Dr. J's Illustrated Plato's
check out Plato's Apology Study Questions!
study guide is keyed to Penguin's Last Days of Socrates, translated by Hugh
Although his accusers
have not spoken the truth, Socrates says he will. But while they use "flowery language
decked out with fine
words and phrases," Socrates will
defend himself "in the same
language which it has been my habit to use, both around the trading stalls of the market
place (where many of you have heard me) and elsewhere
" (37). Socrates refers here to the Agora (left), the large open area
in the heart of ancient Athens where people came to conduct business or visit temples or
relax and engage in more casual interactions in the many open areas. Plato mentions the
agora as a frequent haunt for Socrates in many dialogues.
in the dialogue that leads into the Apology - the Euthyphro - Socrates
discusses the nature of justice with Euthyphro outside the Stoa Basileos (upper left), or
"Royal Stoa," since he is awaiting to appear before the King Archon (in charge
of religious matters) on the charge of impiety. The charge was then posted on the public
noticeboard in front of the statues of the Eponymous Heroes (upper right). In our second
dialogue - the Apology - Plato presents the trial of Socrates, in which
Socrates is given an opportunity to refute the charges against him. The setting of the
third and fourth dialogues in the series is his jail cell in Athens' prison. In the Crito,
Socrates explains his refusal to escape from jail, and in the Phaedo, he
executes his own death sentence by voluntarily drinking a cup of poison hemlock. We know
exactly what room Socrates was in in the jail, for he goes into an adjoining room to
bathe, sparing his undertakers that task. There is only one room in the prison that
adjoins a bath (illustration pending).
OK - Back to the Apology:
that he will refute the charges unfairly brought against him and do so within the time
limit. Socrates refers to the habit of Athenian courts using a water clock, or
to time speakers. Here are two types of klepsydra: (1) an actual Athenian klepsydra -
Agora museum - used in exactly the situation Socrates describes and (2) a fixed (not
portable) klepsydra on site at Oropos, site of a cult of the local hero
size of the klepsydra determines the length of time it is meant to measure.
Socrates repeats the two main
charges that have been brought against him (39): "Socrates is committing an injustice, in that he inquires into things
below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and
teaches others to follow his example." In effect, he denies being a cosmologist (or pre-Socratic philosopher)
who seeks physical explanations rather than divine ones for everyday phenomena, and he
denies being a sophist, who teaches his students to use slick rhetoric and "unjust
logic" to avoid responsibility and obligation. Socrates rightly claims that he was
unfairly portrayed as such by the playwright Aristophanes in his 423 BC comedy, The Clouds as a teacher of "unjust
logic" to those seeking a way to weasel out of their financial obligations. Socrates
hopes that the jurymen will judge Socrates by their experience of him, rather than by such
libelous portrayals of what he actually does.
Socrates refutes the charge that
he is a sophist by denying that he is "expert
in perfecting the virtues of people in a society" and furthermore by refusing to accept money from the "students"
he does have. Socrates pleads ignorance of what makes men "good."
Socrates explains that far from being irreligious,
he is in fact on a mission from god (so that's where the Blues Brothers got it
from...) to justify the Oracle of Delphi: "Well, one day [Chaerephon] actually went to Delphi and asked this
question of the god...what he asked was whether there was anyone wiser than myself. The
Pythian princess replied that there was no one." Socrates explains that
"I realized with distress and alarm that I was making myself
unpopular, but I felt compelled to put the god's business first; since I was trying to
find out the meaning of the oracle, I was bound to interview everyone who had a reputation
interviewed politicians, poets, and craftsmen, but he found that none of them showed wisdom.
So Socrates concluded that the Oracle was indeed right: no man is wiser than Socrates
because only Socrates admits that he is not wise at all. Unfortunately, Socrates' method
caused many powerful, wealthy, and well-situated men to resent him for revealing their
ignorance, and it is false charges born of that resentment that has brought him to this
court today. One suggestion Socrates gives to the jury is that they consider his
"adventures as a cycle of labours undertaken
to establish the truth of the oracle once and for all," evoking an image of
Herakles, the great
pan-Hellenic hero who had to perform a series of twelve labors also at the instigation of
a god (Hera) in a ritual right of purification (for murdering his family in a fit of
An apt comparison?
The results of Socrates'
interrogations are odium (for proving men's ignorance and rubbing their noses in it),
poverty (proof that he is no sophist!), a following of young students (the younger
generation loves to make their parents look bad), and a reputation for corrupting them (of
course, those in power consider Socrates' teaching the youngsters to question authority as
politically subversive). And he claims that he goes around proving to people that they are
not wise out of his devotion to the god Apollo, who has revealed the truth of the matter
with his oracle.
his accusers as practitioners of occupations defamed by his study. How to make friends and
addresses Meletus directly) - again, Socrates repeats the charges against him and then
refutes them one by one by using the Socratic Method that made him famous.
Socrates gets Meletus to admit
that he makes the ludicrous claim that "the
whole population of Athens has a refining effect upon the young, except [Socrates]; and
[Socrates] alone corrupt[s] them."
He then proves that this argument wouldn't work with horse-trainers, so why should it work
with educators of people? Socrates concludes that Meletus has obviously not given the
matter of the education of the young any thought whatsoever, thereby weakening his charge
that Socrates is guilty of corrupting the minds of the young.
Socrates next argues that no man
commits evil intentionally, for everyone knows that such an act would bring the wrath of
the community down upon him. Therefore, if he did commit an evil act, he did so
unintentionally. The proper procedure to follow in such a case would be to instruct the
individual on how to act for the good, not to drag him into court. Socrates concludes with
another accusation that Meletus has brought charges against Socrates out of spite:
"But you deliberately avoided my company in
the past and refused to enlighten me, and now you bring me before this court, which is the
place appointed for those who need punishment, not for those who need enlightenment."
The Cross-Examination continues:
Socrates tricks Meletus into admitting a contradiction: that he charges Socrates with both
atheism (not believing in gods at all) and with teaching his students "to believe in new deities instead of the gods
recognized by the state," thereby
destroying Meletus' credibility. Socrates rightly points out that Meletus has confused him
with a cosmologist named Anaxagoras, who was exiled from Periclean Athens for suggesting
that the sun was actually "a white-hot rock about the size of the Peloponnesus"
instead of the god Apollo in his sun-chariot. Galileo
will suffer a similar fate (state-ordained exile, or house-arrest) for a similar reason
(rejecting the religion-driven law of the state in favor of natural explanation)...in AD
Socrates persists in the idea that
the threat of death should not dissuade a just man from seeking justice, that by being
faithful to principles of good and justice that transcend our reality rather than to a
desire for wealth, or glory, or power, we live a good life: "This I do assure you, is what my god
commands; and it is my belief that no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than
my service to my god; for I spend all my time going about trying to persuade you, young
and old, to make your first and chief concern not for your bodies or for your possessions,
but for the highest welfare of your souls, proclaiming as I go, 'Wealth does not bring
goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and
to the state.'"
Socrates makes several important
points: "I do not believe that
the law of God permits a better man to be harmed by a worse. No doubt my accuser might put
me to death or have me banished or deprived of civic rights; but even if he thinks, as he
probably does (and others too, I dare say), that these are great calamities, I do not
think so; I believe that it is far worse to do what he is doing now,
trying to put a man to death unjustly. For this reason, gentlemen, far from pleading on my
own behalf, as might be supposed, I am really pleading on yours, to save you from misusing
the gift from God by condemning me. If you put me to death, you will not easily find
another to take my place."
Socrates then describes himself as a gadfly, sent by the gods to prick the Athenians into
paying attention to important matters, as opposed to politics, advancement and
materialistic gains. Socrates suggests that his own poverty and lack of station in life
(and even his neglect of his own family) is due to his devoted attention to saving the
rest of them.
Socrates reveals that he acts in
response to a little voice in his head, a daimonion (not to be confused with demon
- a daimonion is a supernatural force, more than just his conscience). Socrates
knows he is doing the right thing because his diamonion has not spoken up against
his actions. Socrates also rejects the idea that one can be involved in politics and
remain just; that is why he has disdained political activity. As a citizen of Athens he
fought as a hoplite (in three battles: Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis), but he had bad
political experiences under both the democracy and the Rule of the Thirty (a short-lived
oligarchy that overthrew the democracy):
First, he once served on the boule, the
council that prepared legislation for the Assembly. The occasion was the disastrous naval
campaign of 406 BC, where ten Athenian ships were lost in the process of winning the
Battle of Arginusae, and many men were lost because a storm prevented their rescue. Eight
of the ten presiding strategoi were present at the battle, and six returned to
Athens. They were immediately arrested and popular opinion demanded that they all be tried
and executed en masse. Socrates sums up his own reaction: "On this occasion I was the only member of the
executive who opposed your acting in any way unconstitutionally and voted against the
"When the oligarchy came into power,
the Thirty Commissioners in their turn summoned me and four others to the Round Chamber
and instructed us to go and fetch Leon of Salamis from his home for execution...Powerful
as it was, that government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action; when we came out
of the Round Chamber the other four went off to Salamis and arrested Leon, and I went
home. I should probably have been put to death for this, if the government had not fallen
Socrates points to his consistency
in action - he never has "countenanced
any action that was incompatible with justice on the part of any person." He also denies that he has ever "taught"
anybody anything. People engage him in conversation because "they enjoy hearing me examine those who think
that they are wise when they are not; an experience that has its amusing side." He proves that the charge of
"corrupting the youth" is bogus by pointing out that not one of his
"students" will speak out against him.
Socrates refuses to put on a show
of tears for the court, or to cart out his family in a plea for mercy for it would be
unjust to earn the acquittal of a court based on anything other than the hard facts of the
As Athenian law states, the jury
of 500 listened while both sides spoke. Now that the jury has come back with a guilty
verdict (280-220), according to Athenian law, each side is now allowed to suggest a
penalty, and then the court will choose the more appropriate of the two. Meletus suggests
death as the penalty, and Socrates offers no realistic alternative to the jury.
Socrates explains that he has
always been different, since he was never interested in the things most people care about: making money,
having a comfortable home, high military or civil rank, and all the other activities -
political appointments, secret societies, party organizations - which go on in our city.
Instead, Socrates says he does
what he considers the greatest possible service: "I tried to persuade each one of you not to think more of practical
advantages than of his mental and moral well-being, in the case of the state or of
What does he think he deserves? To
be treated like state hero! He suggests that he should receive a reward for his
trouble, the same reward given to Olympic victors (free dining in the Prytaneum).
Why does he feel this way? Because
he says, "I am convinced I never
wrong anyone intentionally...so being convinced that I do no wrong to anybody, I can
hardly be expected to wrong myself by asserting that I deserve something bad, or by
proposing a corresponding penalty."
Socrates considers the
alternatives to the death sentence, but admits that his love of life does not outweigh his
love of principle. He considers and rejects the option of banishment: "A fine life I should have if I left this
country at my age and spent the rest of my days trying one city after another and being
turned away every time!" He
concludes that he won't be able to win in a foreign city, for if he refuses to speak with
the youth, they will forcibly exile him, and if he does speak with the youth,
their elders will have him run out of town.
He considers the possibility of
spending the rest of his life in quiet contemplation, but concludes that this would be
"disobedience to God" since it would prevent him from cultivating his soul. Here
Socrates presents very clearly his mission in life: to teach others "to let no day pass without discussing
goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both
myself and others...and that life without this sort of examination is not worth
He then offers to pay a fine which
will cause him no harm to pay, but it is quite small. He accepts his friend's offer to pay
a large amount of money, but this is later rejected by the jury because it is not a
hardship for Socrates and so isn't a very good punishment.
explains that the jurymen will be blamed for their actions by their enemies, and that his
own reputation will benefit from their ill treatment of him (martyr syndrome?) Socrates,
too, blames the jury for this bad outcome, pointing to their blindness: "I suggest, gentlemen, that the
difficulty is not so much to escape from death (which he eventually must face whether he
begs for his life now or not); the real difficulty is to escape from wickedness..." Socrates admits that he
"shall go away condemned by you to
death" but that his
accusers "will go away
convicted by Truth herself of depravity and injustice." Socrates is pleased with the outcome.
addresses his condemners: "As
soon as I am dead, vengeance shall fall upon you with a punishment far more painful than
your killing me...you will have more critics." This is Socrates argument against getting rid of people who
disagree with you. In the end, the destroyers will be destroyed.
addresses those who voted to acquit him: "I suspect that this thing that has happened to me is a blessing, and
we are quite mistaken in supposing death to be an evil...Death is one of two things:Either
it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything; or it is really a
change: a migration of the soul from this place to another." Socrates suggests that if the Underworld
is as the poets have said, he looks forward to the opportunity to speak with
"other heroes of the old days who met
their death through an unjust trial, and it compare my fortunes with theirs - it would be
rather amusing, I think - and above all I should like to spend my time there, as here, in
examining and searching people's minds, to find out who is really wise among them, and who
only thinks that he is."
favorite example of Socratic irony: "At any rate, I presume that they do not put one to death there for
ends his Apologia by summing up his major beliefs:
can harm a good man either in life or after death and his fortunes are not a matter of
indifference to the gods." In other words, there is a plan, we do have our place in the divine plan,
and goodness will prevail even in the face of evil. Socrates remains true to his
principles by forgiving his condemners, because after all, he is the one who said that no
man commits evil intentionally. But he does ask that if his sons behave badly (i.e., by
putting money or anything else beyond goodness), that they plague his sons the way he
plagues them. In this way, "I
shall have had justice at your hands - I and my children." And then he fearlessly goes off to meet
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