a dream. Though Socrates’s followers didn’t want him to die, this story wasn’t about trying to persuade Socrates to flee, which they knew wouldn’t work anyway, this story was about trying to understand why he seemed so calm and relaxed by the concept of death. The men seemed to think that he should be acting afraid of death, but should he have been? Socrates seemed to express that there were better things awaiting him, that he would leave behind all the evils of this world and transcend into a better world with the company of the gods. Socrates said on page 41, “he who has lived as a true philosopher has reason to be of good cheer when he is about to die, and that after death he may hope to receive the greatest good in the other world.” (Plato 41). Socrates was no hypocrite, he practiced what he preached. I don’t think that it was that he desired death, for on page 62 he admits that it is a misfortune, however, for a philosopher to finally get to experience that immortal plane that they preached for so long, that must be their final reward or payment for a job well done. As a philosopher, the reason Socrates was so unafraid of death was because he knew that the physical body of man means nothing, except sin and immoral ways, and that his soul would forever live on in bliss. On page 42, Socrates said that, “the rest of the world are of opinion that a life which has no bodily pleasures and no part in them is not worth having” (Plato 42), however Socrates would totally disagree. Socrates said that physical bodily senses can fool you and keep you from seeing the truth and that your souls mind, your thoughts are the only guarantee of what’s right. All Socrates wanted was “Intellectual vision” (Plato 43). He wanted clearness and purity of mind. Socrates argument was that it would be a contradiction for a philosopher to be afraid of death and obtain wisdom of the purest kind. On page 57 Socrates said that she, being the human soul, “passes into the realm of purity, and eternity and immortality, and unchangeableness.” (Plato 57). You can understand why Socrates would be excited by this.

I agree with Socrates’s arguments. I understand the men’s reservations about the whole deal, however I am of the kind that believes that there is more to this world that life and death. I believe in more so I believe that when my time comes, I won’t be afraid or try to fight it either. I can understand his excitement at the prospect at joining his gods. He mentioned something about swans making music their entire life and then when they know they will die, they don’t stop because they are scarred, they sing louder and with excitement because they will be with the gods. I can accept Socrates’s words, and believe them because how unhypocritical he is. From the very beginning at the trial, speaking with Crito and now, he has been unwavering in his beliefs. Someone who believes so unreservedly, so unshakably in their faith, he must be on the right path. This is not to say that I believe in his religion or gods, however I can respect and understand him. The entire time he has been calm and accepting. Even when the poison could have been delayed to him more time, he refused and desired to take it then. Socrates drank that poison without fear in his eyes or heart. He even made his followers feel ashamed for crying over him, because this was to be celebrated, not mourned. Though I probably disagree with him about making them stop crying I can understand both sides. It was to be celebrated by Socrates but as Crito said on page 91, “I was not weeping over him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having lost such a companion.” (Plato 91). This was no doubt a big event for all there. As he lay dying, he even made sure his last words were to Crito telling to make sure his debt to Asclepius would be paid. Socrates was a calm honorable man to the end.

Works Cited

Plato, and Benjamin Jowett. Six great dialogues: Apology, Crito, Phaedo, Phaedrus, Symposium and the Republic. Place of publication not identified: BN Publishing, 2010. Print.


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