Socrates, 469-399 B.C., Greek philosopher of Athens, is generally regarded as one of the wisest people of all time. Socrates himself left no writings, and most of our knowledge of him and his teachings comes from the dialogues of his most famous pupil, Plato (427-347 B.C.), and from the memoirs of Xenophon.
Socrates is described as having neglected his own affairs, instead spending his time discussing virtue, justice, and piety wherever his fellow citizens congregated, seeking wisdom about right conduct so that he might guide the moral and intellectual improvement of Athens. Using a method now known as the Socratic dialogue, or dialectic, he drew forth knowledge from his students by pursuing a series of questions and examining the implications of their answers.
Socrates equated virtue with the knowledge of one's true self, holding that no one knowingly does wrong. He looked upon the soul as the seat of both waking consciousness and moral character, and held the universe to be purposively mind-ordered. His criticism of the Sophists and of Athenian political and religious institutions made him many enemies, and his position was burlesqued by Aristophanes.
In 399 B.C. Socrates was tried for corrupting the morals of Athenian youth and for religious heresies; it is now believed that his arrest stemmed in particular from his influence on Alcibiades and Critias, who had betrayed Athens. He was convicted and, resisting all efforts to save his life, willingly drank the cup of poison hemlock given him. The trial and death of Socrates are described by Plato in the Apology, Crito, and Phaedo.