Socrates' Apology

by Plato

Plato was a native of Athens, born in 428/27 B.C., died 348/7 B.C. His family was both wealthy and aristocratic. He was a direct descendant of Solon's father Exekestiades, and thus a member of the former royal family of Athens (the Medontids). His relatives (especially his cousin Kritias) were involved in the post-war occupation government of Athens ("The Thirty Tyrants", 403 B.C.). He studied with Socrates for about ten years, ca. 409-399. Around 388 B.C., he formed his own group of scholars in Athens which habitually met at a gymnasium called the Academy (in honor of Apollo Akademos) , situated in a suburb to the northwest of the Sacred Gate of Athens. Plato's most famous pupil was Aristotle of Stagira (384-322 B.C.). Some twenty-six dialogues under the name of Plato survive, in addition to the Apology and a collection of letters; a few of the dialogues and all of the letters have been called forgeries or misattributions.

The Apology of Socrates purports to be a reconstruction of the defense speeches in Socrates’ trial in 399 B.C. on charges of ‘corrupting the youth’ and ‘believing in gods which the State does not recognize’.


             PROOEMION (Introduction) [17a–18a in the edition of Stephanus]
                           —insinuating: the Jury must be won over from an established hostility to the Defense
                                because of Socrates' bad reputation, especially because of Aristophanes play, The Clouds.
                           —Socrates says he is not an orator, and at the age of 70 he is too old to learn.

             REFUTATION [18a–24a] by defining the 'old charges' against him:
                           —Socrates is not a physicist (i.e. cosmologist)
                           —Socrates is not a sophist (i.e. a professional teacher of the 'political arts')
                           —Socrates is not an atheist: Apollo himself has called Socrates 'wise', and Socrates
                                has been testing this revelation all his life by conversation with the conventionally
                                wise (politicians, artisans, poets).
                           —Young men have listened to Socrates, as he exposed the frauds, but Socrates is not
                               responsible for their behavior.

             DEFENSE OF HIS LIFE [28a–34b]
                           —Socrates is not afraid of death; desertion is dishonor.
                           —Socrates is acting in obedience to Apollo as an investigator.
                           —Socrates cannot agree to cease his work; it would be impiety toward the god.
                           —Socrates' mission to teach virtue is a great blessing for Athens.
                           —Socrates' death would be an offense against Apollo.
                           —Socrates' devotion to his work has meant that he is not politically active: his daimon
                               warned him not to go into politics.
                           —On two occasions, when he had to be in politics, he did the unpopular thing for the sake of justice,
                               at personal risk.

             PERORATION [34c–38b]
                           —Socrates will not bring forward his family in an appeal to the emotions
                           —Socrates asks not for favors but for impersonal justics; anything else would be perjury.

VOTE: 280 guilty, 221 innocent


Since there was no statutory penalty for the charges on which Socrates had just been convicted, the Prosecution had to propose an appropriate penalty, and the Defense had to make a counterproposal. The Prosecution proposed the death penalty. Socrates must respond.

             COUNTER-PROPOSAL [36a–38b]
                           —Socrates had expected conviction, but by a larger majority; thus he has had a 'moral victory'.
                           —Socrates proposes a pension for life; he cannot honestly propose a self-punishment,
                               since he does not think himself to be guilty of anything.
                               He is not afraid of death, which may in fact be 'good'.
                           —Socrates rejects imprisonment or a fine (which he could not pay, because of his poverty);
                               he cannot suggest exile , since he would be as dangerous in another city as he is in Athens.
                               He cannot stop talking, whether in Athens or elsewhere, for that would be disobedience
                               to Apollo. He cannot stop examining or enquiring.
                           —But, at the urging of his friends, who offer surety, he would agree to a FINE of 30 minae
                                ( ½ Talent).

VOTE: 360 death, 141 fine


             ADDRESS TO THE JURY [38c–42a]
                           —Socrates, at his age, is not disturbed by the idea of death.
                           —Socrates has refused to compromise or plead for mercy out of principle and righteousness.
                           —There will be others like him in the future.
                           —What has been done is 'good', since his daimon did not warn hm during his speech.
                           —Death is either an end (and thus 'good'), or an immortality (and thus a 'greater good'),
                                for Socrates will be able to meet and talk with great men of the past who are reputed
                                to have 'wisdom'.
                           —Evil cannot happen to a good man. Those who will go on living should punish and reprove
                                Socrates' sons if they neglect virtue.

January 24, 2010 3:32 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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