“Kümmert euch nicht um Sokrates”

It is obvious that the title of the three television plays means the opposite of what it literally says: People ought to care for Socrates and, at the same time, keep in mind how the sentence continues: “Care for the truth!” The Greek philosopher Plato (427-347 B.C.) makes Socrates utter these words. We do not possess a written text nor reliable evidence of a statement. Rather, it is Plato’s dialogues which have conveyed the gestalt of Socrates as an exemplary incarnation of philosophical existence to the following centuries up to the present day. The language of these television plays can be understood by everyone without being shallow and oversimplifying. It is never peripatetic but frequently as exciting as a thriller.

1. Wortmißbrauch und Macht – Ein Abend mit dem Gorgias des Platon

86 minutes, black and white—direction: Walter Rilla—production: Bayerischer Rundfunk 1962

A university teacher, a popular writer, a parliamentarian, a young journalist and an intelligent female companion, all of them modern people, start a conversation with each other and turn unawares into the characters of Plato’s dialogue Gorgias. The namesake of this dialogue is a verbalist who pursues the success of the moment; he is a radical who disrespectfully ignores all moral values, a brutal politician striving for power. His counterpart is Socrates, a philosopher who offers resistance by means of superior and sometimes sarcastic irony, as well as by a truly serious manner. This dialogue is frequently interrupted by the inquisitive woman who asks for information which the modern reader of Plato also requires.

2. Platons Gastmahl

61 minutes, black and white—direction: Walter Rilla—production: Bayerischer Rundfunk 1965

After a successful opening night at the theater, the poet Agathon invites a small circle of friends to a symposium. Among them are the comedy writer Aristophanes and, what is more important, Socrates. Instead of drinking, they decide to talk in turn about the subject of “love.” The last one to talk is Socrates. He reports a story about Eros heard from the priest Diotima: the ascent of Eros from sensual delight up to the apprehension of divine beauty. After this report Alcibiades, noisy and inebriated, breaks into the circle and makes a speech on Socrates which is at the same time burlesque and tragically serious.

3. Der Tod des Sokrates

81 minutes, black and white—direction: Walter Rilla—production: Bayerischer Rundfunk 1967

In this play, Pieper links three Platonic works with one another. Firstly, the Apology, in which Phaedo angrily reports about Socrates’ apology. His anger is due to the fact that Socrates, the accused, defends himself less strongly than necessary in the light of the judges’ challenge. Secondly, the dialogue Crito, which reports the futile attempt to persuade Socrates to flee from jail. Finally, the dialogue Phaedo, which includes ideas about immortality, one’s judgement after death and Socrates’ dying.