Intro to Socrates
If you’re reading this, then you likely know who Socrates is, in which case feel free to skip this section. But for those who need a refresher, I’ll give a brief overview of who he was.
Socrates was a Greek philosopher born in 470 BC, and lived until 399 BC. He was hugely influential in western thought and western philosophy, but we actually know very little of his life. Most of what we know is from his students, Plato being the most prolific.
Socrates was the son of an Athenian stone mason and sculptor, and his mother was a midwife. We don’t know much about his early life, but based on his parents, we can infer that he did not come from a family of means or connections. He likely received a standard education and learned his father’s craft, working as a stone mason prior to devoting his life to philosophy and mentoring students.
There are differing accounts of how Socrates supported himself as a philosopher. Xenophon and Aristophanes claim Socrates received payment for teaching; however, Plato makes reference to Socrates refusing payment. It was likely that Socrates lived a simple life and perhaps accepted little payment from his friends in exchange for tutoring them and their children.
Socrates had a wife, Xanthippe, and three children. Again, we don’t know much about his family life other than a reference by Xenophon stating Xanthippe was “undesirable.” Xenophon further makes note of Socrates’ wife being unhappy with Socrates being a philosopher and would complain that he wasn’t supporting his family financially nor emotionally. By his own admission, Socrates had little to do with his sons’ upbringing and expressed greater interest in philosophizing and mentoring young Athen boys.
So with that context in mind, here’s my pitch for a Socrates movie.
I wouldn’t do a sequel, I would tell his entire life story in a two hour movie. We don’t need to see his birth, I don’t think that’s a particularly interesting way to start a story so instead I would open with Socrates as a young boy, around 10 or 11. I don’t exactly know what school looks like back then in ancient Greece, but I imagine a classroom setting of sorts. In the opening scene, Socrates is challenging the teacher. It’s clear that he’s way smarter than everyone else, including his teacher, and naturally his teacher doesn’t appreciate being challenged. Socrates gets into trouble and his teacher speaks with his parents, for which he received little scolding.
At home, Socrates asks, “Momma, why don’t the boys at school like me?”
His mother replies, “It’s because you are different, my dear Socrates.”
“Different?” he asks. “Different how?”
“You’ve been given a gift,” she replies. “You may not understand it now, but one day you will. You are going to do great things in this world, my son. The people of Athens will remember your name.”
“How do you know?” Socrates begins to question further.
“Call it a mother’s intuition,” she says.
“What does intuition mean?”
“It’s hard to describe. It’s like a feeling.”
Then, Socrates’ father says, “Come on, Phaenarete (Socrates’ mother’s name). Don’t encourage the boy. Socrates, you ask too many questions.”
“But how will I come to know things if I don’t ask questions?”
“You go to school,” his father replies.
“But school doesn’t teach me what I want to know, and the teachers punish me for having a curiosity.”
“Come on, wash up for dinner,” his mother finally says, putting the conversation to rest.
So from early on, we see this Socratic method take shape. Socrates is a seeker of knowledge and wisdom, and has a method in which he likes to extract truth in a way that allows him to make sense of the world.
At night, Socrates is reading books by candlelight, works by great thinkers that came before him such as Pythagoras, Hericlitus, Homer, etc. We see him studying and making notes.
Cut to school, Socrates is being teased about his looks. He tries to talk to a girl, but she doesn’t give him the time of day. Other kids see his failure and make fun of Socrates. Instead of fighting these bullies, Socrates uses his words to humiliate them in front of everyone and really make them look foolish. For this, he gets beat up.
Later, we see Socrates challenge these bullies again, perhaps sticking up for a buddy. This really shows his courage and tenacity. We need to fall in love with this character from very early on and understand what makes him tick.
I would then flash forward to when Socrates is an old man, being tried in court. I would do it like the Social Network, in which they splice in courtroom scenes throughout the movie. I don’t really think having an entire third act be about the trial, conviction, and death would be all that interesting, so that’s why I would break it up at critical junctions in his life. So as he transitions from boyhood to adolescence, and from adolescence to manhood, there would be flash forward scenes of the trial for which the movie is ultimately leading up to.
Each time we flash forward to the trial, it’ll show a pivotal moment from his life and sort of where that behaviour comes from. So the first time, we’ll see him pissing people off, and making a mockery of the court much mimics his behaviour in his early childhood. In another scene, he would be challenging Miletus much like he challenged his teachers and parents.
As a teenager, we’re seeing the political climate of Athens change. Socrates forgoes monetary gain to chase whimsies and philosophize. He enjoys his leisure time and we really see him laying the groundwork of what would become his philosophy. Again I’d have some scene showing his courage and intelligence, perhaps his defiance for authority, as he mentors youth. His father isn’t happy with him, but his mother is supportive. Again, we see Socrates reading books, educating himself.
While the other boys are playing and hanging out with girls, Socrates is going around town and speaking with anyone willing to engaging with him.
Athenian law required all able bodied males between the ages of 18 and 60 to be on call for war duty. According to Plato, Socrates was a part of the armored infantry and fought in three battles — the Peloponnesian war, the Battle of Delium, and the battle of Amphipolis. I would have a scene where Socrates initially refuses to fight, but reluctantly dons a shield, long spear and face mask and serves as a soldier on the front lines.
Socrates was known for his courage in battle and fearlessness so I would show him being a badass, perhaps with bulky muscles, throwing his weight around. We know that he saved the life of Alcibiades, a popular Athenian general, so perhaps I would show that. Socrates was known not to fear death, which is similar to his refusal to retreat from his legal troubles during and after his trial.
During Socrates’s life, Athens was going through a dramatic transition and unsuitability after suffering a humiliating defeat by Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. I would show people struggling to find place in the world, fixating on wealth and physical beauty. Socrates vehemently denounced these values and emphasized a great appreciation for the intellect. While many Athenians admired Socrates’s for his wisdom and humourous way he made prominent people look foolish, many grew tired of him because he would embarrass people and challenge their values in uncertain times.
At this point in the movie we see Socrates do Socrates things. He continues to go around town and debate with people. Because he makes prominent figures look foolish, this makes him a hero in the eyes of young Athenian boys, who follow Socrates around and learn from him. Socrates is happy for the company and teachers these boys what he can. Here, we are introduced to a bright student named Plato, who he sees being picked on.
“My real name is Aristocles, son of Ariston,” Plato says. “But people call me Plato because of my broad head.”
“People used to tease me about my appearance too,” Socrates says to comfort him.
Socrates sees himself in this young boy and takes him under his wing.
I’d then splice in another trial scene of him being accused of corrupting the youth.
The next scene, Socrates is a young adulthood, he has a wife and three small kids. His wife is getting mad at him for not working, his kids have tumultuous relationship with their father because he is stubborn taking jobs for free.
“I refuse to charge for teaching philosophy,” he says.
He links up with Plato and really becomes the philosopher we know and love. I would show some famous dialogues such as the Euthyphro, Symposium, Gorgias, Meno, The Republic. In one dialogue, I can’t remember the name, he battles the sophist, which is one of my favourites. I won’t go into those dialogues here, but I encourage you to read those.
Plato’s parents are displeased with their son hanging out with Socrates and forbid him to hang around him. “I don’t want you to be hanging around that Socrates fellow,” his father says.
“It’s okay, papa. He’s teaching me.”
“The only thing he is teaching you is how to defying the city’s values, and there’s no place for defiance, especially in these times. He’s corrupting your mind.”
Then I would have Plato sitting in his room, writing feverishly in his notebook. He hears Socrates voice in his head and he’s doing his best to write down everything he said.
Of course Plato continues to meet Socrates, who at this point has quite the following. However, he feels he’s no closer to discovering truth. He asks seemingly banal questions with obvious answers and forces people to draw conclusions. As it turns out, nobody really knows anything, which frustrates Socrates as he feels he’s ignorant and wants to understand the world.
Socrates pays a visit to the oracle of Delphi where he asks, “Who is the wisest man. Tell me so I can approach them and learn from them.”
The oracle says, “Socrates, you are the wisest man.”
“Me!” Socrates says. “How can I be the wisest man, I’m ignorant. I know that I know nothing!”
The oracle then says, “That’s just it, Socrates. You are ignorant, but at least you are aware of your ignorance. That puts you ahead of the others. They are ignorant, but they are unaware of their ignorance.”
In the third act, I would show Socrates getting arrested, and it being a big deal. The trial is the talk of the town. People all around hear about it and flock to the courthouse to witness this event. We pick up the trial as Miletus makes his opening speech. Socrates has a chance to respond. We then take a break and show Miletus talking to his council about the trial, perhaps showing some conspiring or bribery, some general underhandedness. Meanwhile, Socrates has chosen to represent himself. This is a debate like any other, so he feels comfortable defending his actions against the charges — corrupting the youth, not believing in the city’s gods, and impiety.
Throughout the whole trial, we see Plato in the back, taking notes. Idolizing Socrates. He leaves the courtroom and again we hear Socrates’ voice in his head. Plato is capturing everything he sees and hears, which will later become Plato’s Apology.
We then see the final closing speeches and then the verdict — 501 Athenians cast their votes and it doesn’t go Socrates’ way. They convict him of all accounts, but it’s close. I believe like 51% / 49%. They then vote on what shall be his punishment — exile, life in prison, or the death penalty. Again we see both speeches, and this time Socrates is really arrogant and reminding people how annoying and smug he is. The vote comes in and they unanimously vote to execute him.
Socrates is now in jail, which is outlined in Plato’s dialogue called the Crito. We see Crito plead with Socrates to save his own life, which I won’t go into, but I talk about in more detail in my video. The, I would do the fateful death scene, which I also go into more detail in my video.
It would be sad, our hero was defeated unnecessarily for bogus charges. I would show that sadness, the crying wife and kids, the friends, the disciples, the people of Athens who knew him. I would show a city in mourning. I would pan out, focus on a setting sun, then fade to black. Credits.
Shortly into the credits, I would have a post credits scene: we see a young Plato, scribbling in his notebook. The narration of Socrates is not dead, it lives strong within him. You can hear the voice of Socrates says, “You can kill me, but Philosophy will live on.” Cut to black.
I said there wouldn’t be a sequel, but I lied! It’ll be a trilogy. The sequel will show Plato mentoring Aristotle, and then the third movie after that will be Aristotle mentoring a young Alexander the great. If you really wanted to get crazy, I would then do a new Alexander the Great movie.
There it is, that would be my Socrates movie, my homage if you will to some of the great thinkers.
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