15 - Socrates without Plato: the Accounts of Aristophanes and Xenophon

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In the first of several episodes on Socrates, Peter discusses his portrayals in "The Clouds" of Aristophanes and in the works of the historian Xenophon.



Further Reading

• S. Ahbel-Rappe and R. Kamtekar (eds.), A Companion to Socrates (Oxford: Blackwell, 2005).

• D.R. Morrison, Bibliography of Editions, Translations and Commentary on Xenophon’s Socratic Writings, 1600-Present (Pittsburgh: 1988).

• W. Prior (ed.), Socrates: Critical Assessments of Leading Philosophers, 4 vols (London: 1996).

• D.K. O’Connor, “Socrates and Political Ambition: The Dangerous Game” in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy 14 (1998), 31-52.

• M. Trapp, Socrates from Antiquity to the Enlightenment (Aldershot: 2007).

• P.A. Vander Waerdt (ed.), The Socratic Movement (Ithaca: 1994).

• Xenophon, Conversations of Socrates, trans. H. Treddenick and R. Waterfield (London: 1990).

Aristophanes, "The Clouds": online text

Stanford Encylopedia: Socrates


Renee Vaughn on 30 May 2014

artistic sophistry

Fascinating to learn that the snobbery towards people who work for money started so long ago.

The question of whether or not art is more pure if done for virtue rather than commerce is a great way to liven up a really dull cocktail party.

So Socrates is responsible for para-artist-ism! It would be wonderful to go back and see how the western world would have evolved without Socratic virtue.

Thanks for giving me the info I needed for a guest blog on writing and the internet! I might have to start sending you royalties if I start making money of my writing. :)

jim on 21 September 2015


HOw Can socrates be  a Pacifist is he he was in the wars with Sparta..

In reply to by jim

Peter Adamson on 22 September 2015


Yes, I agree - there's no reason to say he was a pacifist and he fought with distinction in the war. I didn't say that he was a pacifist, did I? I certainly hope not!

chicken patty on 9 March 2016


You said in the last episode that Plato was mind shattering smart. How do we know these people aren’t figures that have been exaggerated to the extreme. Instead of having a few very smart people how can it be certain that all these dialogues weren’t written by a team/school of people. So, instead of having Plato the genius you have a school of very bright minds in one collective union publishing books. Regardless those writing are some of the wisest things that can be read. But if people didn’t have such a high idol to look up to maybe the pursuit of ethical living wouldn’t feel so daunting. 

In reply to by chicken patty

Peter Adamson on 10 March 2016

Team Plato

Well, in a sense what you're saying is even true, in that there was a school gathered around Plato and they wrote works imitating his style (there are a number of extant works that are ascribed to Plato but thought by modern scholars to be by his followers). But there isn't any reason to doubt Plato wrote the dialogues: we have extensive historical evidence about Plato and his works, including not least from his student Aristotle who mentions Plato and engages with ideas from the dialogues. Plus, they hang together very well as an intellectual project. I agree that it is mind-bendingly impressive, but then so are the works of Shakespeare and Mozart. It happens sometimes.

Brendan Berney on 6 June 2016

socrates biographies

Thanks for the great podcast! It's a shame he lived at a time when you could be executed for impiety and teaching the youth to question everything. Any interesting biographies on him that you've read? 

In reply to by Brendan Berney

Peter Adamson on 6 June 2016


Well, the best biography is of course by Plato, in the Apology etc! But beyond that I would start with the Stanford Encyclopedia article recommended in the further reading list above.

Gigi on 12 June 2016


I really appreciate your work. I noticed that you don't have any modern philo. I was wondering if you could recommend me an equally good source for history of modern philo / philo that's missing here. Thank you!

In reply to by Gigi

Peter Adamson on 13 June 2016


Well, there is nothing like this podcast for modern philosophy, at least until I get there! Of course there are lots of handbooks, companions, and so on from major academic publishers. You could start with volumes from the Cambridge Companion series on various modern figures, for instance, or the Oxford Handbook of Philosophy in Early Modern Europe.

F1278394766 on 22 June 2020

If their was video to go

If their was video to go along with this, that would be just the best.

Side Note : The history of Philosphy , the history of Science the history of Relgion. should really be three tought classes in highschool.


In reply to by F1278394766

Peter Adamson on 22 June 2020


Totally agree on the side note! As for videos, I have done some and boy oh boy are videos a pain compared to podcasts. So what I've done in that direction is not as extensive but there is a ten lecture series on women in ancient and medieval philosophy plus I did a series of short promos for this series, "History of Philosophy's Greatest Hits". All available on YouTube:

Peter's ten video series on Women Thinkers in Antiquity and the Middle Ages

Greatest Hits video: Socrates

Rafael on 1 August 2021

This episode won't play on Spotify

Hi, just discovered this podcast and started listening from the beginning on spotify. Unfortunately, some episodes won't play no matter what I do. Tried to listen here, on the website, and it ain't working either. Does anyone know why it is happening to some episodes? So far, ep 15, 17 and 25 are the ones I couldn't listen to.

In reply to by Rafael

Peter Adamson on 1 August 2021

Defective episodes

Hi there - Just tried on the site here and it seems to work. I have had this before where listeners reported a problem that then seemed to fix itself, so maybe try again. But if you still have trouble please let me know. Thanks for listening!

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