The Hemlock Cup
We think the way we do because Socrates thought the way he did. His aphorism ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’ may have originated twenty-five centuries ago, but it is a founding principle of modern life. For seventy years Socrates was a vigorous citizen of Golden Age Athens, philosophising in the squares and public arenas rather than in the courts of kings, before his beloved city turned on him, condemning him to death by poison.
Socrates lived in and contributed to a city that nurtured key ingredients of contemporary civilisation – democracy, liberty, science, drama, rational thought – yet, as he wrote almost nothing down, he himself is an enigmatic figure. In The Hemlock Cup, acclaimed historian Bettany Hughes gives Socrates the biography he deserves, painstakingly piecing together Socrates’ life and using fresh evidence to get closer to the man who asked ‘how should we live?’ – a question as relevant now as it has ever been.
Hughes's prose is the literary equivalent of CGI, re-creating for the reader a sense of the clamour and dazzle of the classical city that has rarely been bettered * Observer * Terrific and passionate writing about a philosopher whose heroism is unquestionable (though that heroism resides in a constant questioning); and as lively and learned an introduction to classical Athens as you could want -- Tom Payne * Daily Telegraph * No physical aspect of life as experienced by an Athenian man is left out...Hughes's expert attempts to make him flesh and blood, to fill in the gaps...teach us about the value of the real as well as the philosophical -- Lesley McDowell * Scotsman * In The Hemlock Cup Bettany Hughes does a very good job of recreating the material world in which Socrates lived...she is up to date on recent archaeological discoveries... She writes frankly of the nastiness of the world in which Socrates grew up and lived -- Mary Beard * Sunday Times * Hughes cleverly extracts the man from the dramatic scene-setting... This intelligent, bright-eyed vigorous book [has] a life as vibrant and provocative as that lived by its subject * The Times *
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