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  • Max Sinsheimer

SOLD! The Shadows of Socrates (by Matt Gatton)

This year is off to a fast start, with my second sale, this one a fascinating swirl of history, philosophy, religion, and true crime.

The trial and execution of Socrates is in some ways the most famous unsolved murder mystery in history. The Shadows of Socrates solves the mystery, revealing for the first time how he was set up, who did it, and why. This is a real-life whodunit, a thriller intertwined with a long-running war, rivalry, sex addiction, betrayal, sedition, starvation, epic bravery, and pure intellectual clarity. It is a telenovela made all the more compelling because it’s true.

The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, 1787. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Courtesy Wikimedia

The first key to understanding what happened to Socrates is the powerful religious rituals at the heart of Athenian culture, the hallowed Mysteries of Eleusis. The penalty for speaking about them was death. And yet from the few surviving testimonials, author Matt Gatton used reconstruction archeology to recreate the light-borne appearance of the Goddess Persephone at the climax of the rites. This groundbreaking experiment exposed Socrates’ Allegory of the Cave as a thinly veiled critique of the Mysteries. It was an act of heresy, the first great battle between philosophy and religion.


That explains the charge of impiety, but there was a second charge at Socrates’ trial: corrupting the youth. To understand it, we delve into Socrates’ impact on two important youths in particular: the aristocratic and psychopathic Alcibiades, and the rich and equally manipulative Callias. They were half-brothers, students of Socrates—and mortal enemies. Alcibiades grew up to become an Athenian General, the embodiment of the Peloponnesian War, and Callias a High Priest of the Mysteries of Eleusis, the personification of religion. Ultimately, there was a battle, fought on many fronts, between Alcibiades and Callias for control of Athens. Their feud would contribute, in no small way, to the eventual fall of Athens, and the death of Socrates.


Strap in; this is a wild ride.


Matt Gatton is a scholar based in Santa Fe, and a founder of the field of archeo-optics. His groundbreaking work on optical distortions and the ritual use of optics have been published in the Journal of Applied Mathematics and by Oxford University Press. His work has also been the focus of broad-reach international media: Dr. Nigel Spivey discusses it in the BBC series How Art Made the World, and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson narrates a dramatic portrayal of Gatton’s research in Cosmos. Renowned scholar Alan Segal found Gatton’s insights “an absolutely fascinating prospect…. amazing… and I think credible.” Novelist Doug Preston, meanwhile, praised Socrates’ Shadows as “history writing at its best—fascinating, vivid, and shocking.”

This is the fourth author I've placed in Pegasus's capable hands, alongside Elisabeth Griffith, John Reeves, and Lori Hellis. I know they'll put out a book that does justice to Matt's insights and eloquence.


Congrats to Matt and his editor, Claiborne!

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