Socrates Comes To JFKU

A dramatic performance of SOCRATES NOW by Emmy Award winning actor and director Yannis Simonides of Elliniko Theatro (Greek Theater) of New York was held at the JFKU Pleasant Hill campus on Tuesday, November 1, 2016.” Presented in collaboration with the Modern Greek Studies Foundation, the performance attracted over ninety guests from the JFKU community of alumni, students, faculty and staff.

The play, based on the Apology of Socrates written by Plato over 2,400 years ago, depicts the argument that Socrates, then 70 years old, made to the jury of 501 male Athenian citizens in 399 B.C.E. in response to charges of impiety (disrespect of the gods) and corruption of the youth, a charge based on the practice of Socrates to publicly challenge the knowledge and assumptions of the elite with his famous “elenchus” or Socratic inquiry. Of course, Socrates claimed that he provided a great service to Athens to encourage citizens to lead a good life and that he should be rewarded for his service, not punished. The jury disagreed by a margin of about 30 votes and then sentenced him to death, which was carried out by drinking the famous hemlock potion provided to him while in prison.

As an observer of the trial itself, Plato, then only 27 years old, had a front row seat to the proceedings and wrote this famous dramatic piece several years after the trial. It is believed to be a reasonably accurate presentation of the major points that Socrates made during his address to the jury, albeit by one of his adoring students.

Mr. Simonides of Elliniko Theatro has performed this play over 450 times in over twenty countries, a testament to the interest generated by the famous philosopher across cultures and religions, and to his magnificent performance which was recently featured in a National Geographic documentary aired on PBS (The Greeks).” The message of Socrates, to care more for the nurturing of your soul and the quest for a morally sound life, rather than the pursuit of material gain or status, is a timeless plea that has resonated with millions of readers and listeners over millennia.

Professor Chris Kanios from the College of Law, who is also President of the board of directors of the Modern Greek Studies Foundation, first saw the performance in Athens, Greece, in 2015 while teaching a travel/study course on the Trial of Socrates with eight JFKU law students. The play was performed in a garden theater under the shadow of the Acropolis.” Conversations ensued over the course of a year and resulted in the Foundation and JFKU sponsoring a weeklong visit to the Bay Area.” Dean Barbieri, Dean of JFKU College of Law, helped to ensure that a performance of Socrates Now would be held at JFKU, “We wanted to bring this compelling theatrical experience to our community to inspire law students, faculty, and others to hold dear and respect the values of democracy, free speech, due process and personal integrity embodied by Socrates and evidenced in his argument to the jury.” Simonides received a rousing standing ovation following his performance and remained on stage to answer questions from the audience. It was a great night.

Chris Gus Kanios, Professor at John F. Kennedy University College of Law