Socrates was one of the most famous philosophers of ancient times. His father was a stonemason, and his mother was a midwife. Not much is known about him until his late thirties when he fought for Athens in the Peloponnesian War.
He set himself apart by not taking any money for his teaching. He believed the quest for knowledge was more important than money. He never wrote down any of his teachings. Information about his life and teaching came from other philosophers and students such as Plato, one of his most famous students.
Socrates came into the spotlight during the trial of the generals from the battle of Arginusae. He was elected by lot into the council of five hundred. Again by lot he was chosen president of the assembly on the day of the trial of the generals. The generals had won the battle, but with a great loss of men. Socrates opposed the process of the trial and the charges brought against the generals.. The generals became pawns in an ongoing struggle in the assembly between the democratic supporters and those loyal to the oligarchy. Despite Socrates’ best efforts, the generals were condemned to death.
Socrates continued to teach young people and debate adults in Athens. He taught by asking questions of his listeners. He would then teach them to give better answers. He raised questions about Athenian democracy and the Athenian religion.
Although he taught many students, two in particular became important to the Athenians. Alcibiades was one who betrayed Athens to the Spartans. Critias was the second, and he became the leader of the group that became known as the Thirty Tyrants. The Thirty Tyrants were appointed by the Spartans after the Peloponnesian War. They were removed after a year because of their brutal way of ruling the people.
Because of these two students and his constant questioning of Athenian institutions, Socrates was put on trial. The two charges against him were for not recognizing the gods of the city and for the corruption of the youth of Athens. Socrates was found guilty and sentenced to death. He drank hemlock to carry out the sentence.