Plato – Apology



The Apology By Plato.
This edition was created and published by Global Grey
©GlobalGrey 2018

Socrates’ Defense
Socrates’ Proposal For His Sentence
Socrates’ Comments On His Sentence

How you have felt, O men of Athens, at hearing the speeches of my
accusers, I cannot tell; but I know that their persuasive words almost made
me forget who I was – such was the effect of them; and yet they have hardly
spoken a word of truth. But many as their falsehoods were, there was one
of them which quite amazed me; – I mean when they told you to be upon
your guard, and not to let yourselves be deceived by the force of my
eloquence. They ought to have been ashamed of saying this, because
they were sure to be detected as soon as I opened my lips and displayed my
deficiency; they certainly did appear to be most shameless in saying this,
unless by the force of eloquence they mean the force of truth; for then I do
indeed admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs!
Well, as I was saying, they have hardly uttered a word, or not more than a
word, of truth; but you shall hear from me the whole truth: not, however,
delivered after their manner, in a set oration duly ornamented with words
and phrases. No indeed! but I shall use the words and arguments which
occur to me at the moment; for I am certain that this is right, and that at my
time of life I ought not to be appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the
character of a juvenile orator – let no one expect this of me. And I must beg
of you to grant me one favor, which is this – If you hear me using the
same words in my defence which I have been in the habit of using, and
which most of you may have heard in the agora, and at the tables of the
money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not to be surprised at
this, and not to interrupt me. For I am more than seventy years of age, and
this is the first time that I have ever appeared in a court of law, and I am
quite a stranger to the ways of the place; and therefore I would have you
regard me as if I were really a stranger, whom you would excuse if he spoke
in his native tongue, and after the fashion of his country; – that I think is not
an unfair request. Never mind the manner, which may or may not be good;
but think only of the justice of my cause, and give heed to that: let the judge
decide justly and the speaker speak truly.
And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first accusers, and
then I will go to the later ones. For I have had many accusers, who accused
me of old, and their false charges have continued during many years; and I
am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are
dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are these, who
began when you were children, and took possession of your minds
with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated
about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made
the worse appear the better cause. These are the accusers whom I dread;
for they are the circulators of this rumor, and their hearers are too apt to
fancy that speculators of this sort do not believe in the gods. And they
are many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they made
them in days when you were impressible – in childhood, or perhaps in youth –
and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none to
answer. And, hardest of all, their names I do not know and cannot tell;
unless in the chance of a comic poet. But the main body of these slanderers
who from envy and malice have wrought upon you – and there are some of
them who are convinced themselves, and impart their convictions to othersall these, I say, are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up
here, nd examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in
my own defence, and examine when there is no one who answers. I will ask
you then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two
kinds – one recent, the other ancient; and I hope that you will see the
propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you heard
long before the others, and much oftener.
Well, then, I will make my defence, and I will endeavor in the short time
which is allowed to do away with this evil opinion of me which you have held
for such a long time; and I hope I may succeed, if this be well for you and
me, and that my words may find favor with you. But I know that to
accomplish this is not easy – I quite see the nature of the task. Let the event
be as God wills: in obedience to the law I make my defence.
I will begin at the beginning, and ask what the accusation is which has given
rise to this slander of me, and which has encouraged Meletus to proceed
against me. What do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and I
will sum up their words in an affidavit. “Socrates is an evil-doer, and a
curious person, who searches into things under the earth and in heaven, and
he makes the worse appear the better cause; and he teaches the
aforesaid doctrines to others.” That is the nature of the accusation, and that
is what you have seen yourselves in the comedy of Aristophanes; who has
introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he
can walk in the air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of
which I do not pretend to know either much or little – not that I mean to say
anything disparaging of anyone who is a student of natural philosophy. I
should be very sorry if Meletus could lay that to my charge. But the simple
truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with these studies. Very
many of those here present are witnesses to the truth of this, and to them
I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors
whether any of you have ever known me hold forth in few words or in many
upon matters of this sort. … You hear their answer. And from what they say
of this you will be able to judge of the truth of the rest.
As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take
money; that is no more true than the other. Although, if a man is able to
teach, I honor him for being paid. There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus
of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round of the cities, and are able to
persuade the young men to leave their own citizens, by whom they might be
taught for nothing, and come to them, whom they not only pay, but are
thankful if they may be allowed to pay them. There is actually a Parian
philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of
him in this way: – I met a man who has spent a world of money on the
Sophists, Callias the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I
asked him: “Callias,” I said, “if your two sons were foals or calves, there
would be no difficulty in finding someone to put over them; we should hire a
trainer of horses or a farmer probably who would improve and perfect them
in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they are human beings,
whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there anyone who
understands human and political virtue? You must have thought about this
as you have sons; is there anyone?” “There is,” he said. “Who is he?” said I,
“and of what country? and what does he charge?” “Evenus the Parian,” he
replied; “he is the man, and his charge is five minae.” Happy is Evenus, I said
to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a modest charge.
Had I the same, I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth
is that I have no knowledge of the kind.
I dare say, Athenians, that someone among you will reply, “Why is this,
Socrates, and what is the origin of these accusations of you: for there must
have been something strange which you have been doing? All this great
fame and talk about you would never have arisen if you had been like other
men: tell us, then, why this is, as we should be sorry to judge hastily of you.”
Now I regard this as a fair challenge, and I will endeavor to explain to you
the origin of this name of “wise,” and of this evil fame. Please to attend
then. And although some of you may think I am joking, I declare that I will
tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine has come of
a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what kind of
wisdom, I reply, such wisdom as is attainable by man, for to that extent I am
inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the persons of whom I was
speaking have a superhuman wisdom, which I may fail to describe, because I
have it not myself; and he who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking
away my character. And here, O men of Athens, I must beg you not to
interrupt me, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the word
which I will speak is not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of
credit, and will tell you about my wisdom – whether I have any, and of what
sort – and that witness shall be the god of Delphi. You must have known
Chaerephon; he was early a friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he
shared in the exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon,
as you know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi
and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether – as I was saying, I must beg
you not to interrupt – he asked the oracle to tell him whether there was
anyone wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered that there
was no man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself, but his brother, who is in
court, will confirm the truth of this story.
Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have such
an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god
mean? and what is the interpretation of this riddle? for I know that I have no
wisdom, small or great. What can he mean when he says that I am the
wisest of men? And yet he is a god and cannot lie; that would be against his
nature. After a long consideration, I at last thought of a method of trying the
question. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than myself, then I
might go to the god with a refutation in my hand. I should say to him, “Here
is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.”
Accordingly I went to one who had the reputation of wisdom, and observed
to him – his name I need not mention; he was a politician whom I selected
for examination – and the result was as follows: When I began to talk with
him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was
thought wise by many, and wiser still by himself; and I went and tried to
explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the
consequence was that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several
who were present and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went
away: Well, although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything
really beautiful and good, I am better off than he is – for he knows nothing,
and thinks that he knows. I neither know nor think that I know. In this latter
particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him. Then I went to
another, who had still higher philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion
was exactly the same. I made another enemy of him, and of many others
besides him.
After this I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the
enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity was
laid upon me – the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered first. And
I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and find out the
meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians, by the dog I swear! –
for I must tell you the truth – the result of my mission was just this: I found
that the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that some
inferior men were really wiser and better. I will tell you the tale of my
wanderings and of the “Herculean” labors, as I may call them, which I
endured only to find at last the oracle irrefutable. When I left the politicians,
I went to the poets; tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to
myself, you will be detected; now you will find out that you are more
ignorant than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate
passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of them –
thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me? I am
almost ashamed to speak of this, but still I must say that there is hardly a
person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than
they did themselves. That showed me in an instant that not by wisdom do
poets write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like
diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not
understand the meaning of them. And the poets appeared to me to be
much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of
their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other
things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be
superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians.
At last I went to the artisans, for I was conscious that I knew nothing at all,
as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and in this I
was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I was ignorant,
and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I observed that even the
good artisans fell into the same error as the poets; because they were good
workmen they thought that they also knew all sorts of high matters, and
this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom – therefore I asked myself
on behalf of the oracle, whether I would like to be as I was, neither having
their knowledge nor their ignorance, or like them in both; and I made
answer to myself and the oracle that I was better off as I was.
This investigation has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most
dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies, and I am
called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess the wisdom
which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of Athens, that God
only is wise; and in this oracle he means to say that the wisdom of men is
little or nothing; he is not speaking of Socrates, he is only using my name as
an illustration, as if he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates,
knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go my way,
obedient to the god, and make inquisition into the wisdom of anyone,
whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not wise,
then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise; and this
occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to any public
matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in utter poverty by
reason of my devotion to the god.
There is another thing: – young men of the richer classes, who have not
much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the
pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and examine
others themselves; there are plenty of persons, as they soon enough
discover, who think that they know something, but really know little or
nothing: and then those who are examined by them instead of being angry
with themselves are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this
villainous misleader of youth! – and then if somebody asks them, Why, what
evil does he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in
order that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made
charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things up in
the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making the worse
appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that their pretence
of knowledge has been detected – which is the truth: and as they are
numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are all in battle array and have
persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and inveterate
calumnies. And this is the reason why my three accusers, Meletus and
Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus, who has a quarrel with me
on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen; Lycon, on behalf
of the rhetoricians: and as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid
of this mass of calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the
truth and the whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled
nothing. And yet I know that this plainness of speech makes them hate me,
and what is their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth? – this is the
occasion and reason of their slander of me, as you will find out either in
this or in any future inquiry.
I have said enough in my defence against the first class of my accusers; I turn
to the second class, who are headed by Meletus, that good and patriotic
man, as he calls himself. And now I will try to defend myself against them:
these new accusers must also have their affidavit read. What do they say?
Something of this sort: – That Socrates is a doer of evil, and corrupter of the
youth, and he does not believe in the gods of the state, and has other new
divinities of his own. That is the sort of charge; and now let us examine the
particular counts. He says that I am a doer of evil, who corrupt the youth;
but I say, O men of Athens, that Meletus is a doer of evil, and the evil is that
he makes a joke of a serious matter, and is too ready at bringing other men
to trial from a pretended zeal and interest about matters in which he really
never had the smallest interest. And the truth of this I will endeavor to
Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you. You think a great
deal about the improvement of youth?
Yes, I do.
Tell the judges, then, who is their improver; for you must know, as you have
taken the pains to discover their corrupter, and are citing and accusing me
before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who their improver is.
Observe, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to say. But is not
this rather disgraceful, and a very considerable proof of what I was saying,
that you have no interest in the matter? Speak up, friend, and tell us who
their improver is.
The laws.
But that, my good sir, is not my meaning. I want to know who the person is,
who, in the first place, knows the laws.
The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.
What do you mean to say, Meletus, that they are able to instruct and
improve youth?
Certainly they are.
What, all of them, or some only and not others?
All of them.
By the goddess Here, that is good news! There are plenty of
improvers, then. And what do you say of the audience, – do they
improve them?
Yes, they do.
And the senators?
Yes, the senators improve them.
But perhaps the members of the citizen assembly corrupt them? – or do they
too improve them?
They improve them.
Then every Athenian improves and elevates them; all with the exception of
myself; and I alone am their corrupter? Is that what you affirm?
That is what I stoutly affirm.
I am very unfortunate if that is true. But suppose I ask you a question: Would
you say that this also holds true in the case of horses? Does one man do
them harm and all the world good? Is not the exact opposite of this true?
One man is able to do them good, or at least not many; – the trainer of
horses, that is to say, does them good, and others who have to do with
them rather injure them? Is not that true, Meletus, of horses, or any other
animals? Yes, certainly. Whether you and Anytus say yes or no, that is no
matter. Happy indeed would be the condition of youth if they had one
corrupter only, and all the rest of the world were their improvers. And you,
Meletus, have sufficiently shown that you never had a thought about the
young: your carelessness is seen in your not caring about matters spoken of
in this very indictment.
And now, Meletus, I must ask you another question: Which is better, to live
among bad citizens, or among good ones? Answer, friend, I say; for that is a
question which may be easily answered. Do not the good do their neighbors
good, and the bad do them evil?
And is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those
who live with him? Answer, my good friend; the law requires you to answer –
does anyone like to be injured?
Certainly not.
And when you accuse me of corrupting and deteriorating the youth, do you
allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?
Intentionally, I say.
But you have just admitted that the good do their neighbors good, and the
evil do them evil. Now is that a truth which your superior wisdom has
recognized thus early in life, and am I, at my age, in such darkness and
ignorance as not to know that if a man with whom I have to live is corrupted
by me, I am very likely to be harmed by him, and yet I corrupt him, and
intentionally, too; – that is what you are saying, and of that you will never
persuade me or any other human being. But either I do not corrupt them, or
I corrupt them unintentionally, so that on either view of the case you lie. If
my offence is unintentional, the law has no cognizance of unintentional
offences: you ought to have taken me privately, and warned and
admonished me; for if I had been better advised, I should have left off doing
what I only did unintentionally – no doubt I should; whereas you hated to
converse with me or teach me, but you indicted me in this court, which is a
place not of instruction, but of punishment.
I have shown, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus has no care at all,
great or small, about the matter. But still I should like to know, Meletus, in
what I am affirmed to corrupt the young. I suppose you mean, as I infer
from your indictment, that I teach them not to acknowledge the gods which
the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities or spiritual agencies
in their stead. These are the lessons which corrupt the youth, as you say.
Yes, that I say emphatically.
Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, tell me and the court,
in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean! for I do not as yet understand
whether you affirm that I teach others to acknowledge some gods, and
therefore do believe in gods and am not an entire atheist – this you do not
lay to my charge; but only that they are not the same gods which the city
recognizes – the charge is that they are different gods. Or, do you mean to
say that I am an atheist simply, and a teacher of atheism?
I mean the latter – that you are a complete atheist.
That is an extraordinary statement, Meletus. Why do you say that? Do you
mean that I do not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon, which is the
common creed of all men?
I assure you, judges, that he does not believe in them; for he says that the
sun is stone, and the moon earth.
Friend Meletus, you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras; and you have
but a bad opinion of the judges, if you fancy them ignorant to such a degree
as not to know that those doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras
the Clazomenian, who is full of them. And these are the doctrines which the
youth are said to learn of Socrates, when there are not
unfrequently exhibitions of them at the theatre (price of admission one
drachma at the most); and they might cheaply purchase them, and laugh at
Socrates if he pretends to father such eccentricities. And so, Meletus, you
really think that I do not believe in any god?
I swear by Zeus that you believe absolutely in none at all.
You are a liar, Meletus, not believed even by yourself. For I cannot help
thinking, O men of Athens, that Meletus is reckless and impudent, and that
he has written this indictment in a spirit of mere wantonness and youthful
bravado. Has he not compounded a riddle, thinking to try me? He said to
himself: – I shall see whether this wise Socrates will discover my ingenious
contradiction, or whether I shall be able to deceive him and the rest of
them. For he certainly does appear to me to contradict himself in the
indictment as much as if he said that Socrates is guilty of not believing in the
gods, and yet of believing in them – but this surely is a piece of fun.
I should like you, O men of Athens, to join me in examining what I conceive
to be his inconsistency; and do you, Meletus, answer. And I must remind you
that you are not to interrupt me if I speak in my accustomed manner.
Did ever man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things, and not of
human beings? … I wish, men of Athens, that he would answer, and not be
always trying to get up an interruption. Did ever any man believe in
horsemanship, and not in horses? or in flute-playing, and not in fluteplayers? No, my friend; I will answer to you and to the court, as you refuse
to answer for yourself. There is no man who ever did. But now please to
answer the next question: Can a man believe in spiritual and divine
agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?
He cannot.
I am glad that I have extracted that answer, by the assistance of the court;
nevertheless you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in divine
or spiritual agencies (new or old, no matter for that); at any rate, I believe in
spiritual agencies, as you say and swear in the affidavit; but if I believe in
divine beings, I must believe in spirits or demigods; – is not that true? Yes,
that is true, for I may assume that your silence gives assent to that. Now
what are spirits or demigods? are they not either gods or the sons of gods?
Is that true?
Yes, that is true.
But this is just the ingenious riddle of which I was speaking: the demigods or
spirits are gods, and you say first that I don’t believe in gods, and then again
that I do believe in gods; that is, if I believe in demigods. For if the demigods
are the illegitimate sons of gods, whether by the Nymphs or by any other
mothers, as is thought, that, as all men will allow, necessarily implies the
existence of their parents. You might as well affirm the existence of mules,
and deny that of horses and asses. Such nonsense, Meletus, could only have
been intended by you as a trial of me. You have put this into the indictment
because you had nothing real of which to accuse me. But no one who has a
particle of understanding will ever be convinced by you that the same man
can believe in divine and superhuman things, and yet not believe that there
are gods and demigods and heroes.
I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus: any
elaborate defence is unnecessary; but as I was saying before, I certainly have
many enemies, and this is what will be my destruction if I am destroyed;
of that I am certain; – not Meletus, nor yet Anytus, but the envy and
detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and
will probably be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being the
last of them.
Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life
which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may fairly answer:
There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything ought not to
calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in
doing anything he is doing right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or
of a bad. Whereas, according to your view, the heroes who fell at Troy were
not good for much, and the son of Thetis above all, who altogether despised
danger in comparison with disgrace; and when his goddess mother said to
him, in his eagerness to slay Hector, that if he avenged his
companion Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would die himself – “Fate,” as she
said, “waits upon you next after Hector”; he, hearing this, utterly
despised danger and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to
live in dishonor, and not to avenge his friend. “Let me die next,” he
replies, “and be avenged of my enemy, rather than abide here by the beaked
ships, a scorn and a burden of the earth.” Had Achilles any thought of death
and danger? For wherever a man’s place is, whether the place which he has
chosen or that in which he has been placed by a commander, there he ought
to remain in the hour of danger; he should not think of death or of anything,
but of disgrace. And this, O men of Athens, is a true saying.
Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if I who, when I
was ordered by the generals whom you chose to command me at
Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium, remained where they placed me, like
any other man, facing death; if, I say, now, when, as I conceive and imagine,
God orders me to fulfil the philosopher’s mission of searching into
myself and other men, I were to desert my post through fear of death, or
any other fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned
in court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed the
oracle because I was afraid of death: then I should be fancying that I was
wise when I was not wise. For this fear of death is indeed the pretence of
wisdom, and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the
unknown; since no one knows whether death, which they in their fear
apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there
not here conceit of knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And
this is the point in which, as I think, I am superior to men in general, and in
which I might perhaps fancy myself wiser than other men, – that whereas I
know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I know: but I do
know that injustice and disobedience to a better, whether God or man, is
evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good
rather than a certain evil. And therefore if you let me go now, and reject
the counsels of Anytus, who said that if I were not put to death I ought
not to have been prosecuted, and that if I escape now, your sons will all
be utterly ruined by listening to my words – if you say to me, Socrates,
this time we will not mind Anytus, and will let you off, but upon one
condition, that are to inquire and speculate in this way any more, and that if
you are caught doing this again you shall die; – if this was the condition on
which you let me go, I should reply: Men of Athens, I honor and love you;
but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall
never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting anyone
whom I meet after my manner, and convincing him, saying: O my friend, why
do you who are a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of
Athens, care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and
honor and reputation, and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest
improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? Are you not
ashamed of this? And if the person with whom I am arguing says: Yes, but I
do care; I do not depart or let him go at once; I interrogate and examine and
cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue, but only says that he
has, I reproach him with undervaluing the greater, and overvaluing the less.
And this I should say to everyone whom I meet, young and old, citizen and
alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For
this is the command of God, as I would have you know; and I believe that
to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my
service to the God. For I do nothing but go about persuading you all, old and
young alike, not to take thought for your persons and your properties, but
first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I
tell you that virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue come
money and every other good of man, public as well as private. This is my
teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts the youth, my influence is
ruinous indeed. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, he is
speaking an untruth. Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus
bids or not as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whatever you
do, know that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die
many times.
Men of Athens, do not interrupt, but hear me; there was an
agreement between us that you should hear me out. And I think that what I
am going to say will do you good: for I have something more to say, at
which you may be inclined to cry out; but I beg that you will not do this. I
would have you know that, if you kill such a one as I am, you will injure
yourselves more than you will injure me. Meletus and Anytus will not injure
me: they cannot; for it is not in the nature of things that a bad man should
injure a better than himself. I do not deny that he may, perhaps, kill him,
or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights; and he may imagine, and
others may imagine, that he is doing him a great injury: but in that I do not
agree with him; for the evil of doing as Anytus is doing – of unjustly taking
away another man’s life – is greater far. And now, Athenians, I am not going
to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, that you may not
sin against the God, or lightly reject his boon by condemning me. For if you
kill me you will not easily find another like me, who, if I may use such a
ludicrous figure of speech, am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by the God;
and the state is like a great and noble steed who is tardy in his motions
owing to his very size, and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly
which God has given the state and all day long and in all places am always
fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. And as
you will not easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me. I
dare say that you may feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you
are caught napping; and you may think that if you were to strike me dead, as
Anytus advises, which you easily might, then you would sleep on for the
remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you gives you another
gadfly. And that I am given to you by God is proved by this: – that if I had
been like other men, I should not have neglected all my own concerns, or
patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years, and have been
doing yours, coming to you individually, like a father or elder brother,
exhorting you to regard virtue; this I say, would not be like human nature.
And had I gained anything, or if my exhortations had been paid, there would
have been some sense in that: but now, as you will perceive, not even the
impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted or sought
pay of anyone; they have no witness of that. And I have a witness of the
truth of what I say; my poverty is a sufficient witness.
Someone may wonder why I go about in private, giving advice and busying
myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward in
public and advise the state. I will tell you the reason of this. You have often
heard me speak of an oracle or sign which comes to me, and is the divinity
which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign I have had ever since I
was a child. The sign is a voice which comes to me and always forbids me to
do something which I am going to do, but never commands me to do
anything, and this is what stands in the way of my being a politician. And
rightly, as I think. For I am certain, O men of Athens, that if I had engaged in
politics, I should have perished long ago and done no good either to you or
to myself. And don’t be offended at my telling you the truth: for the truth is
that no man who goes to war with you or any other multitude, honestly
struggling against the commission of unrighteousness and wrong in the
state, will save his life; he who will really fight for the right, if he would live
even for a little while, must have a private station and not a public one.
I can give you as proofs of this, not words only, but deeds, which you value
more than words. Let me tell you a passage of my own life, which will prove
to you that I should never have yielded to injustice from any fear of death,
and that if I had not yielded I should have died at once. I will tell you a story –
tasteless, perhaps, and commonplace, but nevertheless true. The only office
of state which I ever held, O men of Athens, was that of senator; the tribe
Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the generals
who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle of Arginusae;
and you proposed to try them all together, which was illegal, as you all
thought afterwards; but at the time I was the only one of the Prytanes who
was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against you; and when the
orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and have me taken away, and
you called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having
law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because I
feared imprisonment and death. This happened in the days of the
democracy. But when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent for
me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the Salaminian
from Salamis, as they wanted to execute him. This was a specimen of the
sort of commands which they were always giving with the view of
implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I showed, not in
words only, but indeed, that, if I may be allowed to use such an expression, I
cared not a straw for death, and that my only fear was the fear of doing an
unrighteous or unholy thing. For the strong arm of that oppressive power
did not frighten me into doing wrong; and when we came out of the
rotunda the other four went to Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly
home. For which I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty
shortly afterwards come to an end. And to this many will witness.
Now do you really imagine that I could have survived all these years, if I had
led a public life, supposing that like a good man I had always supported the
right and had made justice, as I ought, the first thing? No, indeed, men of
Athens, neither I nor any other. But I have been always the same in all my
actions, public as well as private, and never have I yielded any base
compliance to those who are slanderously termed my disciples or to any
other. For the truth is that I have no regular disciples: but if anyone likes to
come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission, whether he be young or
old, he may freely come. Nor do I converse with those who pay only, and not
with those who do not pay; but anyone, whether he be rich or poor, may ask
and answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out to be a
bad man or a good one, that cannot be justly laid to my charge, as I never
taught him anything. And if anyone says that he has ever learned or heard
anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, I should like
you to know that he is speaking an untruth.
But I shall be asked, Why do people delight in continually conversing with
you? I have told you already, Athenians, the whole truth about this: they like
to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to wisdom; there is
amusement in this. And this is a duty which the God has imposed upon me,
as I am assured by oracles, visions, and in every sort of way in which the will
of divine power was ever signified to anyone. This is true, O Athenians; or, if
not true, would be soon refuted. For if I am really corrupting the youth, and
have corrupted some of them already, those of them who have grown up
and have become sensible that I gave them bad advice in the days of their
youth should come forward as accusers and take their revenge; and if they
do not like to come themselves, some of their relatives, fathers, brothers, or
other kinsmen, should say what evil their families suffered at my hands.
Now is their time. Many of them I see in the court. There is Crito, who is of
the same age and of the same deme with myself; and there is Critobulus his
son, whom I also see. Then again there is Lysanias of Sphettus, who is the
father of Aeschines – he is present; and also there is Antiphon of Cephisus,
who is the father of Epignes; and there are the brothers of several who have
associated with me. There is Nicostratus the son of Theosdotides, and the
brother of Theodotus (now Theodotus himself is dead, and therefore he, at
any rate, will not seek to stop him); and there is Paralus the son of
Demodocus, who had a brother Theages; and Adeimantus the son of
Ariston, whose brother Plato is present; and Aeantodorus, who is the
brother of Apollodorus, whom I also see. I might mention a great many
others, any of whom Meletus should have produced as witnesses in
the course of his speech; and let him still produce them, if he has forgotten –
I will make way for him. And let him say, if he has any testimony of the sort
which he can produce. Nay, Athenians, the very opposite is the truth. For all
these are ready to witness on behalf of the corrupter, of the destroyer of
their kindred, as Meletus and Anytus call me; not the corrupted youth only –
there might have been a motive for that – but their uncorrupted elder
relatives. Why should they too support me with their testimony? Why,
indeed, except for the sake of truth and justice, and because they know that
I am speaking the truth, and that Meletus is lying.
Well, Athenians, this and the like of this is nearly all the defence which I have
to offer. Yet a word more. Perhaps there may be someone who is offended
at me, when he calls to mind how he himself, on a similar or even a less
serious occasion, had recourse to prayers and supplications with many tears,
and how he produced his children in court, which was a moving spectacle,
together with a posse of his relations and friends; whereas I, who am
probably in danger of my life, will do none of these things. Perhaps this may
come into his mind, and he may be set against me, and vote in anger
because he is displeased at this. Now if there be such a person among you,
which I am far from affirming, I may fairly reply to him: My friend, I am a
man, and like other men, a creature of flesh and blood, and not of wood or
stone, as Homer says; and I have a family, yes, and sons. O Athenians, three
in number, one of whom is growing up, and the two others are still young;
and yet I will not bring any of them hither in order to petition you for an
acquittal. And why not? Not from any self-will or disregard of you. Whether I
am or am not afraid of death is another question, of which I will not now
speak. But my reason simply is that I feel such conduct to be discreditable to
myself, and you, and the whole state. One who has reached my years, and
who has a name for wisdom, whether deserved or not, ought not to debase
himself. At any rate, the world has decided that Socrates is in some way
superior to other men. And if those among you who are said to be superior
in wisdom and courage, and any other virtue, demean themselves in this
way, how shameful is their conduct! I have seen men of reputation, when
they have been condemned, behaving in the strangest manner: they
seemed to fancy that they were going to suffer something dreadful if they
died, and that they could be immortal if you only allowed them to live; and I
think that they were a dishonor to the state, and that any stranger coming in
would say of them that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the
Athenians themselves give honor and command, are no better than women.
And I say that these things ought not to be done by those of us who are of
reputation; and if they are done, you ought not to permit them; you ought
rather to show that you are more inclined to condemn, not the man who is
quiet, but the man who gets up a doleful scene, and makes the city
But, setting aside the question of dishonor, there seems to be something
wrong in petitioning a judge, and thus procuring an acquittal instead of
informing and convincing him. For his duty is, not to make a present of
justice, but to give judgment; and he has sworn that he will judge according
to the laws, and not according to his own good pleasure; and neither he nor
we should get into the habit of perjuring ourselves – there can be no piety in
that. Do not then require me to do what I consider dishonorable and
impious and wrong, especially now, when I am being tried for impiety on the
indictment of Meletus. For if, O men of Athens, by force of persuasion and
entreaty, I could overpower your oaths, then I should be teaching you to
believe that there are no gods, and convict myself, in my own defence, of
not believing in them. But that is not the case; for I do believe that there are
gods, and in a far higher sense than that in which any of my accusers believe
in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to be determined by you
as is best for you and me.
The jury finds Socrates guilty.
There are many reasons why I am not grieved, O men of Athens, at the vote
of condemnation. I expected it, and am only surprised that the votes are so
nearly equal; for I had thought that the majority against me would have
been far larger; but now, had thirty votes gone over to the other side, I
should have been acquitted. And I may say that I have escaped Meletus. And
I may say more; for without the assistance of Anytus and Lycon, he would
not have had a fifth part of the votes, as the law requires, in which case he
would have incurred a fine of a thousand drachmae, as is evident.
And so he proposes death as the penalty. And what shall I propose on my
part, O men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. And what is that which I
ought to pay or to receive? What shall be done to the man who has never
had the wit to be idle during his whole life; but has been careless of what
the many care about – wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and
speaking in the assembly, and magistracies, and plots, and parties.
Reflecting that I was really too honest a man to follow in this way and live, I
did not go where I could do no good to you or to myself; but where I could
do the greatest good privately to everyone of you, thither I went, and
sought to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and
seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to
the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this should
be the order which he observes in all his actions. What shall be done to such
a one? Doubtless some good thing, O men of Athens, if he has his reward;
and the good should be of a kind suitable to him. What would be a reward
suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, who desires leisure that he
may instruct you? There can be no more fitting reward than maintenance in
the Prytaneum, O men of Athens, a reward which he deserves far more than
the citizen who has won the prize at Olympia in the horse or chariot race,
whether the chariots were drawn by two horses or by many. For I am in
want, and he has enough; and he only gives you the appearance of
happiness, and I give you the reality. And if I am to estimate the penalty
justly, I say that maintenance in the Prytaneum is the just return.
Perhaps you may think that I am braving you in saying this, as in what I said
before about the tears and prayers. But that is not the case. I speak rather
because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone, although
I cannot convince you of that – for we have had a short conversation only;
but if there were a law at Athens, such as there is in other cities, that a
capital cause should not be decided in one day, then I believe that I should
have convinced you; but now the time is too short. I cannot in a moment
refute great slanders; and, as I am convinced that I never wronged another, I
will assuredly not wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any
evil, or propose any penalty. Why should I? Because I am afraid of the
penalty of death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether
death is a good or an evil, why should I propose a penalty which would
certainly be an evil? Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison,
and be the slave of the magistrates of the year – of the Eleven? Or shall the
penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the same
objection. I should have to lie in prison, for money I have none, and I cannot
pay. And if I say exile (and this may possibly be the penalty which you will
affix), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life if I were to consider that
when you, who are my own citizens, cannot endure my discourses and
words, and have found them so grievous and odious that you would fain
have done with them, others are likely to endure me. No, indeed, men of
Athens, that is not very likely. And what a life should I lead, at my age,
wandering from city to city, living in ever-changing exile, and always being
driven out! For I am quite sure that into whatever place I go, as here so also
there, the young men will come to me; and if I drive them away, their elders
will drive me out at their desire: and if I let them come, their fathers and
friends will drive me out for their sakes.
Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then
you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I
have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell
you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore
that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I
say again that the greatest good of man is daily to converse about virtue,
and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and
that the life which is unexamined is not worth living – that you are still less
likely to believe. And yet what I say is true, although a thing of which it is
hard for me to persuade you. Moreover, I am not accustomed to think that I
deserve any punishment. Had I money I might have proposed to give you
what I had, and have been none the worse. But you see that I have none,
and can only ask you to proportion the fine to my means. However, I think
that I could afford a minae, and therefore I propose that penalty; Plato,
Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus, my friends here, bid me say thirty minae,
and they will be the sureties. Well then, say thirty minae, let that be the
penalty; for that they will be ample security to you.
The jury condemns Socrates to death.
Not much time will be gained, O Athenians, in return for the evil name which
you will get from the detractors of the city, who will say that you killed
Socrates, a wise man; for they will call me wise even although I am not wise
when they want to reproach you. If you had waited a little while, your desire
would have been fulfilled in the course of nature. For I am far advanced in
years, as you may perceive, and not far from death. I am speaking now only
to those of you who have condemned me to death. And I have another
thing to say to them: You think that I was convicted through deficiency of
words – I mean, that if I had thought fit to leave nothing undone, nothing
unsaid, I might have gained an acquittal. Not so; the deficiency which led to
my conviction was not of words – certainly not. But I had not the boldness or
impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to
address you, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing
many things which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and
which, as I say, are unworthy of me. But I thought that I ought not to do
anything common or mean in the hour of danger: nor do I now repent of the
manner of my defence, and I would rather die having spoken after my
manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at
law ought any man to use every way of escaping death. For often in battle
there is no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall on his
knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other dangers there
are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to say and do anything.
The difficulty, my friends, is not in avoiding death, but in avoiding
unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old and move slowly,
and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and
quick, and the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has overtaken them.
And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the penalty of death,
and they, too, go their ways condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty of
villainy and wrong; and I must abide by my award – let them abide by theirs. I
suppose that these things may be regarded as fated, – and I think that they
are well.
And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you;
for I am about to die, and that is the hour in which men are gifted with
prophetic power. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers,
that immediately after my death punishment far heavier than you have
inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you wanted
to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will
not be as you suppose: far otherwise. For I say that there will be more
accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom hitherto I have
restrained: and as they are younger they will be more severe with you, and
you will be more offended at them. For if you think that by killing men you
can avoid the accuser censuring your lives, you are mistaken; that is not a
way of escape which is either possible or honorable; the easiest and noblest
way is not to be crushing others, but to be improving yourselves. This is
the prophecy which I utter before my departure, to the judges who have
condemned me.
Friends, who would have acquitted me, I would like also to talk with you
about this thing which has happened, while the magistrates are busy, and
before I go to the place at which I must die. Stay then awhile, for we may as
well talk with one another while there is time. You are my friends, and I
should like to show you the meaning of this event which has happened to
me. O my judges – for you I may truly call judges – I should like to tell you of a
wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the familiar oracle within me has
constantly been in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going
to make a slip or error about anything; and now as you see there has come
upon me that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last
and worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either as I was
leaving my house and going out in the morning, or when I was going up into
this court, or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say; and
yet I have often been stopped in the middle of a speech; but now in nothing
I either said or did touching this matter has the oracle opposed me. What do
I take to be the explanation of this? I will tell you. I regard this as a proof that
what has happened to me is a good, and that those of us who think that
death is an evil are in error. This is a great proof to me of what I am saying,
for the customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to
evil and not to good.
Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great reason to
hope that death is a good, for one of two things: – either death is a state of
nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say, there is a change
and migration of the soul from this world to another. Now if you suppose
that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like the sleep of him who is
undisturbed even by the sight of dreams, death will be an unspeakable gain.
For if a person were to select the night in which his sleep was undisturbed
even by dreams, and were to compare with this the other days and nights of
his life, and then were to tell us how many days and nights he had passed in
the course of his life better and more pleasantly than this one, I think that
any man, I will not say a private man, but even the great king, will not find
many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is
like this, I say that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if
death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the dead
are, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than this? If indeed
when the pilgrim arrives in the world below, he is delivered from the
professors of justice in this world, and finds the true judges who are said to
give judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and
Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in their own life,
that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a man give if he
might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? Nay, if
this be true, let me die again and again. I, too, shall have a wonderful
interest in a place where I can converse with Palamedes, and Ajax the son of
Telamon, and other heroes of old, who have suffered death through an
unjust judgment; and there will be no small pleasure, as I think, in comparing
my own sufferings with theirs. Above all, I shall be able to continue my
search into true and false knowledge; as in this world, so also in that; I shall
find out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not. What would
not a man give, O judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great
Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men and
women too! What infinite delight would there be in conversing with them
and asking them questions! For in that world they do not put a man to death
for this; certainly not. For besides being happier in that world than in this,
they will be immortal, if what is said is true.
Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this of a
truth – that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death. He
and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own approaching end
happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that to die and be released was
better for me; and therefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason also,
I am not angry with my accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no
harm, although neither of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may
gently blame them.
Still I have a favor to ask of them. When my sons are grown up, I would ask
you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble them, as I
have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than
about virtue; or if they pretend to be something when they are really
nothing, – then reprove them, as I have reproved you, for not caring about
that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are
something when they are really nothing. And if you do this, I and my sons
will have received justice at your hands.
The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways – I to die, and you to
live. Which is better God only knows.

Leave a Reply