By viewing the painting The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David, Socrates’ loyalty to the Athenian government was far more important to him than his own death or friendship. He was more interested in teaching his students about his belief in reason and the law of justice before he died. Still, the students and friends were arguing with him and trying to convince him to renounce his teachings. Socrates was strong in telling his students how it was for the good of society that he drinks the poison hemlock. He was not going to change what he was teaching all along when he truly believed in the democratic Athenian government laws. Socrates’ loyalty to the government was much stronger than the ties of friendship or acquaintances.
In the painting, Socrates’ posture is very defiant. His left arm is upraised and firmly pointing. His right arm is more relaxed while he was looking away from the poison he was reaching for. Reaching for the cup was an afterthought and unimportant to him. Also, the chains were just lying on the floor. They were not being used to restrain him. No one was restraining him or forcing him to drink the poison. He is willfully reaching out for the cup. Everyone in the room was crying except for Socrates. The man that was handing the poison to Socrates could not even bear to look at Socrates’ face. The man is looking the opposite direction. His hand is covering his eyes. He almost looks ashamed to be handing Socrates the poison.
Even though Socrates was on his deathbed, he was still teaching and arguing with his students. He wanted his students and friends to understand that it was for the good of society that he dies. I believe Socrates was thinking about the future and how his death would be a lesson for someone else. Socrates was also telling his students that he was not going to disobey the law. Socrates’ students and friends could have taken him to another city. That would have made Socrates a liar about what he was teaching all along. Even though the students and friends were crying and grieving over Socrates’ death, Socrates was not comforting them or fleeing to another city. Socrates was just teaching them his strong belief in justice and loyalty to the government. This was very devastating to his friends.
Indeed, this painting was, and still is so dramatic! To think that one’s beliefs can be so concrete that they would pay the price with their life shows complete integrity. Socrates was tremendously brave to drink the poison and die instead of fleeing with his friends. The respect he must have had for his government is beyond belief. By drinking the hemlock and ending his life, Socrates made a lasting impression upon his students. Socrates’ students now could maybe go to other places and spread his great wisdom. If Socrates would have renounced his beliefs or fled to another city, this amazing work of art would not exist today.