Sophie's World | Study Guide

Jostein Gaarder

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Sophie's World | Chapter 7 : Socrates | Summary



Sophie receives a reply from her mentor and finally gets his name: Alberto Knox. He says he must decline her invitation but assures her they will meet when the time is right. He also says it is too risky to personally send his notes in the future, so he will do it via a messenger. He also asks her to take care of the red scarf, and Sophie assumes that Hilde must be another of his students.

A dog delivers the next packet, which is all about the Sophists and Socrates (470–399 BCE). The Sophists, including Protagoras (c. 485–410 BCE), claimed to be wise teachers, while Socrates thought, "wisest is she who knows she does not know." His habit of asking questions to encourage those around him to arrive at inner insight came to annoy people. This habit eventually led to his trial and execution by hemlock.


In a previous chapter Alberto told Sophie that philosophy could be a dangerous endeavor, and Socrates is a good example of that danger. To explain, Gaarder provides the clever metaphor of a deck of cards. When it comes to difficult questions, people usually insist they know the answer or they do not care to bother with them. But once in a while, a joker comes along and attempts to poke people into discussion that leads to real insight. Socrates was this joker in Athens, and he paid with his life for it.

Sophie herself is starting to live that danger. She has already lied to her mother about who she is corresponding with, telling her mother it is a boy her age. And after getting into a heated argument with Sophie about her strange behavior, her mother angrily closes her door. Thanks to the stirrings of philosophy, Sophie herself is becoming the joker who upsets the deck.

This danger is also hinted at with Alberto's cloak and dagger packet delivery. Readers may ask why it is "too risky in the long run" for him to deliver his letters himself, or why he has to use his dog for the task. These questions hint at major stakes if Alberto and Sophie should be caught. Alberto points out his messenger dog's name, Hermes, is significant. Hermes's namesake was the messenger for the Greek gods, gods whose existence has been questioned by the natural philosophers and Socrates, whose crime was defined as "introducing new gods and corrupting the youth." This is a clue that Sophie and Alberto will similarly be revealed as fictional characters. One could also argue that Alberto is to Sophie what Socrates was to the youth of Athens. Sophie's new penchant for musing certainly does not please Sophie's mother, Helene.

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