The Phaedo is acknowledged to be one of Plato’s masterpieces, showing him both as a philosopher and as a dramatist at the height of his powers. For its moving account of the execution of Socrates, the Phaedo ranks among the supreme literary achievements of antiquity. It is also a document crucial to the understanding of many ideas deeply ingrained in western culture, and provides one of the best introductions to Plato’s thought.
There is nothing quite like reading a bit of philosophy to perk me up (or perhaps that really is just me) and the immortal Plato weaves his magic once again in the Phaedo a fine book of the mysteries that captivate and frighten all of us at some stage.
The book primarily deals with the nature and immortality of the soul and includes ideas which would be adopted by the Christian church. Although still in a polytheistic world the Greek natural philosophers had already begun to put forward the idea of one force that created and changed things in the universe. they were already embracing duality with body and soul and setting the foundations for western philosophy as we know it.
Unlike Aristotle’s sometimes challenging works, Plato chooses to write in a literary style which is the basis for his easily understood arguments which are written in the form of a dialogue. The author was well aware that such questions concerning mortality and the fate of the soul were not just the property of learned and the rich but were for the masses to contemplate and discuss as well.
All this talk of life is handled calmly by Socrates who has been condemned to death and uses his remaining time to have a forum with a few friends to discuss all things concerning death and afterlife. Which is then finished off with the great philosopher taking his own life by drinking hemlock, Whether the scene happened as Plato claims it did or not, is neither here nor there for it is a fine piece of writing in any case and is still oddly moving.
Questions relating to the afterlife and the existence of the soul are debated in a simple conversation structure, where examples are given for and against arguments and shot down accordingly, this easy to follow style is rooted in logic and knowledge or physical evidence which are brought forward to support them. It is no surprise that years later we still argue and over these defining ideas to questions that we still discuss today.
There are lots of metaphors and literary panache littering this work and the shortness of pages (80 pages not including notes and introductions and the other usual stuff) as well as the reader-friendly style do make this an insightful read. Which is still much as Plato wanted it to be, a book that anybody can pick up and with a little concentration get an insight into the thinking of the past and the edgy theories of the time.
These days it’s more of a curiosity to read perhaps, which is not to do a disservice to the book, for those who have an interest in the early arguments that have gone on to influence so much in the human life thereafter, or just for the merely curious it is an excellent read, Of course in hindsight it has its flaws in the reasoning given but this is a fascinating look at embryonic ideas that would be used in christianity and deep thought throughout the West and you will be relieved to know that philosophers will be amongst the first in heaven, so that’s alright then.