The case is well made, and it will be interesting to see how it is received. But in a book so anxious to rescue the facts of Socrates’s life from the many useful fictions in which he has been cast, it is striking just how much D’Angour’s Socrates is a creature of our moment. When Alcibiades – the celebrity playboy of the age – threw himself at him, he is said to have resisted successfully: the relationship, he is supposed to have insisted, was spiritual and educational, and sex would only get in the way.
The traditional image of Socrates is that of a revolutionary thinker who was ‘always poor, always old, and always ugly.’ By taking a fresh look at ‘crucial, if scattered, strands of evidence’, however, Armand D’Angour believes the typical view of the philosopher can be turned on its head.
D’Angour reexamines existing sources on Socrates’ military career and concludes that he was ‘an impressive, even heroic, man of action’, and not just a saintly man of ideas who shunned wealth and status.
Armand D’Angour’s Socrates in Love is a terrific read. Part novelistic fantasy biography, part deeply serious, source-based reconstruction, it will appeal in varying ways and measures to readers of different tastes and personal predilections. At one level it is an – I think probably doomed – attempt at Sherlock Holmes-style detection. At another level it is a bid to fill in intelligently the yawning gap in our knowledge of Socrates’s life between his birth in 470 or 469 BC and his bursting onto the Athenian public military-political scene – or at least his appearance in the papyrus rolls of his disciples Plato and Xenophon and their later (sometimes much later) followers – in the 430s and 420s. The book’s overarching theme is a love story, a story that – in the best conspiracy-theory tradition – Socrates’s later advocates allegedly did their best to cover up, so successfully indeed that no one (or almost no one) before D’Angour got wind of it.