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The Hemlock Cup

Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life

This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.


We think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did; in his unwavering commitment to truth and in the example of his own life, he set the standard for all subsequent Western philosophy. And yet, for twenty-five centuries, he has remained an enigma: a man who left no written legacy and about whom everything we know is hearsay, gleaned from the writings of Plato, Xenophon and Aristophanes. Now Bettany Hughes gives us an unprecedented, brilliantly vivid portrait of Socrates and of his homeland, Athens in its Golden Age.

His life spanned “seventy of the busiest, most wonderful and tragic years in Athenian history.” It was a city devastated by war, but, at the same time, transformed by the burgeoning process of democracy, and Hughes re-creates this fifth-century B.C. city, drawing on the latest sources—archaeological, topographical and textual—to illuminate the streets where Socrates walked, to place him there and to show us the world as he experienced it.

She takes us through the great, teeming Agora—the massive marketplace, the heart of ancient Athens—where Socrates engaged in philosophical dialogue and where he would be condemned to death. We visit the battlefields where he fought, the red-light district and gymnasia he frequented and the religious festivals he attended. We meet the men and the few women—including his wife, Xanthippe, and his “inspiration” and confidante, Aspasia—who were central to his life. We travel to where he was born and where he died. And we come to understand the profound influences of time and place in the evolution of his eternally provocative philosophy.

Deeply informed and vibrantly written, combining historical inquiry and storytelling élan, The Hemlock Cup gives us the most substantial, fascinating, humane depiction we have ever had of one of the most influential thinkers of all time.

From the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Dec 20, 2010 – The brilliant cultural historian Hughes (Helen of Troy) has again produced an intriguing and entertaining biohistory of one of the most important individuals in the ancient world, and of the Athenian society that condemned him to death for daring to question all received wisdom. Drawing on the abundance of contemporary references by both supporters and opponents to the philosopher, Hughes illustrates that "bsolutely of his time, he is also of ours," "the first ironic man" in an unironic age, a gadfly to Athens' citizens and leaders. Moreover, through careful description of fifth century B.C.E. Athens, she brings to life the social, political, economic, literary, and military realities of Socrates' society, in particular the centrality of the agora. Hughes devotes a substantial part of her account to the trial and forced suicide of the great philosopher, events which communicated Socratic humor mixed with courage. Regrettably, she offers little in the way of criticism of modern authors such as I.F. Stone who have clouded Socrates's reputation by championing the populist and "democratic" tyrants. But she aptly conveys the continuing urgency of Socrates' devotion to the inquiring mind. 16 pages of color illus.; 33 b&w illus.; 5 maps.

Customer Reviews

Could & should have been a more interesting read

Definitely, an absorbing perspective but Bettany Huges is more an intellectual than as historian and as such the book is sprinkled with too many intellectual underpinnings to be a great story or history. A good historian doesn't use "I"s frequently in the narration. At times it feels like a screen play for a television show that she must have thought she'd be doing following the book.

The Hemlock Cup
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  • $14.99
  • Available on iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
  • Category: Ancient
  • Published: Feb 08, 2011
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Seller: Penguin Random House LLC
  • Print Length: 544 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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