This article attempts to answer how Socrates made money and was able to live fine despite being a full-time philosopher before his death.
It is a myth that Socrates was very poor. One source had written that in his days, at the time when a skilled worker earned around 5 drachmas a day, Socrates’ 1/5th wealth was 100 drachmas— a thing to show that he might not be as poor as we’ve been made to believe.
Not only this, but nearly every reason points to the fact that he lived fine. Our concern, in any case, is what was Socrates’ source of wealth?
To begin with, Socrates must have made some money as a hoplite in the Peloponnesian war. Hoplites were wealthy citizen-soldiers of the ancient Greek city-states, in the words of TheCollector. It should be noteworthy to remind ourselves that the hoplites despite being the most armed, were to provide their own supplies and equipment.
But being a hoplite was worth it. They not only gained fame and became respected members of the military, they were paid what appeared to be a significant amount of money, back in the day: anywhere between one to two drachmas daily.
This narrative should remove all doubt that Socrates, at least at a point— as Encyclopedia puts it, was wealthy.
The question however hasn’t changed. Considering that he was from a poor background as we’re often told, how did Socrates manage to be a hoplite?
A historical source proposed that Socrates’ family had the moderate wealth to cater to his pursuit of hoplite infantryman, contrary to the commonly-held belief.
Plausibly, another possible way Socrates earned money or acquired part of his wealth and was able to survive despite being engrossed in philosophy may be by taking up his inheritance. Socrates’ parents weren’t so poor and he didn’t have siblings who would vy for their wealth with him. How?
His father Sophroniscus was a stonemason and operative stonemasons, according to Forthright.space/ were part of the middle class at the time.
Similarly, Phaenarete (or Fainareti), Socrates’ mother, was a midwife. Not to make any actual assertions—since we are not privy to how much midwifery earned ancient Greek women, we admittedly simply speculate that being an all-time important profession, Phaenarete may have acquired some wealth on her own as well.
What’s more, Socrates has been said to have been an only child of his parents, although he had a half-sibling Patrocles whom his mother had with Chaeredemus, her second husband according to Wikipedia.
In the same vein, Socrates himself was a stonemason—the craft he picked up from learning under his father. And what is probable is that the job will be more lucrative at his time than his father’s.
Read Also: What is Socrates best known for?
More like it, Socrates had friends who were notably wealthy and ready to help their friend in his insistence to make a living out of the penniless art of Philosophy.
Among others, Crito was one of those friends. He reportedly gave Socrates some money before we had him insist on helping Socrates escape by parting with whatever amount of money that’d cost him (an offer Socrates would turn down). Socrates had some other friends who were like Crito.
To wrap up, several reasons point to the fact that Socrates must have made a living by (1) being a hoplite in the Peloponnesian war (2) working as a stonemason (3) inheriting the wealth of his parents, and also by (4) making friends with some of the rich in ancient Greek.
But you don’t wanna leave yet, there’s more, only they may not actually be plausible speculations. Socrates had also probably earned a living by:
- Being a researcher. Sources hold that by researching and knowing some of the best professionals including tutors within and without Athens at the time, Socrates may have also earned as a consultant. The wealthy citizens asked him for recommendations.
- Being a husband. Socrates’ wife Xanthippe may have been ill-tempered indeed but she wasn’t a bad wife. This is evident in the fact that Socrates was able to render his service to the gods as he wanted despite being in union with Xanthippe.
But what’s more, we learnt that Xanthippe (while still with him) tended their Olive garden and wine yard and fed Socrates and their three children.
- Although Socrates defended himself at his trial that he charged nothing for teaching others—the truth of which was confirmed by Xenophon, among others, it is noteworthy that he taught children of the rich and may have, as a result, been provided food and materials alike by his students. Some scholars have, in fact, argued that Socrates was paid in barter.