The other day I found a different way to look at my wanderlust. I was reading The Last Days of Socrates by Plato, translated by Hugh Tredennick. It details the trial, conviction, and execution of Socrates in 399BC. A self-described “gadfly,” Socrates would often engage in dialectics, or pointed conversations, with those who believed themselves to be wise. He embarrassed and enraged many members of the Athenian aristocracy, but his ultimate objective was not malicious. He was simply puzzled by the Delphic Oracle’s divine proclamation that he (Socrates) was the wisest man alive.1 He states this in his appeal to the jury, which was made up largely of the men who he had annoyed:
If you put me to death, you will not easily find anyone to take my place. It is literally true (even if it sounds rather comical) that God has specially appointed me to this city, as though it were a large thoroughbred horse which because of its great size is inclined to be lazy and needs the stimulation of some stinging fly. It seems to me that God has attached me to this city to perform the office of such a fly; and all day long I never cease to settle here, there, and everywhere, rousing, persuading, reproving every one of you. You will not easily find another like me, gentlemen, and if you take my advice you will spare my life. I suspect, however, that before long you will awake from your drowsing, and in your annoyance you will take Anytus’ advice and finish me off with a single slap; and then you will go on sleeping till the end of your days, unless God in his care for you sends someone to take my place.2
After refusing to put on a show for jury, he is found guilty of impiety and corruption of the Athenian youth. He is condemned to death for his crimes. As he is waiting to be executed, Crito, an old friend and admirer, begs Socrates to escape. He tells Socrates that he has arranged all the necessary bribes and that he can have him on a ship out of Athens within the night. Assuming the persona of the Laws and Constitution of Athens as the counterpart in his dialectic, Socrates confronts himself in order to determine whether he has the power to disobey and thereby destroy the laws that were established by his ancestors and the state that raised him:
Any Athenian, on attaining to manhood and seeing for himself the political organization of the State and us its Laws, is permitted, if he is not satisfied with us [the constitution and the laws], to take his property and go away wherever he likes. If any of you chooses to go to one of our colonies, supposing that he should not be satisfied with us and the State, or to emigrate to any other country, not one of us Laws hinders or prevents him from going away wherever he likes, without any loss of property. On the other hand, if any one of you stands his ground when he can see how we administer justice and the rest of our public organization, we hold that by so doing he has in fact undertaken to do anything that we tell him; and we maintain that anyone who disobeys is guilty of doing wrong on three separate counts: first because we are his parents, 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; and although all our orders are in the form of proposals, not of savage commands, and we give him the choice of either persuading us or doing what we say, he is actually doing neither. These are the charges, Socrates, to which we say that you will be liable if you do what you are contemplating; and you will not be the least culpable of your fellow-countrymen, but one of the most guilty.
If I said 'Why do you [the laws] say that?' they would no doubt pounce upon me with perfect justice and point out that there are very few people in Athens who have entered into this agreement with them as explicitly as I have. They would say 'Socrates, we have substantial evidence that you are satisfied with us and with the State. You would not have been so exceptionally reluctant to cross the borders of your country if you had not been exceptionally attached to it. You have never left the city to attend a festival or for any other purpose, except on some military expedition; you have never travelled abroad as other people do, and you have never felt the impulse to acquaint yourself with another country or constitution; you have been content with us and with our city. You have definitely chosen us, and undertaken to observe us in all your activities as a citizen; and as the crowning proof that you are satisfied with our city, you have begotten children in it.3
Through this logic, Socrates determines that he must decline Crito’s offer of escape and remain in his cell, awaiting execution. After enjoying the benefits and protections of the state, Socrates would be “one of the most guilty” citizens of Athens if he were to break the law for his own selfish purposes. He had a hand, however small, in shaping the laws and the constitution that had condemned him, and could have moved at any time had he found Athens wanting. Socrates would find justice only in death.