The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David (1787)
The trial of Socrates and the subsequent execution of that classical Athenian philosopher took place in 399 BC. Socrates was tried on two notoriously ambiguous charges: corrupting the youth and impiety (in Greek, asebeia). More specifically, Socrates’ accusers cited two “impious” acts: “failing to acknowledge the gods that the city acknowledges” and “introducing new deities.” A majority of the 501 dikasts (Athenian citizens chosen by lot to serve as jurors) voted to convict him. Consistent with common practice, the dikasts determined Socrates’ punishment with another vote. Socrates was ultimately sentenced to death by drinking a hemlock-based liquid. Primary sources for accounts of the trial are given by two of Socrates’ friends, Plato and Xenophon; well known later interpretations include those of the journalist I. F. Stone and the classics scholar Robin Waterfield. The trial is one of the most famous of all time.