Apology :Plato (1)
Translated by Benjamin Jowett INTRODUCTION. In what relation the Apology of Plato stands to the real defence ofSocrates, there are no means of determining. It certainly agrees in toneand character with the description of Xenophon, who says in the Memorabiliathat Socrates might have been acquitted ‘if in any moderate degree he wouldhave conciliated the favour of the dicasts;’ and who informs us in anotherpassage, on the testimony of Hermogenes, the friend of Socrates, that hehad no wish to live; and that the divine sign refused to allow him toprepare a defence, and also that Socrates himself declared this to beunnecessary, on the ground that all his life long he had been preparingagainst that hour. For the speech breathes throughout a spirit ofdefiance, (ut non supplex aut reus sed magister aut dominus videretur essejudicum’ (Cic. de Orat.); and the loose and desultory style is an imitationof the ‘accustomed manner’ in which Socrates spoke in ‘the agora and amongthe tables of the money-changers.’ The allusion in the Crito may, perhaps,be adduced as a further evidence of the literal accuracy of some parts. But in the main it must be regarded as the ideal of Socrates, according toPlato’s conception of him, appearing in the greatest and most public sceneof his life, and in the height of his triumph, when he is weakest, and yethis mastery over mankind is greatest, and his habitual irony acquires a newmeaning and a sort of tragic pathos in the face of death. The facts of hislife are summed up, and the features of his character are brought out as ifby accident in the course of the defence. The conversational manner, theseeming want of arrangement, the ironical simplicity, are found to resultin a perfect work of art, which is the portrait of Socrates. Yet some of the topics may have been actually used by Socrates; and therecollection of his very words may have rung in the ears of his disciple. The Apology of Plato may be compared generally with those speeches ofThucydides in which he has embodied his conception of the lofty characterand policy of the great Pericles, and which at the same time furnish acommentary on the situation of affairs from the point of view of thehistorian. So in the Apology there is an ideal rather than a literaltruth; much is said which was not said, and is only Plato’s view of thesituation. Plato was not, like Xenophon, a chronicler of facts; he doesnot appear in any of his writings to have aimed at literal accuracy. He isnot therefore to be supplemented from the Memorabilia and Symposium ofXenophon, who belongs to an entirely different class of writers. TheApology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said, but an elaboratecomposition, quite as much so in fact as one of the Dialogues. And we mayperhaps even indulge in the fancy that the actual defence of Socrates wasas much greater than the Platonic defence as the master was greater thanthe disciple. But in any case, some of the words used by him must havebeen remembered, and some of the facts recorded must have actuallyoccurred. It is significant that Plato is said to have been present at thedefence (Apol.), as he is also said to have been absent at the last scenein the Phaedo. Is it fanciful to suppose that he meant to give the stampof authenticity to the one and not to the other?–especially when weconsider that these two passages are the only ones in which Plato makesmention of himself. The circumstance that Plato was to be one of hissureties for the payment of the fine which he proposed has the appearanceof truth. More suspicious is the statement that Socrates received thefirst impulse to his favourite calling of cross-examining the world fromthe Oracle of Delphi; for he must already have been famous beforeChaerephon went to consult the Oracle (Riddell), and the story is of a kindwhich is very likely to have been invented. On the whole we arrive at theconclusion that the Apology is true to the character of Socrates, but wecannot show that any single sentence in it was actually spoken by him. Itbreathes the spirit of Socrates, but has been cast anew in the mould ofPlato. There is not much in the other Dialogues which can be compared with theApology. The same recollection of his master may have been present to themind of Plato when depicting the sufferings of the Just in the Republic. The Crito may also be regarded as a sort of appendage to the Apology, inwhich Socrates, who has defied the judges, is nevertheless represented asscrupulously obedient to the laws. The idealization of the sufferer iscarried still further in the Gorgias, in which the thesis is maintained,that ‘to suffer is better than to do evil;’ and the art of rhetoric isdescribed as only useful for the purpose of self-accusation. Theparallelisms which occur in the so-called Apology of Xenophon are not worthnoticing, because the writing in which they are contained is manifestlyspurious. The statements of the Memorabilia respecting the trial and deathof Socrates agree generally with Plato; but they have lost the flavour ofSocratic irony in the narrative of Xenophon. The Apology or Platonic defence of Socrates is divided into three parts: 1st. The defence properly so called; 2nd. The shorter address in mitigationof the penalty; 3rd. The last words of prophetic rebuke and exhortation. The first part commences with an apology for his colloquial style; he is,as he has always been, the enemy of rhetoric, and knows of no rhetoric buttruth; he will not falsify his character by making a speech. Then heproceeds to divide his accusers into two classes; first, there is thenameless accuser–public opinion. All the world from their earliest yearshad heard that he was a corrupter of youth, and had seen him caricatured inthe Clouds of Aristophanes. Secondly, there are the professed accusers,who are but the mouth-piece of the others. The accusations of both mightbe summed up in a formula. The first say, ‘Socrates is an evil-doer and acurious person, searching into things under the earth and above the heaven;and making the worse appear the better cause, and teaching all this toothers.’ The second, ‘Socrates is an evil-doer and corrupter of the youth,who does not receive the gods whom the state receives, but introduces othernew divinities.’ These last words appear to have been the actualindictment (compare Xen. Mem.); and the previous formula, which is asummary of public opinion, assumes the same legal style. The answer begins by clearing up a confusion. In the representations ofthe Comic poets, and in the opinion of the multitude, he had beenidentified with the teachers of physical science and with the Sophists. But this was an error. For both of them he professes a respect in the opencourt, which contrasts with his manner of speaking about them in otherplaces. (Compare for Anaxagoras, Phaedo, Laws; for the Sophists, Meno,Republic, Tim., Theaet., Soph., etc.) But at the same time he shows thathe is not one of them. Of natural philosophy he knows nothing; not that hedespises such pursuits, but the fact is that he is ignorant of them, andnever says a word about them. Nor is he paid for giving instruction–thatis another mistaken notion:–he has nothing to teach. But he commendsEvenus for teaching virtue at such a ‘moderate’ rate as five minae. Something of the ‘accustomed irony,’ which may perhaps be expected to sleepin the ear of the multitude, is lurking here. He then goes on to explain the reason why he is in such an evil name. Thathad arisen out of a peculiar mission which he had taken upon himself. Theenthusiastic Chaerephon (probably in anticipation of the answer which hereceived) had gone to Delphi and asked the oracle if there was any manwiser than Socrates; and the answer was, that there was no man wiser. Whatcould be the meaning of this–that he who knew nothing, and knew that heknew nothing, should be declared by the oracle to be the wisest of men? Reflecting upon the answer, he determined to refute it by finding ‘awiser;’ and first he went to the politicians, and then to the poets, andthen to the craftsmen, but always with the same result–he found that theyknew nothing, or hardly anything more than himself; and that the littleadvantage which in some cases they possessed was more than counter-balancedby their conceit of knowledge. He knew nothing, and knew that he knewnothing: they knew little or nothing, and imagined that they knew allthings. Thus he had passed his life as a sort of missionary in detectingthe pretended wisdom of mankind; and this occupation had quite absorbed himand taken him away both from public and private affairs. Young men of thericher sort had made a pastime of the same pursuit, ‘which was notunamusing.’ And hence bitter enmities had arisen; the professors ofknowledge had revenged themselves by calling him a villainous corrupter ofyouth, and by repeating the commonplaces about atheism and materialism andsophistry, which are the stock-accusations against all philosophers whenthere is nothing else to be said of them. The second accusation he meets by interrogating Meletus, who is present andcan be interrogated. ‘If he is the corrupter, who is the improver of thecitizens?’ (Compare Meno.) ‘All men everywhere.’ But how absurd, howcontrary to analogy is this! How inconceivable too, that he should makethe citizens worse when he has to live with them. This surely cannot beintentional; and if unintentional, he ought to have been instructed byMeletus, and not accused in the court. But there is another part of the indictment which says that he teaches mennot to receive the gods whom the city receives, and has other new gods. ‘Is that the way in which he is supposed to corrupt the youth?’ ‘Yes, itis.’ ‘Has he only new gods, or none at all?’ ‘None at all.’ ‘What, noteven the sun and moon?’ ‘No; why, he says that the sun is a stone, and themoon earth.’ That, replies Socrates, is the old confusion aboutAnaxagoras; the Athenian people are not so ignorant as to attribute to theinfluence of Socrates notions which have found their way into the drama,and may be learned at the theatre. Socrates undertakes to show thatMeletus (rather unjustifiably) has been compounding a riddle in this partof the indictment: ‘There are no gods, but Socrates believes in theexistence of the sons of gods, which is absurd.’ Leaving Meletus, who has had enough words spent upon him, he returns to theoriginal accusation. The question may be asked, Why will he persist infollowing a profession which leads him to death? Why?–because he mustremain at his post where the god has placed him, as he remained atPotidaea, and Amphipolis, and Delium, where the generals placed him. Besides, he is not so overwise as to imagine that he knows whether death isa good or an evil; and he is certain that desertion of his duty is an evil. Anytus is quite right in saying that they should never have indicted him ifthey meant to let him go. For he will certainly obey God rather than man;and will continue to preach to all men of all ages the necessity of virtueand improvement; and if they refuse to listen to him he will stillpersevere and reprove them. This is his way of corrupting the youth, whichhe will not cease to follow in obedience to the god, even if a thousanddeaths await him. He is desirous that they should let him live–not for his own sake, but fortheirs; because he is their heaven-sent friend (and they will never havesuch another), or, as he may be ludicrously described, he is the gadfly whostirs the generous steed into motion. Why then has he never taken part inpublic affairs? Because the familiar divine voice has hindered him; if hehad been a public man, and had fought for the right, as he would certainlyhave fought against the many, he would not have lived, and could thereforehave done no good. Twice in public matters he has risked his life for thesake of justice–once at the trial of the generals; and again in resistanceto the tyrannical commands of the Thirty. But, though not a public man, he has passed his days in instructing thecitizens without fee or reward–this was his mission. Whether hisdisciples have turned out well or ill, he cannot justly be charged with theresult, for he never promised to teach them anything. They might come ifthey liked, and they might stay away if they liked: and they did come,because they found an amusement in hearing the pretenders to wisdomdetected. If they have been corrupted, their elder relatives (if notthemselves) might surely come into court and witness against him, and thereis an opportunity still for them to appear. But their fathers and brothersall appear in court (including ‘this’ Plato), to witness on his behalf; andif their relatives are corrupted, at least they are uncorrupted; ‘and theyare my witnesses. For they know that I am speaking the truth, and thatMeletus is lying.’ This is about all that he has to say. He will not entreat the judges tospare his life; neither will he present a spectacle of weeping children,although he, too, is not made of ‘rock or oak.’ Some of the judgesthemselves may have complied with this practice on similar occasions, andhe trusts that they will not be angry with him for not following theirexample. But he feels that such conduct brings discredit on the name ofAthens: he feels too, that the judge has sworn not to give away justice;and he cannot be guilty of the impiety of asking the judge to break hisoath, when he is himself being tried for impiety. As he expected, and probably intended, he is convicted. And now the toneof the speech, instead of being more conciliatory, becomes more lofty andcommanding. Anytus proposes death as the penalty: and what counter-proposition shall he make? He, the benefactor of the Athenian people,whose whole life has been spent in doing them good, should at least havethe Olympic victor’s reward of maintenance in the Prytaneum. Or why shouldhe propose any counter-penalty when he does not know whether death, whichAnytus proposes, is a good or an evil? And he is certain that imprisonmentis an evil, exile is an evil. Loss of money might be an evil, but then hehas none to give; perhaps he can make up a mina. Let that be the penalty,or, if his friends wish, thirty minae; for which they will be excellentsecurities. (He is condemned to death.) He is an old man already, and the Athenians will gain nothing but disgraceby depriving him of a few years of life. Perhaps he could have escaped, ifhe had chosen to throw down his arms and entreat for his life. But he doesnot at all repent of the manner of his defence; he would rather die in hisown fashion than live in theirs. For the penalty of unrighteousness isswifter than death; that penalty has already overtaken his accusers asdeath will soon overtake him. And now, as one who is about to die, he will prophesy to them. They haveput him to death in order to escape the necessity of giving an account oftheir lives. But his death ‘will be the seed’ of many disciples who willconvince them of their evil ways, and will come forth to reprove them inharsher terms, because they are younger and more inconsiderate. He would like to say a few words, while there is time, to those who wouldhave acquitted him. He wishes them to know that the divine sign neverinterrupted him in the course of his defence; the reason of which, as heconjectures, is that the death to which he is going is a good and not anevil. For either death is a long sleep, the best of sleeps, or a journeyto another world in which the souls of the dead are gathered together, andin which there may be a hope of seeing the heroes of old–in which, too,there are just judges; and as all are immortal, there can be no fear of anyone suffering death for his opinions. Nothing evil can happen to the good man either in life or death, and hisown death has been permitted by the gods, because it was better for him todepart; and therefore he forgives his judges because they have done him noharm, although they never meant to do him any good. He has a last request to make to them–that they will trouble his sons ashe has troubled them, if they appear to prefer riches to virtue, or tothink themselves something when they are nothing. … ‘Few persons will be found to wish that Socrates should have defendedhimself otherwise,’–if, as we must add, his defence was that with whichPlato has provided him. But leaving this question, which does not admit ofa precise solution, we may go on to ask what was the impression which Platoin the Apology intended to give of the character and conduct of his masterin the last great scene? Did he intend to represent him (1) as employingsophistries; (2) as designedly irritating the judges? Or are thesesophistries to be regarded as belonging to the age in which he lived and tohis personal character, and this apparent haughtiness as flowing from thenatural elevation of his position? For example, when he says that it is absurd to suppose that one man is thecorrupter and all the rest of the world the improvers of the youth; or,when he argues that he never could have corrupted the men with whom he hadto live; or, when he proves his belief in the gods because he believes inthe sons of gods, is he serious or jesting? It may be observed that thesesophisms all occur in his cross-examination of Meletus, who is easilyfoiled and mastered in the hands of the great dialectician. Perhaps heregarded these answers as good enough for his accuser, of whom he makesvery light. Also there is a touch of irony in them, which takes them outof the category of sophistry. (Compare Euthyph.) That the manner in which he defends himself about the lives of hisdisciples is not satisfactory, can hardly be denied. Fresh in the memoryof the Athenians, and detestable as they deserved to be to the newlyrestored democracy, were the names of Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides. Itis obviously not a sufficient answer that Socrates had never professed toteach them anything, and is therefore not justly chargeable with theircrimes. Yet the defence, when taken out of this ironical form, isdoubtless sound: that his teaching had nothing to do with their evillives. Here, then, the sophistry is rather in form than in substance,though we might desire that to such a serious charge Socrates had given amore serious answer. Truly characteristic of Socrates is another point in his answer, which mayalso be regarded as sophistical. He says that ‘if he has corrupted theyouth, he must have corrupted them involuntarily.’ But if, as Socratesargues, all evil is involuntary, then all criminals ought to be admonishedand not punished. In these words the Socratic doctrine of theinvoluntariness of evil is clearly intended to be conveyed. Here again, asin the former instance, the defence of Socrates is untrue practically, butmay be true in some ideal or transcendental sense. The commonplace reply,that if he had been guilty of corrupting the youth their relations wouldsurely have witnessed against him, with which he concludes this part of hisdefence, is more satisfactory. Again, when Socrates argues that he must believe in the gods because hebelieves in the sons of gods, we must remember that this is a refutationnot of the original indictment, which is consistent enough–‘Socrates doesnot receive the gods whom the city receives, and has other new divinities’–but of the interpretation put upon the words by Meletus, who has affirmedthat he is a downright atheist. To this Socrates fairly answers, inaccordance with the ideas of the time, that a downright atheist cannotbelieve in the sons of gods or in divine things. The notion that demons orlesser divinities are the sons of gods is not to be regarded as ironical orsceptical. He is arguing ‘ad hominem’ according to the notions ofmythology current in his age. Yet he abstains from saying that he believedin the gods whom the State approved. He does not defend himself, asXenophon has defended him, by appealing to his practice of religion. Probably he neither wholly believed, nor disbelieved, in the existence ofthe popular gods; he had no means of knowing about them. According toPlato (compare Phaedo; Symp.), as well as Xenophon (Memor.), he waspunctual in the performance of the least religious duties; and he must havebelieved in his own oracular sign, of which he seemed to have an internalwitness. But the existence of Apollo or Zeus, or the other gods whom theState approves, would have appeared to him both uncertain and unimportantin comparison of the duty of self-examination, and of those principles oftruth and right which he deemed to be the foundation of religion. (ComparePhaedr.; Euthyph.; Republic.) The second question, whether Plato meant to represent Socrates as bravingor irritating his judges, must also be answered in the negative. Hisirony, his superiority, his audacity, ‘regarding not the person of man,’necessarily flow out of the loftiness of his situation. He is not acting apart upon a great occasion, but he is what he has been all his life long,‘a king of men.’ He would rather not appear insolent, if he could avoid it(ouch os authadizomenos touto lego). Neither is he desirous of hasteninghis own end, for life and death are simply indifferent to him. But such adefence as would be acceptable to his judges and might procure anacquittal, it is not in his nature to make. He will not say or do anythingthat might pervert the course of justice; he cannot have his tongue boundeven ‘in the throat of death.’ With his accusers he will only fence andplay, as he had fenced with other ‘improvers of youth,’ answering theSophist according to his sophistry all his life long. He is serious whenhe is speaking of his own mission, which seems to distinguish him from allother reformers of mankind, and originates in an accident. The dedicationof himself to the improvement of his fellow-citizens is not so remarkableas the ironical spirit in which he goes about doing good only invindication of the credit of the oracle, and in the vain hope of finding awiser man than himself. Yet this singular and almost accidental characterof his mission agrees with the divine sign which, according to our notions,is equally accidental and irrational, and is nevertheless accepted by himas the guiding principle of his life. Socrates is nowhere represented tous as a freethinker or sceptic. There is no reason to doubt his sinceritywhen he speculates on the possibility of seeing and knowing the heroes ofthe Trojan war in another world. On the other hand, his hope ofimmortality is uncertain;–he also conceives of death as a long sleep (inthis respect differing from the Phaedo), and at last falls back onresignation to the divine will, and the certainty that no evil can happento the good man either in life or death. His absolute truthfulness seemsto hinder him from asserting positively more than this; and he makes noattempt to veil his ignorance in mythology and figures of speech. Thegentleness of the first part of the speech contrasts with the aggravated,almost threatening, tone of the conclusion. He characteristically remarksthat he will not speak as a rhetorician, that is to say, he will not make aregular defence such as Lysias or one of the orators might have composedfor him, or, according to some accounts, did compose for him. But he firstprocures himself a hearing by conciliatory words. He does not attack theSophists; for they were open to the same charges as himself; they wereequally ridiculed by the Comic poets, and almost equally hateful to Anytusand Meletus. Yet incidentally the antagonism between Socrates and theSophists is allowed to appear. He is poor and they are rich; hisprofession that he teaches nothing is opposed to their readiness to teachall things; his talking in the marketplace to their private instructions;his tarry-at-home life to their wandering from city to city. The tonewhich he assumes towards them is one of real friendliness, but also ofconcealed irony. Towards Anaxagoras, who had disappointed him in his hopesof learning about mind and nature, he shows a less kindly feeling, which isalso the feeling of Plato in other passages (Laws). But Anaxagoras hadbeen dead thirty years, and was beyond the reach of persecution. It has been remarked that the prophecy of a new generation of teachers whowould rebuke and exhort the Athenian people in harsher and more violentterms was, as far as we know, never fulfilled. No inference can be drawnfrom this circumstance as to the probability of the words attributed to himhaving been actually uttered. They express the aspiration of the firstmartyr of philosophy, that he would leave behind him many followers,accompanied by the not unnatural feeling that they would be fiercer andmore inconsiderate in their words when emancipated from his control. The above remarks must be understood as applying with any degree ofcertainty to the Platonic Socrates only. For, although these or similarwords may have been spoken by Socrates himself, we cannot exclude thepossibility, that like so much else, e.g. the wisdom of Critias, the poemof Solon, the virtues of Charmides, they may have been due only to theimagination of Plato. The arguments of those who maintain that the Apologywas composed during the process, resting on no evidence, do not require aserious refutation. Nor are the reasonings of Schleiermacher, who arguesthat the Platonic defence is an exact or nearly exact reproduction of thewords of Socrates, partly because Plato would not have been guilty of theimpiety of altering them, and also because many points of the defence mighthave been improved and strengthened, at all more conclusive. (See EnglishTranslation.) What effect the death of Socrates produced on the mind ofPlato, we cannot certainly determine; nor can we say how he would or musthave written under the circumstances. We observe that the enmity ofAristophanes to Socrates does not prevent Plato from introducing themtogether in the Symposium engaged in friendly intercourse. Nor is thereany trace in the Dialogues of an attempt to make Anytus or Meletuspersonally odious in the eyes of the Athenian public.
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