Socrates claims that he is wiser than the other citizens of Athens, even though he is ignorant. Why does he claim this? How does his 'human wisdom' relate to his god-given mission? Socrates also claims that what he is doing is highly beneficial to the citizens of Athens. Why does he believe this ? Evaluate either his claim that he is wiser than the other citizens of Athens or that he greatly benefits the citizens of Athens by questioning them as he does.
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The Apology” (which means, simply, “defense”) is Plato’s account of the three speeches that Socrates gave at his trial in 399 B.C.E. At the age of 71, Socrates was charged by the prosecutors Anytus and Miletus with corruption of the youth of Athens, sophistry (fraudulent teaching practices), and heresy. We do not know exactly what the pros-ecution said in its presentation, because that has not been recorded for us, but it can be assumed that mention was made of some of Socrates’ students, like the politician Critias (one of the Thirty Tyrants) and the general Alcibiades, both of whom supported Athens’ rival Sparta and were regarded as traitors. It had therefore been rumored for some time that Socrates’ teachings were dangerous because they led men to rebel against the state. In his defense, Socrates argued that he only questioned authority in an effort to keep the state healthy and that he himself had nearly been the victim of Critias for refusing to do the bidding of the Thirty Tyrants.“The Apology” consists of the following three speeches:1.the defense proper: socrates answered the charges levelled against him.2.the sentencing plea: having been found guilty, socrates was expected to request exile, but he refused to do so.3.socrates’s farewell to Athens: After being sentenced to death, socrates spoke to both his detractors and his supporters.Plato, Socrates’ faithful student, was an attendant at both his trial and his subsequent execution, and he gifted to us “The Apology” which stands over two millennia later as a monument to freedom and justice and truth.Questions to consider while reading this selection:• What is Socrates attitude toward the trial and his prosecutors? What about the judges?• You will notice as you read that Socrates has to ask the 500 judges to settle down periodically. What is that the audience is feeling? Are they cheering or booing him? How can you tell? Does he agitate them on pur-pose?• Some have said that Socrates behaves arrogantly. Do you agree? Why or why not?• Looking at “The Apology” as Socrates’ last chance to teach the Athenians something, what do you think he tried to teach them?
The Apology of Socrates
translated by Henry CaryEdited, annotated, and compiled by Rhonda L. KelleyThe Defense77“I am Not Eloquent”I know not, O Athenians! 78 how far you have been influenced by my accusers79 for my part, in listening to them I almost forgot myself, so plausible were their arguments however, so to speak, they have said nothing true. But of the many falsehoods which they uttered I wondered at one of them especially, that in which they said that you ought to be on your guard lest you should be deceived by me, as being eloquent in speech.For that they are not ashamed of being forthwith convicted by me in fact, when I shall show that I am not by any means eloquent, this seemed to me the most shameless thing in them, unless indeed they call him eloquent who speaks the truth. For, if they mean this, then I would allow that I am an orator, but not after their fashion80 for they, as I affirm, have said nothing true, but from me you shall hear the whole truth. Not indeed, Athenians, arguments highly wrought, as theirs were, with choice phrases and expressions, nor adorned, but you shall hear a speech uttered without premed-itation in such words as first present themselves. 81 For I am confident that what I say will be just, and let none of you expect otherwise, for surely it would not become my time of life to come before you like a youth with a got up82speech. Above all things, therefore, I beg and implore this of you, O Athenians! if you hear me defending myself in the same language as that in which I am accustomed to speak both in the forum83 at the counters, where many of you have heard me, and elsewhere, not to be surprised or disturbed84 on this account. For the case is this: I now for the first time come before a court of justice, though more than seventy years old; I am therefore utterly a stranger to the language here. As, then, if I were really a stranger, you would have pardoned me if I spoke in the language and the manner in which I had been educated, so now I ask this of you as an act of justice, as it appears to me, to disregard the manner of my speech, for perhaps it may be somewhat worse, and perhaps better, and to consider this only, and to give your attention to this,whether I speak what is just or not; for this is the virtue of a judge, but of an orator to speak the truth.
My First Accusers”2. First, then, O Athenians! I am right in defending myself against the first false accusations alleged against me, and my first accusers, and then against the latest accusations, and the latest accusers. For many have been accus-ers of me to you, and for many years, who have asserted nothing true, of whom I am more afraid than of Anytus85and his party, although they too are formidable; but those are still more formidable, Athenians, who, laying hold of many of you from childhood, have persuaded you, and accused me of what is not true: “that there is one Socrates, a wise man, who occupies himself about celestial matters, and has explored everything under the earth, 86 and makes the worse appear the better reason.” 87 Those, O Athenians! who have spread abroad this report are my formidable accusers; for they who hear them think that such as search into these things do not believe that there are gods. In the next place, these accusers are numerous, and have accused me now fora long time; moreover, they said these things to you at that time of life in which you were most credulous, when you were boys and some of you youths, and they accused me altogether in my absence, when there was no one to defend me. But the most unreasonable thing of all is, that it is not possible to learn and mention their names, except that one of them happens to be a com-ic poet.88 Such, however, as, influenced by envy and calumny, have persuaded you, and those who, being themselves persuaded, have persuaded others, all these are most difficult to deal with; for it is not possible to bring any of them forward here, nor to confute any;89 but it is altogether necessary to fight, as it were with a shadow, in making my defense, and to convict when there is no one to answer. Consider, therefore, as I have said, that my accusers are twofold, some who have lately accused me, and others long since, whom I have made mention of; and believe that I ought to defend myself against these first; for you heard them accusing me first, and much more than these last.Well. I must make my defense, then, O Athenians! and endeavor in this so short a space of time to remove from your minds the calumny which you have long entertained. I wish, indeed, it might be so, if it were at all better both for you and me, and that in making my defense I could affect something more advantageous still: I think, however, that it will be difficult, and I am not entirely ignorant what the difficulty is. Nevertheless, let this turn out as may be pleasing to God, I must obey the law and make my defense. Compact Anthology of World Literature3323. Let us, then, repeat from the beginning what the accusation is from which the calumny against me has aris-en, and relying on which Meletus has preferred this indictment against me. Well. What, then, do they90 who charge me say in their charge? For it is necessary to read their deposition as of public accusers. “Socrates acts wickedly,and is criminally curious in searching into things under the earth, and in the heavens, 91 and in making the worse appear the better cause, 92 and in teaching these same things to others.” 93 Such is the accusation: for such things you have yourselves seen in the comedy of Aristophanes, 94 one Socrates there carried about, saying that he walks in the air, 95and acting many other buffooneries, of which I understand nothing whatever. Nor do I say this as disparaging such a science, if there be any one skilled in such things, only let me not be prosecuted by Meletus on a charge of this kind; but I say it, O Athenians! because I have nothing to do with such matters. And I call upon most of you as wit-nesses of this, and require you to inform and tell each other, as many of you as have ever heard me conversing; and there are many such among you. 96 Therefore tell each other, if any one of you has ever heard me conversing little or much on such subjects. 97 And from this you will know that other things also, which the multitude assert of me, are of a similar nature.4. However not one of these things is true; nor, if you have heard from any one that I attempt to teach men, and require payment, 98 is this true. Though this, indeed, appears to me to be an honorable thing, if one should be able to instruct men, like Gorgias of Leontium,99 and Prodicus of Ceos,100 and Hippias of Elis.101 For each of these, O Athenians! is able, by going through the several cities, to persuade the young men, who can attach themselves gratuitously to such of their own fellow-citizens as they please, to abandon their fellow-citizens and associate with them, giving them money and thanks besides. There is also another wise man here, a Parian, who, I hear, is stay-ing in the city. For I happened to visit a person who spends more money on the sophists than all others together: I mean Callias, son of Hipponicus. I therefore asked him, for he has two sons, “Callias,” I said, “if your two sons were colts or calves, we should have had to choose a master for them, and hire a person who would make them excel in such qualities as belong to their nature; and he would have been a groom or an agricultural laborer. But now, since your sons are men, what master do you intend to choose for them? Who is there skilled in the qualities that become a man and a citizen? For I suppose you must have considered this, since you have sons. Is there any one,” I said, “or not?” “Certainly,” he answered. “Who is he?” said I, “and whence does he come? and on what terms does he teach?” He replied, “Evenus the Parian, Socrates, for five minæ.”102 And I deemed Evenus happy, if he really possesses this art, and teaches admirably. 103 And I too should think highly of myself, and be very proud, if I possessed this knowl-edge, but I possess it not, O Athenians
Why I Am Called Wise”
5. Perhaps, one of you may now object: “But, Socrates, what have you done, then? Whence have these calum-nies104 against you arisen? For surely if you had not busied yourself more than others, such a report and story would never have got abroad, unless you had done something different from what most men do. Tell us, therefore, what it is, that we may not pass a hasty judgment on you.” He who speaks thus appears to me to speak justly, and I will endeavor to show you what it is that has occasioned me this character and imputation. Listen, then: to some of you perhaps I shall appear to jest, yet be assured that I shall tell you the whole truth. For I, O Athenians! have acquired this character through nothing else than a certain wisdom. Of what kind, then, is this wisdom? Perhaps it is merely human wisdom. For in this, in truth, I appear to be wise. They probably, whom I have just now mentioned, pos-sessed a wisdom more than human, otherwise I know not what to say about it; for I am not acquainted with it, and whosoever says I am, speaks falsely, and for the purpose of calumniating105 me. But, O Athenians! do not cry out against me, even though I should seem to you to speak somewhat arrogantly. For the account which I am going to give you is not my own; but I shall refer to an authority whom you will deem worthy of credit. For I shall adduce to you the god at Delphi106 as a witness of my wisdom, if I have any, and of what it is. You doubtless know Chære-pho: he was my associate from youth, and the associate of most of you; he accompanied you in your late exile, and returned with you.107 You know, then, what kind of a man Chærepho was, how earnest in whatever he undertook. Having once gone to Delphi, he ventured to make the following inquiry of the oracle (and, as I said, O Athenians! do not cry out), for he asked if there was any one wiser than I. The Pythian [oracle] thereupon answered that there was not one wiser; and of this, his brother here will give you proofs, since he himself is dead.
The Origin of My Method”
. Consider, then, why I mention these things: it is because I am going to show you whence the calumny against me arose. For when I heard this, I reasoned thus with myself, What does the god mean? What enigma is this? For I am not conscious to myself that I am wise, either much or little. What, then, does he108 mean by saying that I am the wisest? For assuredly he does not speak falsely: that he could not do. And for a long time I was in doubt what he meant; afterward, with considerable difficulty, I had recourse to the following method of searching out his meaning. I went to one of those who have the character of being wise, thinking that there, if anywhere, I should confute109the oracle, and show in answer to the response that this man is wiser than I, though you110 affirmed that I was the wisest. Having, then, examined this man (for there is no occasion to mention his name; he was, however, one of our great politicians, in examining whom I felt as I proceed to describe, O Athenians!), having fallen into conversa-tion with him, this man appeared to be wise in the opinion of most other men, and especially in his own opinion, though in fact he was not so. I thereupon endeavored to show him that he fancied himself to be wise, but really was not. Hence I became odious,111 both to him and to many others who were present. When I left him, I reasoned thus with myself: I am wiser than this man, for neither of us appears to know anything great and good; but he fancies he knows something, although he knows nothing; whereas I, as I do not know anything, so I do not fancy I do. In this trifling particular, then, I appear to be wiser than he, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know. After that I went to another who was thought to be wiser than the former, and formed the very same opinion. Hence I became odious to him and to many others.7. After this I went to others in turn, perceiving indeed, and grieving and alarmed, that I was making myself odious; however, it appeared necessary to regard the oracle of the god as of the greatest moment, and that, in order to discover its meaning, I must go to all who had the reputation of possessing any knowledge. And by the god, O Athenians! for I must tell you the truth, I came to some such conclusion as this: those who bore the highest repu-tation appeared to me to be most deficient, in my researches in obedience to the god, and others who were consid-ered inferior more nearly approaching to the possession of understanding. But I must relate to you my wandering, and the labors which I underwent, in order that the oracle might prove incontrovertible. For after the politicians I went to the poets, as well the tragic as the dithyrambic and others, expecting that here I should in very fact find myself more ignorant than they. Taking up, therefore, some of their poems, which appeared to me most elaborately finished, I questioned them as to their meaning, that at the same time I might learn something from them. I am ashamed, O Athenians! to tell you the truth; however, it must be told. For, in a word, almost all who were present could have given a better account of them than those by whom they had been composed. I soon discovered this, therefore, with regard to the poets, that they do not affect their object by wisdom, but by a certain natural inspi-ration, and under the influence of enthusiasm, like prophets and seers; for these also say many fine things, but they understand nothing that they say. The poets appeared to me to be affected in a similar manner; and at the same time I perceived that they considered themselves, on account of their poetry, to be the wisest of men in other things, in which they were not. I left them, therefore, under the persuasion that I was superior to them, in the same way that I was to the politicians.8. At last, therefore, I went to the artisans.112 For I was conscious to myself that I knew scarcely anything, but I was sure that I should find them possessed of much beautiful knowledge. And in this I was not deceived; for theyknew things which I did not, and in this respect they were wiser than I. But, O Athenians! even the best workmen appeared to me to have fallen into the same error as the poets; for each, because he excelled in the practice of his art, thought that he was very wise in other most important matters, and this mistake of theirs obscured the wisdom that they really possessed. I therefore asked myself, in behalf of the oracle, whether I should prefer to continue as I am, possessing none, either of their wisdom or their ignorance, or to have both as they have. I answered, therefore, to myself and to the oracle, that it was better for me to continue as I am.9. From this investigation, then, O Athenians! many enmities have arisen against me, and those the most griev-ous and severe, so that many calumnies have sprung from them, and among them this appellation of being wise; for those who are from time to time present think that I am wise in those things, with respect to which I expose the ignorance of others. The god, however, O Athenians! appears to be really wise, and to mean this by his oracle: that human wisdom is worth little or nothing; and it is clear that he did not say this to Socrates, but made use of my name, putting me forward as an example, as if he had said, that man is the wisest among you, who, like Socrates, knows that he is in reality worth nothing with respect to wisdom. Still, therefore, I go about and search and inquire into these things, in obedience to the god, both among citizens and strangers, if I think any one of them is wise; and when he appears to me not to be so, I take the part of the god, and show that he is not wise. And, in consequence of this occupation, I have no leisure to attend in any considerable degree to the affairs of the state or my own; but I am in the greatest poverty through my devotion to the service of the god.10. In addition to this, young men, who have much leisure and belong to the wealthiest families, following me of their own accord, take great delight in hearing men put to the test, and often imitate me, and themselves attempt to put others to the test; and then, I think, they find a great abundance of men who fancy they know something, although they know little or nothing. Hence those who are put to the test by them are angry with me, and not with them, and say that “there is one Socrates, a most pestilent fellow, who corrupts the youth.” And when any one asks them by doing or teaching what, they have nothing to say, for they do not know; but, that they may not seem to be at a loss, they say such things as are ready at hand against all philosophers: “that he searches into things in heaven and things under the earth, that he does not believe there are gods, and that he makes the worse appear the better reason.” For they would not, I think, be willing to tell the truth that they have been detected in pretending to pos-sess knowledge, whereas they know nothing. Therefore, I think, being ambitious and vehement and numerous, and speaking systematically and persuasively about me, they have filled your ears, for a long time and diligently calum-niating me. From among these, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon113 have attacked me; Meletus being angry on account of the poets, Anytus on account of the artisans and politicians, and Lycon on account of the rhetoricians.114 So that, as I said in the beginning, I should wonder if I were able in so short a time to remove from your minds a calumny that has prevailed so long. This, O Athenians! is the truth; and I speak it without concealing or disguising anything from you, much or little; though I very well know that by so doing I shall expose myself to odium. This, however, is a proof that I speak the truth, and that this is the nature of the calumny against me, and that these are its causes. And if you will investigate the matter, either now or hereafter, you will find it to be so.
“Tell Me Meletus…”
1. With respect, then, to the charges which my first accusers have alleged against me, let this be a sufficient apology115 to you. To Meletus, that good and patriotic man, as he says, and to my later accusers, I will next endeavor to give an answer; and here, again, as there are different accusers, let us take up their deposition. It is pretty much as follows: “Socrates,” it says, “acts unjustly in corrupting the youth, and in not believing in those gods in whom the city believes, but in other strange divinities.”116 Such is the accusation; let us examine each particular of it. It says that I act unjustly in corrupting the youth. But I, O Athenians! say that Meletus117 acts unjustly, because he jests on serious subjects, rashly putting men upon trial, under pretense of being zealous and solicitous about things in which he never at any time took any concern. But that this is the case I will endeavor to prove to you.12. Come, then, Meletus, tell me, do you not consider it of the greatest importance that the youth should be made as virtuous as possible? Socr. Well, now, tell the judges who it is that makes them better, for it is evident that you know, since it con-cerns you so much; for, having detected me in corrupting them, as you say, you have cited me here, and accused me: come, then, say, and inform the judges who it is that makes them better. [Meletus does not answer.]Do you see, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to say? But does it not appear to you to be disgrace-ful, and a sufficient proof of what I say, that you never took any concern about the matter? But tell me, friend, who makes them better?Mel. The laws.Socr. I do not ask this, most excellent sir, but what man, who surely must first know this very thing, the laws?Mel. These, Socrates, the judges.118Socr. How say you, Meletus? Are these able to instruct the youth, and make them better?Mel. Certainly.Socr. All [of the judges], or some of them, and others not?Mel. All.Socr. You say well, by Juno! and have found a great abundance of those that confer benefit. But what further? Can these hearers119 make them better, or not?Mel. They, too, can.Socr. And what of the senators?Mel. The senators, also.Socr. But, Meletus, do those who attend the public assemblies corrupt the younger men? or do they all make them better?Mel. They too.Socr. All the Athenians, therefore, as it seems, make them honorable and good, except me; but I alone corrupt them. Do you say so?Mel. I do assert this very thing.Socr. You charge me with great ill-fortune. But answer me: does it appear to you to be the same, with respect to horses? Do all men make them better, and is there only some one that spoils them? or does quite the contrary of this take place? Is there some one person who can make them better, or very few; that is, the trainers? But if the generality of men should meddle with and make use of horses, do they spoil them? Is not this the case, Meletus, both with respect to horses and all other animals? It certainly is so, whether you and Anytus deny it or not. For it would be a great good-fortune for the youth if only one person corrupted, and the rest benefited them. However, Meletus, you have sufficiently shown that you never bestowed any care upon youth; and you clearly evince your own negligence, in that you have never paid any attention to the things with respect to which you accuse me.13. Tell us further, Meletus, in the name of Zeus, whether is it better to dwell with good or bad citizens? [Meletus does not respond.]Answer, my friend; for I ask you nothing difficult. Do not the bad work some evil to those that are continually near them, but the good some good?Mel. Certainly. Socr. Is there any one that wishes to be injured rather than benefited by his associates? [Meletus does not respond.]Answer, good man; for the law requires you to answer. Is there any one who wishes to be injured?Mel. No, surely.Socr. Come, then, whether do you accuse me here, as one that corrupts the youth, and makes them more de-praved, designedly or undesignedly?120Mel. Designedly, I say.Socr. What, then, Meletus, are you at your time of life so much wiser than I at my time of life, as to know that the evil are always working some evil to those that are most near to them, and the good some good; but I have arrived at such a pitch of ignorance as not to know that if I make any one of my associates depraved, I shall be in danger of receiving some evil from him; and yet I designedly bring about this so great evil, as you say? In this I can-not believe you, Meletus, nor do I think would any other man in the world. But either I do not corrupt the youth, or, if I do corrupt them, I do it undesignedly: so that in both cases you speak falsely. But if I corrupt them undesign-edly, for such involuntary offenses it is not usual to accuse one here, but to take one apart, and teach and admonish one. For it is evident that if I am taught, I shall cease doing what I do undesignedly. But you shunned me, and were not willing to associate with and instruct me; but you accuse me here, where it is usual to accuse those who need punishment, and not instruction.12114. Thus, then, O Athenians! this now is clear that I have said; that Meletus never paid any attention to these matters, much or little. However, tell us, Meletus, how you say I corrupt the youth? Is it not evidently, according to the indictment which you have preferred, by teaching them not to believe in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other strange deities? Do you not say that, by teaching these things, I corrupt the youth?Mel. Certainly I do say so.Socr. By those very gods, therefore, Meletus, of whom the discussion now is, speak still more clearly both to me and to these men. For I cannot understand whether you say that I teach them to believe that there are certain gods (and in that case I do believe that there are gods, and am not altogether an atheist, nor in this respect to blame), not, however, those which the city believes in, but others; and this it is that you accuse me of, that I introduce others. Or do you say outright that I do not myself believe that there are gods, and that I teach others the same?Mel. I say this: that you do not believe in any gods at all.Socr. O wonderful Meletus, how come you to say this? Do I not, then, like the rest of mankind, believe that the sun and moon are gods?Mel. No, by Zeus, O judges! for he says that the sun is a stone, and the moon an earth.122Socr. You fancy that you are accusing Anaxagoras,123 my dear Meletus, and thus you put a slight on124 these men, and suppose them to be so illiterate as not to know that the books of Anaxagoras of Clazomene are full of such assertions. And the young, moreover, learn these things from me? Things which they might purchase for a drachma, at most, in the orchestra, and so ridicule Socrates, if he pretended they were his own, especially since they are so absurd? I ask then, by Zeus, do I appear to you to believe that there is no god?Mel. No, by Zeus, none whatever.Socr. You say what is incredible, Meletus, and that, as appears to me, even to yourself. For this man, O Athe- nians! appears to me to be very insolent and intemperate and to have preferred this indictment through downright insolence, intemperance, and wantonness. For he seems, as it were, to have composed an enigma for the purpose of making an experiment: “Will Socrates the Wise know that I am jesting, and contradict myself, or shall I deceive him and all who hear me?” For, in my opinion, he clearly contradicts himself in the indictment, as if he should say, “Soc-rates is guilty of wrong in not believing that there are gods, and in believing that there are gods.” And this, surely, is the act of one who is trifling.15. Consider with me now, Athenians, in what respect he appears to me to say so. And do you, Meletus, answer me; and do ye,125 as I besought you at the outset, remember not to make an uproar if I speak after my usual manner.Is there any man, Meletus, who believes that there are human affairs, but does not believe that there are men? Let him answer, judges, and not make so much noise.126 Is there any one who does not believe that there are horses, but that there are things pertaining to horses? or who does not believe that there are pipers, but that there are things pertaining to pipes? [Meletus does not respond.]There is not, O best of men! for since you are not willing to answer, I say it to you and to all here present. But answer to this at least: is there any one who believes that there are things relating to daimons,127 but does not believe that there are daimons?Mel. There is not.Socr. How obliging you are in having hardly answered; though compelled by these judges! You assert, then, that I do believe and teach things relating to daimons, whether they be new or old;128 therefore, according to your admission, I do believe in things relating to daimons, and this you have sworn in the bill of indictment. If, then, I believe in things relating to daimons, there is surely an absolute necessity that I should believe that there are daimons. Is it not …
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