Judges narrowly acquitted Socrates, the philosopher whose teachings earned him a death sentence in ancient Athens, in a retrial Friday billed as a lesson for modern times of revolution and crisis.
Socrates spoke himself at his trial in the fourth century BC, but this time in his absence, a panel of 10 US and European judges heard pleas by top Greek and foreign lawyers at the event at the Onassis Foundation in Athens.
Judges then voted on whether he was guilty on the ancient charges of evil-doing, impiety and corrupting the young.
In 399 BC, Socrates was made to die by drinking hemlock poison after being convicted by a jury of hundreds of Athenians. Unrepentant, he had insulted the judges at his trial and cheekily asked to be rewarded for his actions.
The modern judges spared him that dishonour this time, with an even vote — five guilty and five not guilty, meaning that under ancient Athenian law he was not convicted.
Socrates’ method of sceptical inquiry, preserved by his disciple Plato and other ancient authors, questioned conventional wisdom on sensitive notions of politics, religion and morality and earned him powerful enemies.
He was branded an enemy of democracy, accused of treason in favour of the Spartan enemy, and of influencing a violent uprising against the Athenian republic by a group of oligarchs that included some of his pupils.
“Socrates comes before us feigning humility, yet demonstrating arrogance,” said Loretta Preska, a New York district judge who presided at Friday’s trial and voted to convict him.
“He is a dangerous subversive.”
Pleading earlier in Socrates’ defence, prominent French lawyer Patrick Simon said: “An opinion is not a crime. Socrates was searching for the truth.
He added: “My client has one fault: he likes to poke fun and is fiercely ironic. By acquitting him, you will show how solid and reliable democracy is.”
Versed in Socratic literature, the legal brains came from Britain, France, Germany, Greece, Switzerland and the United States.