“The unexamined life is not worth living.” With these words, Socrates defended his actions in Plato’s Apology as he was being tried for impiously corrupting the minds of the young.
He was found guilty and sentenced to death for sharing his wisdom.
But failing to do so would have been a fate even worse than death. Perhaps this is why the Socrates tattoo has become so popular. It’s a means to display our love of wisdom, and an acknowledgment that death does not end the truth of our greatest words and deeds.
Another phrase, “know thyself,” is often attributed to Socrates but is probably far more ancient. Still, this honors his basic approach to learning and his contribution to the foundation of Western philosophy. Self knowledge is the highest form of knowledge that mankind can obtain. When we know ourselves, we become wiser in all things. We know our place in the universe.
It is one of the most humbling things we can contemplate as we follow the path to wisdom. And what is at the very beginning of this path? Socrates said that “wisdom begins with wonder.” A Socrates tattoo pays homage to the man who gave up life itself to share the gift of knowledge.