What is it like to die from hemlock poisoning?

Could someone please provide me with a description, or with a reference to a description, of what it feels like subjectively to die from hemlock poisoning? In particular, is the description given by Plato of Socrates’ death at the end of the Phædo a plausible account?

Thank you.

Google, “hemlock poisoning symptoms”.


So Phaedro’s version is as follows:

Well, except for the fact that he seems to have left out the puking and drooling and twitching and severe pain and palpitations and convulsions and feelings of suffocation, and gone straight to the more romantic “paralysis”, I’d say yeah, it sounds pretty accurate. :smiley:
Er, is this homework, or are you just curious? :smiley:

My roommate has developed the theory that Plato, and Socrates before him, only appears to be a rationalist to us, because we don’t realize the context in which he wrote. In reality (my roommate believes) Plato and Socrates were full-blown mystics. Amoung the things he cites as evidence is the description of Socrates’ death, which he holds is actually a description of what one feels while entering into a trance state. My roommate read somewhere that the account of Socrates’ death given by Plato does not match what would have happened had he really died of hemlock poisoning. He (my roommate) felt that this bolstered his theory that Plato was really describing his master falling into a trance state followed by death, thereby attaining final and complete transcendental enlightenment.

I think your roommate is probably right, but bear in mind that it might not have had anything to do with “enlightenment”, just “entertainment”. It makes a better story to have Socrates lie down nobly and die quietly. Nobody would have bought it if the story had had him puking and drooling and convulsing. People back then weren’t into that sort of 20th-century neurotic novelist angst.

And the bit about “remember I owe Whosis a cock” is a nice pathetic touch.

Today’s vocabulary word: “bathos”

The third meaning.

And now, a word from our sponsor: Picture This, the other excellent book by Joseph Heller.

“Death by hemlock is not as peaceful and painless as he [Plato] portrays: there is retching, slurring of speech, convulsions, and uncontrollable vomiting.”

“And the leather merchant Asclepius, you will find written here, son of the physician Eurymynedes, was as baffled as anyone to learn of the bequest from the slave who appeared on his doorstep in the morning with a live rooster in his arms. The authorities were curious also and took him into custody for questioning. They put him to death when he continued to profess his ignorance and would not reveal the code.” p.13

I remember that Asclepius was the god of healing; which could mean that Socrates was already ill, he was 70 years old in an era where many died earlier.


IMO it is possible Socrates was already in severe pain, and with a feeble body. Socrates “quiet” death could have been just plain luck. (Small comfort considering the situation)

But, his painless death could have been symbolic:
The symbolism being in the idea, at the time, that a swift painless death was a gift from the Gods and a sign that Socrates was innocent.

This (long) article asserts that Plato’s account was completely accurate.

Remember, just because a symptom is listed doesn’t mean everyone will get it, or that an account where someone doesn’t have it is unrealistic.

Sorry, didn’t realize this was an old question

It was originally posted by Socrates with a ‘need answer fast.’

It can’t be that bad, Zell Miller would rather die from hemlock than vote for Jim Martin

On December 2nd, the state of Georgia will hold a special run-off election between Republican Saxby Chambliss, and Democrat Jim Martin. Here to comment, is former Georgia senator Zell Miller.

Zell Miller: It’s good to be here, Seth!

Seth Meyers: So… you’re a registered Democrat, yet you’ve been campaigning pretty hard for the Republican candidate, Saxby Chambliss.

Zell Miller: **Seth, I would sooner drink hemlock than vote for that namby-pamby Jim Martin! **I mean, what kind of name is that – Jim Martin?! You know, back in my day, a guy named Jim Martin comes up to you and says he’s runnin’ for the Senate, you put him in a BARREL and send him over a WATERFALL!! I want a man up there with a name I can TRUST! A man with a name like the guys I grew up with! A man with a name like Saxby Chambliss! Or Zackamore Hooberry! Goolsby Scroggins! Mortimer Fapp! Derval Mackinaw! Ebenezer Yakbain! Jasper Quazzeltoot! I used to work in a saloon with a guy named Peabody Tilcutt! Now, I don’t know a thing about his politics, but I would vote for that man for President of the United States! Unless his running mate had a name like Jim Martin! That’s why I’m voting for Saxby Chambliss!

Seth Meyers: So, that’s the only reason you’re voting for him?

Zell Miller: What, just think of what will happen to this country if a man like Jim Martin is elected to the Senate! You know, next thing you know some guy named Mark Smith gets in there! And then John Brown! And then Mike Black! And then, soon the entire country is being run by Browns and Blacks!

Seth Meyers: You know, out of context, umm – that could sound pretty bad, so maybe you want to retract that last statement?

Zell Miller: ZELL MILLER RETRACTS NOTHING, SETH!!! ow, trust me, you do not want a guy like Jim Martin in the Senate!! Okay? You’d be much better off with a man named Bernhart Barnthistle!! Or Templeton Thappletrap! Fitzner Blout! Beezleton Kernwinkle! Kip Joggletog! You know, I’m kinda runnin’ out of names here – but you get the point! Oh, thought of another one: Clementine Dimplethippy!

Seth Meyers: So, this really is just about the name?

Zell Miller: [ outraged ] Oh, okay! It looks like we got a Jim Martin supporter here!! You’re lucky I left my scabbard in my hot air balloon!! Oh, got another one! Foster Macadoodledoodiedoo!!

Seth Meyers: [ amused ] Is that even a real name?

Zell Miller: [ stands and runs ] Oh, where’s that scabbard?! Where’s the scabbard?!

Seth Meyers: Alright, Zell Miller, everybody!

It’s been more than eleven years since I asked this question, but this was exactly the kind of answer I was looking for. Thanks :).