An Ancient Greek water clock, from The Greeks documentary
An Ancient Greek water clock, from The Greeks documentary

In the year 399 BC, seventy years after he was born, Socrates was brought before the Athenian court on charges of impiety and corrupting the city's youth.

His belief that the gods must be good or otherwise not be gods ran contrary to almost all Greek mythology, which is filled with jealous and self-serving deities, and the jury had little difficulty in finding him guilty.

The second charge of corrupting the city's youth raised a dilemma. Should Socrates be held responsible for the actions of his pupils, particularly those among them who had joined the tyrants?

Timed by a water clock, the old philosopher remained as stubborn as ever. Far from corrupting the city, he argued, his life of questioning had done it nothing but good.

Plato's 'Apology' records what Socrates said:

'To put it bluntly I've been assigned to this city as if to a large horse which is inclined to be lazy and is in need of some great stinging fly and all day long I'll never cease to settle here, there, everywhere, rousing and reproving every one of you.'

The huge jury was infuriated, finding him guilty by 281 votes to 220. But worse was to come...