Base Camp is where visitors go to relax, unwind, and get familiar with an anthology of earlier material.

Athens: From Democracy To Hemlock – 9-10. Downfall, Death, Legacy

Lysander, captor of Athens

Note: this post was based on ten YouTube clips, which have been taken down since then. The post corresponds to roughly one-tenth-length of the series.

The Sicilian Campaign, one of the greatest defeats in ancient history – Athens’ military power is crippled – The Persians approach the Spartans with an offer to help … subsidize a fleet – Athens surrenders to Lysander, Spartan commander – From democracy to tragedy – One more act of vanity and violence – Socrates is arrested on charges of undermining the state religion and corrupting the youth of the city – Positively stubborn – The unexamined life is not worth living – Guilty, with the penalty of death by hemlock

The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David

One should make one’s end in a reverend silence – Man should question the world around him – A completely new Greek hero – The need to be critical – A city of intellectual inquiry – A world based on reason – Building empires of thought – Reason extends its dominion

Socrates defends himself at his trial

Athens loses its expeditionary force in Sicily. As a result, weakened and demoralized, the city barely holds out against the Spartan siege.

The Persians, thirsty for revenge, approach the Spartans with an offer to fund their offensive. A new fleet is built, which lays siege to Athens by sea, cutting off supply routes. In 404 BC, the Athenians starving surrender to Lysander, the Spartan commander.

The terms of surrender are harsh. Athens’ fleet is torn down and the city’s walls are destroyed, leaving the city defenceless, a shadow of its former self. Angered and confused, Athenians seek a scapegoat.

Socrates, public critic and antagonist, is the perfect candidate. He’s arrested and put on trial. Rather than apologize or conciliate with the court, he stands defiantly, accusing everyone of mass folly, appointing himself the “gnat” whose sole purpose in life is to pester Athenians so that they may never settle into a slumber. Outraged, the court finds Socrates guilty of undermining state religion and authority, sentencing him to death.

The great philosopher’s execution marks the end of Athenian glory. It’s a tragic time in the city’s chronicle, but it gives rise to a new perspective. A new kind of hero is born: the man of conviction, the person who is willing to die for a reason none other than Reason itself.

Inspired by the martyred philosopher, a scientific and philosophical movement is born, fueling the pursuit of knowledge, setting the stage for the consolidation of science, art, and rational society. It becomes known as the Socratic ideal, and it affords Athens a place in the pantheon of civilizations, as one of Reason’s incubators. It also renders the city one the prototypical caveats, what happens in the wake of glory. Athens’ story is a lesson to all future generations, its humbling demotion recognizable to this day, as is the city’s glorious legacy.

Let us take heed, so that we don’t repeat its errors.

From the phenomenal Atlantic Productions Documentary Series, The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization

Narrator: Liam Neeson