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Socrates Against Athens: Philosophy on Trial [Paperback]

By James A. Colaiaco (Author)
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Item Number 157527  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   272
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.06" Width: 6.12" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   1.02 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jul 23, 2001
Publisher   Routledge
ISBN  0415926548  
EAN  9780415926546  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
As an essential companion to Plato's Apology and Crito this book provides valuable historical and cultural context for our understanding of the trial of Socrates. The complexity and significance of the trial is illuminated through discussion of such important elements as the nature of Athenian democracy, the polis ideal, Greek shame culture, Athenian religion, civil disobedience, and Socrates' rejection of politics. Colaiaco's approach is unique because he does justice both to Socrates and to Athens by demonstrating their individual strengths and weaknesses - and ultimately, their tragic incompatibility. Another highlight is that he provides a comprehensive picture of this conflict - essentially Socrates' radical challenge to traditional Athenian values - within the necessary historical and cultural context so that readers are better able to grasp the complexity and significance inherent to this trial.

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More About James A. Colaiaco

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! James A. Colaiaco is a Master Teacher in the General Studies Program of the New York University School of Continuing and Professional Studies. He is the author of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Apostle of Militant Nonviolence (1993) and James Fitzjames Stephen and the Crisis of Victorian Thought (1983).

James A. Colaiaco was born in 1945.

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > History > Ancient > Greece   [1007  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Fairness to both Athens and Socrates  May 19, 2005
Prof. Colaiaco teaches in the Great Books program at NYU. His experience teaching high-level undergraduates shows in this book, which is very accessible to the educated non-specialist who wants to know why Socrates is so important.

The book is organized chronologically, following the events of the trial as they are presented to us in the dialogues of Plato. The style is clear and concise. There are copious footnotes, 670 of them in 227 pages, but they are all pertinent and they do not interfere significantly with the narrative flow. There is an extensive bibliography, almost as valuable as the narrative itself, for those interested in pursuing further study of Socrates.

Prof. Colaiaco deeply admires Socrates, holds him up as the first example of principled opposition by the individual to arbitrary state power. He is disappointed by Socrates' provocation of the jury into sentencing him to death, and in Socrates' refusal to accept exile as an alternative. Yet Colaiaco shows that the outcome was inevitable, given the desperate political situation of Athens at the time, and Socrates' stubborn lifelong mission to save the souls of his fellow citizens.

Colaiaco notes that the jury was obligated to make a decision that was in the best interest of the Athenian polis, not in the best interest of justice. This illustrates just how different Athenian legal and political ideas were from our own, even though Athens was a democracy. Under the Athenian legal system, the law was whatever the Athenian jury, chosen by lot, said it was on the day it rendered its verdict, and there was no appeal. Our concept of justice as "equality before the law" did not come into existence until some generations later, and then not in Athens, but in Rome.

I was disappointed that Prof. Colaiaco didn't comment on Socrates' last words, telling Crito to sacrifice a cock to Aesclepius. Socrates was no doubt being ironic, as always, but what did he mean? That his soul had been healed? That he was "cured" finally of the "illness" of life?

Highly recommended for anyone who wants to understand the sources of the Western tradition we all share.

Related reading:

Gregory Vlastos: "The Historical Socrates and Athenian Democracy" in his book "Socratic Studies". This is aimed at the specialist, is more demanding than Colaiaco, but just as interesting.

I do not recommend I.F. Stone's book on Socrates [...] If you must read Stone, read Colaiaco and Vlastos first.

A.E. Taylor's "Socrates" is [...] dated, but still interesting.
Philosophy on trial: the first big case  Feb 15, 2004
The main thing about philosophy in ancient Greece is that it produced the ultimate account of the case which is the subject of SOCRATES AGAINST ATHENS by James A. Colaiaco. It has the Notes, Selected Bibliography, and Index of a scholarly work, and the last page of the Index shows more pages listed for Leo Strauss than for I. F. Stone. There are even more entries in the Index for Friedrich Nietzsche than for Stone and Strauss, which shows an awareness of the larger philosophical questions involved. All the information in this book is an outstanding background for understanding what Nietzsche was trying to explain in Section 340 of THE GAY SCIENCE, called, "The dying Socrates." Nietzsche was impressed by the last moment of Socrates' life.

`Whether it was death or the poison or piety or malice--something loosened his tongue at that moment and he said: "O Crito, I owe Asclepius a rooster." '

Colaiaco puts so much emphasis on "the moral claim that one's duty to obey God is superior to one's duty to obey the state" (pp. 1-2) that the final words of Socrates must seem much more sarcastic after reading this book than for anyone who has merely shared I. F. Stone's interest in Athens as an origin of judicial process, democracy, and free speech. I. F. Stone's THE TRIAL OF SOCRATES (1988) hardly mentions Nietzsche and Gregory Vlastos, but his knowledge of Greek language and culture provide an interesting political background for understanding Stone's imaginative chapters, "How Socrates Easily Might have Won Acquittal," and "What Socrates Should Have Said."

In fact, the trial put so much emphasis on Socrates' failure to observe the customs of ordinary Athenians, having his last words call for a sacrifice to the god of health might seem to be a continuation of the point Socrates was making in the conclusion of his argument at his trial. "Surely, he presumes, unable to resist one final barb against his accusers, philosophers would not be executed for critical activity in the underworld." (Colaiaco, pp. 184-185). Colaiaco accepts Socrates' willingness to participate in a death sentence as the ultimate triumph of philosophy over the judgments of this world, though his own acceptance of this judgment is hedged by the comment, "Significantly, he omits any mention of a possible encounter with Achilles, the Homeric warrior-hero whom he, as philosopher-hero, superseded." (p. 184). On the scale of truth in philosophy and politics, this could be some indication of why modern politicians have so little expectation of being confronted by philosophers, as Hitler hardly ever heard anything from Martin Heidegger.

The Drama of the Trial of Socrates Finally Captured!!  Jan 12, 2002
This book is an excellent study of the trial of Socrates in its historical and cultural context. Unlike other studies, this book presents both sides of what the author conceives to be a tragic collision of values between the philosopher and Athens. The book is distinguished by excellent prose, clear and insightful analysis, and cogent arguments. This book is invaluable for anyone who wants to better understand Plato's APOLOGY and CRITO, which are dramatic re-creations of Socrates' trial, condemnation, and imprisonment. The author succeeds in transporting the reader back into the world of ancient Athens.
This book is suitable for the general reader as well as scholars. Many works, designed primarily for scholars, depict Socrates as a series of abstract arguments, depriving him of the humanity and passion that made him a great philosopher. Having read I.F. Stone on the trial of Socrates, which distorts the philosopher, presenting him as an authoritarian anti-democrat, I welcome Colaiaco's book for its presentation of a more objective view.
Unlike other studies which take either the side of Socrates or Athens, the author's approach is a balanced one. The reader is led to respect Socrates, the philosopher as hero who maintained his integrity until the end, and at the same time understand why the Athenians were threatened by his radical critique of their fundamental values. A glance at the table of contents will reveal that the book offers an enlightening intellectual history of Athens during the decline of its glory.
This book makes excellent reading for anyone interested in better understanding one of the greatest trials in history.
James A. Colaiaco at his best  Aug 15, 2001
A graceful guide containing valuable historical and cultural description of Socrates' Athens, James Colaiaco's well informed and sometimes provocative exploration of an ancient conflict between democracy and dissidence evokes the scene and sense of the great philosopher's trial. It is a welcome addition to the literature on Socrates' trial and imprisonment that will enliven the modern debate over civil disobedience.

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