Coniine and the Hemlock Alkaloids





Although a central figure in Greek philosophy,  surprisingly little is known of the life of Socrates since he left no written records of his own.  What is known comes from the writings of Plato and Xenophon.  It appears that he was born in 470 b.c. and died of the effects of hemlock poisoning in 399 b.c.

It is believed that Socrates was a stone mason by trade and was also a hoplite in the Athenian military.  Hoplites were soldiers who were able to afford their own armour,  see illustration above.

It is suggested that Socrates married twice and had three sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus (named for Socrates' father), and Menexenus, by his second wife Xanthippe.

Socrates spent much of his adult life debating ethics in the agora or market place.  This may have accounted for his poverty in later years.  He had a reputation for exposing ignorance,  hypocrisy and conceit among his fellow Athenians and this probably made him an unpopular character.

In 399 B.C. Socrates was accused of "impiety" and of "neglect of the Gods whom the city worships and the practice of religious novelties" and of the "corruption of the young".   In the trial which followed Socrates was condemned to death.  At that time it was considered a "humane"  method of execution for the condemned person to drink a potent solution from the hemlock plant.  Socrates was thus expected to take his own life in this way,  which,  being a man of honour, he did.

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