The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens, and the Search for the Good Life

Bettany Hughes, Author
Bettany Hughes, Knopf, $35 (528p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4179-4
Reviewed on: 12/20/2010
Release date: 02/01/2011
Paperback - 544 pages - 978-0-09-955405-9
Paperback - 484 pages - 978-1-4000-7601-7
Open Ebook - 512 pages - 978-0-307-59529-4
Open Ebook - 544 pages - 978-1-4464-1916-8
Open Ebook - 1 pages - 978-1-299-02554-7
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The brilliant cultural historian Hughes (Helen of Troy) has again produced an intriguing and entertaining biohistory of one of the most important individuals in the ancient world, and of the Athenian society that condemned him to death for daring to question all received wisdom. Drawing on the abundance of contemporary references by both supporters and opponents to the philosopher, Hughes illustrates that "[a]bsolutely of his time, he is also of ours," "the first ironic man" in an unironic age, a gadfly to Athens' citizens and leaders. Moreover, through careful description of fifth century B.C.E. Athens, she brings to life the social, political, economic, literary, and military realities of Socrates' society, in particular the centrality of the agora. Hughes devotes a substantial part of her account to the trial and forced suicide of the great philosopher, events which communicated Socratic humor mixed with courage. Regrettably, she offers little in the way of criticism of modern authors such as I.F. Stone who have clouded Socrates's reputation by championing the populist and "democratic" tyrants. But she aptly conveys the continuing urgency of Socrates' devotion to the inquiring mind. 16 pages of color illus.; 33 b&w illus.; 5 maps. (Feb.)
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