Death of Socrates

(The Apology by Plato)

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

Adapted by Natasa Prosenc and Wallace Zane

 

Theme 1 - Remember who you are. Eloquence alone does not make truth. Speak in your own way.

Socrates

Men of Athens, my accusers have made their speeches.  I don't know how you felt at hearing their words.  But to me, they were so persuasive they almost made me forget who I am.  That was the effect.  But there was hardly a word of truth among them.

 

Of their many lies, there was one that amazed me.  I mean when they told you to be on your guard, and not to be deceived by my eloquence. They should have been ashamed at this.  Their falsehood would have been detected as soon as I opened my mouth and you found I had no eloquence at all. 

 

As I was saying, they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But, you will hear from me the whole truth.  It will not be a fine oration like theirs, with all the proper words and phrases.  But, just normal talk, like I talk every day.  I will use the arguments which come to me as I speak.  I am certain that this is right.  I should not come before you Men of Athens, looking like a junior orator.  Please don't expect that of me.

 

I ask you to do me one favor.  If you hear the same words from me in this defense as I have been using all the time, in the marketplace or anywhere, please don't be surprised.  And please don't interrupt me.  I am over seventy years old and this is the first time I have ever appeared before the court.  I don't know the proper customs here, and I would like for you to treat me as a true stranger.  Really like a foreigner who you would allow to speak in his native language.  I don't think that is unfair.  Don't pay attention to whether or not I have a fine style, but only to the justice of my cause.  Please pay attention to that alone.  Let the judge be just and the speaker be true.

Theme 2 - Adults expose children to dangerous lies, which take possession of their young minds with their falsehoods.

SOCRATES

First, I have to respond to my first accusers and the older charges that they lay at my feet.  Then, I will go to the more recent ones.  I have had many accusers, who have accused me in the past.  Their false charges have continued for many years.  I am more afraid of them than I am of Anytus and his associates who are accusing me now, although they are dangerous enough, in their own way.

 

But more dangerous are the ones which you first heard when you were children, which took hold of your imagination with their lies.  They told of a man called Socrates, a wise man who occupied himself with speculations about the heavens above and the earth beneath.  This Socrates would argue with anyone until the worse case seemed to be the better one.  These are the accusers I dread. 

 

They are many and their charges go very far back.  They were made when you were young and impressionable, and the accusations were accepted because there was no one to answer them.

           

Worst of all for me is that I don't know who came up with these stories, most of them.

How difficult for me not to be able to call those up here and cross-examine them.  I am required to fight phantoms who will not answer back.

           

So, I ask you to accept that I have two types of accusers, those who have been accusing me for a long time, and others who have begun only a short time ago.

 

This will not be an easy task, but I must obey the law and defend myself.  May all be done as it pleases the gods.

Theme 3 - The harmful mixing up of fiction and reality.

SOCRATES

I will begin at the beginning.  What is this accusation?  What has encouraged Meletus to proceed against me. What do the slanderers say? They will be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words:

"Socrates is a dangerous man, who, with criminal curiosity,  seeks to penetrate the workings of heaven and the underworld, who makes that which is worse seem that which is better, and teaches all these dangerous things to others."

 

That is the essence of the accusation, and that is what you have seen yourselves in the comedy of Aristophanes. He has a character that he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he can walk in the air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I don't pretend to know either much or little.   I don't mean to say anything disparaging of anyone who is a student of natural philosophy. I would hate for Meletus to add that to my charges.  But the simple truth is, Athenians, that I have nothing to do with these studies. Very many of those here present are witnesses to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors whether any of you have ever known me to talk about these things.

(a pause and a murmur)

You hear their answer. And from what they say of this you will be able to judge the truth of the rest.

Theme 4 - Socrates is not being paid for his teaching. He believes he does not have enough knowledge to be paid.

SOCRATES

It is also false to say that I am a teacher, and ask for money.  That is not to say I don't admire the power to teach men, like Gorgias of Leontium does, and Prodicus of Keos, and Hippias of Elis.  These men travel all over Greece, attracting young men who are grateful to be able to pay them.

           

Callias, son of Hipponicus, a very sophisticated Athenian, asked me to give him some advice on his two sons.  So, I asked, Callias, if instead of children, you had two young horses or two young bulls, wouldn't you put them in the hands of a skillful man, a horse-trainer, or a farmer, to train them well, so he can make them as beautiful and good as they might be,  as perfect as their nature will allow? 

           

But, since you have human children, to whom should you to entrust them?  Is there anyone who has mastered the virtues of manhood, or of citizenship?  He said, "There is."  "And, who is he?"  I asked and from where? And what is his fee?"  He replied, Evenus, from Paros. He charges five minae."

           

So I congratulate Evenus, if he truly has such a talent, and can give it away at such a small price.  I would be very proud and well full of myself if I had such knowledge.  But, sadly, Athenians, I have none at all.

Theme 5 - The reason Socrates is accused, is his wisdom, confirmed by the oracle.

SOCRATES

Some of you will say, "But you must have been doing something strange for people accuse you in the first place.  You would not be famous if you were like other men."

 

Now that is a fair challenge and I will try to explain why I have this notorious reputation of being "wise".

 

Men of Athens, it comes from a type of wisdom I have.  But, if you ask me what kind, I will say only that which a man can have.  Those other people I mentioned have a superhuman wisdom, which I can't describe because I don't have it myself.  He who says I do speaks falsely. 

 

 I call on a witness that is entirely believable, the god of Delphi who speaks of my wisdom, whether I have any or not.

(a murmur)

Please don't interrupt.  I'm not trying to be arrogant.

 

You know Chaerephon was an old friend of mine. He was with you when you had to flee Athens during the wars, and he returned when you returned.  You know he was very impulsive and when he went to Delphi he decided to ask the oracle--

(another murmur)

Please no interrupting--

He asked the oracle to tell him whether there was anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself, but his brother, who is in court, will confirm the truth of this story.

Theme 6 - Socrates tries to define his wisdom by comparing himself with politicians.

SOCRATES

I only bring this up in order to explain to you why all these rumors are spread about me. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? And what is the interpretation of this riddle?

 

I know that I have no wisdom, small or great. What can he mean when he says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his nature.

 

After a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I would say to him, "Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest."

 

I went to a well known man, I don't have to say his name, one of the politicians. In talking to him, I couldn't help but think he wasn't really wise, even though he was thought to be very wise by many, and thought himself to be wiser yet.  I tried to show him that he was not really wise, but only thought himself to be.  The result was that he hated me, and his friends hated me, too.

            I walked away with this thought. It may be that neither he nor I know anything very wonderful. But, the difference is that he thinks he knows but doesn't know, and on my part, even though I don't know anything, I don't think I know either.  In that small way, I was wiser than him. 

           

From there I went to a man considered even wiser than the first with the same outcome, and again made enemies of him and others.

 

After that, I went to man after man, aware that I was gaining enemies.  I was sad about it, and afraid, too.  But I was compelled to act.  The word of the god should come first.  I said to myself, I must go to all who seem to have knowledge and find out the meaning of the oracle.

           

By the dog, Athenians, I must tell the truth.  At the end of everything what I found was that the men thought most wise were the ones most foolish, with many lesser men better and wiser.  

Theme 7 - Socrates tries to define his wisdom by comparing himself with poets and artists.

SOCRATES

When I left the politicians, I went to the poets.  I thought here I would see my ignorance and their superiority.  I took them the most elaborate passages of their own writings, and asked them the meaning of them.  I'm ashamed to say, Men of Athens, that nearly anyone here could have explained their works better than they. 

I then realized that it is not reason by which poets write their poetry, but a kind of natural inspiration, like diviners and prophets, who also say beautiful things, but do not understand the meaning of what they say. 

 

The poets seemed to be the same. They believed themselves to be wiser than all the others because of their talent for poetry. But they were not really wise at all.  So I left, thinking that I was better off than they were for the same reason I was better off than the politicians.

 

At last I went to the artisans.  I thought they might know many fine things. But I saw that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom.  So, I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, without either their knowledge or their ignorance, or like them in having both. My answer to myself and to the oracle was that I was better off as I was.

Theme 8 - Socrates made many enemies by his investigation.

SOCRATES

This investigation has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind.  It has also given rise to many lies.  I am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I possess the wisdom which I find lacking in others. 

 

But the truth is, Men of Athens, that God only is wise. And the meaning of the oracle is that the wisdom of men is not much, or it is nothing, and it is clear that the god is not talking about me, but he used my name as an example.  It is as if he said to all men:  The wisest among you is he who, like Socrates, recognizes that his wisdom is nothing.  Convinced of this truth, it is in obedience to the god that I continue this research, and will investigate all of our citizens and foreigners.  I always hope to find true wisdom, but when I find none at all, I serve as an interpreter to the oracle and make them see that they are not wise.  This charge is so heavy upon me that I have no time to give to the public interest or to my own affairs.  Instead, I am in complete poverty because of my devotion to the god.

 

There is another thing. Young people from rich classes, who don't have much to do, come to me and take great pleasure in seeing how I show men to themselves. They like to hear the pretenders examined.  And, they imitate me and examine others as well.  They soon discover that there are plenty of people who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing.  But those who are examined, instead of being angry at themselves are angry with me.

 

This Socrates, they say, this evil corruptor of youth.  And if someone asks them, Why?  What bad thing is he engaging in?  What evil does he teach?   They do not know, but instead of facing up to that fact, they repeat the same charges they have heard all their lives that are used against all philosophers.  That they teach about the heavens and the underworld and that they have no gods and make the worst cause appear to the be the better one.  All this is because they do not want to confess that their pretence of knowledge has been detected - which is the truth.  They are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and have persuasive tongues.  And, they have filled your ears with their loud and unending lies.

Theme 9 - New accusations: Socrates is accused of corrupting the youth and of godlessness.

SOCRATES

In defending myself against my earliest accusers, I have said enough.  Now I turn to the second group, the accusers lead by Meletus, who thinks of himself as a good and patriotic man.

           

Their argument goes along these lines.  Socrates is an evildoer, a corrupter of youth, does not believe in the gods approved by the state, and invents his own.  That's the overall charge.  Let us look at these in detail.  He says that I am an evildoer who corrupts the youth.  But I say, men of Athens, that Meletus is an evildoer, and the evil is that he mocks such a serious matter as bringing men to trial.  He has a pretended interest and devotion to these issues in which he has never had the slightest interest.  I will now try to demonstrate to you the truth of this.

 

Meletus, come here and let me ask you a question.  You think it is very important, don't you, to think about the improvement of the youth?

Meletus

Yes, I do.

SOCRATES

Tell the judges, then, who is their improver. You must know, since you have taken the trouble to discover their corrupter, and are accusing me before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who their improver is.  Meletus, you are silent, and have nothing to say. That is disgraceful, and very much proof of what I was saying, that you have no interest in the matter. Speak up, friend, and tell us who their improver is.

MELETUS

The laws.

SOCRATES

But that, sir, is not my meaning. I want to know who the person is, who, in the first place, knows the laws.

MELETUS

The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.

SOCRATES

Do you mean to say, Meletus, that they are able to instruct and improve the youth?

MELETUS

Certainly they are.

SOCRATES

All of them, or some only and not others?

MELETUS

All of them.

SOCRATES

By the goddess, that is good news! There are plenty of improvers, then. And what do you say of the audience? Do they improve them?

MELETUS

Yes, they do.

SOCRATES

And the senators?

MELETUS

Yes, the senators improve them.

SOCRATES

But perhaps the members of the citizen assembly corrupt them?  Or do they too improve them?

MELETUS

They improve them.

SOCRATES

Then every Athenian improves and elevates them; all with the exception of myself; and I alone am their corrupter? Is that what you affirm?

MELETUS

That is what I stoutly affirm.

SOCRATES

Whether you and Anytus say yes or no, that is not the matter. Happy indeed would be the condition of youth if they had one corrupter only, and all the rest of the world were their improvers. Well, Meletus, you have sufficiently shown that you never had a thought about the young: your carelessness is seen in your not caring about matters spoken of in this very indictment.

           

Theme 10 - Socrates is not stupid to corrupt anybody, because they would damage him back.

SOCRATES

And now, Meletus, I must ask you another question: Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Don't the good do good to their neighbors, and the bad do evil to them?

MELETUS

Certainly.

SOCRATES

And is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those who live with him? Answer, my good friend; the law requires you to answer. Does anyone like to be injured?

MELETUS

Certainly not.

SOCRATES

And when you accuse me of corrupting the youth, do you allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?

MELETUS

Intentionally, I say.

SOCRATES

But you have just admitted that the good do their neighbors good, and the evil do them evil. Now is that a truth which your superior wisdom has recognized so early in life, and that I, at my age, do not know.  Am I in such darkness and ignorance as not to know that if a man with whom I have to live is corrupted by me, I am very likely to be harmed by him?  And yet you say I corrupt him, and intentionally, too. 

           

Of that you will never persuade me or any other human being. So either I do not corrupt them, or I corrupt them unintentionally.  Either way you look at it, you are a lying. If my offence is unintentional, the law has no effect:.  You ought to have taken me privately, and warned and admonished me. If I had been advised, I would have stopped doing what I only did unintentionally.  No doubt I would have.  But, because you could not stand to converse with me or teach me, you indicted me in this court, which is a place not of instruction, but of punishment.

Theme 11 -     About corrupting youth by not acknowledging gods which the state acknowledges.

SOCRATES

I have shown, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus has no concern at all, great or small, about the matter. But still I should like to know, Meletus, in what do you mean that I corrupt the young. I suppose you mean, that I teach them not to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities or spirits instead. These are the lessons which corrupt the youth, as you say.

MELETUS

Yes, that I say emphatically.

SOCRATES

Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, tell me and the court, in plain terms, what you mean! I still don't understand if you claim that I teach others to acknowledge some gods, and therefore do believe in gods and am not an entire atheist.   I don't think that's what you are saying, only that they are not the same gods which the city recognizes.  The official charge is that they are different gods. Or, do you mean to say that I am an atheist simply, and a teacher of atheism?

MELETUS

I mean the latter - that you are a complete atheist.

SOCRATES

That is an extraordinary statement, Meletus. Why do you say that? Do you mean that I do not believe in the deity of the sun or moon, which is the common creed of all men?

MELETUS

I assure you, judges, that he does not believe in them. He says that the sun is stone, and the moon earth.

SOCRATES

Friend Meletus, you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras; and you have a bad opinion of the judges, if you think they are so ignorant as not to know that those doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras. Meletus, do you really think that I do not believe in any god?

MELETUS

I swear by Zeus that you believe absolutely in none at all.

SOCRATES

You are a liar, Meletus, not believed even by yourself. I cannot help thinking, Men of Athens, that Meletus is reckless and impudent, and that he has written this indictment in a spirit of mere youthful bravado. He certainly does appear to me to contradict himself.  It is as if he said that Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods, and yet of believing in them.

           

I should like you, Men of Athens, to join me in examining what I conceive to be his inconsistency. And I must remind you that you are not to interrupt me if I speak in my usual manner.

           

Did ever any man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things, and not of human beings?  Did ever any man believe in horsemanship, and not in horses? Or in flute-playing, and not in flute-players? No, my friend; I will answer to you and to the court, as you refuse to answer for yourself. There is no man who ever did. But now please answer the next question: Can a man believe in spiritual and divine agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?

MELETUS

He cannot.

SOCRATES

I am glad that I have extracted that answer, by the assistance of the court. Nevertheless you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in divine or spiritual agencies. But if I believe in divine beings, I must believe in spirits or demigods; - is not that true? Yes, that is true, for I may assume that your silence means yes. Now what are spirits or demigods? Are they not either gods or the sons of gods? Isn't that true?

MELETUS

Yes, that is true.

SOCRATES

But this is just the riddle of which I was speaking: the demigods or spirits are gods, and you say first that I don't believe in gods, and then again that I do believe in gods; that is, if I believe in demigods. For if the demigods are the illegitimate sons of gods, whether by Nymphs or by any other mothers, as people think, that necessarily implies the existence of their parents. You might as well affirm the existence of mules, and deny that of horses and donkeys.

 

Such nonsense, Meletus. You have put this into the indictment because you had nothing real of which to accuse me. No one who has a particle of understanding will ever be convinced by you that the same man can believe in divine and superhuman things, and yet not believe that there are gods and demigods and heroes.

Theme 12 - Socrates' real enemy is the envy and detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men.

 

I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus. Any elaborate defence is unnecessary. But as I was saying before, I certainly have many enemies, and this is what will be my destruction if I am destroyed. Of that I am certain - not Meletus, nor yet Anytus, but the envy and injustice of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and will probably be the death of many more. There is no danger of my being the last of them.

           

You might say, Are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? My answer is: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything should not calculate the chance of living or dying; he should only think of whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong - of being a good man or a bad one.

 

According to your view, the heroes who fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis above all, who completely despised danger in comparison with disgrace.  His goddess mother said to him, in his eagerness to slay Hector, that if he avenged his companion Patroclus, and killed Hector, he would die himself,."Fate," she said, "waits upon you next after Hector"  Hearing this, he utterly despised danger and death, and feared instead to live in dishonor, and not to avenge his friend. "Let me die next," he replied, "and be avenged of my enemy, rather than stay here by the ships, a scorn and a burden of the earth." Did Achilles have any thought of death and danger? Wherever a man's place is, whether the place is one he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger. He should not think of death or of anything, but of disgrace. And this, Men of Athens, is a true saying.

Theme 13 - We can not know what is beyond death. Therefore we have to continue to follow our calling regardless of the danger. Socrates will continue with his teaching even if he has to die for it.

SOCRATES

Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, Men of Athens, if I, who God orders to examine myself and other men, were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other fear.  That would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned in court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed the oracle because I was afraid of death. Then I should be thinking that I was wise when I was not wise. This fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown. 

 

No one knows whether death, which they fear to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good.  This is the point in which, I think, I am superior to men in general, and in which I might perhaps think myself wiser than other men, - that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether god or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.

 

Therefore if you let me go now, and reject the counsels of Anytus, who said that if I were not put to death I should not have been prosecuted, and that if I escape now, your sons will all be utterly ruined by listening to my words - if you say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and will let you off, but upon one condition, that are not to examine in this way any more, and that if you are caught doing this again you shall die; - if this was the condition on which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, encouraging anyone I meet, and convincing him, saying: My friend, why do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not ashamed of this?

 

And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I do care; I do not leave or let him go; I interrogate and examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says that he has, I criticize him for undervaluing the greater, and overvaluing the less. And this I should say to everyone I meet, young and old, citizen and foreigner, but especially to the citizens.

 

This is the command of God, and I believe that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to the god. I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is ruinous indeed. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth.

 

Men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.

Theme 14 - If you kill Socrates, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure him. He is a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God.

SOCRATES

Men of Athens, if you kill a man like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Meletus and Anytus will not injure me. They cannot; for it is not in the nature of things that a bad man should injure a better man. I do not deny that he may, perhaps, kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights.  He may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is doing him a great injury: but in that I do not agree with him; for the evil of doing as Anytus is doing - of unjustly taking away another man's life - is far greater.

 

And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the god, or lightly reject his gift by condemning me. If you kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of biting fly, given to the state by the god; and the state is like a great and noble horse who is slow in his motions owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that biting fly which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reprimanding you.

 

And as you will not easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me. I think that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead, as Anytus advises, then you would sleep on for the rest of your lives, unless God in his care of you gives you another biting fly.

 

Here is proof that I am given to you by God:  if I had been like other men, I should not have neglected all my own concerns, or patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years, and have been doing yours, coming to you individually, like a father or older brother, encouraging you to virtue. If I had gained anything, or if I had been paid, there would have been some sense in that. But now, as you will perceive, not even my accusers dare to say that I have ever taken or sought pay from anyone. They have no witness of that. And I have a witness of the truth of what I say; my poverty is a sufficient witness.

Theme 15 - He who will really fight for the right, must have a private station and not a public one.

SOCRATES

Some may wonder why I go about in private, giving advice and busying myself with the concerns of others, but don't come forward in public and advise the state. I will tell you the reason of this. You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign I have had ever since I was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician. And rightly, as I think. For I am certain, Men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I should have been put to death long ago and done no good either to you or to myself. And don't be offended at my telling you the truth.  The truth is that no man will save his life who goes to war against you or any other group, honestly struggling against unrighteousness and wrong in the state. He who will really fight for the right, if he would live even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.

 

            I can give you as proofs of this, not words only, but deeds, which you value more than words. Let me tell you a passage of my own life, tasteless, perhaps, and commonplace, but nevertheless true. The only office of state which I ever held, Men of Athens, was that of senator. The tribe Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the generals who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle of Arginusae; and you proposed to try them all together, which was illegal, as you all realized afterwards. But, at the time I was the only one who was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against you. When the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and have me taken away, and you called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because I feared imprisonment and death. This happened in the days of the democracy. But when the Group of Thirty was in power, they sent for me and four others, and asked us to bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to execute him. This was the sort of commands which they were always giving to involve as many as possible in their crimes; and then I showed, not in words only, but in deed, that I cared not a straw for death, and that my only fear was the fear of doing an unrighteous or unholy thing.

 

The strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing wrong. The other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For that I might have lost my life had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end. And to this many will witness.

           

Now do you really imagine that I could have survived all these years, if I had led a public life while supporting the right and putting justice first?

Theme 16 - Socrates has no regular disciples. But people like to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to wisdom. There is amusement in this.

SOCRATES

The truth is that I have no regular disciples: but if anyone likes to come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission, whether he be young or old, he may freely come. I don't converse only with those who pay, and not with those who do not pay.  Anyone, rich or poor, may ask me questions and answer mine and listen to my words. 

           

If he turns out to be a bad man or a good one, it is not right to say that I had anything to do with it, as I never taught him anything. If anyone says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, I should like you to know that he is speaking an untruth.

 

You might ask, Why do people delight in continually conversing with you? I have told you already, Athenians, the whole truth about this: they like to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to wisdom; there is amusement in this. And this is a duty which the god has imposed upon me, as I am assured by oracles, visions, and in every sort of way in which the will of divine power was ever signified to anyone.

 

This is true, Athenians; or, if not true, would be soon refuted.  If I am really corrupting the youth, and have corrupted some of them already, those who have grown up and have become aware that I gave them bad advice in the days of their youth should come forward as accusers and take their revenge; and if not themselves, some of their relatives, fathers or brothers should say what evil their families suffered at my hands. Now is their time. Many of them I see in court.

 

Meletus should have produced them as witnesses in the course of his speech.  Let him still produce them, if he has forgotten. I will make way for him if he has any witnesses at all.

 

No, Athenians, the very opposite is the truth. For all these are ready to witness on behalf of the corrupter, of the destroyer of their families, as Meletus and Anytus call me; not the corrupted youth only - there might have been a motive for that - but their uncorrupted elder relatives. Why should they too support me with their testimony? Why, indeed, except for the sake of truth and justice, and because they know that I am speaking the truth, and that Meletus is lying.

Theme 17 - Socrates will not cry or bring family to support him. Hebelieves such a spectacle is dishonorable.

SOCRATES

Well, Athenians, this is nearly all the defence which I have to offer. Just one word more. Perhaps there may be someone who is offended at me, when he calls to mind how he himself, on a similar or even a less serious occasion, had pleaded with the judges with many tears, and how he produced his children in court, which was a moving spectacle, together with a gang of his relations and friends.  But I, who am in danger of my life, will do none of these things. Perhaps this may come into his mind, and he may be set against me, and vote in anger because he is displeased at this.

 

Now if there be such a person among you, I may fairly reply to him: My friend, I am a man, and like other men, a creature of flesh and blood, and not of wood or stone, as Homer says; and I have a family, yes, and sons, Athenians, three in number, one of whom is growing up, and two others who are still young.  Yet I will not bring any of them here in order to petition you for an acquittal.

 

And why not? Not from any self-will or disregard of you. But my reason simply is that I feel such conduct to be a discredit to myself, and you, and the whole state. One who has reached my years, and who has a name for wisdom, whether deserved or not, should not lower himself.  At any rate, the world has decided that Socrates is in some way superior to other men. And how shameful if those among you who are said to be superior in wisdom and courage, and any other virtue, demean themselves in this way.

 

But, setting aside the question of dishonor, there seems to be something wrong in petitioning a judge, and thus procuring an acquittal instead of informing and convincing him. For his duty is, not to make a present of justice, but to give judgment; and he has sworn that he will judge according to the laws, and not according to his own good pleasure. Neither he nor we should get into the habit of perjuring ourselves - there can be no goodness in that. Do not then require me to do what I consider dishonorable and ungodly and wrong, especially now, when I am being tried for ungodliness on the indictment of Meletus.

 

Men of Athens, if by force of persuasion I could overpower your oaths, then I should be teaching you to believe that there are no gods. I would then convict myself of not believing in them. But that is not the case; for I do believe that there are gods, and in a far higher sense than that in which any of my accusers believe in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to be determined by you as is best for you and me.

The jury finds Socrates guilty.

Socrates gives a proposal for his sentence

Theme 18 - Socrates is not sad that he will die. He is surprised that the votes are almost equal.

SOCRATES

There are many reasons why I am not sad, Men of Athens, at the vote of condemnation. I expected it, and am only surprised that the votes are so nearly equal.  I would have thought that the majority against me would have been far larger.  But now, had thirty votes gone over to the other side, I would have been acquitted, and have escaped Meletus.  And without the assistance of Anytus and Lycon, he would not have had a fifth part of the votes, as the law requires, in which case he would have incurred a fine of a thousand drachmae, as is evident.

           

And so he proposes death as the penalty. And what shall I propose on my part, Men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. And what is that which I ought to pay or to receive? What shall be done to the man who has never had the wit to be idle during his whole life; but has been careless of what the many care about - wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and speaking in the assembly, and government posts, and plots, and parties. Reflecting that I was really too honest a man to follow in this way and live, I did not go where I could do no good to you or to myself.  Instead I went where I could do the greatest good privately to every one of you.  I sought to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this should be the order in all his actions. What shall be done to a man like that? Doubtless some good thing, Men of Athens, if he has his reward; and the good should be of a kind suitable to him. What would be a reward suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, who desires leisure that he may instruct you? There can be no more fitting reward than maintenance in the city hall, in the Prytaneum.  It is, Men of Athens, a reward which he deserves far more than the citizen who has won the prize at Olympia in the horse or chariot race. I am in want, and he has enough; and he only gives you the appearance of happiness, and I give you the reality. If I am to estimate the penalty justly, I say that maintenance in the Prytaneum is the just return.

Theme 19 - Socrates never intentionally wronged anyone.

SOCRATES

Perhaps you may think that I am challenging you in saying this, as in what I said before about the tears and prayers. But that is not the case. I speak rather because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone, although I cannot convince you of that - for we have had a short conversation only. 

 

But if there were a law at Athens, such as there is in other cities, that a capital case should not be decided in one day, then I believe that I should have convinced you. Now the time is too short. I cannot in a moment refute great slanders; and, as I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or propose any penalty.

 

Why should I? Because I am afraid of the penalty of death which Meletus proposes? I do not know whether death is a good or an evil.  So why should I propose a penalty?  A penalty would certainly be an evil. Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison, and be the slave of the magistrates? Or shall the penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the same objection. I should have to lie in prison, because I don't have money, and I cannot pay.

 

And if I say exile (though this may possibly be the penalty which you will choose), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life to think that others would endure me, when I consider that when you, who are my own citizens, cannot stand my conversations , and have found them so painful that you would kick me out. No, indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. And what a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, living in ever-changing exile, and always being driven out! I am quite sure that wherever I go the young men will come to me; and if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me out of their cities.

Theme 20 - The unexamined life is not worth living.

SOCRATES

You might say, But, Socrates, why don't you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I may have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. If I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious.  And if I say that the greatest good of man is to converse daily about virtue, and all those things that you hear me talking about , you may not believe me.  But for me, the unexamined life is not worth living.

 

What I say is true. I do not think that I deserve any punishment. If I had money I might have given it to you, and have been none the worse. But you see that I have none, and can only ask you to fit the fine to my means. I think that I could afford a minae, and therefore I propose that penalty; Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus, my friends here, are telling me to say thirty minae, and that they will be the security for it.   All right, let them be.  Let's say thirty minae. Let that be the penalty.

The jury condemns Socrates to death.

Socrates comments on his sentence

Theme 21 - Death is not a problem, but unrighteousness is! Socrates' prophecy: As soon as I am dead, a bigger evil will hit you.

SOCRATES

Not much will be gained, Athenians, in return for the evil name which you will get from killing Socrates.  Those who hate Athens will say you killed a wise man, for they will call me wise even although I am not wise. If you had waited a little while, your desire would have been fulfilled in the course of nature. I am far advanced in years, as you can see, and not far from death. I am speaking now only to those of you who have condemned me to death.

 

Neither in war nor in court should a man to use every single way of escaping death. Often in battle there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death.  And in other dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and quick. And the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has overtaken them.

 

Now I depart from here condemned by you to suffer the penalty of death, and they, too, go their ways condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty of evildoing and wrong. I must abide by my award and they must abide by theirs. I suppose that these things may be regarded as fated, - and I think that they are well.

 

And now, men who have condemned me, I will prophesy to you; for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with prophetic power. You who are my murderers, I prophesy that immediately after my death punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will not be as you suppose. Instead, I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom I have restrained until now. As they are younger they will be more severe with you, and you will be more offended by them. If you think that by killing men you can avoid the accuser condemning your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable. The easiest and noblest way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophecy which I utter before my departure, to the judges who have condemned me.

Theme 22 - The oracle did not warn Socrates against death. This is proof that death is a good thing.

SOCRATES

My friends, I should like to show you the meaning of this event which has happened to me. My judges - all of you are my judges - I should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. The familiar oracle within me has constantly been in the habit of opposing me even in small matters, if I was going to make a slip or error about anything. And now the last and worst evil has come upon me. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either as I was leaving my house and going out in the morning, or when I was going up into this court, or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say. I have often been stopped in the middle of a speech; but now in nothing I either said or did touching this matter has the oracle opposed me.

 

And the explanation of this? I will tell you. I regard this as proof that what has happened to me is a good, and that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. This is a great proof to me of what I am saying, for the customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and not to good.

Theme 23 - Reflection on death. What is death? Socrates will continue his teachings and interrogations in another world, should one exist.

SOCRATES

Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two things: - either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, even a great king, will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night.

 

But if death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead are, what good, my friends and judges, can be greater than this? If indeed when the traveler arrives in the world below, he is delivered from the pretenders of justice in this world, and finds the true judges who are said to give judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in their own life, that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? If this be true, let me die again and again. I, too, shall have a wonderful interest in a place where I can converse with Palamedes, and Ajax the son of Telamon, and other heroes of old, who have suffered death through an unjust judgment; and there will be no small pleasure, I think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs.

 

Above all, I shall be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not. What would not a man give, judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men and women too!

What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them and asking them questions! In that world they would not put a man to death for this; certainly not. Besides being happier in that world than in this, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.

           

And so, judges, be happy about death, and know this as true - that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end happened by mere chance.

 

I see clearly that to die and be released was better for me; and therefore the oracle gave no sign. And for that reason also, I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may gently blame them.

           

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only knows.