Scholars' Association News
Issue 23
August 2012

02/10


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The Trial of Socrates in contemporary Athens
 

In the spring of 399 B.C., Socrates confronted the charges levelled at him by Meletus, Anytos and Lycon according to which he was “a doer of evil, and corrupter of the youth, and he does not believe in the gods of the state, and he believes in other new divinities of his own." The jury, 500 Athenians, citizens, judges and jurors, found him guilty and he was condemned to die by drinking poison.

On May 25 2012, almost 2,500 years later, the trial of Socrates was repeated. This time Socrates was acquitted in a historical trial which was not a re-enactment but a modern perspective based on current legal framework supplemented with ancient Greek elements and comical theatrics.

The Court verdict was 5 pro Socrates and 5 pro the City of Athens, while the audience took a more passionate stance in favour of the ancient philosopher: 584 voted pro Socrates against 282 pro the City of Athens.

The Alexander S. Onassis Foundation found advocates for its venture, top American and European judges and lawyers, who all examined the trial material retrieved from ancient texts by Plato (Apology, Crito, Euthyphro, Phaedo), Xenophon (Memorabilia) and Aristophanes (The Clouds), as well as the corresponding Athenian law of that time.

More that 38,500 unique users watched the trial online and many more keep watching the webcast, always available at the following link:  www.sgt.gr/dikisocrati. The page received more than 5.3 million hits by a diverse international audience mainly from Greece, the U.K., the United States, Germany, Cyprus, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada.

The court and the audience were called to decide if Socrates had been condemned because he dared express his views freely or because «the other new divinities” he introduced were aimed at hurting the Athenian democracy.

The new Trial of Socrates was based on a study made by the president of the Onassis Foundation Anthony Papadimitriou and on a rich exchange of ideas he had on the issue of Socrates’ innocence from a philosophical point of view and guilt on a political level.

The court was comprised of Lord Justice Richard Aikens, Judge, member of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales (UK), Sophie-Caroline De Margerie, member of the Conseil d’Etat (France) [Click here to read her address (English)], Pierre Delvolvé, member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (France) [Click here to read his address (French)], Dr. Giusep Nay, Dr. iur., former President of the Federal Court of Switzerland (Switzerland) [Click here to read his address (French)], Anna Psarouda-Benaki, Professor emerita of Criminal Law, former chair of Hellenic Parliament (Greece), Vasileios Rigas, former Vice President of the Athens Supreme Court (Greece), Sir Stephen Sedley, member of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales (UK), François Terré, member of the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (France) [Click here to read his address (French)] and Harm Peter Westermann, Law Professor, University of Tubingen (Germany). The Court was presided by Loretta Preska, Chief Judge of the Southern District of New York (USA).

The Counsel for the City of Athens was comprised of Dr Anthony Papadimitriou, President of the Onassis Foundation [Click here to read his address (English)] and Professor Ilias Anagnostopoulos, Assistant Professor of Criminal and Forensic Studies (University of Athens), Supreme Court lawyer (Greece) [Click here to read his address (English)].

The Counsel for Socrates was comprised of barristers Michael Beloff, QC (UK) [Click here to read his address (English)] and Patrick Simon (France) [Click here to read his address (French)].

With historical sources shedding light to the contemporary legal battle, the participant lawyers examined in depth the social and political matters underlying the charges that had been brought against Socrates and projected them to the present. Both sides held the audience’s interest throughout the trial with fascinating speeches and a plethora of arguments.

Dr Papadimitriou explained that Socrates holds responsibility for actions that were not  fully attributed to him by the original charges against him. ‘Socrates’, he stressed, ‘was the spiritual, ideological leader of Athens’s Thirty Tyrants. He corrupts the youth by turning them into  advocates of the Oligarchy and enemies of the republic. He is also accused of not respecting the gods of this city, that is the democratic gods and therefore the democratic institutions.’

‘Democracy had been restored in Athens just four years before Socrates’ trial’ added accuser Ilias Anagnostopoulos. Athenians of that time knew all too well how vulnerable their unique democracy was. Enemies from inside were still pursuing the establishment of an oligarchic (pro- Spartan) regime, while external enemies would grasp every opportunity to defeat Athens and submit its citizens to slavery and disrespect.’

The two accusers concluded their addresses by saying: “We ask you not to condemn Athens, to not believe that Athens treated Socrates unfairly, but instead that Socrates put the Athenian democracy in danger. The Democracy was threatened and it defended itself as it should have done’.

Socrates’ defendants, Michael Beloff and Patrick Simon, tried to refute the charges; they pointed out that Socrates had been accused of corrupting the youth but ‘educating the youth is not a crime, expressing your opinion is not a crime. Why should we proclaim illegal the expression of ideas that were not in accordance with their time?’

‘Some of the Thirty Tyrants may have been among Socrates’ students; but he had so many others’ stressed Michael Beloff. ‘He did not trust democracy, he was a sceptic,  but he was not a follower of oligarchy either. Moreover there is no evidence of his participating in any violent act.’ The two defendants concluded their speeches by proclaiming: ‘History will write down that Athens was the birthplace of the freedom of speech  democracy and the arts. It is up to you not to be written that this city killed its greatest philosopher.’

Explaining her refusal to vote for Socrates’s guilt Loretta Preska said: ‘His refusal to show respect towards the gods and the city equals to treason, while he poisons the souls of the young with his teaching. For the democracy, the values, the traditions and piety in which all Athenians believe in I am obliged to find him guilty’.

François Terré, who voted for Socrates’s acquittal, stressed: ‘Socrates is a philosopher and being a philosopher he is an easy target. However, he gave us the greatest gift in the world: the right to doubt’. A similar event was organized in May 2011 by the affiliate Onassis Foundation at the Federal Court in New York. Socrates was acquitted. You may read the relevant article in the 19th issue of ΑΩ International at the following link: http://www.onassis.gr/online-magazine/issue-19/article-3.php

You may also watch a webcast of the Trial of Socrates at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens at the following links in English, French and Greek.


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