I have often wondered what arguments Socrates' prosecutors could ever have used to prove to the Athenians that he deserved to forfeit his life to the State. The charge against him ran like this: "Socrates is guilty of not paying respect to the gods whom the state respects, of introducing new divinities, and of corrupting the young." . . . He did not hold discussions on the nature of the Universe, as most of the others did . . . . As for himself, he was always discussing himan problems . . . . Socrates believed that the gods know everything–word, deed, and silent thought alike–and that they were present everywhere, and that they gave signs to men about all human affairs.
"But," said the Prosecutor, "Kritias and Alcibiades were associates of Socrates, and they wrought the greatest harm to the state. Kritias was the most rapacious and violent of all in the oligarchy, while Alcibiades was the most intemperate and insolent of all the democracy . . . ."
"But," said the Prosecutor, "Socrates taught his companions to abuse their parents by persuading them that he made them wiser than their parents and by claiming that according to the law it was possible for a son, if he proved his father insane, to imprison even his own father . . . . The Prosecutor also said that Socrates claimed that the only men worthy of honor were those who knew their duty and could explain what they knew. Socrates, he said, also maid the youth think that other men were of no account in comparison with himself, for he persuaded them that he was the wisest man and the most competent in making others wise . . . .
These were his words and the deeds of his life, to which the Pythian Priestess was referring when she gave her famous answer to Chaerophon, "Of all men living, Socrates is the wisest." This was the cause of the envy in which he was held, above all because he would challenge those who thought highly of themselves, making them out to be fools, as he treated Anytus, according to Plato in the Meno. Anytus could not endure being ridiculed by Socrates, so he stirred up Aristophanes and his friends against him. Later Anytus helped persuade Meletus to lodge a charge of impiety and of corrupting the youth against Socrates. The charge was lodged by Meletus, and the speech was given by Polyeuctes, according to Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History. The speech was written by Polycrates the Sophist, according to Hermippus; others say that it was by Anytus. Lycon the demagogue had made all the necessary preparations.
Antisthenes, in his Successions of the Philosophers, and Plato in his Apology, say that there were three accusers: Anytus, Lycon and Meletus. Anytus was roused to anger on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians, Lycon on behalf of the rhetoricians, and Meletus on behalf of the poets; for all three of these classes had felt Socrates' lash.
Favorinus, in the first book of his Memorabilia, says that the speech of Polycrates against Socrates is not authentic, because he speaks of the rebuilding of the walls of Conon–which, however, did not take place until Socrates had been dead six years. This is certainly the fact. The indictment in the case, still preserved, says Favorinus, in the Metroon [the Athenian state records office], stated:This indictment and affidavit is sworn out by Meletus: Socrates the son of Sophroniscus of Alopece is guilty of refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the State and of introducing new and different gods. He is also guilty of corrupting the youth. The penalty demanded is death
in his book entitled The Wreath, says that in the course of the trial Plato mounted the platform and began, "Though I am the youngest, Men of Athens, of all who have risen to address you–", whereupon the jurymen shouted, "Get down! Get down!"
© 2006 John Paul Adams, CSUN