My accusers' speeches may have
carried you Athenians away. Weren't they marvelous? As I listened, I found
their talks so moving that
I almost forgot who I am. . .
my accusers have spoken hardly a single word of truth, but one of
their lies surprised me more than all of the others: I mean when they told you to be
careful in listening to me,
and not to let yourselves be tricked by the cunning of my "eloquence,"
as they put it. [17b] This lie about my skill
in speaking was sure to be detected as soon as I opened my mouth
today. I'm no public speaker. They should not have called me
eloquent, unless by eloquent they meant truthful. In that case,
I'll be eloquent.
have hardly spoken a single word of truth, but I'll tell you the whole
truth, by Zeus! [17c] Unlike them, I'll
memorized speech full of polished sound bites and rhetorical
flourishes. No, I'll use plain words to tell you the honest
facts that come to my mind as I talk to you, for I am sure
that this simple approach is right, and at my time of life I should not appear
before you like some kid who studies oratory. Don't
expect that of me.
I must ask you for one more favor, which is this: don't
be surprised or disturbed if you
hear me using the same words in my defense that I always use, and which
so many of you may have heard me use in the
marketplace, and at the tables of the money-changers, and
everywhere else. [17d] Although I am more than seventy
years old, this is the first time that I have ever appeared
in court, and I am a stranger to the ways and language of this place.
please, think of me as if I were a stranger, as you would
excuse a foreigner if he spoke in his own native language here. That is not an unfair request,
how I speak, which may or may not be usual here in this place, but think only of the
justice of my case. Pay careful attention to that. As it has been
said, "Let the speaker speak
truly and the judges decide justly."
First, I should answer
the older charges of my first
accusers, before I go on to the more recent ones.
There were many who accused me long ago, and their lies about me have
remained through the years. These accusers disturb me more than
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 lies, 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 that I fear the most, for they have taught you to believe
that men who
inquire into things do not believe in the gods.
accusations against me are old and stale. They were made long ago when you were
impressionable in childhood, or perhaps in youth, and
you accepted them by default, because there was no way for me
to answer them. I hardly knew the names of these slanderers, except in the case of
well known comedian. [18d]
Their lies worked upon you from envy and malice, but they are most
difficult for me to deal with. I can't call them up here before
you, and question them, and so I simply fight with shadows here.
There's no way for me to examine them about what they said.
ask you then
to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two
kinds: one recent, the other old. And I hope that you will see
why I answer my oldest accusers first, for you heard them long before the others, and much
more often, too. [18e]
Well, then, I will make my defense. [19a]
I'm allowed only a short time to do away with this evil opinion of me
which you have held for such a long time. I hope I may succeed. I
hope that my words may find favor with
you. But I know that to accomplish this is not easy. I see the
nature of the task. Let the outcome be as the god wills. In obedience to
the law I make my defense.
Let's begin at the beginning.
What is the accusation,
what is this slander against me? And what has encouraged
Meletus to proceed against
me? What do these slanderers, my prosecutors, say? I'll sum up their words
according to their affidavit. Quote: "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."
their allegation. That's what you have seen for yourselves in
comedy of Aristophanes, who has introduced a character whom he calls
Socrates, going about and saying that he can walk in the air, and
talking a lot of nonsense about things that I know nothing about.
Of course, I don't mean to say
anything disparaging about anyone who studies natural
philosophy. I should be very sorry if Meletus could lay that to my
charge. But the simple truth is, good Athenians, I do not study or
teach natural philosophy. Very many people present here in court
witnesses to the truth of this, and I appeal to them.
[19d] Speak up
now, any of you who has ever heard me, and tell your neighbors whether
you have ever heard me say anything about matters of this kind. .
. [There is no answer.]
You hear their answer. And from what they say of
this, now you can judge the truth of the rest of the complaint
It's also untrue that I am a teacher who takes money for teaching.
[19e] Now if
people can charge tuition for their teaching, I honor them. I know
of Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis,
who go around to the cities and persuade the young
men to leave their homelands, where their fellow citizens would
educate them for free, to go away to school and to pay for the
education. [20a] And these students not only pay tuition, but are
thankful to their teachers for accepting the money!
There is actually a
Parian philosopher of this sort residing in Athens now. I
came to hear of him in this way: I met a man who had spent a world
of money on
Sophists for his sons, Callias the son of
Hipponicus. I asked him: "Callias," I
said, "if your two sons were foals or calves, there would be
no trouble in finding someone to take care of them; you would hire
an animal trainer or a farmer, probably, who would train them in
their own kind of virtue and excellence, [20b]
but since your sons are human beings,
who should take care of them, in your opinion?
Is there anyone who can teach human virtue and excellence? Surely
must have thought about this, since you have these sons; is there
"There is," he said.
he?" said I, "and of what country? and what does he
Parian," he replied, "he
is the man, and his charge is
five minae." Happy is
said to myself, if he really has this wisdom and can teach it for
so much money. If my wisdom were worth so much, I'd be very proud and
conceited. [20c] But the truth is, I have no knowledge of this kind to
Athenians, I imagine now that someone among you will ask,
"What are you saying, Socrates? Surely you must be doing
something strange, that all of these accusations arise against
you? All of these charges and all of this talk
about you would never would have happened if you had been like the
rest of us.
Tell us, then, why this is, so that we don't judge you too hastily."
is a fair question, I think, so let me try to explain to you how I
began to be called "wise," and how I began to acquire a bad
name. Please listen then. And
although some of you may think that I'm joking, I will tell you
nothing but the truth.
Gentlemen, this reputation of mine comes from a certain sort of
wisdom that I possess. What kind of wisdom? Only such wisdom as humankind can attain. Others may claim to
have a superhuman wisdom, but I don't. [20e]
Anybody who says that I
make such claims for extraordinary wisdom speaks falsely, and
And here, O
people 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 belief,
and will tell you about my wisdom--whether I have any, and of what
sort--[21a] and that witness shall be the
god of Delphi.
knew Chaerephon; he was a friend of mine from
childhood, and also a friend
of most of you, for he shared in your exile, and returned
with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you know, was very impulsive 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 Apollo's prophetess answered that
there was no man wiser. Now Chaerephon is dead, but his brother is in
court with us today and will confirm the truth of this story.
Why do I mention this? To explain to you why I
have such an evil fame. When I heard about the oracle, I said to myself,
What can the god mean? What's the interpretation of this
riddle? I know that I have no wisdom, great or small. He is a god
and cannot lie--that would be against his nature--but what can he
mean when he says that I am the wisest of men?
After a long
consideration, I at last thought of a way to answer my questions. I reflected that if I could only find a man wiser than
myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation. I might say to him, "Here is a man who
seems to be wiser than I am, but
you said that I was the wisest. What did you mean?"
Accordingly I went to
a person who was well known for wisdom, and I observed him. His name I
need not mention--he was a politician. As soon as I started to talk
with him, I began to see that he was not really wise, although many people thought
that he was wise. [21d] When I told him that he wasn't as wise as he
thought, he became angry, and his anger was shared by
several others who were present and who heard me. So I left him, saying to
myself, as I went away: Well, neither one of us knows anything really beautiful
or good, but I am better
off than he is, for he knows nothing, and thinks that he knows. On
the other hand, I
neither know nor think that I know. In this very small way,
then, I seem to have the advantage over 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 person after another, although each time
I could see the
anger that I provoked against me. I was sorry about it, and I
feared it, but I had to do what necessity had laid upon me. The word of God, I thought, ought
to be considered first. And I said to myself, I must go to all who
appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle.
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 people with the greatest reputations for wisdom actually were the most
foolish. And some with reputations as fools really were wiser and better.
undertook the labors of
Herakles, as I may call them, in trying to prove the truth of
the oracle. [22b]
When I left the politicians, I went to the
poets--tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts of poets. And, I said to
myself, now you are sure to be detected; now you will find out that you are
much less wise than they are. I read them some of the
most complicated passages in their poems, and I asked what they
meant, for I thought that they would teach me something. I
couldn't believe the result! I am almost ashamed to say this, but
still I must say it: almost anybody could have spoken more
intelligently about their poetry than they did themselves.
I learned in that instant that poets do not write poetry by any wisdom
of their own but by a sort of genius or inspiration. They are like diviners or
soothsayers who also say a lot of fine things, but don't understand
the meaning of them. By the strength of their poetry these people believed themselves to be the wisest of
mankind, but they simply are not wise. So I left them, thinking myself to be
wiser, for the same reason that I thought myself to be wiser than the
Finally I went to the tradesmen, for I thought that they had to know
many impressive things that I don't know at all.
And I was not mistaken in
this, for they in fact knew things that I didn't know, and in this
sense they certainly
were wiser than I was. But then I saw that even the good artisans
made the same mistake as the poets. Because they were good
craftspeople, they assumed that they also knew all sorts of grand
things, [22e] and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom. I had
to ask myself, on behalf of the oracle, whether I was better
than they were, since I had neither their knowledge nor their
ignorance. Agreeing with the oracle, I had to conclude that I was better off than they were.
My investigation has earned me many enemies of the worst
and most dangerous kind, [23a]
and it has given me a reputation for
wisdom, for my hearers always imagine
that I myself possess the wisdom which I find lacking in others.
But the truth is that only
the god is wise, and his oracle means that the wisdom of humankind
is little or nothing. He is not
speaking of Socrates personally. [23b]
He used my name only as an illustration,
as if he had said, "Among humans that person is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows
that his wisdom is worthless."
And so I go my way,
obedient to the god, and I inquire into the wisdom of everyone, whether citizen
or stranger, who claims to be wise. If it turns out that he is not wise, then
in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise. 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 wealthier families, who
have little to do, come to me of their own accord. They enjoy hearing the pretenders examined, and
sometimes they imitate me, and
examine others themselves. There are plenty of people, as they
soon enough discover, who think that they know something, but
really know little or nothing. And those examined by
them, instead of being angry with them, are angry with me.
Socrates! they say. That wicked corrupter of youth! If somebody asks
them, Why, what evil does Socrates practice or teach? they do not know,
and cannot say. Not to look stupid, they repeat the ready-made charges
that are used against
all philosophers everywhere, about teaching of things up in the clouds and under the earth, and
having no gods, and making the worse argument appear to be the better cause. They
don't like to confess that their pretence of knowledge has
been detected--which is the truth. [23e]
And because 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
And this is the reason why
Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, my three accusers, have set upon me. Meletus has a
quarrel with me on behalf of the poets, Anytus on behalf of the craftsmen, Lycon on behalf of
As I said at
the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of this mass of
falsehoods in only a few moments of speaking to you. But this, O men of Athens, is the
truth and the whole truth. I have concealed nothing. I have not
lied. [24b] And yet I believe that this plain speaking of mine is the
reason for my unpopularity, and my accusers' hatred for me is a proof that I am
speaking the truth! This is the occasion and reason of their lies
about me, as you will find out either today or in
I have said enough in my defense against the first class of my
accusers; I turn to the second class, who are headed by Meletus,
that fine patriot, 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: "Socrates is a doer of evil, and corrupter of the youth, and
he does not believe in the gods of the state, but he invents other new
divinities of his own."
That is the charge, and now let us examine
the particular counts. Meletus says that I am a doer of evil, who
corrupts the youth, but I say that Meletus is a
doer of evil, and his evil is that he makes a joke of a serious
matter, and is too ready to bring other men to trial from a
pretended zeal and interest about matters in which he never has had the smallest
real interest. And the truth of this I'll prove right now.
Come over here, Meletus, and let me ask you a question. You worry
a lot about the improvement of young people, it seems?
Soc. Good. Tell us, then, who is their improver; for you must know,
since you pay so much attention to these matters, and you have taken
such trouble to find out who corrupts them, and even more trouble
in prosecuting me. Come on, then, and tell the jury who improves
the young people. . . [No answer.]
Why so silent, Meletus?
Have you nothing to say? No, of course you don't. You are silent
because you have no interest at all in the well-being of the young
people! Speak up! Tell us who improves young people.
Mel. The laws.
Soc. That's not an answer to my question, sir. I asked who--what
person--improves the young.
Mel. The gentlemen of the jury here, Socrates.
Soc. What do you mean, Meletus? that they can instruct young
people and make them better?
Soc. What, all of them, or some only and not others?
Mel. All of them.
Soc. By the goddess Hera, that is good news! The young have lots of
improvers, then. And what do you say about the audience here
today, do they
improve them, too?
Mel. Yes, they do.
Soc. And the members of the Council?
Mel. The Councilors improve them.
Soc. But perhaps the members of the citizen assembly corrupt them?
Or do all of them also improve our young folks?
Mel. They improve them.
Soc. I see. Then every Athenian improves and elevates them--all with the
exception of myself! I alone am their corrupter? Is that what
Mel. That is what I say.
Soc. I am uniquely wicked then. Well, let me ask another
question: Is this conclusion of yours also true in the case of
horses? Does one man do them harm while all the rest of
humanity do them good? Is not
the exact opposite true? Of course it is. Only one person
or at least not many; the trainer of horses, that is, does
them good, and other persons, if they have anything to do with
horses, are likely to harm them. Is not that true, Meletus, in the case of horses, or any other animals?
does not answer.]
certainly it is true. Whether
you and Anytus say yes or no, that is no matter. Our young people
would be happy indeed if they had only one corrupter, while
everybody else in the world improved them! But your foolish
Meletus, clearly show that your head is empty of any serious
thoughts about the young. [25c]
You have never paid the slightest
attention to questions about the mis-education of young people.
Yet, Meletus, let's take this line of questioning a little
further. Which is
better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Hmm?
answer.] Be a good fellow and answer. There's nothing
difficult about my question. Don't wicked people do harm to their
neighbors, while good people do good to them?
Soc. And does anyone prefer to be harmed rather than helped by those who
associate with him? [No answer.] Answer, please. The law requires
you to answer. Does anyone prefer to be harmed?
Mel. Of course not.
Soc. And when you accuse me of corrupting and harming the young
do you say that I harm them intentionally or unintentionally?
Soc. But you have just admitted that the good help their neighbors,
and the bad do them harm. Now is that a truth which your superior
wisdom has recognized so 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, you say, I corrupt him, and intentionally, too. That is
what you are saying, and your argument plainly is false. No, Meletus, I
do not intentionally corrupt anybody. [26a]
Either I am not a bad
influence, or else my bad influence is unintentional. In either of
the two possibilities, your
indictment of me is false.
If my offence is unintentional, the law does not punish unintentional
offences, and you ought to have taken me aside privately, and
warned and admonished me, for if I had been better advised, I
would have left off doing my unintentional harms. No
doubt about it. But you didn't converse with me or tell me
this. You said nothing to me but instead you indicted me in this court, which is a place not of instruction,
but of punishment.
Athenians, I have shown, as I was saying, that Meletus has no
interest at all, great or small, about this matter of my influence
on young minds. But now let's take this examination one step
further, Meletus. How do I corrupt the young? Tell the court. I
suppose that you mean, if I understand your indictment, that I teach
them not to believe in the gods that the state acknowledges? And I teach them about some other new divinities or
spirits instead? Are these my teachings that corrupt the young
Mel. That is precisely my meaning!
Soc. By the gods of whom we are speaking, Meletus, tell me and
the court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean! Do I teach others to
believe in some gods, so that I am not
an entire atheist? You don't seem to accuse me of atheism, but
only of belief in gods that our city does not recognize. The charge
seems to say that I believe in different gods. Or, do you mean that I am
an atheist simply, and a teacher of atheism?
Mel. I mean the latter. You are a complete atheist.
Soc. Oh? What an extraordinary statement, Meletus! How can 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 humankind?
Mel. By Zeus, I assure you, gentlemen of the jury, he does not believe in them!
says that the sun is stone, and that the moon is made of earth!
Soc. Friend Meletus, do you think that you are accusing
You have a poor opinion of these jurors, if you think they are so
ignorant that they don't know the teachings of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian. These ideas are in his writings. How can you say that
young people learned these things from me, when Anaxagoras'
manuscripts are on display down at the theatre, with the
viewing price of one drachma at the
most. [26e] Anybody can buy his ideas there. Laugh at Socrates, if ever he pretends to
father such absurdities. But Meletus, you really think that
I do not believe in any god?
Mel. I say that you do not believe in any gods at all.
Soc. Nobody believes you, not even yourself.
Athenians, Meletus is insolent, unable to restrain his temper. He has written this
false indictment against me in a spirit
of mere aggression and youthful bravado. His indictment of me is
nothing but a riddle. He has said to himself, I will see
whether Socrates is wise enough to discover my ingenious contradiction, or whether I shall be able to deceive him and the
rest of them. I'll see if they are bright enough to figure out that I'm accusing
Socrates both of atheism and of believing in false gods. This is
Meletus' little trick.
Jurors, join me in examining his inconsistency. Answer me, Meletus. And
I must remind you that you have no right to interrupt me if I speak in
my normal way.
Did ever anybody, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things,
but not in human beings? . . . [Meletus
direct him to answer and to stop trying to interrupt my
ever anybody believe in horsemanship, and not in horses? or in
flute-playing, and not in flute-players? No, sir; I will
answer to you and to the court, as you refuse to answer for
yourself. Nobody ever held such contradictory
beliefs. But now please answer
the next question: [27c] Can a person believe in supernatural things and not in
Soc. Thank you, Meletus! I am glad that I have extracted that
answer from you, by the assistance of
the court. Nevertheless you swear in your indictment that I teach
and believe in divine agencies (new or old, no matter
for that); at any rate, I believe in divine agencies, as you
swear in the affidavit; but if I believe in them, I must
believe in demigods--is not that true? [Meletus
does not answer.] Yes, that is
true, for I may assume that your silence gives assent to that. Now
[27d] are they not the sons
of gods? Is that true?
Mel. Yes, that is true.
Soc. But this is the ingenious riddle that I was speaking of just
now. You say first that I don't
believe in gods, and then again that I do believe in demigods. How
could that be? Demigods are the sons of gods, whether by the nymphs or by any other
mothers. Their existence necessarily
implies the existence of their parents. I might as well affirm
the existence of mules, [27e] and deny that of horses and asses. Such
nonsense, Meletus, could only have been meant by you as a trial
of my wisdom. You have put this stuff into the indictment because you had
nothing real to accuse me of. But no one who has a particle
of understanding will ever be convinced by you that the same
person can believe in divine and superhuman things,
and yet not believe
that there are gods and demigods.
Well, I now have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus. Any
more elaborate defense is unnecessary. As I was saying before, I have many enemies, and
if I am destroyed, it will not be because of Meletus, or Anytus, but
because of 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. I'm in no
danger of being the last of them.
Someone will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, that you lead
a life that is so likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I
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 he is doing right or wrong--acting
the part of a good man or a bad one. [28c]
Otherwise, the heroes who fell at Troy were not good for much, and
son of Thetis above all, who altogether despised danger in
comparison with disgrace. When his goddess mother said to him,
in his eagerness to slay Hektor, that if he avenged his companion
Patroklos and slew Hektor, he himself would be next to die.
"Fate," as she said, "waits upon you next after
Hektor." Achilles, hearing this, utterly despised danger and
death, [28d] and feared rather to live in dishonor, and not to avenge
his friend. "Let me die next," he replied, "and be
avenged of my enemy, rather than abide here by the war 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,
Athenians, this is a true saying.
Strange, indeed, would my conduct have been, if I had disobeyed
orders of the generals whom you chose to command me
Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium.
Instead, I held my ground at the post where they stationed me,
like any other soldier, facing death. And so now, when the god orders me to fulfill the philosopher's
mission of searching into myself and others, I will not desert
my post through fear of death, or any other fear.
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.
This fear of
death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom. It
pretends to know the unknown. People may fear that death
is is the greatest evil that can befall them, but no one knows whether
it may not be the greatest good. [29b]
Is there not here presumption of
knowledge, which is a disgraceful sort of ignorance? And this is
the point in which, I believe, I am superior in wisdom to others.
Although I can believe a little about the afterlife in the world below, I do not suppose that I
I do know that injustice and disobedience to a superior, whether
God or ruler, is evil and dishonorable, [29c]
and it would be ridiculous to commit such an act out of
fear of a possible good.
that you let me go now, and reject the arguments of Anytus, who
said that if I were not put to death then I ought not to have been
prosecuted, and that if I escape now, all of your children will be
utterly ruined by listening to my words. If you say to me,
Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and we will let you off,
but upon one condition, that you must not inquire and speculate in
this way any more, [29d] and that if you are caught doing this again you
shall die. If this was the condition on which you let me go, I
would reply: citizens of Athens, I honor and love you, but
obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I'll 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, [29e]
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?
the people with whom I am arguing say, "Yes, but we do
care," then I'll
not depart or let them go before I'll interrogate them. I'll examine
and cross-examine them, and if I think that they have no virtue, but
only say that they have it, [30a] I'll blame
them for undervaluing the greater
things, and overvaluing the lesser ones. And this I'll say to everyone
I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially to
the citizens, because they are my brethren. For this is the
command of the god, as I would have you know; and I believe that to
no greater good has ever happened in the state than my
service to the god. For I do nothing all day but go about persuading you, old and young alike, not to take thought for your persons and
your properties, [30b] but first and mainly to care about the
improvement of your souls. I tell you that virtue can't be bought by
money, but that from virtues can come money and every other good of
mankind, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this
doctrine corrupts young people, then my influence is ruinous
indeed. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, that's a
lie. So I say to you, jurors of Athens,
do as Anytus bids or not as
Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not, but whatever you do,
know that I will never change my ways, not even if I must die for
it many times.
Athenians, do not interrupt, but hear me! There is 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 listen. 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. It is not in the nature of things
that a bad man should injure a better than himself. A bad man may,
perhaps, kill a better man, 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 I do not agree. Doing what Anytus is doing,
unjustly taking away another man's
life, is a greater evil by 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.
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 slow moving because of his great size,
and requires to be stirred into life. I am the gadfly that the god
has given the state, and all day long I am always
fastening upon you, stirring you up, persuading and reproaching you.
[31a] And as you will not easily find another like me, I advise you to
spare me. I suppose 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, then you would sleep
in peace for the remainder of your lives,
unless God in his care of you sends you another gadfly.
And that I
am given to you by God is shown by this: that if I had been like
other people, I should not have neglected all my own concerns,
patiently seen the neglect of them during all these years, while I
have been taking up your concerns, coming to you individually, like a father
or elder brother, exhorting you to regard virtue. This, I say, is
not like human nature. If I had gained anything, or if I had been
paid for this work, there would have been some sense in my
behavior: but now, as you have seen, not even my accusers dare to say that I have ever
extracted or sought pay from
anyone. [31c] They have no witness of that. And I have a witness of the
truth of what I say: my poverty is proof.
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 why.
[31d] You have often heard me speak of
an oracle or signal
that comes to me, and this is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in
This signal I have had ever since I was a child. It is a voice
that comes to me at times and forbids me to do something that I am
about to do. It never commands me to do anything, and this is
what stands in the way of my being a politician. And rightly, too,
I must believe. For certainly, if I had entered politics, I would have
died long ago [31e] and done no good either to you or to
myself. Don't be offended at my telling you the truth: but the
fact is that nobody lives long who leads you into war against
and wrongs in the
state. He who would fight for good, and survive for more than a
brief time, must lead a private life and not a public one. History
clearly shows this.
can tell you of an episode in my own
life, which will prove to you that I do not yield to
injustice from any fear of death, and that if I had yielded I
should have died at once. The story may be an unpleasant one,
but it is nevertheless true. [32b]
The only office of state which I ever held
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 dead after the battle of Arginusae.
Some of you proposed to try these generals all together in one
trial, which was
illegal, as you all agreed afterwards. But at the time I was the
only one who opposed your illegality, and I
gave my vote against you, and when the orators threatened to
impeach and arrest me, and would have me taken away, I made up my mind
that I would run the risk, having law and justice with me,
than take part in your injustice because I feared any imprisonment
happened in the days of the old democracy, but I can tell you a
similar story from the time afterward.
After the oligarchy of
the Thirty came into power, they sent for me and four others into the
rotunda, and they ordered us bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis, as
they wanted to execute him. This was the kind of command that they were always giving
to implicate as many people as
as possible in their hateful crimes. [32d]
But I showed them, not in words only,
but in deeds, that I wasn't afraid of death, and that my only
fear was the fear of doing an unjust or evil thing. Their oppressive power did not frighten me into doing
wrong, and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to
Salamis to fetch Leon, but I went home. For this I might have lost
my life, had not the power of the Thirty so soon afterwards come
to an end. [32e] And to the
truth of this many can 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, I never would have survived; nobody has survived that way. [33a] But I have been always acted the same in all my actions, public as well
as private, and
I have never yielded basely to
any of those
who are slanderously called my boys or to anyone else. For the
truth is that I have no boys or regular disciples of any kind. If anyone
wants to stay with me and hear me while I am pursuing my mission, whether he be
young or old, he is free to listen. Nor do I converse with those who
pay, and not with those who do not pay. [33b]
Anyone, rich or poor, may
ask and answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out
to be bad or good, I am not responsible for his conduct, 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 want you to know that he is
So why do people delight in following me and hearing me talk? I have
already said. They like to hear me cross-examine the
pretenders to wisdom. People are amused by it, but I don't do it for
the enjoyment that it gives me. It is the duty that 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, or, if
not true, would be soon refuted.
If I am really corrupting young people, or if I 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 now and
take their revenge. Or if they do not like to come forward themselves,
then 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.
No, Athenians, the very opposite is the truth. For all
of these people are
ready to witness on behalf of the corrupter,
[34b] 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, gentlemen, this and more of the same is nearly all that
have to say in my defense. I have only 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, [34d]
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, I may
fairly reply to him: My friend, I am a man, and like other men, a
creature of flesh and blood, and not created of wood or stone, as Homer
says; and I have a family, yes, and sons. I have three sons, one
of whom is growing up, and the two others are still young, and yet
I will not bring any of them here in order to plead with you for
my acquittal, for their sake.
And why not? Not from any self-will or
you. I feel that such conduct to be discreditable to me, and to you, and
to the whole
state. One who has reached my years, and who has acquired a name for
wisdom, whether deserved or not, ought not to debase himself.
In any case, the world has decided that Socrates is in some way
famous. And if those among you who are famed for wisdom and courage,
or any other virtue, if they demean themselves in
this way, how shameful is their conduct!
I have seen
famous men, when they have been condemned, behave in the lowest
way. They seemed to imagine that they were going to
suffer something dreadful if they died, and that they could be
immortal if you only allowed them to live.
They dishonored the state, in my opinion, and any stranger coming
here would say
of them that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the Athenians
themselves give honor and command, are
women. And I say that
these things ought not to be done by those of us who are well
known; 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 tearful scene,
and makes the city look ridiculous.
But, setting aside the question of dishonor, it's wrong to
petition a judge, and beg for an
acquittal. Our duty is simply to inform and convince him of the
facts. For the judge's role is not to make a present of justice, but to
a correct verdict. The judge is sworn to judge according to the laws, and not
according to feelings or personal preferences. Neither he nor we should get
into the habit of perjuring ourselves. There is no godliness in
that. [35d] So don't ask me to be dishonorable
and impious, especially now, when I am being tried for
impiety on the indictment of Meletus. If I persuaded you to forget your oaths of office,
then I would be teaching you to believe that there are no gods. I
would be convicting myself, in my own defense, of not believing in
But that is not the case. I believe that there are gods, and I
believe it in a
far higher sense than in the way that any of my accusers believe in
gods. 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,
Meletus seeks the death penalty, and now
Socrates must propose his sentence.]
[35e] Athenians, there are many reasons why I am not saddened at
the vote of condemnation. [36a]
I expected it. I am surprised
only that the votes are so nearly equal; for I had imagined that the
majority against me would have been far larger. But now, if only thirty votes
had gone over to my side, I would have been acquitted, and I would
have escaped Meletus. [36b] 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? Clearly that which is my due. And what is that? Should
I pay or receive? What shall be done to the man who has never been
smart enough to retire or to care about what the majority cares about: wealth, and family interests, and
military offices, and speaking in the assembly, and magistracies,
and plots, and parties. Since I have been too honest to live that
way, [36c] I never went in for
evil or for private gains. Wherever I could do the greatest
good for all of you, there I went, and I asked every one of you to seek virtue
and wisdom before any private interests, and to look to the state
before any personal interests of politics, and to observe this
order in every action.
[36d] What shall
be done to such a one as I am? Clearly, something good, as a
reward for doing good, some good thing that is suitable.
What reward would be suitable for a poor man like me who is your
benefactor, who spends all of his time instructing you?
can be no more fitting reward than maintenance in the Prytaneum, O
men of Athens, I deserve this reward far more than the Olympic
victor who has won the prize in the horse race or chariot
race, whether the chariots were drawn by two horses or by many.
For I am in want, and he is rich; and he gives you only the
temporary sensation of happiness, [36e]
but I give you the reality. So, to propose my penalty fairly,
I say that maintenance in the
Prytaneum is just what I deserve.
Perhaps you will think that I am brash in proposing this reward, as in
what I said before about the tears and prayers. But that's not
the case. I speak as I do because I know that I never
intentionally wronged anyone, although I have not convinced all of
you about that in
our short conversation
today. [37b] 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 could have convinced
you. As it was, the time was too short to refute
great slanders. The truth is that I never wronged
another, so I will not now wrong myself. I will not say that I deserve any
penalty, and I will not propose it. 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 that would certainly be an evil?
Shall I propose imprisonment? 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 stay for the rest of
my life in prison, for I
have no money, and I cannot pay a fine.
I propose exile, a penalty that you might well accept? I would indeed
be blinded by the love of life if I were to accept exile. If you, who are my
fellow citizens, hate my words, and have found them so offensive that you would
be rid of me forever, [37d] then how likely is it that people in some foreign city
will endure me? No, that's not very likely. What a life
should I lead, at my old age, wandering from city to city, living in
ever-changing exile, and always being driven out in one exile
after another! For I know that, wherever I go, young men will come to
hear me speak, [37e] and then their elders like you will have to protect
them from me by driving me out.
Did I hear one of you say: Socrates, simply hold your tongue,
and then you will be able to travel wherever you like, and no one will
bother you? Now I seem to be having a lot of trouble making myself
understood today, [38a] but I'll say it once again: I cannot hold my
tongue, for that would be disobedience to the god's command. And I say
again, the greatest good of mankind is to converse every day about virtue
and all of those subjects about which you hear me examining myself
and others. The unexamined life is not worth
living. You may not
believe me, but what I say is true.
I am not
used to thinking about punishments that I
deserve. If I had any money I might have proposed to give
you what I had, but you see that I
have none, [38b] 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
guarantee the payment. 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, and Socrates' comments on his
O Athenians, not much time will pass before you will get an evil
name from the detractors of the city. They will say that you killed Socrates, a wise
man, for when they want to accuse you they will call me
wise even though I am not wise.
If you had waited only a few days, your sentence would have been
fulfilled in the course of nature. [38d]
For I am far advanced in years,
as you may see, and not far from dying a natural death.
am speaking now only to those of you who have condemned me to
death. You think that I
was convicted myself, because I didn't defend myself as well as I might
have done--I mean, that I could have been acquitted if I had
begged and pleaded with you to let me live. I
didn't have 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 the things that you have been accustomed to
others, and which, as I say, are unworthy of me or anybody. I
that I should not stoop so low, and I am not sorry now about how I
defended myself. I
would rather die, having spoken the truth as I did, than speak
basely as you would
have me speak in order to live.
Neither in war nor
at law should anybody use every means available to escape death.
Often in battle, there is
no doubt that if a soldier will surrender, and beg the enemy for
mercy, death may be avoided. In other dangers,
too, death often can be avoided by saying and doing whatever is
necessary to be spared.
The difficulty, my friends, is not
in outrunning death, but in beating unrighteousness, for it runs
very much faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and the slower runner
has overtaken me, and my accusers are keen and quick, but 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. 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, you who have condemned me, I am moved to prophesy to you,
for I am about to die, and in the hour of death 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 surely awaits you. You have killed me because
you wanted to escape my accusations, and not to give any account of
your lives. But things will not end as you suppose: far otherwise!
I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now,
that I have restrained. They are
younger, and 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 badly mistaken; that is
not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable. The
true and noble way is not to crush others, but to improve yourselves. This is the prophecy
that I foretell to those of you who have condemned
But friends, you who would have acquitted me, I also wish to talk with you
about this thing which has happened, while the magistrates are
busy, and before I go to the place where I must die. Stay a
moment, for we may as well talk with one another while there is
You are my friends,
so let me show you the
meaning of this event which has happened to me. You honest judges--for
you I may truly call judges--I want to tell you of a
wonderful thing. The familiar signal within me always has
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, death.
But the holy spirit made no
sign of opposition, either as I was leaving my house and going out
this morning, or when I was coming up here to this court, or while I
was speaking all this time in my defense. It did not oppose anything that I said,
though I have
often before been stopped in the middle of a speech.
the explanation for this? I will tell you. This is proof that what has happened to me is
as it should be. Those who think that death is an evil are surely 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 toward evil and not
Let us reflect on this in another way. There is
great reason to hope that death is a good, for one of two reasons.
Either death is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness,
or, as people say, there is a change and migration of the soul from
this world to another.
Now if you suppose
in death that there is no
consciousness, but only a sleep undisturbed even by the slightest of dreams, death will be an
unspeakable gain. Try to remember a night in which your sleep was undisturbed by dreams,
try to recall all of the other days and nights of your life, and then count
up how many of those days and nights you passed better and more pleasantly than
in a single night of undisturbed rest. I
think that nobody, not even the
great king, [40e] will find many such days or nights. So if death is
a peaceful sleep like this, then I say that to die is a great gain; for eternity is then only a single night.
But if death is
the journey to another world, and another world where all of the
dead now dwell, as people say, what good can be any greater?
If indeed when the soul arrives in the world below, she is
delivered from the false justice in this world, and she 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
lives, that pilgrimage will be worth making! What would I not
give to question Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and
Homer? If this is how it is in the afterlife, then let me die again and again.
[41b] I will talk there with Palamedes, and Ajax the son of Telamon, and other heroes of
old, who suffered death by injustice, and we will compare our
fates in life. Above all, I will continue my search into true and false knowledge. I
will find out who is wise there, and who only pretends to be
wise. I'll examine [41c]
the leader of the great Trojan expedition, or
Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men and women too!
What infinite delight will there be in conversing with them and
asking them questions! For in that world they cannot put a man to
death for talking too much, as they do here. Certainly not. For besides being happier in that
world than in this, we will be immortal, if what is said be
So, my good judges, be of good cheer about death, and know this to be
true: [41d] that
no evil can happen to a good
person, either in life or
after death. A good person is not neglected by the gods.
own approaching end has not happened by mere chance. I see clearly
that to die and be released was better for
me; and that is why
holy spirit gave no sign. For that reason also, I am not angry with my
accusers, or my condemners; they have done me no harm, although
none of them meant to do me any good; and for this I may gently
I have one last favor to ask you, my friends. When my
sons are grown up, please set them straight--trouble
them, as I have troubled you-- if they seem to care about money,
or anything else, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be
something when they are really nothing. Preach to them, as I
have preached to you, for not caring about what has value, and for
valuing what is worthless. [42a]
And if you
give such good advice, I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.
hour to depart has arrived, and now we go our separate ways, I to die,
and you to live, but which is better only God knows.