Plato: "the Apology "

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" Phaedo"

Written cir. 380 B.C.
Benjamin Jowett translation, modernized by Dr. G

Socrates' Trial Defense Speech,
Athens 399 B.C.

[17a]  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. . . 

Well, my accusers have spoken hardly a single word of truth, but among all of their distortions, one lie surprised me more than all of the rest: 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 am no public speaker. They should not have called me eloquent, unless by eloquent they meant truthful. In that case, I'll be eloquent.

They have spoken hardly a single word of truth, but I'll tell you the whole truth, by Zeus! [17c] Unlike them, I'll deliver no 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. 

And 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, the words which so many of you may have heard me use in the marketplace, and at the tables of the money-changers, or 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. So 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, I think, is not an unfair request. 

[18a]  Never mind how I speak, which may or may not be customary 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. [18b] There were many who accused me long ago, and their lies about me have remained through the years. These accusers disturb me more than 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 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. [18c] These are the accusers that I fear the most, for they have taught you to imagine that men who inquire into things do not believe in the gods. 

These accusations against me are old and stale. They were made long ago when you were impressionable as children, 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 a 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. 

I 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. [19b] 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." 

That's their allegation. That's what you have seen for yourselves in the 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 today are 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 against me.

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 you must have thought about this, since you have these 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 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 sell.

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."

This 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 slanders me.

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. You 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. 

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 people with the greatest reputations for wisdom actually were the most foolish. And some with reputations as fools really were wiser and better.

I 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. [22c] 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 politicians.

Finally I went to the tradesmen, for I thought that they had to know many impressive things that I don't know at all. [22d] 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. 

Damn 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 hateful slanders.

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 politicians. 

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 any future inquiry.

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?

Mel. Yes.

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?

Mel. Certainly.

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 you say?

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 helps them, 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? [Meletus does not answer.]

Yes, 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 answers, 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? [No 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?

Mel. Obviously.

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 people, do you say that I harm them intentionally or unintentionally?

Mel. Intentionally.

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 [25e] 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 anything about 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 people?

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! He says that the sun is stone, and that the moon is made of earth!

Soc. Friend Meletus, do you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras? 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. [27a] 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 doesn't answer.] 

Athenians, direct him to answer and to stop trying to interrupt my questioning! Did 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 supernatural beings?

Mel. No.

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 say and 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 what are demigods? [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, [28a] 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, [28b] 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 the 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 at 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. [29a] 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.

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 actually know. 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.

Suppose 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 I'll 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? 

And if 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 this day 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, [30c] 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. [30d] 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.

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 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, [31b] or 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 the indictment. 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 corruption [32a] 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. 

I 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, perhaps offensive, 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, [32c] rather than take part in your injustice because I feared any imprisonment or death.

This 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 lying.

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; [33e] 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 [34a] 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 [34c] I 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 disrespect for 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. [35a] 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. [35b] 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 like 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 [35c] give 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 the gods. 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? There 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, [37a] 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, [37c] 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. 

Shall 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 sentence]

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.

I 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, [38e] and saying the things that you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I say, are unworthy of me or anybody. I believed 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, [39d] accusers 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 me.

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 time. 

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. [40b] 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.

What's 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. [40c] 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 toward  good.

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? [41a] 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 true.

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. My 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 the 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 blame them.

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.

The 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.




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Gary Gutchess 2003