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The Apology, in The Last Days of Socrates Plato

Biography: Plato
Plato was born in Athens c. 428 BC, and is considered to be one of the
worlds earliest known philosophers. As he grew up, he was thrust into
two very different political systems an oligarchy and a democracy
and after the Peloponnesian War his mother and uncle tried to force
him to join the oligarchical rule of Athens. He did not want this and as a
result, he declined and joined his two older brothers in becoming one of
Socrates students. It becomes apparent to many that, like Socrates,
Plato focused a great deal on stressing moral and ethical questions of
human life.
Plato was not a supporter of the Thirty Tyrants whose reign lasted only
approximately 8 months (c. 404 403 BC). He was also very much
against the Athenian democracy after it was restored following the said
tyranny.
In 399 BC, he was tried for the crimes of religious impiety and
corruption of youth (irreverence and corrupting the thoughts of the
young and impressionable minds of the era). For these crimes, he was
convicted and sentenced to death. His friends, however, stepped in
and offered to pay a fine in exchange for having the death penalty
lifted. After this, he grew disillusioned with any form of government and
claimed that the only way to save politics of any kind required either
true and genuine philosophers attain political power or the rulers of
states by some dispensation of providence become genuine
philosophers".
In approximately 367 BC, Plato founded his school of philosophy in
Athens, in a grove sacred to the god Academus, hence calling naming
the school Academy (where we get the word academics from today).
It was very much like a university, including subjects such as
physiology, astronomy, mathematics, and philosophy. In addition to
acting as a principal or headmaster of the Academy, Plato also
frequently carried out lectures which were, unfortunately, never
published.
In 367 BC, Dionysius died and was in turn succeeded by his son,
Dionysius II, whose uncle was a close friend to Plato. Plato saw this as
his opportunity to achieve his goal of seeing a philosophical king take
control of a colony. As a result, he travelled to Sicily to take control over
the young kings studies. Plato was, however, unable to convert the
boy to adopt a philosophical way of life, and returned to Athens.
Plato kept correspondence with the young king in the hope of trying to
have him reconcile with his uncle Dion (Platos friend). Dionysius II
trapped Plato into believing that he had changed his mind and was
prepared to try and become a philosopher, but trapped Plato in
Siracusa until 360 BC.
He died in 348 BC, at around the age of eighty in his life-long home of
Athens.
Biography: Socrates

Socrates is thought to have been born c. 470 - 469 BC in Deme


Alopece, Athens. He studied sculpture in Athens (his fathers
profession) but soon abandoned that career path.
He was called upon frequently to give lectures/talks in Athens and had
no desire to take part in politics. He is also known to have been a great
soldier, serving as a foot soldier in the Peloponnesian War.
He was greatly inspired and influenced by the Sophists, and visited the
Oracle at Delphi later in life, where it is said he learnt the motto know
thyself. Socrates never wrote any books or papers, and as a result, his
life and works were preserved in the works of Xenophon and Plato. It is
also believed that, consequently, the influence of the great philosopher
that was Socrates was passed on through his student, Plato, to
generations of philosophers.
He is accredited as being one of the founding fathers of philosophy. He
is also known to have had a profound effect on a number of his
students, notably Plato and Xenophon.
His style of conversation is known as the Socratic dialogue, whereby he
asked questions, criticised answers, and picked and destroyed poor
arguments.
He is known as being one of the wisest philosophers of his time, and
was the first of three of the great Greek teachers, the other two being
Plato and Aristotle. Aside from his unkempt appearance (he is said to
have been scruffy, short and fat, with a stubby nose and wide mouth),
the Ancient Greeks enjoyed being in is company and were fascinated
with what he had to say.
His genius for exposing frauds made him many enemies and he was
not widely accepted within the Athenian mob. He was charged of the
same crimes as Plato religious impiety and corruption of youth but
they were false charges, though politically convenient. He was given
the death penalty and sentenced to death by drinking hemlock (a
poison).
The Apology was set in 399 BC. It is the Platos adaption of the speech which
Socrates gave as he defended himself against the crimes he was charged
with by the Athenian state crimes which had him dealt the death penalty. It
is thought that Plato wrote the novel around the time, if not at the same time
as when Socrates trial was occurring, and hence is thought to have been
there when Socrates delivered his speech. Some later historians argue,
however, that Plato is not to be relied upon as a trusted source of Socrates, as
evidence has suggested that his work is not a historical account of Socrates
last days, but just one of Platos philosophical works.
At the time of the setting of the play, Athens had only recently entered an age
of transition, whereby the Peloponnesian War (431 404 BC) had just ended,
and Athens had lost to Sparta and was now facing the consequences. With
the end of the War, the Periclean Age had also officially come to an end, with
Athenian democracy crumbling as well. It is at this point in time that Athens
was ruled by the Thirty Tyrants, who were only in office for 8 months. It is
because of them that Socrates was forced to kill himself for his open
opposition towards them.

When Plato wrote The Apology, it was during or just after Socrates trial and
death in 399 BC, and as previously mentioned, Athens was under the control
of the Thirty Tyrants. After the trial and death of his mentor [Socrates], Plato
became disgusted with Athenian political life and he devoted his time and
energy into teaching and studying philosophical inquiry.

The Eumenides, in The Oresteia Aeschylus


Biography: Aeschylus
Aeschylus was born in the town of Eleusis, near Athens, in 525 BC.
Aeschylus is also known to have fought in the Athenian army, and done
so in important battles, such as against the Persians [including at
Marathon].
He is the first of the three great tragedy poets of Greece Aeschylus,
Sophocles, and Euripides.
He showed potential to be a great writer from a young age, although
he didnt win a dramatic competition until he was in his 30s. After that,
he won nearly every competition he entered until he was in his 50s and
Sophocles started to become famous for his tragedies. The two then
struggled against each other to establish who the better tragic poet of
the two was.
He performed The Oresteia for the first time at the festival of Dionysia
in Athens in 458 BC, where it won first prize. Given that The Oresteia is
a trilogy of tragic play, it was accompanied by a satyr afterwards, most
often speculated as being Proteus (unfortunately, it no longer exists so
it is difficult to be certain of this).
He introduced a second actor to the stage as far as performing was
concerned previously it had only been the one actor, but with the
introduction of the second actor, there was now the possibility for
dialogue to take place. He also introduced masks for the performers, as
well as vibrant costumes garments and elaborate headdresses. In
conjunction with this, he also introduced different back-drop
panoramas to help set the scene for his plays, with them becoming the
standard elements of the dramatic arts.
In 476 BC, he went to Sicily to live at the Court of Hiero I of Siracusa,
and he died at Gela in 456 BC (69 years old uncommon for
men given that most only lived to approx. 30-40 years old life
in those times had extremely poor sanitary conds, especially in
the urban areas). A great monument was later erected there in his
honour. Legend has it, that Aeschylus died because an eagle mistook
his bald head for a rock and dropped a tortoise shell on it.
Aeschylus lived much of his life during the Periclean Age, but he
did not share the same view as others when it came to
democracy; in fact, he was very much against it. As a result of
the rising power of Athenian democracy, Aeschylus left for Sicily
where he died. This was sure to have had a great influence on
his work with many perhaps seeing it as scandalous or harking
back to the old ways of thinking. In addition to this, he was also
involved in the Greco-Persian Wars, fighting at both Marathon

and Salamis. This was also sure to have a profound effect upon
both him as a person and upon his work as he would have seen
things which today we could never hope of seeing without some
form of everlasting effect. He may very well have questioned the
gods and their role in the everyday lives of people [given the
chaos that they thrust upon the Hellenic world], therefore,
opening up a new line of thought in which the gods came second
in the lives of the people to politics. Then again perhaps this was
not the case, given that it is claimed that Aeschylus paid little
attention to politics. Instead, it would have provided him with
inspiration for his works, and allowed him to add an element of
truth and reality to his plays by drawing on real-life events which
he would have seen first-hand.

The Curse of the


House of Atreus
refers to the curse
placed on the family
line by the gods. The
Atreus family tree
begins with Tantalus.
He was a son of Zeus
who enjoyed pleasant
acquaintances with
many of the gods.
One day, he decided
to slay his son Pelops and feed him to the gods by way of finding out once
and for all if they really were omniscient (all-seeing). Most of the gods who
sat down to dinner with Tantalus realised immediately what he had done and
were disgusted, all except for Demeter. She was too distracted by her
daughter, Persephone being held captive by Hades that she absent-mindedly
ate Pelops shoulder. The gods proceeded to throw Tantalus into the
Underworld, where he has spent eternity standing in a pool of water beneath
a fruit tree with low-hanging branches. Each time he reaches to grab the fruit,
the branches raise his intended meal out of his reach. When he bends to drink
the water, the water recedes before he can drink from it. The gods brought
Pelops back to life and replaced his shoulder with ivory, therefore marking the
family forever.
Next in line of the family is Tantalus son Pelops who married Hippodamia,
after winning a chariot race against her father, as a result of sabotaging his
chariot. This in turn resulted in his would-be-father-in-laws death and later,
the death of one of the kings servants, Myrtilus. The reason for his murder
varies, but there are three stories which are generally widely accepted that
he had been promised the right to take Hippodamias virginity, only for it to
be denied; because he tried to rape her; or simply because Pelops didnt want
to share the credit of his victory and acknowledge that he had been assisted.

In his last moments alive, Myrtilus cursed Pelops and his descendants, further
adding to the familys curse.
Pelops and Hippodamia had two sons Atreus and Thyestes. There are many
different versions of the myth, but it is thought that these two boys murdered
their half-brother, Chrysippus, and as a result, the two and their mother were
banished to Mycenae, where Hippodamia hanged herself. Later in this myth, it
is said that Atreus promised Artemis that he would sacrifice his best lamb for
her, but upon seeing his flock, he found a golden lamb which he gave to his
wife Aerope. She was to hide it from the goddess and so gave it to Thyestes,
her lover, who then convinced Atreus that whoever had the lamb would
become king with that Thyestes, produced the lamb and claimed the throne.
Atreus invested in the help of Hermes to reclaim the throne and so it is said
that when the sun moved backwards in the sky, Atreus reclaimed the throne.
Atreus learned of Aerope and Thyestes adultery, and proceeded to exact his
revenge he killed Thyestes sons, cooked them, and then tricked him into
eating them, taunting him with their hands and feet. He was exiled for eating
human flesh and consulted an oracle about what to do. The oracle said that
he was to have a son by his daughter, Pelopia, who would then kill Atreus.
When Aegisthus was first born, however, he was abandoned by his mother for
her shame at committing such an incestuous act. A shepherd found the baby
and gave him to Atreus, who raised him as his own. Only after entering
adulthood did Thysestes reveal the truth to Aegisthus, which was followed by
the young man killing Atreus just as had been foretold, although not before
Atreus had two sons Menelaus and Agamemnon.
The two sons of Atreus are sometimes referred to as the Atreidae or the
Atreidei (with Atreides being the singular when referring to one of the
sons). Prior to sailing off to Troy, Agamemnon had angered the goddess
Artemis by killing a sacred deer in a sacred grove and then went on boasting
about how he was supposedly a better hunter than she was. As a result, on
the sail over to the impenetrable Troy, Artemis halted the winds, preventing
Agamemnons fleet from going any further. A prophet by the name of Calchas
told the king that in order to appease the goddess, he needed to sacrifice the
most precious thing which had come into his possession in the year that he
killed the deer. This was his first-born daughter, Iphigenia, and so he sent
word home to have her come by any means necessary. She happily obliged to
do so, glad to be able to participate in the war. Clytemnestra, Agamemnons
wife, tried to stop Iphigenia, but to no avail. After doing this, the ship was able
to set sail, but Agamemnon had tricked the goddess switching his daughter
on the altar with a deer and had her taken away to Colchis, where she was to
become a priestess. Whilst Agamemnon continued in the war, fighting the
Trojans, Clytemnestra grew infuriated with the supposed murder of her
daughter and began an affair with Aegisthus. Upon Agamemnons return, he
brought with him his mistress, Cassandra, and prior to the banquet that
evening, Clytemnestra drew him a bath. When he exited, she went to drape
him in his purple robe but it did not have a hole for his head. Growing
tangled, he thrashed around, and Clytemnestra stabbed him to death
repeatedly. Agamemnons only son, Orestes, was very young when his mother

killed his father and the myths of what happened to him differ the most
commonly accepted ones are that he was sent into exile, or was taken away
by Electra so that he did not have to bear witness to his fathers murder.
Convinced by Electra, Orestes swore revenge and knew he had to avenge his
fathers death, but he also knew that in doing so, he would have to kill his
mother the thought being abhorrent to him. He prayed to Apollo, and the
god told him to kill his mother, and so he did. Following that, he wandered in
exile with a tremendous amount of guilt in his heart and with Apollo by his
side. He prayed to goddess Athena and begged her for forgiveness
something which no son of Atreus had ever done, and so ended the Curse of
the House of Atreus.

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