The Apology and Related Dialogues
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The Apology and Related Dialogues

Plato, Andrew Bailey, Cathal Woods, Ryan Pack

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The Apology and Related Dialogues

Plato, Andrew Bailey, Cathal Woods, Ryan Pack

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Socrates, one of the first of the great philosophers, left no written works. What survives of his thought are second-hand descriptions of his teachings and conversations—including, most famously, the accounts of his trial and execution composed by his friend, student, and philosophical successor, Plato. In Euthyphro, Socrates examines the concept of piety and displays his propensity for questioning Athenian authorities. Such audacity is not without consequence, and in the Apology we find Socrates defending himself in court against charges of impiety and corruption of the youth. Crito depicts Socrates choosing to accept the resulting death sentence rather than escape Athens and avoid execution. All three dialogues are included here, as is the final scene of Phaedo, in which the sentence is carried out.

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The Apology is so called, not because Socrates is the least bit apologetic (in the modern sense), but as a transliteration of the Greek word apologia, which means a speech in defense of one’s beliefs or behavior. It is Plato’s depiction of the speech that Socrates made at his trial, in response to accusations of impiety and the corruption of the youth of Athens.
It has three parts. The first is Socrates’ speech in his own defense. Socrates was unsuccessful, and the jury voted to convict him. The second speech is Socrates’ proposal for what his punishment should be (see the general introduction for more information on Athenian trial procedures). In this he also fails to persuade the jury, and he is sentenced to death. The final speech—which would not have been part of the court procedure—comprises his reflections to his friends before he is led off to await his execution.
How you were affected, men of Athens,1 by my accusers, I do not know. But I, even I myself almost forgot who I was because of them, so persuasively did they speak. And yet they have said practically nothing true. I was especially amazed by one of the many lies they told, the one in which they said that you should take care not to be deceived by me because I am a skilled speaker. Their lack of shame—since they will be exposed immediately by what I do, when I show myself not to be a clever speaker at all—this seems to me to be most disgraceful of them. Unless of course they mean to call “clever” someone who speaks the truth. Because if they mean this, then I would indeed admit—not in the way they do—that I am an orator.
So, as I say, these men have said little or nothing that is true, whereas from me you will hear the whole truth. Not, by Zeus, beautified speeches like theirs, men of Athens, and not ornamented with fine phrases and words, but you will hear me say the words that come to me spoken at random—for I believe what I say is just—and let none of you expect otherwise. After all, it would surely not be fitting, gentlemen, for someone of my age to come before you composing speeches, as it might be for a young man. And this most of all, men of Athens, I beg and request of you: if in these speeches you hear me defending myself in the language I also typically use in the marketplace by the tables, where many of you have heard me, as well as elsewhere, don’t be surprised and don’t make a disturbance because of it. Because this is exactly how it is: I have now come before the court for the first time, at seventy years of age.2 So I am simply a stranger to the manner of speech here. And so, just as you would certainly have sympathy for me if I actually happened to be a stranger and spoke in the accent and manner in which I had been raised, I now particularly ask you for this just request, at least as it seems to me, to disregard my manner of speech—maybe it’s better, maybe it’s worse—and to consider only the following and pay attention to it: whether I say just things or not. For this is the virtue of a judge, while of an orator it is to speak the truth.
It is right for me to defend myself, men of Athens, first against the earliest untrue accusations made against me and the earliest accusers, and then against the later accusations and the later accusers. For many of my accusers came to you many years ago now, saying nothing true, and I fear these more than Anytus and his friends,3 though indeed they are dangerous too. But these men are more dangerous, gentlemen, the ones who, taking most of you aside from childhood, influenced you and made accusations against me that are not in fact true: that there is a certain Socrates, a clever man, a student of things in the sky who has investigated everything under the earth, and who makes the weaker speech the stronger. These people, men of Athens, having spread this allegation, are my fearsome accusers, for those who have heard them think that the people who study these things do not acknowledge the gods either. Moreover, these accusers are numerous and have been making accusations for a long time now. And what’s more, they spoke to you at an age when you would be liable to believe them—some of you being children and youths—crudely making accusations against an absent person with no one else to make a rebuttal.
What is most unreasonable is that one can’t know and name the names of these people, except if one happens to be a comic playwright.4 These people who misled you with envy and slander—and others who, having themselves been persuaded, then persuade others—all of these are hardest to deal with. For it is not possible to summon them here to court or to cross-examine any of them, but it is necessary to defend myself just as if shadow-boxing, and conduct a cross-examination without anyone responding. So you too must accept that my accusers are twofold, as I said, those who accused me recently and those whom I mentioned from long ago, and believe that I must first defend myself against the latter. For you heard their accusations against me earlier and much more often than those of the later people.
Well then. I must make a defense, men of Athens, and in such a short time must try to banish this prejudice from you that you have held for a long time. I would like it to turn out this way—that I will succeed in defending myself—if that would be better for both you and me. But I think this is difficult, and just what it is I’m attempting doesn’t escape me at all. Nevertheless, let the case proceed in whatever way the god favors; I must obey the law and make my defense.
Let us consider, then, from the beginning, what the accusation is, from which the prejudice against me arose that Meletus believed when he brought this charge against me. Well then. What precisely did the accusers say when they accused me? Just as if they were charging me, it is necessary to read out their indictment: “Socrates is guilty of meddling, of inquiring into things under the earth and in the heavens, of making the weaker speech the stronger, and of teaching these very things”—something like this. For even you yourselves have seen these things in the comedy of Aristophanes, a certain Socrates being carried around up there,5 insisting that he walks on air and spouting off a lot of other nonsense that I do not claim to know anything about, either great or small. I don’t speak in order to dishonor such knowledge, if someone is wise about such things—I hope I am not somehow prosecuted by Meletus on such great charges—but in fact I have nothing to do with them, men of Athens, and I call on the majority of you as witnesses, and I expect you to teach and inform one another, those of you who have ever heard me in conversation—and this includes many of you. Tell one another if any of you heard me ever discussing such things, either a lot or a little. And from this you will realize that the same is true of the other things that the many say about me.
But in fact none of them is the case. And indeed, if you have heard from anyone that I endeavor to teach people and make money, this is not true. Though again, I think that it is a fine thing if an individual is able to teach people,6 such as Gorgias of Leontini and Prodicus of Chios and Hippias of Elis. For each of these people, gentlemen, going into each of the cities, to the young—who could associate with whomever they want from their own citizens for free—they convince them to leave their company and join them, paying them money, and to feel grateful besides!
For that matter, there is currently another wise man, from Paros, whom I have discovered is in town because I happened to meet a man who has paid more money to sophists than all the others combined, Callias, son of Hipponicus. So I asked him—because he has two sons—“Callias,” I said, “If colts or calves had been born to you as sons, we could find and hire a trainer who would make them well-bred with respect to the appropriate virtue; he would be some horse-trainer or farmer. But as it is, since they are humans, whom do have in mind to hire as a trainer for them? Who is knowledgeable about such virtue, of the human being and of the citizen? Because I assume you have looked into it, since you have sons. Is there someone,” I said, “or not?” “Certainly,” said he. “Who?” I said, “And where from? And for how much does he teach?” “Evenus, Socrates,” he said, “from Paros, for five mina.”7 And I considered Evenus blessed, if he really has this skill and teaches for such a sweet-sounding price. I at any rate would be proud of myself and be boastful, if I knew these things. But in fact I don’t know them, men of Athens.
Perhaps some one of you might respond, “But Socrates, what is your profession? Where have these slanders against you come from? For surely it’s not by busying yourself with the usual things that so much hearsay and talk has arisen, but by doing something different from most people. Then tell us what it is, so that we don’t judge your case rashly.” The person who says this seems to me to speak justly, and I will try to show you what it is, precisely, that won me this reputation and notoriety.
Listen, then. And while I will perhaps appear to some of you to be joking, rest assured that I will tell you the whole truth. For I, men of Athens, have acquired this reputation due to nothing other than a certain wisdom. What sort of wisdom is this? Quite likely it is human wisdom. There’s a good chance that I actually have this kind of wisdom, while those men I was speaking of just now might perhaps be wise with a wisdom more than human—or I don’t know how I should put it, for I certainly don’t have it, and whoever says so is lying and is saying it to slander me. But don’t interrupt me, men of Athens, not even if I strike you as talking big. The story I will tell you is not my own, but I will refer you to a trustworthy source for what I say, because regarding whether it is wisdom of a sort and of what sort it is I will present to you as my witness the god in Delphi.8
You know Chaerephon, I presume. He was a companion of mine from youth and a comrade of yours in the democracy and joined you in the recent exile9 and returned with you. And you know how Chaerephon was, how zealous he was about whatever he pursued, and so for example when he went to Delphi he was so bold as to ask this—and, as I say, don’t interrupt, gentlemen—he asked if there was anyone wiser than me. The Pythia then replied that no one was wiser. And his brother here will bear witness to you about these things, since he himself has died.
Think about why I am bringing this up: it’s because I’m going to teach you where the prejudice against me came from. Because when I heard this I pondered in the following way: “Whatever does the god mean? And what riddle is he posing? For I am not aware of being wise in anything great or small. What in the world does he mean, then, when he says that I am wisest? For certainly he does not lie; he is not permitted to.” And for a long time I puzzled over his meaning.
Then, very reluctantly, I embarked on a sort of trial of him. I went to one of the people who are thought to be wise, hoping to refute the oracle there if anywhere, and reply to its pronouncement: “This man here is wiser than me, though you said I was.” So, scrutinizing this fellow—there’s no need to refer to him by name; he was one of the politicians I had this sort of experience with when I examined him, men of Athens—in talking with him it seemed to me that while this man was considered to be wise both by many other people and especially by himself, he was not. And so I tried to show him that he took himself to be wise, but was not. As a result I became hated by this man and by many of those present.
And so, as I was going away, I was thinking to myself, “I am at least wiser than this man. It’s likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but whereas he thinks he knows something when he doesn’t know it, I, when I don’t know something, don’t think I know it either. It’s likely, then, that by this I am indeed wiser than him in some small way, that I don’t think myself to know what I don’t know.” Next, I went to another one of the people thought to be wiser than him and things seemed the same to me, and so I made an enemy of that man as well as of many others.
So, after this, I now went to one after another, realizing with pain and fear that I was becoming hated. But nevertheless I thought it necessary to consider the god’s oracle to be of the utmost importance, so I had to continue going to all of the people thought to know something, investigating the meaning of the oracle. And by the dog, men of Athens, because I must tell you the truth, my experience was really something like the following: in my divine search those held in highest esteem seemed to me to be lacking just about the most, while others thought to be poorer were better men as far as wisdom is concerned.
I have to represent my wanderings to you as though I were undertaking various labors10 only to find that the oracle was quite irrefutable. After the politicians I went to the poets, including those of tragedies and those of dithyrambs11 and others, so that there I would catch myself being more ignorant than them. Reading the works which I thought they had really labored over, I would ask them what they meant, so that at the same time I might also learn something from them. I am ashamed to tell you the truth, gentlemen, but nevertheless it must be told. Practically anybody present, so to speak, could have better explained what they had written. And so, as before, I quickly realized the following about the poets: that they do not write what they write because of their wisdom but because they have a certain nature and are possessed, like the seers and fortune-tellers, who also say many fine things but know nothing about what they’re saying. It seemed clear to me that the poets had had a similar experience. And at once I understood that, because of their writing, they thought themselves to be the wisest of all men even about other things, but they weren’t. And so I departed from them thinking that I was superior to them in the same way as I was to the politicians.
So finally I went to the crafters, because I was aware that while I knew practically nothing, I knew that I would find that they knew many fine things. And in this I was not mistaken—they knew things I didn’t and in this they were wiser than me. But, men of Athens, the noble crafters seemed to me to have the same flaw that the poets also had. Because each of them performed his craft well, he considered himself to be most wise about the greatest things—and this sour note of theirs overshadowed their wisdom. And so I asked myself on behalf of the oracle whether I would prefer to be just as I am—neither being at all wise in the ways that they are wise nor ignorant in the ways they are ignorant—or to be both, as they are. And I answered myself and the oracle that it would be best for me to be as I am.
As a result of this quest, men of Athens, a lot of hatred developed against me, and of the most difficult and oppressive kind, such that from it many slanders arose, and I gained this reputation for being wise. For on each occasion the bystanders thought that I myself was wise about the subject on which I was examining the other person. But in fact it’s likely, gentlemen, that in truth the god is wise, and by this pronouncement he means the following: that human wisdom is worth little or nothing. And he appears to be using me as an example, speaking of this man Socrates and even using my name, just as if he said, “Human beings, he among you is wisest who knows like Socrates that he is actually worthless with respect to wisdom.” That’s why, both then and now, I go around in accordance with the god, searching and making inquiries of anyone, citizen or stranger, whom I think to be wise. And if I then learn that he isn’t, I assist the god and show him that he is not wise. And because of this busyness I lack the time to participate in any public affairs worth mentioning or any private business, but I am in great poverty because of my service to the god.
Furthermore, the young people follow me around of their own accord, those with the most leisure, the sons of the very wealthy. They delight in hearing me examine people and they often imitate me, having a go at examining others afterwards. And, I think, they discover a great number of people who think they know something but know little or nothing. As a result, the people who are examined by them then grow angry with me, but not themselves, and they say that Socrates is a most vile person and corrupts the young. And whenever anyone asks them, “By doing what and by teaching what?”, they have nothing to say and do not know, but, so as to not appear at a loss, they say these things that are handy against all philosophers, about “the heavenly things and the things under the earth” and “not acknowledging the gods” and “making the weaker speech the stronger.” I believe it’s because they don’t want to tell the truth, that they are obviously pretending to know so...

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