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"Socrates and the Health of Athens"

Cynthia Patterson (Emory) 


Socrates lived most of his adult life in a city suffering the effects of near continuous warfare (in which he took part) as well as significant epidemic disease,  known generally as “the plague” described by Thucydides in memorably searing language in Book 2 of his history. In this talk, I suggest that Plato, in his portrait of Socrates engaging in conversation throughout the city of Athens (in the city’s palestrae or private houses, along the Ilisos river outside the walls or in shackles in the agora awaiting execution) offers us another way to think about “the health of Athens” during these traumatic and tumultuous years.  Plato’s dialogues, in which questions of bodily health and well being repeatedly lead to the larger question of the health or virtue of the soul, provide a richly detailed portrait of both Socrates and his city, and one that successfully rivals Thucydides’.