Voltaire's Socrates (play)

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Socrates, written by Voltaire, the famous French philosopher in the mid 17th Century, is a play in three acts that concerns itself with Socrates and the events just before his death during his trial. It is heavy with satire specifically at government authority and organized religion. The main characters besides the titular role is that of the priest Anitus, his entourage, Socrates' wife Xantippe, several judges, and some children Socrates has adopted as his own.

Like more historical accounts by Herodotus, Plato, and Xenophon, the playwright shows Socrates as a moral individual charged with baseless accusations by a conspiracy of corrupt Athenians or Athenian officials although Voltaire implies that the wrongdoers are a select few.

Unlike the historical account, Socrates deals with several judges whereas his real life counterpart receives his punishment of death by hemlock by a jury of 500 Athenians. The presence or mention of Socrates' most well-known students such as Plato, Antisthenes, Zeno of Citium, and others is replaced by unnamed disciples whom only have a few token lines at the end of the play. Socrates is also portrayed as a monotheist and a victim of religious persecution, an interpretation that is not generally shared by modern scholars and historians.

Generally, this is not the most well-known of his works in comparison with Letters on the English which Voltaire published in 1778 or the Dictionnaire philosophique published earlier in 1764. However, hints of his contempt for government and religion are apparent here which later influenced American Revolution and the French Revolution.

References

Full version available at Project Gutenberg
Discussion of Socrates' death and trial
Alternate Translation available at Lulu