Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Call to Exile Socrates and all the Impious

I, Theotimos, have sacrificed much for our democracy. I grew up on my family’s farm. I loved my father and mother and the land they raised me on. I was like many Athenians destined to leave my farm and partake in the struggle for democracy. It was right after my years as an ephebe that I first confronted my destiny.  The trierarch had recruited me for the force that would smother the revolt in Potidaea. I was a rower of one of the forty ships under Callias sent to reinforce Archestratus. Even with the reinforcements of Phormio, the siege lasted three years. I ask the assembly, why? Why did the gods not favor us in the siege of Potidaea?
During the war, I saw Socrates for the first time. He made everyone look so foolish and rumors abounded that he attempted to introduce new gods. I am a pious Athenian, and the gods taught me many lessons during that war. One such lesson was that the impious poison Athenian democracy. If Socrates had not saved Alcibiades' life and gained his protection, I would have called for his death.1 I blame people like Socrates for the fiasco that was the siege of Potidaea.
Many of you are dealing with recent loss of your loved ones. The plague took many lives on my ship; however, when I returned to Athens, I found that my parents both had died of that wretched disease. My father was a very pious man, and he was one of the first to remember the Oracle’s prophecy that with the Dorians there is plague.2 If my father was pious, why did he die? Our exiled general Thucydides had an explanation. He thought it was not the gods but a natural cause that killed my family and twenty-five of my fellow sailors. He denounced my father’s generation, claiming that they were just superstitious. It dumbfounded me that the pious died with the impious. I had not figured out how that was possible until one day it dawned on me during a voyage to Melos.
1.        Symposium 219e-221b
2.       Thucyidides, On Justice Power and Human Nature, ii.54
I had taken the job to row on the expedition to Melos during the sixteenth year of the war. On that trip, I heard of Diagoras of Melos. This man is the kind every sailor fears. A fellow crewman told me a story of Diagoras. He said that Diagoras kept blaspheming during a storm which took many ships.3 The sailors knew that they had brought it upon themselves for bringing such an ungodly man on their ship. During that trip, Aclibiades, who had imprisoned this atheist, set him free because Democritus had given him a large ransom.4 Just a year later, when I was on the Sicilian expedition, the democratic party of Athens did the gods’ will and exiled Diagoras.5 This taught me that we need to exile all the impious from Athens in order for the gods to let us prosper again.
Why did the tyrants take over Athens? I claim that Socrates is to blame for the gods’ wrath. We exiled Diagoras and Thucydides, and now it is Socrates’ turn. I remember distinctly seeing Socrates in the Piraeus before the Thirty took over.  Having spent a lot of time in the Piraeus, I know Socrates rarely leaves the city to go there. On that day, he had come to worship new gods, for it was a religious festival.6 This worship of new gods threatens Athens. It makes perfect sense that the sickness of impiety that I saw before the tyrants started in the Piraeus and that the last battle before Pausanias reestablished our democracy occurred there as well.7
Impiety itself is inherently undemocratic. Xenophon, a supporter of Socrates claimed that Homer’s portrayal of the gods is false, and he introduced new gods to replace them. He advocates for monarchy as well. Thucyidides, our heretical former general, denounced democracy as well. This trend of impiety and hatred of democracy continues in the case of Socrates, who advocated that a minority should rule the people.
3.     Cicero, The Nature of the Gods, iii.89
4.        Suda, Diagoras, delta, 523
5.        Diodorus Siculus, xiii 
6.        Plato, Republic, 327a
7.        Xenophon, A History of My Times (Hellenica). ii.34-36
Some may argue that I am simply pointing out individuals and claiming every impious person is anti-democratic. Those people miss the fundamental nature of impiety. The impious hate the gods and actively aim to undo the work of the gods. Since the gods gave us democracy, the impious aim to subvert our government.
Not only am I advocating the exile of Socrates but also the expansion of the role of Archon. Athens needs to establish a ministry of piety. The Archon needs to rid Athens of the impious. To do so, he needs this ministry, which will interrogate Athenians in order to root out corruption.
Some will defend those like Socrates, but it is because of our harboring of impiety that the gods have exacted justice on us so firmly. If the gods hate the impious and the pious align their wills with those of the gods, the pious must hate the impious. I would question the piety of anyone who  defends a corrupter of the youth.8
Of course some of those defenders will not know that they do Athens a great harm by protecting the impious. I know that there are many such defenders because of the tendency of the impious to make the weaker argument the stronger.9 By making bad arguments appealing, the impious trick the youth into defending them. For those whom the impious have not turned against the good of Athens, I propose instruction until they see the error of their ways.
I am not calling for a massacre by any stretch. I hold that the root of impiety is but a small number of individuals who have spread their corrupting influence. The job of the ministry is actually to prevent those whom the impious few intend to corrupt from becoming impious themselves. If there are fewer impious, Athens will have fewer to exile. Eventually the ministry under the management of the Archon will cut these roots and free Athens from what has brought us so much misery.
8.        Plato, Apology, 23d
9.        Plato, Apology, 18b-18c
Every rational and pious Athenian should vote for the expansion of the Archon’s powers and for the exile of Socrates. Remember the family you have lost, the tyranny you have suffered, and the defeats you have had, and you will realize like I have that we must not let impiety stay in our city. It is too costly. Think of your children. The corrupters have gotten many already, turning them against Homer and the gods, but we can save those whom the impious have not corrupted and those whom they might corrupt in the future. We must pass this measure for the prosperity of our children. I just do not want anymore unnecessary death of our fellow Athenians. I lost my family to the plague, and I do not want to lose any children to the wrath of the gods. I know many of you also have lost loved ones.


Cicero. The Nature of the Gods. Trans. P. G. Walsh. Oxford: Claredon Press, 1997.
Plato. ApologyThe Trial and Death of Socrates. 3rd ed. Trans. G. M. A. Grube and Ed. John M. Cooper. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000.
Plato. Republic. Trans. and Ed. C. D. C. Reeve. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2004.
Plato. Symposium. The Collected Dialogues of Plato. Trans. Michael Joyce and Ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1961.
Suda. Diagoras. Trans. Jason Karnes. Suda On Line: Stoa, 2002.
Thucydides. On Justice, Power, and Human Nature. Trans. and Ed. Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993.
Xenophon. A History of My Times (Hellenica). Trans. Rex Warner. London: Penguin Books, 1966.

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