Socrates on Samos


Socrates, Samos, Socrates Philosophy, Testimony


Like most students of Socrates, I have read over this biographical report many times without taking serious notice of it. But perhaps we have been hasty. According to the scholarly consensus, there is some biographical information to be extracted from this report, but less than what appears on the surface. In the first place, Plato's testimony seems to produce a 'glaring contradiction' with it.1 'You have not', say the Laws of Athens in an imaginary conversation, 'ever left this city to go sightseeing, except once to the Isthmus, nor gone anywhere else, unless you were on a military expedition, neither did you ever make another other trip abroad, like other men, nor did you long to be acquainted with some other city or other laws' (Crito 52B).2 In the Phaedrus Plato portrays Socrates as unacquainted with the suburbs of Athens (230C-E), so much is he a creature of the city. Thus in so far as we take Plato as our best source for Socrates, we must take Ion's report with a grain of salt. Also troubling is the fact that the report suggests a kind of succession story in which one philosopher was taught by another in some sort of unbroken genealogy of thinkers, preferably back to Tha?es. Accounts of successions are notoriously schematic, and in some cases demonstrably false, as when Anaxagoras is said to have been taught by Anaximenes, who died before he was born.3 In Hellenistic times there was a need to track down lines of descent and establish some sort of school traditions in imitation of the Hellenistic schools-even when it was unclear that there were schools in any formal sense among early philosophers.4 The Archelaus connection quickly seems to be assimilated into a string of succession stories told of early philosophers.

Original Publication Citation

“Socrates on Samos.” Classical Quarterly 58 (2008): 308-13.

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Peer-Reviewed Article

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The Classical Quarterly







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Full Professor