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Death for a Principle

Kelley Cunningham
02:09 PM ET (US)
So is Socrates a martyr since he willing chooses death? To me he is not a martyr but something much different. Yes he is dying for a cause but he seems to be dying to prove a point for future generations of Athens he is dying for the principle of free speech and the to illustrate the corruption within the state of Athens.
Phoebe Ndoro
05:43 PM ET (US)
My response is in relation to question 10:why does Socrates choose to die? and on the current topic "death for a principle".
After reading 'Crito', we realize that Socrates has reached the point of no return. This is because he feels that he has fulfilled his 'divine' mission, therefore to escape execution would be a mockery of his life and all that he believes in. So it is with unwavering resolve that Socrates declines Crito's offer to escape into exile.
Socrates would rather die virtuous than live (in exile) corrupted because for Socrates the essence of life is the 'condition' of one's soul. Therefore to live in exile would effectively mean living alone without the social intercourse which Socrates thrives on,because he can no longer speak of virtue,justice and obedience to the city's laws when his own life is a contradiction.
I think that Socrates chose to die for three fundamental reasons. Firstly, to prove that he was consistent in both his speech and deeds because even in death 'he valued the same things as before'. Secondly, he wanted his death to be his final act that would jolt both the present and future society into a re-awakening and enlightenment that 'the most important thing is not life itself, but the good life'.
Lastly, Socrates had a certain neccesity to die because he felt it was the only way in which to fulfill his dual obligation to the city which had nurtured and educated him and to that source 'higher' than the gods, which guided people's soul to a virtuous life. By dying through execution, Socrates remains loyal to his city, by upholding its verdict, even though he does not agree with it and does not escape even when he has the opportunity to do so. He also remains true to the gods, by refusing to denounce his 'divine purpose' of exhorting Athenian citizens to reflect and examine their lives inorder to care for the 'best possible state of (their) souls'.
In this respect i can liken Socrates to the man who came out of the darkness in Plato's 'Republic', and into the light and truth of the sun and knew that if he returned to the people in the cave who had known darkness and shadows all their lives; they would hate him, reject him and kill him. For this is exactly what the rulers of oligarchist Athens have done to Socrates.
Evie Thibault
11:22 AM ET (US)
Question: Both Antigone and Iphegenia “choose death.” How are the motives different for the two young women?

Response: On the surface, the differences in the motives of Antigone and Iphegenia have to do with public vs. private goals. Once she accepts her fate, Iphegenia explains that “Greece demands my life.” Her martyrdom is for the political public good. By willingly sacrificing herself, she is saving the expedition and saving the armies from disbanding. Antigone’s motivation appears to be private, but actually may be more public. She takes the risk of burying her brother out of respect and familial pride, but also nominally to spare the city from the wrath of the gods. After being sentenced, she chooses to take her own life rather than let nature take its course. She is clearly opposing Creon’s political power, making a public statement.

So here we have Iphigenia for Greece and Antigone for family. But, there is a larger question here that the two women answer in different ways: is it better to offend the gods or offend men? Antigone clearly feels it is better to offend Creon than to offend the gods. She is proud, perhaps too proud for propriety, and assumes she has wisdom that Creon lacks. She disobeys him because she is confident in her own appraisal of what is pleasing to the gods. Iphigenia makes less clear a declaration, but I think she makes one. Throughout her explanations to her mother and to Achilles, Iphigenia says very little about the gods. She implies that Greece, not the gods, is asking for her sacrifice. This could be because her death at the bequest of her father sparks a blood feud—Agamemnon will be punished by the gods for Iphigenia’s martyrdom. Although she has little choice, Iphigenia chooses to willingly die for Greece despite the mandates against it from the gods. This is of course quite complicated, as men are actually manipulating the gods in order to manipulate other men, but Iphigenia seems to see it quite clearly as a sacrifice for men. Unlike Antigone, Iphigenia makes a sacrifice based not on pride but on necessity. She mentions “fame” only after it is clear she has no other choice. Antigone sacrifices herself, literally taking her own life, for pride and religious propriety.
Kate McConnaughey
11:00 AM ET (US)
I am responding to the following question: How does Socrates' view of the afterlife and the soul affect his behavior?

First, I would like to address Socrates' view of the afterlife. I think the main theme of Socrates' message in this instance is that no one knows what will happen upon the arrival of death. This brings in the philosophical motive that while in the pursuit of truth and wisdom, one realizes how little they actually know and how ignorant they are in regard to the wisdom of the world. (Through words by Plato) Socrates states, "to be afraid of death is only another form thinking that one is wise when one is not…No one knows with regard to death whether it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to a man; but people dread it as though there were certain that it is the greatest evil." For Socrates, while death is a something unavoidable, it seems to be just another step in his search for Wisdom and it will ultimately (he hopes) lead the transcendence of his soul to an even higher level of being.

This higher level of being, however, cannot be achieved simply by just living, but as Socrates mentions, by "living well." Thus, it is necessary to be a good person and fight for you principles in order to ensure a secure position in the next life. This can then be linked back to what Socrates' attitude toward the State. Believing that the State's laws are sacred and the covenant that bound them together, Socrates dies to further his principle and to uphold the Athenian laws that he believes in so strongly. By doing so, Socrates believes he is making a last effort to secure a place for his soul in the afterlife. As he says to Crito when describing what would be said to him if he ran, "In that place beyond when our brothers, the Laws of Hades, know that you have done your best to destroy even us, they will not receive you with a kindly welcome."
Laura Sutherland
01:24 AM ET (US)
So, the stupid computer ate what i just wrote as i was trying to post so im trying again!:(

After the readings thus far, Im starting to see some more connections between our martyrs and the causes they are dying for. Specifically, Im thinking that there seems to be a more political/social organization to their "causes." While they may be in the long run dying for people, initially the ideas of nationhood and civility and social organization/systems ring through their willingness to die.
  Socrates dies for a principle- but even more than that- he dies for Athens, for what it means to be athenian. And it seems even more important that he is dying to prove that the legal system works ideologically. Socrates cannot have his life be greater the degredation of the system that condemned him in the first place (particularly when he reveres that system so intensely).
  Iphigenia's death also represents a political martyrdom. Her death represents a support for the nation. While her death will subdue the gods, and save people, she dies for Greece- it is her duty to Greece. Greece almost takes on this larger than life position.
   So i guesss what im getting at, at this late hour, is that perhaps a martyr should espouse a greater belief in an even greater entity than the gods? Can citizenship and nationhood be more powerful than religion because more people can (maybe) subscribe to it? Because it includes at its base an ideal for honor and justice and social right? Or does religion maintain the upperhand because it is more spiritual? Because it can call upon nonearthly entities? Or are they really the same in the end- religious and political/social reasons for martyrdom?
  I know its a lot of questions and they may not make any sense- just trying to figure it all out in my head too!
Hannah Fisher
11:59 PM ET (US)
First, I would like to respond to some of what is being said in relation to Iphegenia, namely the idea that she can't be considered a martyr because she went to her father's camp believing she was going to be married to Achilles. I think that this doesn't change her status as a martyr. Whatever her reason for going there, when she found out what was happening, she then embraced her fate and went to be sacrificed. If anything, I think that makes her more of a martyr. She was a victim of the will of the Gods, a pawn used by her father and then, of course, she loses her life. The pretense of marriage makes her look more like a little lamb who goes unknowingly, like most of us, towards its fate. She could have been fooled all the way to the altar and then, when she discovered that there was no wedding planned, could have gone to her death screaming like a pig (as people seem to like to describe an ignoble death). Circumstances were different and she had the opportunity to collect herself and show that she was willing to die for Greece and the honor of her family, if that's what needed to be done. I think Cacoyannis elaborates on the idea of innocenta ll the way through at the end of the film, where he has the wind starting up. Nothing went right for her from the start, told she's going to be married and then dying when maybe it wasn't needed.
Now on to Plato. I read through the questions, but I'd like to pose my own. I was so interested at the way in which Plato shows the opposition to Socrates. I think this is a major part of the creation of a martyr. How effective is it when the other side could also be considered to be in the right? In The Death of Socrates, Socrates comes out looking rational, brave and, what's more, chosen by the Gods! He's clearly the hero. The other position is hastily sketched out. Socrates is corrupting the morals of Athens' youths and not honoring the Gods enough, he's going to bring their wrath down on all of the citizens if he isn't stopped (at least, that's what I think). In comparison to him, Meletus and his cronies look like a bunch of buffoons. I wonder if the stupidity or barbarism or however else you want to put it, of the accusers helps to ingratiate the martyr or show them to be more righteous. Some of the accounts of martyrs get so syrupy. The snarling Roman inquisitors vs. the positively glowing Christian martyrs, comes to mind. When we studied this in my Intro to philosophy class, our professor told us that Socrates was a troll-like man, rude man who didn't bathe or had abandoned his family or something like that (i think he was referring to Socrates), quite a different picture than the devoted father/husband and citizen that Plato shows us. I guess it's obvious, but martyrs seem to have to be super human.
Karen Johanns
11:08 PM ET (US)
OK, my posting is about the readings for 10/7, The Apology and Crito. I am posting my thoughts on repsonse to the question on the sheet "What is Socrates' attitude towards the state? What kind of message do you think he will provide for posterity?"

In chapter 3 of Crito, Socrates gets to the core of this question. He asserts that when he agreed to citizenship, he agreed to a type of contract withAthens. Socrates says that Athens raised him and educated him. In return, Socrates has agreed to abide by the city's laws and constitution. In this way, Socrates believes that if he were to escape death, as Crito suggests, he would be breaking the sacred covenant he holds with Athens. Socrates believes that since he was unable to persuade the jurors in his trial, he now must accept their sentence. He is upholding this "contract" to the end. Socrates says, "We maintain that anyone who disobeys is guilty of doing wrong on three separate counts: first because we are his parent. And secondly because we are his guardians, and thirdly because, after promising obedience, he is neither obeying us nor persuading us to change our decision if we are at fault in any way."

Socrates believes that though his fellow citizens, the jurors, came to the wrong decision in his trial, it is not his place to avenge their flawed logic. Though people make mistakes, Socrates thinks, the system works. In this way, Socrates dies as a martyr, not for himself, but for his city and its system of justice.

I think that the message of Socrates' refusal to escape and his subsequent death sends a message that the relationship of the individual to the state is sacred, and that there are higher principles at work than just protecting ones' own life. At the same time, his death is not an act of submission. Socrates has shown his accusers to be unprincipled, and now dies in his principles. He has kept his contract with Athens, but he has risen above it.
Kate McConnaughey
02:17 PM ET (US)
I just have a few responses to both the text and previous posts. Like Karen, at the beginning of the play I was under the impression that Iphigenia would be an unwilling sacrifice to Artemis. Euripedes' portrayal of the young woman, then, willingly giving herself over for the victory of her father, King Agamemnon, seems a heroic gesture and changed my earlier impression. I do not, however, think her entirely heroic and like Kelley, I do have hesitations in calling Iphegenia a martyr. First, she does not know of her death as she makes the journey to her father's encampment; she is traveling under the pretense of a marraige to Achilles. Secondly, while she does speak at length regarding the outcome her death will have on the Greek army, she is fully aware of the glory that her sacrifice will bring upon herself and her family: "...and my fame for setting Hellas free will be a happy one."
Kelley Cunningham
01:36 PM ET (US)
Just a few observations and responses to the some of the other posts. Hannah has posted under the10/7 date and has discussed at length what makes an appropriate sacrificial victim. Here is what I have observed makes a good sacrificial victim; purity (usually virginity), a willingness to die, meeting death with relatively little fear,suffering, and dying for a cause or for others. Both Iphegenia and Christ meet all of these requirements. As for Hannah's question about virginity it seems that a virgin is a more meaningful sacrifice exactly because they will not be married or have children. They have not reached their full potential as adult humans. Its part of the reason we lament so much over the death of children or extremely young individuals. Its also interesting that Hannah brings up that Iphegenia was a Princess while Jesus was the son of God. In the NT Jesus is called the Prince or the King, the language is interesting.

For Euripides fate is determined by social relaities and religion is a projection of these realities, the difference between the tragic world of Iphegenia and the non-tragic world of Christianity lies in the nature of the different gods within these two worlds. The Gods of the Greek world seem more revengeful and less merciful then the God of the Christian world. The Christian God gives up his own son so that he may forgive humanity for their transgressions. The Greek gods decide to sacrifice the daughter of another.

Finally, I am hesitant to call Iphegenia a martyr because she does not know that she is to die and for what she is dying for until shortly before her death. I thought a martyr was someone who began their quest with an specific goal and cause. Although someone rasied the excellent question of whether Agamemnon could be considered a martyr for the suffering that he endures for the cause that he believes in.
Laura Sutherland
11:32 AM ET (US)
What struck me most (obviously) were the gender dynamics among the characters. Ive been thinking about the language surrounding Iphigeneia's death, and how it positions her as a wife and mother. Evie already spoke a little about this- and i agreed with how she sums it up: "In this one act, she marries death, plays mother to her city, and gains fame for her sacrifice." Perhaps it is merely because Agamemnon fools her and her mother into thinking she is getting married that the marriage language stays intact...but it also seems appropriate to her role as a young woman...and as one who is dying for her country. Why is she so intent on describing her death as a way to be a mother, a wife, etc? Is she claiming honor and respect? Appeasing her mother?

Does it make her more honourable that she is willingly going? Would she be a matyr without willingly accepting the task? If she didnt go willingly, and her father had to take her life (which would have upset him greatly) would her father be the matyr, sacrificing his daughter for the country? Can accomplices to matyrdom be matyrs too?

And as a question, why are the sacrifices always women? Something to do with purity? A continuation of the marriage theme? "You are married to death" "you are married to the god"?
Karen Johanns
09:54 AM ET (US)
I had trouble finding the reading too. I finally finished it last night, thus the late posting. Like Evie, I will just post some observations.

When I first started reading the play I assumed that Iphigenia would be an unwilling sacrifice, and I was hard pressed to say that she was in fact a martyr. After reading her monologue in which she declares her intention to die, of course I changed my mind. Iphigenia has somehow, suddenly, decided to sacrifice herself for the greater good (a Greek victory over the Trojans). She does what her father, the king, wants her to do. At this point Agamemnon is no longer merely her father; he embodies the wishes and needs of Greece. By submitting to his wishes she becomes one with her people.

I think that to some degree Iphigenia is also caught up in the patriarchal dream of glory and conquest. By sacrificing herself she also gives up the prospect of marriage and children, which was undoubtedly the way that women of her society achieved their status.

Kelley N Cunningham
02:19 AM ET (US)
I thought this week was Plato's Apology and Crito at least that's Death for a PRinciple in the syllabus. Maybe I am confused.

Evie Thibault
01:14 AM ET (US)
Hey everyone. I don't know if anyone else had trouble finding the reading, but it is available online at

I'll just comment on a couple of things that jumped out at me.

First is Iphigenia's transition from "What does the wedding of Paris and Helen have to do with me?" to "I am resolved to die." She begins quite upset and sullen about the whole thing, but transitions rapidly to complete acceptance. She is actually more firm in her decision to die than Agamemnon is in his decision to sacrfice her. Her understanding of her sacrifice changes from just dying because of Paris and Helen to dying to save Hellas from barbarian invasions. In a way, she chooses what she is dying for. On a basic level, her death is to enable ships to move on to Troy. On a higher level, her death is to preserve her society. She chooses the noble death instead of the pragmatic. My favorite quote is, "This is my enduring moment: marriage, motherhood, and fame--all these it is to me." In this one act, she marries death, plays mother to her city, and gains fame for her sacrifice.

On a side note, we have another disobedient wife in this play. Clytaemenstra refuses to leave when Agamemnon orders her, saying, " the house it is my place to decide what is proper for maidens at their wedding." So marriage is a woman's domain, or at least it is in Greek drama.

There's a larger conflict here between the mandates of society and the mandates of the gods. At points, society and the gods seem to frown on sacrificing your own child. However, it is the gods decree for the stability of society for Iphigenia to be sacrificed. The tension makes it difficult for characters to make firm decisions. Iphigenia is the one who summons the strength to do what is necessary. There is also some uncertainty as to whether the seer was speaking the truth, or even if the seer was ever actually inspired by the gods. How much open questioning of oracles and seers was allowed? Or is this just anther example of human ignorance in the affairs and wills of the gods?
Carolina CamargoPerson was signed in when posted
09:29 PM ET (US)

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