The real Socrates

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According to Adam Kirsch

There’s no reason to think that Xenophon’s dull moralist or Aristophanes’s comic foil is closer to the real Socrates than Plato’s philosopher — rather the contrary, since Plato was the closest to Socrates of any of them. But the three portraits are a reminder that we have no direct access to the real Socrates, whoever he was. We have only interpretations and texts, which both reveal and conceal

and

But it has always been a matter of debate whether the Socrates Plato writes about is a faithful reflection of the man who walked the streets of Athens. Certainly in the middle and later Platonic dialogues, Socrates seems to become more a mouthpiece for Plato’s own elaborate metaphysical doctrines than the straightforward “gadfly” of the early dialogues.

History is marbled through with fiction and distortion. For example, according to Dalya Alberge

He was a 19th-century explorer who risked his life to unearth a great secret – the source of the White Nile, a mystery since Alexander the Great first posed the question. But new research reveals that John Hanning Speke’s place in history was eclipsed by a jealous, charismatic rival, who stole the limelight by convincing others Speke was an unscrupulous, disloyal man devoid of emotion.

Previously unpublished documents cast fresh light on Speke, showing he was very different to the character portrayed by Sir Richard Burton, his travelling companion, whose denigrating image has long been accepted by historians.

Tim Jeal, author of a new book Explorers of the Nile, has unearthed evidence that has convinced him Speke’s achievements were “diminished by what a very skilful, clever but ultimately cynical person had done to him”.

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