The Shadows of Socrates
February | 2024
The trial and execution of Socrates is in some ways the most famous unsolved murder mystery in history. The Shadows of Socrates reveals 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 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.