Why Socrates was condemned to death?
The question has often been raised. Plato in his "Apology" or "Defense of Socrates" and in some dialogues and Xenophon in his "Defence of Socrates," give us enough information about how the negative environment was generated to condemn the most wise and just man by the the apparently inconsistent reporting of three mediocre and envious fellow. And it is precisely this failure and injustice that keeps alive the interest in understanding the contradiction that the first democracy in history condemned unjustly the most wise and just man who courageously accept the death penalty. Now, as a general rule it can not be interpreted past with social values of the moment.
Socrates won throughout his life numerous enemies by several reasons.
Basically, what is faced in the process is the traditional city with its collective values against the emergence and rise of individual personalities, such as Socrates, questioning the ways citizens or breach of the collective. For example, Socrates is not atheist because he does not believe in the gods, but because he does not fulfill the rites in the traditional way.
In 406 B.C. he was elected Member of the Athenian Council of Five Hundred by lot. When he was a member of the Pritan Commission, the People's Assembly was determined to put to death the generals of the battle of Arginusae because they deid not collect the bodies of the dead soldiers. Socrates maintained his personal opinion and opposed himself to the absurd conviction; he faced the democratic power of the moment. Moreover, he criticized some characteristics of democratic power, as the choice of some public office by "drawing", without any guarantee of selecting the best.
Later he disobeyed, also maintaining his opinion, the Thirty Tyrants when he was ordered to arrest Leo of Salamis and lead him to the death. He faces now the oligarchic power.
Plato and Xenophon also wrote, as I said, two "Apologies or Defences"of his teacher Socrates. I transcribe and comment on the text of Plato. In consideration we must consider several issues.
Although it is called "dialogue", really it is not so, but rather a "monologue" in which Socrates himself explains his defense and dismantled the arguments of his accusers. But note that, of course, this is not a trial transcript but a kind of forensic speech of defense that Plato wrote some years after the death of Socrates.
It is therefore a literary work worthy to be read and commented even after 2300 years, from which we can draw important historical knowledge and civic and social values. The readers have every right to ask all the questions about the real force as a defensive speech that it would have if it should have been real. The aftertaste that leaves certainly is that it is defending a "social" guilty, a person who has clashed with the prevailing social norms and conventions in Athens at the time.
In any case, because of the importance that the figure of Socrates and his death has had on all of Western culture, reading these texts is required.
Plato in his Apology (of Socrates) does relate to Socrates himself these two facts of moral integrity, the opposition to the established power, which brought him such bad consequences:
Note: The works of Plato are accessible online. However, for convenience of readers, I reproduce at the end the full text of the "Apology of Socrates" by Plato, which is a no too long little book and it is proud to be read in full by anyone interested in these issues.
I, men of Athens, never held any other office in the state, but I was a senator; and it happened that my tribe held the presidency when you wished to judge collectively, not severally, the ten generals who had failed to gather up the slain after the naval battle; this was illegal, as you all agreed afterwards. At that time I was the only one of the prytanes who opposed doing anything contrary to the laws, and although the orators were ready to impeach and arrest me, and though you urged them with shouts to do so, I thought I must run the risk to the end with law and justice on my side, rather than join with you when your wishes were unjust, through fear of imprisonment or death. That was when the democracy still existed; and after the oligarchy was established, the Thirty sent for me with four others to come to the rotunda and ordered us to bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis to be put to death. They gave many such orders to others also, because they wished to implicate as many in their crimes as they could. Then I, however, showed again, by action, not in word only, that I did not care a whit for death if that be not too rude an expression, but that I did care with all my might not to do anything unjust or unholy. For that government, with all its power, did not frighten me into doing anything unjust, but when we came out of the rotunda, the other four went to Salamis and arrested Leon, but I simply went home; and perhaps I should have been put to death for it, if the government had not quickly been put down. Of these facts you can have many witnesses. (Translated by Harold North Fowler. Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.)
Note: If democracy, from ancient Greek δημοκρατία, compound of δῆμος (demos, "people") and κράτος (kratos), "power," government forces " is explained as "government of the people "," oligarchy ", from the ancient Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhia), composed of ὀλίγος (oligos, "little") and -αρχία (-arkhía) of ἀρχός (arkhos, "head, chief"), or ἄρχω (arkhō), "lead", will be explained as "a government of few ". Ochlocracy (from Greek ὀχλοκρατία okhlokratía) is the mob rule, a degraded form of democracy.
In the process he was formally accused of being introducer of new gods and impious with the gods of the city, of turning with his charlatanry the just into unjust and vice versa and of corrupter of youth, precisely he, whose goal was always to promote a critical education.
In Plato's Apology, Socrates himself summarizes the charge of Meleto, failed poet who lends for to please politicians to make the following charges:
“Socrates is a criminal and a busybody, investigating the things beneath the earth and in the heavens and making the weaker argument stronger and teaching others these same things.” ( Translated by Harold North Fowler)
His coherence with his philosophical teachings, his attitude towards death, his moral arrogance and constant irony, constantly questioning all the others and leaving evidence of their ignorance, they created the conditions for the fatal outcome, when he was seventy years old.
Socrates was confounded with the Sophists, who enjoyed a very bad reputation because with their language skills and his charlatanry they did lie from truth and truth from lie, while they defend an unacceptable social and moral relativism: the laws are an invention of the weak, the individual must be independent of the city and family, etc .. It is true that Socrates used a similar to that of the Sophists educational method, but he always seeking the truth and essence of things without accept uncritically the traditional positions.
On the beginning of the "Defense of Socrates", 17a-17b, Socrates himself addresses the Athenians Court of Heliasts saying in reference to his accusers:
Plato, Apology, 17a-17b:
But I was most amazed by one of the many lies that they told—when they said that you must be on your guard not to be deceived by me, because I was a clever speaker.( translated by Harold North Fowler)
The comedy of Aristophanes, The Clouds, expresses perfectly the hostile to Socrates created environment better than any other explanation. Aristophanes certainly helped to create the enabling environment for his death sentence, but it is necessary to keep in mind that comedy The Clouds was performed twenty five years earlier than conviction of Socrates, although it is most likely that he remade later perhaps for publication in the form of book (there was an incipient trade books, as in Plato's Apology it is checked).
The portrait of Socrates, that Aristophanes makes, is ruthless and absolutely contradictory to the image which his disciples Plato and Xenophon left us. Aristophanes looks it that ridiculous to make the public laugh and paints Socrates as the true charlatan sophist, able to turn bad into good and vice versa, standing on a basket to observe the sky, in a school, when in fact he taught outdoors, disrespectful to the gods and greedy for money.
Actually the conservative Aristophanes projects in Socrates all the new ideas and the new model of education that is being imposed in Athens, pernicious as the conservative approach of the playwright.
In any case this comedy of Aristophanes, (with which incidentally he lost the contest for the Dionysian festivals of Athens, the Great Dionysian, to which he concurred, although Aristophanes considered it the best of their own comedies) gives a thorough account how known and famous Socrates was and how much hated he was by many people.
Here are some texts of The Clouds:
Verses 77 et seq.
Strepsiades: …How? Phidippides, my little Phidippides?
Phidippides: What, father?
Strepsiades: Kiss me, and give me your right hand!
Phidippides: There. What's the matter?
Strepsiades:Tell me, do you love me?
Phidippides: Yes, by this Equestrian Neptune.
Strepsiades: Nay, do not by any means mention this Equestrian to me, for this god is the author of my misfortunes. But, if you really love me from your heart, my son, obey me.
Phidippides: In what then, pray, shall I obey you?
Strepsiades: Reform your habits as quickly as possible, and go and learn what I advise.
Phidippides: Tell me now, what do you prescribe?
Strepsiades: And will you obey me at all?
Phidippides: By Bacchus, I will obey you.
Strepsiades:Look this way then! Do you see this little door and little house?
Phidippides: I see it. What then, pray, is this, father?
Strepsiades: This is a thinking-shop of wise spirits. There dwell men who in speaking of the heavens persuade people that it is an oven, and that it encompasses us, and that we are the embers. These men teach, if one give them money, to conquer in speaking, right or wrong.
Phidippides: Who are they?
Strepsiades:I do not know the name accurately. They are minute philosophers, noble and excellent.
Phidippides:Bah! They are rogues; I know them. You mean the quacks, the pale-faced wretches, the bare-footed fellows, of whose numbers are the miserable Socrates and Chaerephon.
Strepsiades: Hold! Hold! Be silent! Do not say anything foolish. But, if you have any concern for your father's patrimony, become one of them, having given up your horsemanship.
Phidippides: I would not, by Bacchus, even if you were to give me the pheasants which Leogoras rears!
Strepsiades: Go, I entreat you, dearest of men, go and be taught.
Phidippides:Why, what shall I learn?
Strepsiades: They say that among them are both the two causes--the better cause, whichever that is, and the worse: they say that the one of these two causes, the worse, prevails, though it speaks on the unjust side. If, therefore you learn for me this unjust cause, I would not pay any one, not even an obolus of these debts, which I owe at present on your account.
Phidippides: I can not comply; for I should not dare to look upon the knights, having lost all my colour.
Strepsiades:Then, by Ceres, you shall not eat any of my good! Neither you, nor your blood-horse; but I will drive you out of my house to the crows.
Phidippides: My uncle Megacles will not permit me to be without a horse. But I'll go in, and pay no heed to you.
Strepsiades: Though fallen, still I will not lie prostrate: but having prayed to the gods, I will go myself to the thinking-shop and get taught. How, then, being an old man, shall I learn the subtleties of refined disquisitions? I must go. … (William James Hickie. London. Bohn. 1853?.)
Note: Phidippides is a compound name of -hippos (horse) proposed by his mother and another one proposed by his father, "phidonides", thrifty. Chaerophon was a sick person whom daylight bothers, and so he just went out at night, so that Aristophanes called him "vampire"; cf. The Birds, 1296; 1564
We still have some of that confidence or belief in the persuasive power of words against reality. We still believe that a skilled attorney on use of the word can win a lawsuit against reason; it is almost universal belief that a good politician is a good speaker or someone who knows how to use and play with words to convince the undecided or even those who initially thought otherwise. And the funny thing is that it's not so far-fetched this widespread belief ...
One can imagine the hilarity that these exaggerations should produce in audience so easy to feed the rejection to so much charlatan as in social life. Later he presents Socrates hanging ridiculously on a basket far from the ground floor to see better atmospheric phenomena:
Verses 217 ff.
Strepsiades: Then you will weep for it.
Looking up and discovering Socrates.
Come, who is this man who is in the basket?
Strepsiades: Who's “Himself”?
Strepsiades: O Socrates! Come, you sir, call upon him loudly for me.
Disciple: Nay, rather, call him yourself; for I have no leisure.
Strepsiades: Socrates! My little Socrates!
Socrates: Why callest thou me, thou creature of a day?
Strepsiades: First tell me, I beseech you, what are you doing.
Socrates: I am walking in the air, and speculating about the sun.
Strepsiades: And so you look down upon the gods from your basket, and not from the earth?
Socrates: For I should not have rightly discovered things celestial if I had not suspended the intellect, and mixed the thought in a subtle form with its kindred air. But if, being on the ground, I speculated from below on things above, I should never have discovered them. For the earth forcibly attracts to itself the meditative moisture. Water-cresses also suffer the very same thing.
Strepsiades: What do you say? Does meditation attract the moisture to the water-cresses? Come then, my little Socrates, descend to me, that you may teach me those things, for the sake of which I have come.
Socrates lowers himself and gets out of the basket.
Soccrates: And for what did you come?
Strepsiades: Wishing to learn to speak; for by reason of usury, and most ill-natured creditors, I am pillaged and plundered, and have my goods seized for debt.
Socrates: How did you get in debt without observing it?
Strepsiades: A horse-disease consumed me--terrible at eating. But teach me the other one of your two causes, that which pays nothing; and I will swear by the gods, I will pay down to you whatever reward you exact of me. (Translated by William James Hickie. London. Bohn. 1853?).
And Socrates in the Apology 18b-18c warns about the objective of this image that the playwright gives of those who investigate things of nature, presenting him as an "atheist":
These, men of Athens, who have spread abroad this report, are my dangerous enemies. For those who hear them think that men who investigate these matters do not even believe in gods. ( Translated by Harold North Fowler)
At the beginning of the "Apology of Socrates" 18c-18d, Plato described, through the mouth of Socrates himself, that oppressive atmosphere of collective opinion against which it is impossible to fight and to which they are subjected who do not fit the spirit of uncritical social majority. In the same text it is complaint the responsibility of a "playwright", Aristophanes.
But the most unreasonable thing of all is this, that it is not even possible to know and speak their names, except when one of them happens to be a writer of comedies. And all those who persuaded you by means of envy and slander—and some also persuaded others because they had been themselves persuaded—all these are most difficult to cope with; for it is not even possible to call any of them up here and cross-question him, but I am compelled in making my defence to fight, as it were, absolutely with shadows and to cross-question when nobody answers. ( Translated by Harold North Fowler)
The theater, always related to the society in which it operates, has had an important influence on the collective behavior of the masses.
In the explanation of the indictment, as it is expressed by Socrates himself in Plato's Apology, they have been decisive:
His awareness of moral superiority over the rest: Your friend Chaerophon asked Apollo if there was a wiser man than Socrates and the Oracle responded that there was no one. Socrates tried to find out whether these things were so and just interprets the statement in the sense that he is wise "because he only knows that he knows nothing", while others think they know when in fact they know nothing.
To check if the oracle told the truth, he investigated the men who was considered wise: he begins with a famous politician, then he investigated other and two others, then went to the poets, then the foreign and then the artists. In all of them he found ignorance and the belief that they knew when they do not knew that they knew nothing. This discovery of their superiority, with his inquisitive style against the opponent until he was ridiculed, earned him many enemies.
Now from this investigation, men of Athens, many enmities have arisen against me, and such as are most harsh and grievous, so that many prejudices have resulted from them and I am called a wise man. For on each occasion those who are present think I am wise in the matters in which I confute someone else; but the fact is, gentlemen, it is likely that the god is really wise and by his oracle means this: “Human wisdom is of little or no value.” And it appears that he does not really say this of Socrates, but merely uses my name, and makes me an example, as if he were to say: “This one of you, O human beings, is wisest, who, like Socrates, recognizes that he is in truth of no account in respect to wisdom.” ( Translated by Harold North Fowler)
The same superiority again wield later when he refuses to plead to the judges, despite having his family, "three children, one just lad and two smaller" who will lose him. He will not seek clemency by respect for his city, the laws and himself and his good name. He not even will accept pay a fine.
The accusation he corrupts youth, when young people are flocking freely and are comfortable learning from the master.
And in addition to these things, the young men who have the most leisure, the sons of the richest men, accompany me of their own accord, find pleasure in hearing people being examined, and often imitate me themselves, and then they undertake to examine others; and then, I fancy, they find a great plenty of people who think they know something, but know little or nothing. As a result, therefore, those who are examined by them are angry with me, instead of being angry with themselves, and say that “Socrates is a most abominable person and is corrupting the youth.”
And when anyone asks them “by doing or teaching what?” they have nothing to say, but they do not know, and that they may not seem to be at a loss they say these things that are handy to say against all the philosophers, “the things in the air and the things beneath the earth” and “not to believe in the gods” and “to make the weaker argument the stronger.” For they would not, I fancy, care to say the truth, that it is being made very clear that they pretend to know, but know nothing. ( Translated by Harold North Fowler)
I mentioned how he maliciously is confused with the Sophists and their mastery of the word to twist the arguments and reality and how young people also learn those lessons.
On 30a.30c: he teaching comments teaching that he really seeks to convey.
For I go about doing nothing else than urging you, young and old, not to care for your persons or your property more than for the perfection of your souls, or even so much; and I tell you that virtue does not come from money, but from virtue comes money and all other good things to man, both to the individual and to the state. If by saying these things I corrupt the youth, these things must be injurious; but if anyone asserts that I say other things than these, he says what is untrue. Therefore I say to you, men of Athens, either do as Anytus tells you, or not, and either acquit me, or not, knowing that I shall not change my conduct even if I am to die many times over.
Do not make a disturbance, men of Athens; continue to do what I asked of you, not to interrupt my speech by disturbances, but to hear me; and I believe you will profit by hearing. (Translated by Harold North Fowler)
The accusation of being an atheist and not believing in the gods of the city.
Aristophanes also presented him as an atheist. In verse 830 of The Clouds Strepsiades informs his son that to believe in Zeus is an old idea and this is what Socrates of Melos and Chaerophon said, and this is also a statement with with an ulterior motive, because he called him also atheist indirectly.
Phidippides: Who says this?
Strepsiades: Socrates the Melian, and Chaerephon, who knows the footmarks of fleas. (Translated by William James Hickie. London. Bohn. 1853?.)
But Socrates is not from Melos but from Athens; Melian was the famous atheist Diagoras; so calling Socrates "Melian" actually he is calling him indirectly "atheist".
But nevertheless, tell us, how do you say, Meletus, that I corrupt the youth? Or is it evident, according to the indictment you brought, that it is by teaching them not to believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other new spiritual beings? Do you not say that it is by teaching this that I corrupt them? “Very decidedly that is what I say.” Then, Meletus, for the sake of these very gods about whom our speech now is, speak still more clearly both to me and to these gentlemen. For I am unable to understand whether you say that I teach that there are some gods, and myself then believe that there are some gods, and am not altogether godless and am not a wrongdoer in that way, that these, however, are not the gods whom the state believes in, but others, and this is what you accuse me for, that I believe in others; or you say that I do not myself believe in gods at all and that I teach this unbelief to other people. “That is what I say, that you do not believe in gods at all.” You amaze me, Meletus! Why do you say this? Do I not even believe that the sun or yet the moon are gods, as the rest of mankind do? “No, by Zeus, judges, since he says that the sun is a stone and the moon earth.” Do you think you are accusing Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus, and do you so despise these gentlemen and think they are so unversed in letters as not to know, that the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian are full of such utterances? And forsooth the youth learn these doctrines from me, which they can buy sometimes (if the price is high) for a drachma in the orchestra and laugh at Socrates, if he pretends they are his own, especially when they are so absurd! But for heaven's sake, do you think this of me, that I do not believe there is any god? “No, by Zeus, you don't, not in the least.” You cannot be believed, Meletus, not even, as it seems to me, by yourself. For this man appears to me, men of Athens, to be very violent and unrestrained, and actually to have brought this indictment in a spirit of violence and unrestraint and rashness. (Translated by Harold North Fowler)
* Note: other translations referred not to hear the teachings of Anaxagoras, but to buy a book of Anaxagoras for one drachma. In that case Plato would also reporting us the existence of a market for books in Athens, since it is possible to buy in the agora a book of Anaxagoras by one drachma. No doubt the price seems ridiculously cheap; surely that books would be scarce and the price rather high, but it is interesting to see how on the first democracy it was available to anyone who could afford the book as a democratizing instrument of knowledge.
In that context Anytus craftsman, Meletus, failed poet and complacent with established power, and Licon, speaker, made the complaint.
From among them Meletus attacked me, and Anytus and Lycon, Meletus angered on account of the poets, and Anytus on account of the artisans and the public men, and Lycon on account of the orators.
Socrates himself offers us the textual denounces on 24b-24c:
It is about as follows: it states that Socrates is a wrongdoer because he corrupts the youth and does not believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other new spiritual beings.
Socrates repeated many times throughout his life he had a particular genius, a sort of guardian angel, who told him what to do inside or not.
Socrates notes with pride to his fellow citizens of Athens the consequences that will flow from his wrongful conviction:
Do not make a disturbance, men of Athens; continue to do what I asked of you, not to interrupt my speech by disturbances, but to hear me; and I believe you will profit by hearing. Now I am going to say some things to you at which you will perhaps cry out; but do not do so by any means. For know that if you kill me, I being such a man as I say I am, you will not injure me so much as yourselves; for neither Meletus nor Anytus could injure me; that would be impossible, for I believe it is not God's will that a better man be injured by a worse. He might, however, perhaps kill me or banish me or disfranchise me; and perhaps he thinks he would thus inflict great injuries upon me, and others may think so, but I do not; I think he does himself a much greater injury by doing what he is doing now—killing a man unjustly. And so, men of Athens, I am now making my defence not for my own sake, as one might imagine, but far more for yours, that you may not by condemning me err in your treatment of the gift the God gave you. For if you put me to death, you will not easily find another, who, to use a rather absurd figure, attaches himself to the city as a gadfly to a horse, which, though large and well bred, is sluggish on account of his size and needs to be aroused by stinging. I think the god fastened me upon the city in some such capacity, and I go about arousing, and urging and reproaching each one of you, constantly alighting upon you everywhere the whole day long. Such another is not likely to come to you, gentlemen; but if you take my advice, you will spare me. But you, perhaps, might be angry, like people awakened from a nap, and might slap me, as Anytus advises, and easily kill me; then you would pass the rest of your lives in slumber, unless God, in his care for you, should send someone else to sting you. And that I am, as I say, a kind of gift from the god, you might understand from this; for I have neglected all my own affairs and have been enduring the neglect of my concerns all these years, but I am always busy in your interest, coming to each one of you individually like a father or an elder brother and urging you to care for virtue; now that is not like human conduct. If I derived any profit from this and received pay for these exhortations, there would be some sense in it; but now you yourselves see that my accusers, though they accuse me of everything else in such a shameless way, have not been able to work themselves up to such a pitch of shamelessness as to produce a witness to testify that I ever exacted or asked pay of anyone. For I think I have a sufficient witness that I speak the truth, namely, my poverty.
In the first part of the process 281 men voted for the condemnation, 220 voted for the acquittal. When in the second phase of the process he stated that he deserved to be named benefactor of the city and be fed into the Pritanean off by the state, as with the victors in the Olympic Games, 360 men sentenced for death and 141 voted for the proposal of Socrates. The court must choose the penalty suggested by the prosecutor or the one proposed by the defendant himself, but it could not determine an intermediate.
Let us read this episode as Plato recounts through the mouth of Socrates himself
And so the man proposes the penalty of death. Well, then, what shall I propose as an alternative? Clearly that which I deserve, shall I not? And what do I deserve to suffer or to pay, because in my life I did not keep quiet, but neglecting what most men care for—money-making and property, and military offices, and public speaking, and the various offices and plots and parties that come up in the state—and thinking that I was really too honorable to engage in those activities and live, refrained from those things by which I should have been of no use to you or to myself, and devoted myself to conferring upon each citizen individually what I regard as the greatest benefit? For I tried to persuade each of you to care for himself and his own perfection in goodness and wisdom rather than for any of his belongings, and for the state itself rather than for its interests, and to follow the same method in his care for other things. What, then, does such a man as I deserve? Some good thing, men of Athens, if I must propose something truly in accordance with my deserts; and the good thing should be such as is fitting for me. Now what is fitting for a poor man who is your benefactor, and who needs leisure to exhort you? There is nothing, men of Athens, so fitting as that such a man be given his meals in the prytaneum. That is much more appropriate for me than for any of you who has won a race at the Olympic games with a pair of horses or a four-in-hand. For he makes you seem to be happy, whereas I make you happy in reality; and he is not at all in need of sustenance, but I am needy. So if I must propose a penalty in accordance with my deserts, I propose maintenance in the prytaneum.
Perhaps some of you think that in saying this, as in what I said about lamenting and imploring, I am speaking in a spirit of bravado; but that is not the case.
And sentenced to death for the majority, Socrates makes a warning to those who voted against him:
And now I wish to prophesy to you, O ye who have condemned me; for I am now at the time when men most do prophesy, the time just before death. And I say to you, ye men who have slain me, that punishment will come upon you straight-way after my death, far more grievous in sooth than the punishment of death which you have meted out to me. For now you have done this to me because you hoped that you would be relieved from rendering an account of your lives, but I say that you will find the result far different. Those who will force you to give an account will be more numerous than heretofore; men whom I restrained, though you knew it not; and they will be harsher, inasmuch as they are younger, and you will be more annoyed. For if you think that by putting men to death you will prevent anyone from reproaching you because you do not act as you should, you are mistaken. That mode of escape is neither possible at all nor honorable, but the easiest and most honorable escape is not by suppressing others, but by making yourselves as good as possible. So with this prophecy to you who condemned me I take my leave.
He also has a few heartfelt words to the 141 men who acquitted him in 39e
But with those who voted for my acquittal I should like to converse about this which has happened, while the authorities are busy and before I go to the place where I must die
Let us consider in another way also how good reason there is to hope that it is a good thing.
For the state of death is one of two things: either it is virtually nothingness, so that the dead has no consciousness of anything, or it is, as people say, a change and migration of the soul from this to another place. And if it is unconsciousness, like a sleep in which the sleeper does not even dream, death would be a wonderful gain. For I think if any one were to pick out that night in which he slept a dreamless sleep and, comparing with it the other nights and days of his life, were to say, after due consideration, how many days and nights in his life had passed more pleasantly than that night,—I believe that not only any private person, but even the great King of Persia himself would find that they were few in comparison with the other days and nights. So if such is the nature of death, I count it a gain; for in that case, all time seems to be no longer than one night. But on the other hand, if death is, as it were, a change of habitation from here to some other place, and if what we are told is true, that all the dead are there, what greater blessing could there be, judges? For if a man when he reaches the other world, after leaving behind these who claim to be judges, shall find those who are really judges who are said to sit in judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus, and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and all the other demigods who were just men in their lives, would the change of habitation be undesirable? Or again, what would any of you give to meet with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? I am willing to die many times over, if these things are true; for I personally should find the life there wonderful, when I met Palamedes or Ajax, the son of Telamon, or any other men of old who lost their lives through an unjust judgement, and compared my experience with theirs. I think that would not be unpleasant. And the greatest pleasure would be to pass my time in examining and investigating the people there, as I do those here, to find out who among them is wise and who thinks he is when he is not.
But you also, judges, must regard death hopefully and must bear in mind this one truth, that no evil can come to a good man either in life or after death, and God does not neglect him. So, too, this which had come to me has not come by chance, but I see plainly that it was better for me to die now and be freed from troubles. ….
But now the time has come to go away. I go to die, and you to live; but which of us goes to the better lot, is known to none but God. (Tanslated by Harold North Fowler. Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd. 1966.
Thus ends the Apology of Socrates that Plato left us.
Now let us read the full text of the Apology
Plato: Apology (of Socrates)
How you, men of Athens, have been affected by my accusers, I do not know; but I, for my part, almost forgot my own identity, so persuasively did they talk; and yet there is hardly a word of truth in what they have said. But I was most amazed by one of the many lies that they told—when they said that you must be on your guard not to be deceived by me, because I was a clever speaker. For I thought it the most shameless part of their conduct that they are not ashamed because they will immediately be convicted by me of falsehood by the evidence of fact, when I show myself to be not in the least a clever speaker, unless indeed they call him a clever speaker who speaks the truth; for if this is what they mean, I would agree that I am an orator—not after their fashion. Now they, as I say, have said little or nothing true; but you shall hear from me nothing but the truth. Not, however, men of Athens, speeches finely tricked out with words and phrases, as theirs are, nor carefully arranged, but you will hear things said at random with the words that happen to occur to me. For I trust that what I say is just; and let none of you expect anything else. For surely it would not be fitting for one of my age to come before you like a youngster making up speeches. And, men of Athens, I urgently beg and beseech you if you hear me making my defence with the same words with which I have been accustomed to speak both in the market place at the bankers tables, where many of you have heard me, and elsewhere, not to be surprised or to make a disturbance on this account. For the fact is that this is the first time I have come before the court, although I am seventy years old; I am therefore an utter foreigner to the manner of speech here. Hence, just as you would, of course, if I were really a foreigner, pardon me if I spoke in that dialect and that manner in which I had been brought up, so now I make this request of you, a fair one, as it seems to me, that you disregard the manner of my speech—for perhaps it might be worse and perhaps better—and observe and pay attention merely to this, whether what I say is just or not; for that is the virtue of a judge, and an orator's virtue is to speak the truth.
First then it is right for me to defend myself against the first false accusations brought against me, and the first accusers, and then against the later accusations and the later accusers. For many accusers have risen up against me before you, who have been speaking for a long time, many years already, and saying nothing true; and I fear them more than Anytus and the rest, though these also are dangerous; but those others are more dangerous, gentlemen, who gained your belief, since they got hold of most of you in childhood, and accused me without any truth, saying, “There is a certain Socrates, a wise man, a ponderer over the things in the air and one who has investigated the things beneath the earth and who makes the weaker argument the stronger.” These, men of Athens, who have spread abroad this report, are my dangerous enemies. For those who hear them think that men who investigate these matters do not even believe in gods. Besides, these accusers are many and have been making their accusations already for a long time, and moreover they spoke to you at an age at which you would believe them most readily (some of you in youth, most of you in childhood), and the case they prosecuted went utterly by default, since nobody appeared in defence. But the most unreasonable thing of all is this, that it is not even possible to know and speak their names, except when one of them happens to be a writer of comedies. And all those who persuaded you by means of envy and slander—and some also persuaded others because they had been themselves persuaded—all these are most difficult to cope with; for it is not even possible to call any of them up here and cross-question him, but I am compelled in making my defence to fight, as it were, absolutely with shadows and to cross-question when nobody answers. Be kind enough, then, to bear in mind, as I say, that there are two classes of my accusers—one those who have just brought their accusation, the other those who, as I was just saying, brought it long ago, and consider that I must defend myself first against the latter; for you heard them making their charges first and with much greater force than these who made them later. Well, then, I must make a defence, men of Athens, and must try in so short a time to remove from you this prejudice which you have been for so long a time acquiring. Now I wish that this might turn out so, if it is better for you and for me, and that I might succeed with my defence; but I think it is difficult, and I am not at all deceived about its nature. But nevertheless, let this be as is pleasing to God, the law must be obeyed and I must make a defence.
Now let us take up from the beginning the question, what the accusation is from which the false prejudice against me has arisen, in which Meletus trusted when he brought this suit against me. What did those who aroused the prejudice say to arouse it? I must, as it were, read their sworn statement as if they were plaintiffs: “Socrates is a criminal and a busybody, investigating the things beneath the earth and in the heavens and making the weaker argument stronger and teaching others these same things.” Something of that sort it is. For you yourselves saw these things in Aristophanes' comedy, a Socrates being carried about there, proclaiming that he was treading on air and uttering a vast deal of other nonsense, about which I know nothing, either much or little. And I say this, not to cast dishonor upon such knowledge, if anyone is wise about such matters (may I never have to defend myself against Meletus on so great a charge as that!),—but I, men of Athens, have nothing to do with these things. And I offer as witnesses most of yourselves, and I ask you to inform one another and to tell, all those of you who ever heard me conversing—and there are many such among you—now tell, if anyone ever heard me talking much or little about such matters. And from this you will perceive that such are also the other things that the multitude say about me.
But in fact none of these things are true, and if you have heard from anyone that I undertake to teach people and that I make money by it, that is not true either. Although this also seems to me to be a fine thing, if one might be able to teach people, as Gorgias of Leontini and Prodicus of Ceos and Hippias of Elis are. For each of these men, gentlemen, is able to go into any one of the cities and persuade the young men, who can associate for nothing with whomsoever they wish among their own fellow citizens, to give up the association with those men and to associate with them and pay them money and be grateful besides.
And there is also another wise man here, a Parian, who I learned was in town; for I happened to meet a man who has spent more on sophists than all the rest, Callias, the son of Hipponicus; so I asked him—for he has two sons—“Callias,” said I, “if your two sons had happened to be two colts or two calves, we should be able to get and hire for them an overseer who would make them excellent in the kind of excellence proper to them; and he would be a horse-trainer or a husbandman; but now, since they are two human beings, whom have you in mind to get as overseer? Who has knowledge of that kind of excellence, that of a man and a citizen? For I think you have looked into the matter, because you have the sons. Is there anyone,” said I, “or not?” “Certainly,” said he. “Who,” said I, “and where from, and what is his price for his teaching?” “Evenus,” he said, “Socrates, from Paros, five minae.” And I called Evenus blessed, if he really had this art and taught so reasonably. I myself should be vain and put on airs, if I understood these things; but I do not understand them, men of Athens.
Now perhaps someone might rejoin: “But, Socrates, what is the trouble about you? Whence have these prejudices against you arisen? For certainly this great report and talk has not arisen while you were doing nothing more out of the way than the rest, unless you were doing something other than most people; so tell us what it is, that we may not act unadvisedly in your case.” The man who says this seems to me to be right, and I will try to show you what it is that has brought about my reputation and aroused the prejudice against me. So listen. And perhaps I shall seem to some of you to be joking; be assured, however, I shall speak perfect truth to you.
The fact is, men of Athens, that I have acquired this reputation on account of nothing else than a sort of wisdom. What kind of wisdom is this? Just that which is perhaps human wisdom. For perhaps I really am wise in this wisdom; and these men, perhaps, of whom I was just speaking, might be wise in some wisdom greater than human, or I don't know what to say; for I do not understand it, and whoever says I do, is lying and speaking to arouse prejudice against me. And, men of Athens, do not interrupt me with noise, even if I seem to you to be boasting; for the word which I speak is not mine, but the speaker to whom I shall refer it is a person of weight. For of my wisdom—if it is wisdom at all—and of its nature, I will offer you the god of Delphi as a witness. You know Chaerephon, I fancy.
He was my comrade from a youth and the comrade of your democratic party, and shared in the recent exile and came back with you. And you know the kind of man Chaerephon was, how impetuous in whatever he undertook. Well, once he went to Delphi and made so bold as to ask the oracle this question; and, gentlemen, don't make a disturbance at what I say; for he asked if there were anyone wiser than I. Now the Pythia replied that there was no one wiser. And about these things his brother here will bear you witness, since Chaerephon is dead. But see why I say these things; for I am going to tell you whence the prejudice against me has arisen. For when I heard this, I thought to myself: “What in the world does the god mean, and what riddle is he propounding? For I am conscious that I am not wise either much or little. What then does he mean by declaring that I am the wisest? He certainly cannot be lying, for that is not possible for him.” And for a long time I was at a loss as to what he meant; then with great reluctance I proceeded to investigate him somewhat as follows.
I went to one of those who had a reputation for wisdom, thinking that there, if anywhere, I should prove the utterance wrong and should show the oracle “This man is wiser than I, but you said I was wisest.” So examining this man—for I need not call him by name, but it was one of the public men with regard to whom I had this kind of experience, men of Athens—and conversing with him, this man seemed to me to seem to be wise to many other people and especially to himself, but not to be so; and then I tried to show him that he thought he was wise, but was not. As a result, I became hateful to him and to many of those present; and so, as I went away, I thought to myself, “I am wiser than this man; for neither of us really knows anything fine and good, but this man thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas I, as I do not know anything, do not think I do either. I seem, then, in just this little thing to be wiser than this man at any rate, that what I do not know I do not think I know either.” From him I went to another of those who were reputed to be wiser than he, and these same things seemed to me to be true; and there I became hateful both to him and to many others.
After this then I went on from one to another, perceiving that I was hated, and grieving and fearing, but nevertheless I thought I must consider the god's business of the highest importance. So I had to go, investigating the meaning of the oracle, to all those who were reputed to know anything. And by the Dog, men of Athens —for I must speak the truth to you—this, I do declare, was my experience: those who had the most reputation seemed to me to be almost the most deficient, as I investigated at the god's behest, and others who were of less repute seemed to be superior men in the matter of being sensible. So I must relate to you my wandering as I performed my Herculean labors, so to speak, in order that the oracle might be proved to be irrefutable. For after the public men I went to the poets, those of tragedies, and those of dithyrambs, and the rest, thinking that there I should prove by actual test that I was less learned than they. So, taking up the poems of theirs that seemed to me to have been most carefully elaborated by them, I asked them what they meant, that I might at the same time learn something from them. Now I am ashamed to tell you the truth, gentlemen; but still it must be told. For there was hardly a man present, one might say, who would not speak better than they about the poems they themselves had composed. So again in the case of the poets also I presently recognized this, that what they composed they composed not by wisdom, but by nature and because they were inspired, like the prophets and givers of oracles; for these also say many fine things, but know none of the things they say; it was evident to me that the poets too had experienced something of this same sort. And at the same time I perceived that they, on account of their poetry, thought that they were the wisest of men in other things as well, in which they were not. So I went away from them also thinking that I was superior to them in the same thing in which I excelled the public men.
Finally then I went to the hand-workers. For I was conscious that I knew practically nothing, but I knew I should find that they knew many fine things. And in this I was not deceived; they did know what I did not, and in this way they were wiser than I. But, men of Athens, the good artisans also seemed to me to have the same failing as the poets; because of practicing his art well, each one thought he was very wise in the other most important matters, and this folly of theirs obscured that wisdom, so that I asked myself in behalf of the oracle whether I should prefer to be as I am, neither wise in their wisdom nor foolish in their folly, or to be in both respects as they are. I replied then to myself and to the oracle that it was better for me to be as I am.
Now from this investigation, men of Athens, many enmities have arisen against me, and such as are most harsh and grievous, so that many prejudices have resulted from them and I am called a wise man. For on each occasion those who are present think I am wise in the matters in which I confute someone else; but the fact is, gentlemen, it is likely that the god is really wise and by his oracle means this: “Human wisdom is of little or no value.” And it appears that he does not really say this of Socrates, but merely uses my name, and makes me an example, as if he were to say: “This one of you, O human beings, is wisest, who, like Socrates, recognizes that he is in truth of no account in respect to wisdom.”
Therefore I am still even now going about and searching and investigating at the god's behest anyone, whether citizen or foreigner, who I think is wise; and when he does not seem so to me, I give aid to the god and show that he is not wise. And by reason of this occupation I have no leisure to attend to any of the affairs of the state worth mentioning, or of my own, but am in vast poverty on account of my service to the god.
And in addition to these things, the young men who have the most leisure, the sons of the richest men, accompany me of their own accord, find pleasure in hearing people being examined, and often imitate me themselves, and then they undertake to examine others; and then, I fancy, they find a great plenty of people who think they know something, but know little or nothing. As a result, therefore, those who are examined by them are angry with me, instead of being angry with themselves, and say that “Socrates is a most abominable person and is corrupting the youth.”
And when anyone asks them “by doing or teaching what?” they have nothing to say, but they do not know, and that they may not seem to be at a loss they say these things that are handy to say against all the philosophers, “the things in the air and the things beneath the earth” and “not to believe in the gods” and “to make the weaker argument the stronger.” For they would not, I fancy, care to say the truth, that it is being made very clear that they pretend to know, but know nothing. Since, then, they are jealous of their honor and energetic and numerous and speak concertedly and persuasively about me, they have filled your ears both long ago and now with vehement slanders. From among them Meletus attacked me, and Anytus and Lycon, Meletus angered on account of the poets, and Anytus on account of the artisans and the public men, and Lycon on account of the orators; so that, as I said in the beginning, I should be surprised if I were able to remove this prejudice from you in so short a time when it has grown so great. There you have the truth, men of Athens, and I speak without hiding anything from you, great or small or prevaricating. And yet I know pretty well that I am making myself hated by just that conduct; which is also a proof that I am speaking the truth and that this is the prejudice against me and these are its causes. And whether you investigate this now or hereafter, you will find that it is so.
Now so far as the accusations are concerned which my first accusers made against me, this is a sufficient defence before you; but against Meletus, the good and patriotic, as he says, and the later ones, I will try to defend myself next. So once more, as if these were another set of accusers, let us take up in turn their sworn statement. It is about as follows: it states that Socrates is a wrongdoer because he corrupts the youth and does not believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other new spiritual beings.
Such is the accusation. But let us examine each point of this accusation. He says I am a wrongdoer because I corrupt the youth. But I, men of Athens, say Meletus is a wrongdoer, because he jokes in earnest, lightly involving people in a lawsuit, pretending to be zealous and concerned about things or which he never cared at all. And that this is so I will try to make plain to you also.
Come here, Meletus, tell me: don't you consider it of great importance that the youth be as good as possible? “I do.” Come now, tell these gentlemen who makes them better? For it is evident that you know, since you care about it. For you have found the one who corrupts them, as you say, and you bring me before these gentlemen and accuse me; and now, come, tell who makes them better and inform them who he is. Do you see, Meletus, that you are silent and cannot tell? And yet does it not seem to you disgraceful and a sufficient proof of what I say, that you have never cared about it? But tell, my good man, who makes them better? “The laws.” But that is not what I ask, most excellent one, but what man, who knows in the first place just this very thing, the laws. “These men, Socrates, the judges.” What are you saying, Meletus? Are these gentlemen able to instruct the youth, and do they make them better? “Certainly.” All, or some of them and others not? “All.” Well said, by Hera, and this is a great plenty of helpers you speak of. But how about this?
Do these listeners make them better, or not? “These also.” And how about the senators? “The senators also.” But, Meletus, those in the assembly, the assemblymen, don't corrupt the youth, do they? or do they also all make them better? “They also.” All the Athenians, then, as it seems, make them excellent, except myself, and I alone corrupt them. Is this what you mean? “Very decidedly, that is what I mean.” You have condemned me to great unhappiness! But answer me; does it seem to you to be so in the case of horses, that those who make them better are all mankind, and he who injures them some one person? Or, quite the opposite of this, that he who is able to make them better is some one person, or very few, the horse-trainers, whereas most people, if they have to do with and use horses, injure them? Is it not so, Meletus, both in the case of horses and in that of all other animals? Certainly it is, whether you and Anytus deny it or agree; for it would be a great state of blessedness in the case of the youth if one alone corrupts them, and the others do them good. But, Meletus, you show clearly enough that you never thought about the youth, and you exhibit plainly your own carelessness, that you have not cared at all for the things about which you hale me into court.
But besides, tell us, for heaven's sake, Meletus, is it better to live among good citizens, or bad? My friend, answer; for I am not asking anything hard. Do not the bad do some evil to those who are with them at any time and the good some good? “Certainly.” Is there then anyone who prefers to be injured by his associates rather than benefited? Answer, my good man; for the law orders you to answer. Is there anyone who prefers to be injured? “Of course not.” Come then, do you hale me in here on the ground that I am corrupting the youth and making them worse voluntarily or involuntarily? “Voluntarily I say.” What then, Meletus? Are you at your age so much wiser than I at my age, that you have recognized that the evil always do some evil to those nearest them, and the good some good; whereas I have reached such a depth of ignorance that I do not even know this, that if I make anyone of my associates bad I am in danger of getting some harm from him, so that I do this great evil voluntarily, as you say? I don't believe this, Meletus, nor do I think anyone else in the world does! but either I do not corrupt them, or if I corrupt them, I do it involuntarily, so that you are lying in both events. But if I corrupt them involuntarily, for such involuntary errors the law is not to hale people into court, but to take them and instruct and admonish them in private. For it is clear that if I am told about it, I shall stop doing that which I do involuntarily. But you avoided associating with me and instructing me, and were unwilling to do so, but you hale me in here, where it is the law to hale in those who need punishment, not instruction.
But enough of this, for, men of Athens, this is clear, as I said, that Meletus never cared much or little for these things. But nevertheless, tell us, how do you say, Meletus, that I corrupt the youth? Or is it evident, according to the indictment you brought, that it is by teaching them not to believe in the gods the state believes in, but in other new spiritual beings? Do you not say that it is by teaching this that I corrupt them? “Very decidedly that is what I say.” Then, Meletus, for the sake of these very gods about whom our speech now is, speak still more clearly both to me and to these gentlemen. For I am unable to understand whether you say that I teach that there are some gods, and myself then believe that there are some gods, and am not altogether godless and am not a wrongdoer in that way, that these, however, are not the gods whom the state believes in, but others, and this is what you accuse me for, that I believe in others; or you say that I do not myself believe in gods at all and that I teach this unbelief to other people. “That is what I say, that you do not believe in gods at all.” You amaze me, Meletus! Why do you say this? Do I not even believe that the sun or yet the moon are gods, as the rest of mankind do? “No, by Zeus, judges, since he says that the sun is a stone and the moon earth.” Do you think you are accusing Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus, and do you so despise these gentlemen and think they are so unversed in letters as not to know, that the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian are full of such utterances? And forsooth the youth learn these doctrines from me, which they can buy sometimes (if the price is high) for a drachma in the orchestra and laugh at Socrates, if he pretends they are his own, esp