From the Death of Socrates to the Rapture of the Soul
When Socrates (Athens, ca. 469-399 BC), Plato’s master, was condemned to death by the Athenian populace, Plato was manifestly shocked.11 This shock permitted him to take a leap and imagine his Idealistic theory. His theory is a mixture of the thoughts of Socrates and Pythagoras added to his own thoughts. He wrote three dialogues on the death of Socrates. In the first, the Apology of Socrates, respectful of his master, he puts forth what his master probably said at his trial. Socrates ends his defense by envisioning two forms of death.12 He does not know which one awaits him, but both seem liberating to him:
1. The first type of death is a death where only one thing happens: the fact of no longer existing, no longer thinking, no longer feeling. This way to die is already perceived as a relief for Socrates.
2. The second type of death is a death where the soul goes to the kingdom of Hades. There, Socrates will be judged by a god much more competent in the matter than an assembly of citizens who cast their votes according to political opinions. Socrates sees himself on the way to rejoin Homer and Ulysses and a host of people that he has long admired. This perspective also pleases him
In the last of the dialogues concerning the death of Socrates, the Phaedo, Plato shows him in prison at the moment when he is about to drink the hemlock in front of his students. He puts words in his teacher’s mouth and has him tell the fable that establishes his own Idealism13 This fable could let one think that Plato knows what happens after death. But it is more probable that this vision, inspired by Pythagoras, was proposed for pedagogical purposes and not to describe what really happens:
At the death of a body, the soul which it contained, flies toward a mysterious region, perfect and pure, and enters into contact with the Ideas. These Ideas make it possible to experience what is True, Beautiful, Good, and Just. Liberated from the constraints imposed by the body, the soul can gather nectar in this garden of truths. Finally, at long last, sadly, it must be enshrinedâ again in a body, where it is imprisoned like an oyster in its shell.14 However, the soul retains the memory of the voyage and of what she has learned.