Born into the golden age of ancient Greece, Socrates (469 B.C.-399 B.C.) abandoned the trade handed down to him by his father and instead decided to pursue loftier goals--mainly philosophy.  In Greek philosophy means "the love of wisdom," and philosophers, a group that got its start in ancient Athens, dedicated their lives to the pursuit of wisdom.  Soon Socrates had gained a following of students, but unlike the sophists (another group of teachers in Athens) Socrates did not accept money for his services.  Also, while the sophists trained students to argue either side of an argument convincingly, Socrates wanted his students to pursue only the Truth.
         One of Socrates' brightest students was the philosopher Plato (428 B.C. - 348 B.C.), who wrote down many of his mentor's dialogues.  Plato captured Socrates' style of teaching, the Socratic Method.  Rather than handing out answers, Socrates asked questions--question after question after question.  Under his constant questioning, Socrates' students were forced to examine their own ideas and form new ones based on their own understanding.  Socrates wasn't after brainless disciples.  He was trying to create a new breed of thinkers, ones who explored the world with their minds.  (In many ways, ancient philosophers are the forerunners of modern scientists.)
         Socrates' students were such good pupils that they mastered his technique and began to use it on their own.  They began questioning everyone, even the government.  At this time the Athenian government was fighting a losing war with Sparta and did not have time for these ungrateful teenagers questioning the way things had always been.  To them philosophy sounded more like rebellion.  A group of powerful politicians brought charges against Socrates, accusing him of corrupting the youth of Athens with his bizarre ideas.  If convicted, Socrates would be forced to drink hemlock, a deadly poison. 
          Their charge was more of a scare tactic than anything.  They expected Socrates to back down, but being a man of principle he did not.  Surrounded by his closest friends, Socrates declared that he was willing to die in the name of wisdom and drank the fatal draught.
          After the death of Socrates, Plato founded his own school and kept the philosophical ideals of his master alive.  In time he went on to formulate many of his own ideas and write extensively on various subjects.  Plato's most famous work is
The Republic, a dialogue discussing the perfect society.  Plato's school met in a grove sacred to the Greek hero Academus.  They called his school "The Academy".


ABOVE:  The Death of Socrates

BELOW:  A Philosopher is Questioned by the City Guards