The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life by Bettany Hughes
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|The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life by Bettany Hughes|
|Reviewer: Laura Bailey|
|Summary: The Hemlock Cup fleshes out the life of a man who everyone has heard of, but no one know much about. It illuminates the city around Socrates, the city he was passionate about, and identifies the influences and events that moulded one of the most important thinkers of all time.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 544||Date: September 2011|
|External links: Author's website|
We don't know much about Socrates. For someone whose ideas are still so relevant so long after his death, his life is something of a mystery. He didn't like to write things down, and so Hughes begins this book by saying that it may have something of a 'Socrates-sized hole' in it. What we do see is the city of Athens, and the hugely important changes which were going on there while Socrates was alive. In Athens we see the beginnings of democracy, the seedlings of some of the ideas that we take for granted today, such as freedom of speech, and the right to a fair trial. This was an important time in the development of modern values, and Socrates was an important man. He was not only a brilliant thinker, he was also a man that didn't quite fit, infuriating to converse with, yet fascinating to be around.
Therefore The Hemlock Cup explores the life that Socrates probably would have led, as far as history has been able to tell. Bettany Hughes is an historian, and it is from that perspective more than the perspective of a biographer that Socrates' story is told . It is the physical city of Athens that the author brings to life, through its history. And she really does bring it to life. Hughes' writing is full of the kind of earthy, real-life details and personality that can make events from thousands of years ago seem real and relevant to a modern reader.
Hughes gives us vivid descriptions, not only of Athens as it was in Socrates' day, but also as it stands today, and her experiences as she hunts for clues to Socrates' life. In that sense this book could almost be read as a guide to Athens for those who want to follow the trail of the great philosopher. The strong sense of the city that this book inspires will more likely than not make you want to visit Athens and follow the paths that Hughes describes. If I do ever go to Athens I will definitely be taking this book along.
This book is extensively researched, and comprehensive. We are given illustrations that are assimilated into the text, quotations, maps, photographs, a dramatis personnae of the people in Socrates' life, a comprehensive time line of people and events, endnotes, two appendices and a huge bibliography. This book is as all encompassing as it can be. For anyone who has felt that they should know more about Socrates, one of the most enigmatic of figures, which is probably most people, The Hemlock Cup has to be the best place to start.
I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
Further reading suggestion: If you're interested in reading more around the subject of philosophy, then try Breakfast with Socrates by Robert Rowland Smith, or alternatively for another important and enigmatic historical figure, try Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life by Bettany Hughes at Amazon.com.
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