'Death of Socrates' Painting Analysis
"The unexamined life is not worth living." - Socrates
A well-known painter in the neo-classical era, Jacques-Louis David became one of the most famous artists in history with his impactful works of art. With pieces such as the Oath of Horatii,The Death of Marat, and Napoleon crossing the Alps to have become cult classics of the neo-classical era, it is not a surprise that the artist would attempt to illustrate what some may agree as one of the many mistakes of humanity. The death of Socrates, as depicted by Jacques-Louis David, shows the regret and sorrow derived from within this act, just as it shows Socrates' commitment and sacrifice to his work as a philosopher.
Socrates, otherwise known as the father of philosophy, has been credited with providing humanity with one of its greatest gifts, the Socratic method. Now known as the scientific method, the Socratic method entails that we question everything that we are told, to question until a contradiction has occurred. Socrates sought contradiction as it proved that not one person knows the answer. According to Socrates, "true knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing." This belief that knowledge meant that you are aware that you know nothing at all stressed to the core of the Socratic method; to question your ideas and others in the pursuit of knowledge, making the individual more aware. Socrates imposed this idea upon his disciples and to others around him so that they may discover their own truth, rather than trusting in the belief of others to be true.
However, such teachings are what caused the death of Socrates. Born in 470 BC, in the golden age of ancient Athens, Socrates remained a pessimist despite living in one of the most successful civilizations in human history. Athens was the first civilization to provide every individual with a voice in politics, rather than allowing the power of the state to be in the hands of a single individual; this system is known as democracy. Democracy has stood the test of time as it has evolved into the most prominent political system in modern society. However, the new experimental political system would not go without analysis from Socrates, who saw the flaw in a total democracy. To Socrates, only the innate thinkers should be able to vote in societal matters. This does not mean that only the educated should be able to vote, as Socrates voiced his opinion that you should be able to use your intuition to vote and that a democracy should not be a popularity contest. With this philosophy among others, he infused in others the ability to question what they are told.
The teachings of Socrates were viewed as wrong in the eyes of the Athenian government at the time, as Socrates was put on trial with the charge of corrupting the youth and was found guilty. Unlike those who are found guilty today, Socrates had two options as to what his punishment would be, exile or drink poison hemlock. For Socrates, exile meant the abandonment of his teachings and philosophy. Instead of allowing himself to be exiled, he chose the punishment of death by poison hemlock. This decision made by Socrates acted as a final lesson not only his pupils but to the people of Athens to pursue the truth, even in the face of death.
In the end, Socrates' teachings inspired some of the greatest minds of the ancient world, including Plato (one of Socrates' students) and Aristotle (one of Plato's students). Many others in history have followed suit alongside with Socrates in the pursuit of the truth for either themselves or for others such as Martin Luther in questioning the church, Voltaire, Friedrich Nietzsche, Immanuel Kant, and many more.