Format Hardcover
Publication Date 02/06/24
ISBN 9781639365821
Trim Size / Pages 6 x 9 in / 320

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The Shadows of Socrates

The Heresy, War, and Treachery Behind the Trial of Socrates

Matt Gatton

The death of Socrates may be the most famous unsolved murder in history. Set during the Peloponnesian War, this narrative solves that mystery, revealing for the first time how the philosopher was set up, who did it, and why.

The influence of the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates has been profound. Even today, over two thousand years after his death, he remains one of the most renowned humans to have ever lived, occupying a stratum with the likes of Buddha, Jesus, Muhammed, Confucius, and Moses. It may not be too much to say that Socrates is the single most recognizable name in the history of all humanity.

The death of Socrates is, in some ways, the most famous unsolved murder mystery in history. This book will solve the mystery, revealing for the first time how he was set up, who did it, and why. What follows is not a philosophical tract but something closer to a novel—made all the more compelling because it’s true. This is a real-life whodunit intertwined with a long running war, rivalry, sex addiction, betrayal, sedition, starvation, and epic bravery. Socrates was the most rational of men living in the most irrational of times.

There is another side to this story: impiety, lack of reverence for the gods, was a religious crime. From the perspective of the religious authorities of the time, the charge of impiety against Socrates was warranted, his trial just, and the penalty appropriate. The priests did not tolerate scrutiny, even in the form of philosophical critique. To understand what happened and how it happened, we have to come to terms with the motives of the priests, and as importantly, Socrates’ motives in provoking them. His trial is perhaps first, but not last, great battle between philosophy and religion.

The repercussions of this ancient epic apply equally to the West today, as Athens also endured pendulum swings between democracy and oligarchy—always with bloodshed, and never with Socrates’s approval.

 Matt Gatton is a scholar based in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is a pioneer of the study of the ritual and aesthetic uses of physical light in prehistory and classical antiquity. Gatton’s groundbreaking work on optical distortions at Lascaux was published in the Journal of Applied Mathematics; and his work on the ritual use of optics at the influential ancient Greek temple of Eleusis was published by Oxford University Press. Gatton has presented his work at the Institute of Archaeology at Oxford, the University of Cologne, Slovak University, and Vanderbilt University. 

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Endorsements & Reviews

Praise for The Shadows of Socrates:
"This book could save our democracy." -Marie Bass, a founding mother of Emily's List
"In this dazzling work of resourceful sleuthing, Matt Gatton just may have invented an entirely new genre: The philosophical thriller. The Shadows of Socrates transports us back to a pivotal moment from classical times, but it’s a tale that feels strangely, hauntingly current, with familiar clashes of titanic egos and sly intrigues that might easily unfold in Washington or Moscow today."
Hampton Sides, New York Times bestselling author of Blood and Thunder, Hellhound on His Trail, and On Desperate Ground
“A thrilling and important epiphany of a book. Like Socrates himself—the stubborn philosophical hero of this reexamination of the most famous trial of all time—Matt Gatton leads us out of the confusing shadows of historical misperception into the blinding light of reasoned analysis and understanding. In Gatton’s skillful hands, the vexed trial of Socrates becomes not only an intelligible political and legal event but itself a powerful indictment of religious control and power over the human mind.” Rep. Jamie Raskin, New York Times bestselling author of Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth and the Trials of American Democracy
"In Socrates’s Athens—a fragile democracy addicted to imperialist adventures and idol-worship—pondering the concepts of truth and justice could easily become a capital offense. Matt Gatton guides us down the twisted path that led to the philosopher’s trial and forced suicide, resurrecting a pair of villains who'd be comfortable in today’s political scene." John Sayles, novelist, director, screenwriter, MacArthur Fellow, two-time Academy Award nominee for best original screenplay
"I tore through The Shadows of Socrates in three sittings. An absolutely fantastic read—an amazing human story about the life, times, trial, and execution of Socrates. There is much in this story that is new, including striking discoveries about the Mysteries of Eleusis and how that enigmatic ritual connects to Socrates’s Allegory of the Cave and his execution. This is history writing at its best—fascinating, vivid, and shocking. I would easily put The Shadows of Socrates on the same level as the books of Barbara Tuchman or Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. I highly recommend it.” Douglas Preston, #1 New York Times bestselling author