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The Vagabond

"DEATH, THOU SHALT DIE . . ."

NO WRITER ATTRIBUTED

Socrates sat up on his couch and rubbed his leg where the chains had grated against the skin. Dusty streaks of the afternoon sun cut through the prison window. At his feet fourteen men squatted on the floor and marvelled at his quiet courage in the face of--death. Was this death, they thought, do men ever die this way?

The old man's voice was soft and gentle, but his soul was on fire. He, the true philosopher, was defending death--death that plucked out the nails of earthly pleasure and pain which had riveted the soul to the body and had prevented man from seeing absolute beauty, absolute wisdom, and absolute truth. He spoke of many proofs of immortality, but his hearers needed only one: the man himself. Socrates as he was dying was never more intensely, more crucially alive. He was not losing Life, he was gaining it, even though in a few minutes. . .

In a few minutes--the sun was on the hilltops; at sunset the poison must be taken. Soon the jailor entered and strangely broke down and wept as he announced that the potion had been prepared. Crito begged Socrates to delay; there was still time enough to relax and eat and drink.

Socrates smiled, then asked for the cup. "I do not think I should gain anything by drinking the poison a little later," he said. "I should be sparing and saving a life which is already gone; I could only laugh at myself for this." There was silence deep as death as the jailor brought in the poison. He could make no libation to the gods, Socrates learned; there was only just "enough."

"I understand," he raised his eyes and saw the trail of the sun far in the west. Softly he spoke, "yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey to that other world--may this, then, which is my prayer be granted to me." Raising the cup to his lips, quickly he drank off the poison.

Today at twelve o'clock the Vagabond will go to Emerson 211 to hear Professor Wild lecture on the closing portion of Plato's "Phacdo" describing the last conversation of Socrates.

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