Socrates may have never visited Summit County when he was alive, but Breckenridge resident Patrick McWilliams is resurrecting the ancient Greek philosopher today and bringing him to the High Country.
As part of the American Library Association's annual Banned Books Week, Summit County libraries are sponsoring the premier performance of a one-act play, "The Trial of Socrates: A Juror Speaks," written, performed and directed by McWilliams, assistant librarian at the South Branch Library in Breckenridge. The 45-minute show will take place at 7 p.m. today in the Buffalo Mountain Room at County Commons near Frisco.
The play is based on Plato's "Apology" and several scholars' modern studies of Socrates and the trial that condemned him to death.
In 399 B.C.E., Athenian citizens charged Socrates with defying the gods of Athens and corrupting young people. McWilliams' one-man play consists of two characters: Socrates as he defends himself and a juror explaining his decision. During the performance, McWilliams distinguishes the two characters in the play through voice, gestures and his position on stage.
"What hooked me on this was that 220 of the 500 jurors voted 'not guilty,' but then (during the penalty phase) 80 of those 220 that voted for acquittal switched sides and voted for the death penalty," McWilliams said.
He said he believes the jurors' shift may be attributed to their frustration with Socrates, who continued to charge the Athenians with what was wrong with their thinking and justice system, and suggested he be given a reward instead of the death penalty. The juror in McWilliams' show conveys his reasoning for changing sides during the second phase of the trial. Audiences are also given the opportunity to hear the essence of Socrates' philosophy, as he expressed it during his trial.
McWilliams thinks the trial's principles are still relevant in today's society.
"I think we still have in every culture a propensity to think that people who don't conform to the norm should be feared," he said.
As a former literature and drama teacher, he said he's always had an interest in ancient Greece.
"Athens is the prototype of Western culture," he said. "I'm skeptical that it was the ideal democracy, but it was a democracy. Three of the greatest philosophers we've ever had - Aristotle, Plato and Socrates - came out of ancient Greece."
McWilliams has written other 45-minute plays based on ancient Greece, one of which is about a behind-the-scenes visit to an ancient Greek theater before a performance of Oedipus Rex.
He hopes to take "The Trial of Socrates: A Juror Speaks" and his other plays to colleges and schools. In the last two-and-a-half-years, he has given more than 50 performances of "The Gospel According to Mark" in churches across the country.
McWilliams' show at the County Commons today is free.