Dr. G's introduction to Plato's "Crito"
Right: Socrates on a 1994 Chinese 10-yuan coin.
In "Crito" and "Phaedo," with his trial over and done, Socrates is relaxed, almost serenely at peace in his jail cell, talking to friends. This cheerful figure is not the agitated, confrontational Socrates of "Euthyphro" and "the Apology." In "Crito" Socrates awakens to a higher state of reconciliation, and in "Phaedo" (as we will see later) he prepares to enter the realm of the dead.
If Socrates had a best friend, Crito was the man. He was a patron, a wealthy supporter of Socrates. Socrates had educated his sons, and Crito was thankful for their education. After Socrates' execution, Crito may have taken care of Socrates' wife and children. Ancient sources say that he, like Plato, wrote many Socratic dialogues. (No writings by Crito have survived to modern times.) Could rivalry explain why Plato portrays Crito as a man of good heart but weak intellect, a person who took care of Socrates' material needs but did not fully understand Socrates' thought or character? The information for Plato's dialogue "Crito" must have come directly or indirectly from Crito himself, as nobody else was present at the scene. However, in that dialogue Crito tempts Socrates to do something that Socrates finds unethical, to avoid execution by escaping from jail and running away from Athens.
In the Athenian penal system, death sentences normally were carried out promptly following trial. In Socrates' case, however, there was a delay of several weeks. Perhaps the city officials procrastinated, hoping that Socrates would escape from jail so that the city would be spared the embarrassment of executing one of its best known intellectuals. Perhaps Crito or other friends of Socrates negotiated a time delay so that the escape could be arranged. (Escapes from Athenian jails seem to have been common.) But Plato gives a different reason for the delay: a city holiday was being observed in honor of Athens' legendary king, the hero Theseus, and during this Thesean festival the law prohibited the execution of prisoners in Athens. As we will see later in connection with "Phaedo," the legend of Theseus is a powerful myth that underlies and helps to shape the whole story of Socrates' trial and execution.
guard has been bribed, and everything is ready for
Socrates to make his escape. Crito has arranged for Socrates to live with
Thessaly, a city safely distant from Athens and (before St. Paul's
arrival) noted for its devotion to
food, drink and pleasures. Socrates, however, refuses to get on the boat.
He accepts the judgment of the law that he should be put to death. Perhaps
this is his final and greatest demonstration of the Athenians' lack of
wisdom, that they would put the wisest of mortals to death. However,
Socrates rationalizes his decision with powerful arguments about obedience
Left: Socrates rarely traveled beyond the city walls of Athens, but now he visits Dublin! Aye, sure 'tis.