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September 19, 2010

When thinking of famous martyrs in history, Socrates name often comes to the top of the list.  Socrates was put to death because he believed in his values so strongly; he choose death rather than not being true to those values.  The effects of Socrates’ martyrdom were not tangible by physical change, but by a change in thinking.

 Many other famous martyrs in history are famous because of the measurable changes that happen because of their fight.  Another famous Greek martyr was King Leonidas I, hailing from Sparta.  King Leonidas made a famous stand against the Persian Army to protect his homeland from a foreign invader at Thermopylae.  He died fighting to protect his people from foreign subjugation and the people of Sparta were saved largely due to his efforts.

Socrates and Leonidas were both Greek martyrs fighting for a cause but their techniques in doing so were very different.  Some may think Leonidas was the more successful martyr because his death raised him to instant heroic status; his success couldn’t be contested by opposition.  This is all true and the people of his time were in his gratitude but Leonidas victory was not timeless.  The glory of his victory was eroded over time by subsequent Spartan defeats.   Socrates on the other hand was not revered as a great hero by the majority of his peers.  His influence was felt most forcefully in later generations and in a way much different than a martyr such as the likes of Leonidas.  Socrates fought for a victory in people’s minds by trying to change their thinking to help them find happiness and meaning in their life. The battle he fought was much tougher than one fought with swords and arrows.  Socrates made many Athenians challenge typical views of the day and mentored many influential philosophers such as Plato who founded the academy. The academy in turn exponentially increased Socrates’ influence by instructing teachers so they could instruct future generations along Socrates’ line of thinking.

All martyr’s die for a cause but the scope of the cause varies greatly.  Socrates should be held in much higher regard than other martyrs such as Leonidas because their glory is gained from a single battle while Socrates has been fighting a war against prevailing notions about life in the centuries since his death.


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