a work of philosophy
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Xenophon, who wrote his own Apology of Socrates, indicates that a number of writers had published accounts of Socrates’ defense. According to one prominent scholar, “Writing designed to clear Socrates’ name was doubtless a particular feature of the decade or so following 399 BC….” Many scholars guess that Plato’s Apology was one of the first, if not the very first, dialogues Plato wrote, though there is little if any hard evidence. Plato’s Apology is commonly regarded as the most reliable source of information about the historical Socrates.
Except for two brief exchanges with Meletus (at 24d-25d and 26b-27d), where the dialogue is written in dramatic form, the text is written in the first person from Socrates’ point of view, as though it were Socrates’ actual speech at the trial. During the course of the speech, Socrates twice mentions Plato as being present (at 34a and 38b). There is, however, no real way of knowing how closely Socrates’ words in the Apology match those of Socrates at the actual trial, even if it was Plato’s intention to be accurate in this respect. One contemporary criticism of Plato’s Apology is perhaps implied by the opening paragraphs of Xenophon’s Apology, assuming that the former antedated the latter; Xenophon remarks that previous writers had failed to make clear the reason for Socrates’ boastful talk (megalēgoria) in the face of the death penalty. Xenophon’s account disagrees in some other respects with the details of Plato’s Apology, but he nowhere explicitly claims it to be inaccurate.
The Apology begins with Socrates saying he does not know if the men of Athens (his jury) have been persuaded by his accusers. This first sentence is crucial to the theme of the entire speech. Indeed, in the Apology Socrates will suggest that philosophy begins with a sincere admission of ignorance; he later clarifies this, dramatically stating that whatever wisdom he has, comes from his knowledge that he knows nothing (23b, 29b).
Socrates imitates, parodies and even corrects the Orators by asking the jury to judge him not by his oratorical skills, but by the truth (cf. Lysias XIX 1,2,3, Isaeus X 1, Isocrates XV 79, Aeschines II 24). Socrates says he will not use ornate words and phrases that are carefully arranged, but will speak using the expressions that come into his head. He says he will use the same way of speaking that he is heard using at the agora and the money tables. In spite of his disclaimers, Socrates proves to be a master orator who is not only eloquent and persuasive, but even wise. This is how he corrects the Orators, showing what they should have been doing all along, speaking the truth persuasively with wisdom. The speech does not succeed in winning him acquittal. Socrates is condemned to death by drinking hemlock.
The three men who brought the charges against Socrates were:
Anytus, son of a prominent Athenian, Anthemion. Socrates says Anytus joined the prosecution because he was “vexed on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians” (23e-24a). Anytus makes an important cameo appearance in Meno. Anytus appears unexpectedly while Socrates and Meno (a visitor to Athens) are discussing the acquisition of virtue. Having taken the position that virtue cannot be taught, Socrates adduces as evidence for this that many prominent Athenians have produced sons inferior to themselves. Socrates says this, and then proceeds to name names, including Pericles and Thucydides. Anytus becomes very offended, and warns Socrates that running people down (“kakos legein”) could get him into trouble someday (Meno 94e-95a).
Plutarch gives some information that might help us realize the real reason behind Anytus’ worries. He says that Anytus wanted to be friends with Alcibiades but he preferred to be with Socrates. And also we hear that Anytus’ son had a sexual relationship with Socrates- which was an accepted relationship between teacher and pupil in classical Athens.
Meletus, the only accuser to speak during Socrates’ defense. Socrates says Meletus joined the prosecution because he was “vexed on behalf of the poets” (23e). He is mentioned in another dialog, the Euthyphro, but does not appear in person. Socrates says there that Meletus is a young unknown with hook-nose. In the Apology, Meletus allows himself to be cross-examined by Socrates and stumbles into a trap. Apparently not paying attention to the very charges he is bringing, he accuses Socrates both of atheism and of believing in demi-gods.
Lycon, about whom, according to one scholar, “we know nothing except that he was the mouthpiece of the professional rhetoricians.” Socrates says Lycon joined the prosecution because he was “vexed on behalf of the rhetoricians” (24a). Some scholars, such as Debra Nails, identify Lycon as the father of Autolycus, who appears in Xenophon’s Symposium 2.4ff. Nails also identifies Socrates’ prosecutor with the Lycon who is the butt of jokes in Aristophanes and became a successful democratic politician after the fall of the Four Hundred; she suggests that he may have joined in the prosecution because he associated Socrates with the Thirty Tyrants, who had executed his son, Autolycus. Others, however, question the identification of Socrates’ prosecutor with the father of Autolycus; John Burnet, for instance, claims it “is most improbable”.
The Apology can be divided into three parts. The first part is Socrates’s own defense of himself and includes the most famous parts of the text, namely his recounting of the Oracle at Delphi and his cross-examination of Meletus. The second part is the verdict, and the third part is the sentencing.
Socrates begins by telling the judges that their minds were poisoned by his enemies when they were young and impressionable. He says his reputation for sophistry comes from his enemies, all of whom are envious of him, and malicious. He says they must remain nameless, except for Aristophanes, the comic poet. He later answers the charge that he has corrupted the young by arguing that deliberate corruption is an incoherent idea. Socrates says that all these false accusations began with his obedience to the oracle at Delphi. He tells how Chaerephon went to the Oracle at Delphi, to ask if anyone was wiser than Socrates. When Chaerephon reported to Socrates that the god told him there is none wiser, Socrates took this as a riddle. He himself knew that he had no wisdom “great or small” but that he also knew that it is against the nature of the gods to lie.
Socrates then went on a “divine mission” to solve the paradox (that an ignorant man could also be the wisest of all men) and to clarify the meaning of the Oracles’ words. He systematically interrogated the politicians, poets and craftsmen. Socrates determined that the politicians were impostors, and the poets did not understand even their own poetry, like prophets and seers who do not understand what they say. Craftsmen proved to be pretentious too, and Socrates says that he saw himself as a spokesman for the oracle (23e). He asked himself whether he would rather be an impostor like the people he spoke to, or be himself. Socrates tells the jury that he would rather be himself than anyone else.
Socrates says that this questioning earned him the reputation of being an annoying busybody. Socrates interpreted his life’s mission as proof that true wisdom belongs to the gods and that human wisdom and achievements have little or no value. Having addressed the cause of the prejudice against him, Socrates then tackles the formal charges, corruption of the young and atheism.
Socrates’ first move is to accuse his accuser, Meletus (whose name means literally, “the person who cares,” or “caring”) of not caring about the things he professes to care about. He argues during his interrogation of Meletus that no one would intentionally corrupt another person (because they stand to be harmed by him at a later date). The issue of corruption is important for two reasons: first, it appears to be the heart of the charge against him, that he corrupted the young by teaching some version of atheism, and second, Socrates says that if he is convicted, it will be because Aristophanes corrupted the minds of his audience when they were young (with his slapstick mockery of Socrates in his play, “The Clouds”, produced some twenty-four years earlier).
Socrates then proceeds to deal with the second charge, that he is an atheist. He cross-examines Meletus, and extracts a contradiction. He gets Meletus to say that Socrates is an atheist who believes in spiritual agencies and demigods. Socrates announces that he has caught Meletus in a contradiction, and asks the court whether Meletus has designed an intelligence test for him to see if he can identify logical contradictions.
Socrates repeats his claim that it will not be the formal charges which will destroy him, but rather the prejudicial gossip and slander. He is not afraid of death, because he is more concerned about whether he is acting rightly or wrongly. Further, Socrates argues, those who fear death are showing their ignorance: death may be a great blessing, but many people fear it as an evil when they cannot possibly know it to be such. Again Socrates points out that his wisdom lies in the fact that he is aware that he does not know.
Socrates states clearly that a lawful superior, whether human or divine, should be obeyed. If there is a clash between the two, however, divine authority should take precedence. “Gentlemen, I am your grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you; and as long as I draw breath and have my faculties I shall never stop practicing philosophy”. Since Socrates has interpreted the Delphic Oracle as singling him out to spur his fellow Athenians to a greater awareness of moral goodness and truth, he will not stop questioning and arguing should the people forbid him to do so, even if they were to withdraw the charges. Nor will he stop questioning his fellow citizens. “Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?”
In a highly inflammatory section of the Apology, Socrates claims that no greater good has happened to Athens than his concern for his fellow citizens, that wealth is a consequence of goodness (and not the other way around), that God does not permit a better man to be harmed by a worse, and that, in the strongest statement he gives of his task, he is a stinging gadfly and the state a lazy horse, “and all day long I will never cease to settle here, there and everywhere, rousing, persuading and reproving every one of you.”
As further evidence of his task, Socrates reminds the court of his daimon which he sees as a supernatural experience. He recognizes this as partly behind the charge of believing in invented beings. Again Socrates makes no concession to his situation. He would have been well aware that many if not most in the courtroom would have viewed this with utmost suspicion.
Socrates claims to never have been a teacher, in the sense of imparting knowledge to others. He cannot therefore be held responsible if any citizen turns bad. If he has corrupted anyone, why have they not come forward to be witnesses? Or if they do not realize that they have been corrupted, why have their relatives not stepped forward on their behalf? Many relatives of the young men associated with him, Socrates points out, are presently in the courtroom to support him.
Socrates concludes this part of the Apology by reminding the judges that he will not resort to the usual emotive tricks and arguments. He will not break down in tears, nor will he produce his three sons in the hope of swaying the judges. He does not fear death; nor will he act in a way contrary to his religious duty. He will rely solely on sound argument and the truth to present his case.
Socrates is voted guilty by a narrow margin (36a). Plato never gives the total number of Socrates’ judges nor the exact numbers of votes against him and for his acquittal, though Socrates does say that if only 30 more had voted in his favor then he would have been acquitted. Many scholars assume the number of judges was 281 to 220 and was sentenced to death by a vote of 161 to 140 .
part 2 can be read on Wikipedias article on Platos appology