7 Plato: Apology (Part 2)

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Title: Apology
       Also known as "The Death of Socrates"

Author: Plato

Translator: Benjamin Jowett

Posting Date: November 3, 2008 [EBook #1656]
Release Date: February, 1999

Language: English


Produced by Sue Asscher


By Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


In what relation the Apology of Plato stands to the real defence of
Socrates, there are no means of determining. It certainly agrees in
tone and character with the description of Xenophon, who says in the
Memorabilia that Socrates might have been acquitted 'if in any moderate
degree he would have conciliated the favour of the dicasts;' and who
informs us in another passage, on the testimony of Hermogenes, the
friend of Socrates, that he had no wish to live; and that the divine
sign refused to allow him to prepare a defence, and also that Socrates
himself declared this to be unnecessary, on the ground that all his life
long he had been preparing against that hour. For the speech breathes
throughout a spirit of defiance, (ut non supplex aut reus sed magister
aut dominus videretur esse judicum', Cic. de Orat.); and the loose and
desultory style is an imitation of the 'accustomed manner' in
which Socrates spoke in 'the agora and among the 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 to Plato's
conception of him, appearing in the greatest and most public scene of
his life, and in the height of his triumph, when he is weakest, and yet
his mastery over mankind is greatest, and his habitual irony acquires a
new meaning and a sort of tragic pathos in the face of death. The facts
of his life are summed up, and the features of his character are brought
out as if by accident in the course of the defence. The conversational
manner, the seeming want of arrangement, the ironical simplicity, are
found to result in a perfect work of art, which is the portrait of

Yet some of the topics may have been actually used by Socrates; and
the recollection of his very words may have rung in the ears of his
disciple. The Apology of Plato may be compared generally with those
speeches of Thucydides in which he has embodied his conception of the
lofty character and policy of the great Pericles, and which at the same
time furnish a commentary on the situation of affairs from the point of
view of the historian. So in the Apology there is an ideal rather than a
literal truth; much is said which was not said, and is only Plato's view
of the situation. Plato was not, like Xenophon, a chronicler of facts;
he does not appear in any of his writings to have aimed at literal
accuracy. He is not therefore to be supplemented from the Memorabilia
and Symposium of Xenophon, who belongs to an entirely different class of
writers. The Apology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said,
but an elaborate composition, quite as much so in fact as one of the
Dialogues. And we may perhaps even indulge in the fancy that the actual
defence of Socrates was as much greater than the Platonic defence as the
master was greater than the disciple. But in any case, some of the words
used by him must have been remembered, and some of the facts recorded
must have actually occurred. It is significant that Plato is said to
have been present at the defence (Apol.), as he is also said to have
been absent at the last scene in the Phaedo. Is it fanciful to suppose
that he meant to give the stamp of authenticity to the one and not to
the other?--especially when we consider that these two passages are the
only ones in which Plato makes mention of himself. The circumstance that
Plato was to be one of his sureties for the payment of the fine which he
proposed has the appearance of truth. More suspicious is the statement
that Socrates received the first impulse to his favourite calling of
cross-examining the world from the Oracle of Delphi; for he must already
have been famous before Chaerephon went to consult the Oracle (Riddell),
and the story is of a kind which is very likely to have been invented.
On the whole we arrive at the conclusion that the Apology is true to the
character of Socrates, but we cannot show that any single sentence in it
was actually spoken by him. It breathes the spirit of Socrates, but has
been cast anew in the mould of Plato.

There is not much in the other Dialogues which can be compared with the
Apology. The same recollection of his master may have been present
to the mind 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, in which Socrates, who has defied the judges, is nevertheless
represented as scrupulously obedient to the laws. The idealization
of the sufferer is carried 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 is described as only useful for the purpose of
self-accusation. The parallelisms which occur in the so-called Apology
of Xenophon are not worth noticing, because the writing in which they
are contained is manifestly spurious. The statements of the Memorabilia
respecting the trial and death of Socrates agree generally with Plato;
but they have lost the flavour of Socratic irony in the narrative of

The Apology or Platonic defence of Socrates is divided into three
parts: 1st. The defence properly so called; 2nd. The shorter address in
mitigation of the penalty; 3rd. The last words of prophetic rebuke and

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 but truth; he will not falsify his character by making a
speech. Then he proceeds to divide his accusers into two classes; first,
there is the nameless accuser--public opinion. All the world from their
earliest years had heard that he was a corrupter of youth, and had seen
him caricatured in the Clouds of Aristophanes. Secondly, there are
the professed accusers, who are but the mouth-piece of the others. The
accusations of both might be summed up in a formula. The first say,
'Socrates is an evil-doer and a curious person, searching into things
under the earth and above the heaven; and making the worse appear the
better cause, and teaching all this to others.' The second, 'Socrates is
an evil-doer and corrupter of the youth, who does not receive the gods
whom the state receives, but introduces other new divinities.' These
last words appear to have been the actual indictment (compare Xen.
Mem.); and the previous formula, which is a summary of public opinion,
assumes the same legal style.

The answer begins by clearing up a confusion. In the representations
of the Comic poets, and in the opinion of the multitude, he had been
identified 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
open court, which contrasts with his manner of speaking about them in
other places. (Compare for Anaxagoras, Phaedo, Laws; for the Sophists,
Meno, Republic, Tim., Theaet., Soph., etc.) But at the same time
he shows that he is not one of them. Of natural philosophy he knows
nothing; not that he despises such pursuits, but the fact is that he is
ignorant of them, and never says a word about them. Nor is he paid for
giving instruction--that is another mistaken notion:--he has nothing to
teach. But he commends Evenus for teaching virtue at such a 'moderate'
rate as five minae. Something of the 'accustomed irony,' which may
perhaps be expected to sleep in the ear of the multitude, is lurking

He then goes on to explain the reason why he is in such an evil name.
That had arisen out of a peculiar mission which he had taken upon
himself. The enthusiastic Chaerephon (probably in anticipation of the
answer which he received) had gone to Delphi and asked the oracle if
there was any man wiser than Socrates; and the answer was, that there
was no man wiser. What could be the meaning of this--that he who knew
nothing, and knew that he knew nothing, should be declared by the oracle
to be the wisest of men? Reflecting upon the answer, he determined to
refute it by finding 'a wiser;' and first he went to the politicians,
and then to the poets, and then to the craftsmen, but always with the
same result--he found that they knew nothing, or hardly anything more
than himself; and that the little advantage which in some cases they
possessed was more than counter-balanced by their conceit of knowledge.
He knew nothing, and knew that he knew nothing: they knew little or
nothing, and imagined that they knew all things. Thus he had passed
his life as a sort of missionary in detecting the pretended wisdom of
mankind; and this occupation had quite absorbed him and taken him away
both from public and private affairs. Young men of the richer sort had
made a pastime of the same pursuit, 'which was not unamusing.' And hence
bitter enmities had arisen; the professors of knowledge had revenged
themselves by calling him a villainous corrupter of youth, and by
repeating the commonplaces about atheism and materialism and sophistry,
which are the stock-accusations against all philosophers when there is
nothing else to be said of them.

The second accusation he meets by interrogating Meletus, who is present
and can be interrogated. 'If he is the corrupter, who is the improver of
the citizens?' (Compare Meno.) 'All men everywhere.' But how absurd, how
contrary to analogy is this! How inconceivable too, that he should make
the citizens worse when he has to live with them. This surely cannot be
intentional; and if unintentional, he ought to have been instructed by
Meletus, and not accused in the court.

But there is another part of the indictment which says that he teaches
men not 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, it is.' 'Has he only new gods, or none at all?' 'None at all.'
'What, not even the sun and moon?' 'No; why, he says that the sun is a
stone, and the moon earth.' That, replies Socrates, is the old confusion
about Anaxagoras; the Athenian people are not so ignorant as to
attribute to the influence of Socrates notions which have found
their way into the drama, and may be learned at the theatre. Socrates
undertakes to show that Meletus (rather unjustifiably) has been
compounding a riddle in this part of the indictment: 'There are no gods,
but Socrates believes in the existence of the sons of gods, which is

Leaving Meletus, who has had enough words spent upon him, he returns to
the original accusation. The question may be asked, Why will he persist
in following a profession which leads him to death? Why?--because he
must remain at his post where the god has placed him, as he remained
at Potidaea, and Amphipolis, and Delium, where the generals placed him.
Besides, he is not so overwise as to imagine that he knows whether death
is a 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 if they 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 virtue and improvement; and if they refuse to listen to him
he will still persevere and reprove them. This is his way of corrupting
the youth, which he will not cease to follow in obedience to the god,
even if a thousand deaths await him.

He is desirous that they should let him live--not for his own sake, but
for theirs; because he is their heaven-sent friend (and they will never
have such another), or, as he may be ludicrously described, he is the
gadfly who stirs the generous steed into motion. Why then has he never
taken part in public affairs? Because the familiar divine voice has
hindered him; if he had been a public man, and had fought for the right,
as he would certainly have fought against the many, he would not have
lived, and could therefore have done no good. Twice in public matters
he has risked his life for the sake of justice--once at the trial of
the generals; and again in resistance to the tyrannical commands of the

But, though not a public man, he has passed his days in instructing
the citizens without fee or reward--this was his mission. Whether his
disciples have turned out well or ill, he cannot justly be charged with
the result, for he never promised to teach them anything. They might
come if they liked, and they might stay away if they liked: and they
did come, because they found an amusement in hearing the pretenders to
wisdom detected. If they have been corrupted, their elder relatives (if
not themselves) might surely come into court and witness against him,
and there is an opportunity still for them to appear. But their fathers
and brothers all appear in court (including 'this' Plato), to witness
on his behalf; and if their relatives are corrupted, at least they
are uncorrupted; 'and they are my witnesses. For they know that I am
speaking the truth, and that Meletus is lying.'

This is about all that he has to say. He will not entreat the judges to
spare his life; neither will he present a spectacle of weeping children,
although he, too, is not made of 'rock or oak.' Some of the judges
themselves may have complied with this practice on similar occasions,
and he trusts that they will not be angry with him for not following
their example. But he feels that such conduct brings discredit on the
name of Athens: 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 his oath, when he is himself being tried for impiety.

As he expected, and probably intended, he is convicted. And now the tone
of the speech, instead of being more conciliatory, becomes more
lofty and commanding. 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 have the Olympic victor's reward of maintenance in the Prytaneum.
Or why should he propose any counter-penalty when he does not know
whether death, which Anytus proposes, is a good or an evil? And he is
certain that imprisonment is an evil, exile is an evil. Loss of money
might be an evil, but then he has 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 excellent securities.

(He is condemned to death.)

He is an old man already, and the Athenians will gain nothing but
disgrace by depriving him of a few years of life. Perhaps he could have
escaped, if he had chosen to throw down his arms and entreat for his
life. But he does not at all repent of the manner of his defence; he
would rather die in his own fashion than live in theirs. For the penalty
of unrighteousness is swifter than death; that penalty has already
overtaken his accusers as death will soon overtake him.

And now, as one who is about to die, he will prophesy to them. They have
put him to death in order to escape the necessity of giving an account
of their lives. But his death 'will be the seed' of many disciples who
will convince them of their evil ways, and will come forth to reprove
them in harsher terms, because they are younger and more inconsiderate.

He would like to say a few words, while there is time, to those who
would have acquitted him. He wishes them to know that the divine sign
never interrupted him in the course of his defence; the reason of which,
as he conjectures, is that the death to which he is going is a good and
not an evil. For either death is a long sleep, the best of sleeps, or
a journey to another world in which the souls of the dead are gathered
together, and in 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 any one suffering death for his opinions.

Nothing evil can happen to the good man either in life or death, and his
own death has been permitted by the gods, because it was better for him
to depart; and therefore he forgives his judges because they have done
him no harm, although they never meant to do him any good.

He has a last request to make to them--that they will trouble his sons
as he has troubled them, if they appear to prefer riches to virtue, or
to think themselves something when they are nothing.


'Few persons will be found to wish that Socrates should have defended
himself otherwise,'--if, as we must add, his defence was that with which
Plato has provided him. But leaving this question, which does not admit
of a precise solution, we may go on to ask what was the impression which
Plato in the Apology intended to give of the character and conduct of
his master in the last great scene? Did he intend to represent him (1)
as employing sophistries; (2) as designedly irritating the judges? Or
are these sophistries to be regarded as belonging to the age in which
he lived and to his personal character, and this apparent haughtiness as
flowing from the natural elevation of his position?

For example, when he says that it is absurd to suppose that one man is
the corrupter 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 had to live; or, when he proves his belief in the gods because
he believes in the sons of gods, is he serious or jesting? It may be
observed that these sophisms all occur in his cross-examination of
Meletus, who is easily foiled and mastered in the hands of the great
dialectician. Perhaps he regarded these answers as good enough for his
accuser, of whom he makes very light. Also there is a touch of irony
in them, which takes them out of the category of sophistry. (Compare

That the manner in which he defends himself about the lives of his
disciples is not satisfactory, can hardly be denied. Fresh in the memory
of the Athenians, and detestable as they deserved to be to the newly
restored democracy, were the names of Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides. It
is obviously not a sufficient answer that Socrates had never professed
to teach them anything, and is therefore not justly chargeable with
their crimes. Yet the defence, when taken out of this ironical form,
is doubtless sound: that his teaching had nothing to do with their evil
lives. Here, then, the sophistry is rather in form than in substance,
though we might desire that to such a serious charge Socrates had given
a more serious answer.

Truly characteristic of Socrates is another point in his answer, which
may also be regarded as sophistical. He says that 'if he has corrupted
the youth, he must have corrupted them involuntarily.' But if, as
Socrates argues, all evil is involuntary, then all criminals ought to be
admonished and not punished. In these words the Socratic doctrine of the
involuntariness of evil is clearly intended to be conveyed. Here
again, as in the former instance, the defence of Socrates is untrue
practically, but may be true in some ideal or transcendental sense. The
commonplace reply, that if he had been guilty of corrupting the youth
their relations would surely have witnessed against him, with which he
concludes this part of his defence, is more satisfactory.

Again, when Socrates argues that he must believe in the gods because he
believes in the sons of gods, we must remember that this is a refutation
not of the original indictment, which is consistent enough--'Socrates
does not receive the gods whom the city receives, and has other new
divinities'--but of the interpretation put upon the words by Meletus,
who has affirmed that he is a downright atheist. To this Socrates fairly
answers, in accordance with the ideas of the time, that a downright
atheist cannot believe in the sons of gods or in divine things. The
notion that demons or lesser divinities are the sons of gods is not
to be regarded as ironical or sceptical. He is arguing 'ad hominem'
according to the notions of mythology current in his age. Yet he
abstains from saying that he believed in the gods whom the State
approved. He does not defend himself, as Xenophon has defended him,
by appealing to his practice of religion. Probably he neither wholly
believed, nor disbelieved, in the existence of the popular gods; he
had no means of knowing about them. According to Plato (compare Phaedo;
Symp.), as well as Xenophon (Memor.), he was punctual in the performance
of the least religious duties; and he must have believed in his own
oracular sign, of which he seemed to have an internal witness. But the
existence of Apollo or Zeus, or the other gods whom the State approves,
would have appeared to him both uncertain and unimportant in comparison
of the duty of self-examination, and of those principles of truth
and right which he deemed to be the foundation of religion. (Compare
Phaedr.; Euthyph.; Republic.)

The second question, whether Plato meant to represent Socrates as
braving or irritating his judges, must also be answered in the negative.
His irony, his superiority, his audacity, 'regarding not the person of
man,' necessarily flow out of the loftiness of his situation. He is not
acting a part 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 hastening his own end, for life and death are simply
indifferent to him. But such a defence as would be acceptable to his
judges and might procure an acquittal, it is not in his nature to make.
He will not say or do anything that might pervert the course of justice;
he cannot have his tongue bound even 'in the throat of death.' With
his accusers he will only fence and play, as he had fenced with other
'improvers of youth,' answering the Sophist according to his sophistry
all his life long. He is serious when he is speaking of his own mission,
which seems to distinguish him from all other reformers of mankind, and
originates in an accident. The dedication of himself to the improvement
of his fellow-citizens is not so remarkable as the ironical spirit in
which he goes about doing good only in vindication of the credit of the
oracle, and in the vain hope of finding a wiser man than himself. Yet
this singular and almost accidental character of his mission agrees with
the divine sign which, according to our notions, is equally accidental
and irrational, and is nevertheless accepted by him as the guiding
principle of his life. Socrates is nowhere represented to us as a
freethinker or sceptic. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity when
he speculates on the possibility of seeing and knowing the heroes of the
Trojan war in another world. On the other hand, his hope of immortality
is uncertain;--he also conceives of death as a long sleep (in
this respect differing from the Phaedo), and at last falls back on
resignation to the divine will, and the certainty that no evil
can happen to the good man either in life or death. His absolute
truthfulness seems to hinder him from asserting positively more than
this; and he makes no attempt to veil his ignorance in mythology and
figures of speech. The gentleness of the first part of the speech
contrasts with the aggravated, almost threatening, tone of the
conclusion. He characteristically remarks that he will not speak as a
rhetorician, that is to say, he will not make a regular defence such as
Lysias or one of the orators might have composed for him, or, according
to some accounts, did compose for him. But he first procures himself a
hearing by conciliatory words. He does not attack the Sophists; for they
were open to the same charges as himself; they were equally ridiculed by
the Comic poets, and almost equally hateful to Anytus and Meletus. Yet
incidentally the antagonism between Socrates and the Sophists is allowed
to appear. He is poor and they are rich; his profession that he teaches
nothing is opposed to their readiness to teach all things; his talking
in the marketplace to their private instructions; his tarry-at-home life
to their wandering from city to city. The tone which he assumes towards
them is one of real friendliness, but also of concealed irony. Towards
Anaxagoras, who had disappointed him in his hopes of learning about mind
and nature, he shows a less kindly feeling, which is also the feeling
of Plato in other passages (Laws). But Anaxagoras had been dead thirty
years, and was beyond the reach of persecution.

It has been remarked that the prophecy of a new generation of teachers
who would rebuke and exhort the Athenian people in harsher and more
violent terms was, as far as we know, never fulfilled. No inference
can be drawn from this circumstance as to the probability of the
words attributed to him having been actually uttered. They express the
aspiration of the first martyr of philosophy, that he would leave behind
him many followers, accompanied by the not unnatural feeling that they
would be fiercer and more inconsiderate in their words when emancipated
from his control.

The above remarks must be understood as applying with any degree of
certainty to the Platonic Socrates only. For, although these or similar
words may have been spoken by Socrates himself, we cannot exclude the
possibility, that like so much else, e.g. the wisdom of Critias, the
poem of Solon, the virtues of Charmides, they may have been due only to
the imagination of Plato. The arguments of those who maintain that the
Apology was composed during the process, resting on no evidence, do not
require a serious refutation. Nor are the reasonings of Schleiermacher,
who argues that the Platonic defence is an exact or nearly exact
reproduction of the words of Socrates, partly because Plato would not
have been guilty of the impiety of altering them, and also because many
points of the defence might have been improved and strengthened, at all
more conclusive. (See English Translation.) What effect the death of
Socrates produced on the mind of Plato, we cannot certainly
determine; nor can we say how he would or must have written under the
circumstances. We observe that the enmity of Aristophanes to Socrates
does not prevent Plato from introducing them together in the Symposium
engaged in friendly intercourse. Nor is there any trace in the Dialogues
of an attempt to make Anytus or Meletus personally odious in the eyes of
the Athenian public.


How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell;
but I know that they almost made me forget who I was--so persuasively
did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But
of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed
me;--I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not
allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say
this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips
and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear
to me most shameless--unless by the force of eloquence they mean
the force of truth; for it such is their meaning, I admit that I am
eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying,
they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear
the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set
oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I
shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for
I am confident in the justice of my cause (Or, I am certain that I am
right in taking this course.): at my time of life I ought not to be
appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile
orator--let no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me
a favour:--If I defend myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me
using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at
the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not
to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account. For I am more
than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a
court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and
therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger,
whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the
fashion of his country:--Am I making an unfair request of you? Never
mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the
truth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly
and the judge decide justly.

And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first
accusers, and then I will go on to the later ones. For of old I have had
many accusers, who have accused me falsely to you during many years;
and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are
dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are the others,
who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with
their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated
about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made
the worse appear the better cause. The disseminators of this tale are
the accusers whom I dread; for their hearers are apt to fancy that such
enquirers do not believe in the existence of the gods. And they are
many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they were
made by them in the days when you were more impressible than you are
now--in childhood, or it may have been in youth--and the cause when
heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And hardest of all,
I do not know and cannot tell the names of my accusers; unless in the
chance case of a Comic poet. All who from envy and malice have persuaded
you--some of them having first convinced themselves--all this class of
men are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and
cross-examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my
own defence, and argue when there is no one who answers. I will ask you
then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two
kinds; one recent, the other ancient: and I hope that you will see the
propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you
heard long before the others, and much oftener.

Well, then, I must make my defence, and endeavour to clear away in a
short time, a slander which has lasted a long time. May I succeed, if to
succeed be for my good and yours, or likely to avail me in my cause!
The task is not an easy one; I quite understand the nature of it. And so
leaving the event with God, in obedience to the law I will now make my

I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation which has
given rise to the slander of me, and in fact has encouraged Meletus to
proof this charge against me. Well, what do the slanderers say? They
shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit:
'Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into
things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the
better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.' Such is
the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have yourselves seen
in the comedy of Aristophanes (Aristoph., Clouds.), who has introduced a
man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he walks in
air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do
not pretend to know either much or little--not that I mean to speak
disparagingly of any one who is a student of natural philosophy. I
should be very sorry if Meletus could bring so grave a charge against
me. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with
physical speculations. Very many of those here present are witnesses to
the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard
me, and tell your neighbours whether any of you have ever known me hold
forth in few words or in many upon such matters...You hear their answer.
And from what they say of this part of the charge you will be able to
judge of the truth of the rest.

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and
take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than the other.
Although, if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive
money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honour to him.
There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis,
who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men
to leave their own citizens by whom they might be taught for nothing,
and come to them whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be
allowed to pay them. There is at this time a Parian philosopher residing
in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this
way:--I came across a man who has spent a world of money on the
Sophists, Callias, the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons,
I asked him: 'Callias,' I said, 'if your two sons were foals or calves,
there would be no difficulty in finding some one to put over them; we
should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer probably, who would improve
and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they
are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there
any one who understands human and political virtue? You must have
thought about the matter, for you have sons; is there any one?' 'There
is,' he said. 'Who is he?' said I; 'and of what country? and what does
he charge?' 'Evenus the Parian,' he replied; 'he is the man, and his
charge is five minae.' Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really
has this wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge. Had I the same,
I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I
have no knowledge of the kind.

I dare say, Athenians, that some one among you will reply, 'Yes,
Socrates, but what is the origin of these accusations which are brought
against you; there must have been something strange which you have been
doing? All these rumours and this talk about you would never have arisen
if you had been like other men: tell us, then, what is the cause of
them, for we should be sorry to judge hastily of you.' Now I regard this
as a fair challenge, and I will endeavour to explain to you the reason
why I am called wise and have such an evil fame. Please to attend then.
And although some of you may think that I am joking, I declare that I
will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine
has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what
kind of wisdom, I reply, wisdom such as may perhaps be attained by man,
for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the
persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom which I may fail
to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have,
speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of
Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say
something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I
will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit; that witness shall
be the God of Delphi--he will tell you about my wisdom, if I have any,
and of what sort it is. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a
friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the recent
exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you
know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and
boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether--as I was saying, I must beg
you not to interrupt--he asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was
wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered, that there was no
man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself; but his brother, who is in court,
will confirm the truth of what I am saying.

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have
such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can
the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know
that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he
says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie;
that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of
a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find
a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in
my hand. I should say to him, 'Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but
you said that I was the wisest.' Accordingly I went to one who had the
reputation of wisdom, and observed him--his name I need not mention; he
was a politician whom I selected for examination--and the result was as
follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that
he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and
still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he
thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was
that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present
and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well,
although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really
beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,--for he knows nothing,
and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this
latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.
Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and
my conclusion was exactly the same. Whereupon I made another enemy of
him, and of many others besides him.

Then I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the
enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity
was laid upon me,--the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered
first. And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and
find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians,
by the dog I swear!--for I must tell you the truth--the result of my
mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but
the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and
better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the 'Herculean'
labours, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the
oracle irrefutable. After the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic,
dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be
instantly detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant
than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate
passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of
them--thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me?
I am almost ashamed to confess the truth, but I must say that there is
hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their
poetry than they did themselves. Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets
write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like
diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not
understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in
the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their
poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things
in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to
be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the

At last I went to the artisans. I was conscious that I knew nothing at
all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and
here I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I
was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I
observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the
poets;--because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew
all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their
wisdom; and therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether
I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their
ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and to the
oracle that I was better off as I was.

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most
dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies. And I
am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess
the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of
Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show
that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking
of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if
he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his
wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient
to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one,
whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not
wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise;
and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to
any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in
utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing:--young men of the richer classes, who have not
much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the
pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine
others; there are plenty of persons, as they quickly discover, who think
that they know something, but really know little or nothing; and then
those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves
are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous
misleader of youth!--and then if somebody asks them, Why, what evil does
he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in order
that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made
charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things
up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making
the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that
their pretence of knowledge has been detected--which is the truth; and
as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in
battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears
with their loud and inveterate calumnies. And this is the reason why my
three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus,
who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of
the craftsmen and politicians; Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians: and
as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of such a mass of
calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the
whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And
yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is
their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth?--Hence has arisen
the prejudice against me; and this is the reason of it, as you will find
out either in this or in any future enquiry.

I have said enough in my defence against the first class of my accusers;
I turn to the second class. They are headed by Meletus, that good man
and true lover of his country, as he calls himself. Against these, too,
I must try to make a defence:--Let their affidavit be read: it contains
something of this kind: It says that Socrates is a doer of evil, who
corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state,
but has other new divinities of his own. Such is the charge; and now let
us examine the particular counts. He says that I am a doer of evil, and
corrupt the youth; but I say, O men of Athens, that Meletus is a doer of
evil, in that he pretends to be in earnest when he is only in jest, and
is so eager to bring men to trial from a pretended zeal and interest
about matters in which he really never had the smallest interest. And
the truth of this I will endeavour to prove to you.

Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you. You think a
great deal about the improvement of youth?

Yes, I do.

Tell the judges, then, who is their improver; for you must know, as you
have taken the pains to discover their corrupter, and are citing and
accusing me before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who their
improver is.--Observe, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to
say. But is not this rather disgraceful, and a very considerable proof
of what I was saying, that you have no interest in the matter? Speak up,
friend, and tell us who their improver is.

The laws.

But that, my good sir, is not my meaning. I want to know who the person
is, who, in the first place, knows the laws.

The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.

What, do you mean to say, Meletus, that they are able to instruct and
improve youth?

Certainly they are.

What, all of them, or some only and not others?

All of them.

By the goddess Here, that is good news! There are plenty of improvers,
then. And what do you say of the audience,--do they improve them?

Yes, they do.

And the senators?

Yes, the senators improve them.

But perhaps the members of the assembly corrupt them?--or do they too
improve them?

They improve them.

Then every Athenian improves and elevates them; all with the exception
of myself; and I alone am their corrupter? Is that what you affirm?

That is what I stoutly affirm.

I am very unfortunate if you are right. But suppose I ask you a
question: How about horses? Does one man do them harm and all the world
good? Is not the exact opposite the truth? One man is able to do them
good, or at least not many;--the trainer of horses, that is to say, does
them good, and others who have to do with them rather injure them?
Is not that true, Meletus, of horses, or of any other animals? Most
assuredly it is; whether you and Anytus say yes or no. Happy indeed
would be the condition of youth if they had one corrupter only, and
all the rest of the world were their improvers. But you, Meletus, have
sufficiently shown that you never had a thought about the young: your
carelessness is seen in your not caring about the very things which you
bring against me.

And now, Meletus, I will ask you another question--by Zeus I will:
Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Answer,
friend, I say; the question is one which may be easily answered. Do not
the good do their neighbours good, and the bad do them evil?


And is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those
who live with him? Answer, my good friend, the law requires you to
answer--does any one like to be injured?

Certainly not.

And when you accuse me of corrupting and deteriorating the youth, do you
allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?

Intentionally, I say.

But you have just admitted that the good do their neighbours good, and
the evil do them evil. Now, is that a truth which your superior wisdom
has recognized thus early in life, and am I, at my age, in such darkness
and ignorance as not to know that if a man with whom I have to live is
corrupted by me, I am very likely to be harmed by him; and yet I corrupt
him, and intentionally, too--so you say, although neither I nor any
other human being is ever likely to be convinced by you. But either I do
not corrupt them, or I corrupt them unintentionally; and on either view
of the case you lie. If my offence is unintentional, the law has
no cognizance of unintentional offences: you ought to have taken me
privately, and warned and admonished me; for if I had been
better advised, I should have left off doing what I only did
unintentionally--no doubt I should; but you would have nothing to say to
me and refused to teach me. And now you bring me up in this court, which
is a place not of instruction, but of punishment.

It will be very clear to you, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus
has no care at all, great or small, about the matter. But still I should
like to know, Meletus, in what I am affirmed to corrupt the young. I
suppose you mean, as I infer from your indictment, that I teach them not
to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new
divinities or spiritual agencies in their stead. These are the lessons
by which I corrupt the youth, as you say.

Yes, that I say emphatically.

Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, tell me and the
court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean! for I do not as yet
understand whether you affirm that I teach other men to acknowledge
some gods, and therefore that I do believe in gods, and am not an entire
atheist--this you do not lay to my charge,--but only you say that they
are not the same gods which the city recognizes--the charge is that they
are different gods. Or, do you mean that I am an atheist simply, and a
teacher of atheism?

I mean the latter--that you are a complete atheist.

What an extraordinary statement! Why do you think so, Meletus? Do you
mean that I do not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon, like other

I assure you, judges, that he does not: for he says that the sun is
stone, and the moon earth.

Friend Meletus, you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras: and you have
but a bad opinion of the judges, if you fancy them illiterate to such
a degree as not to know that these doctrines are found in the books of
Anaxagoras the Clazomenian, which are full of them. And so, forsooth,
the youth are said to be taught them by Socrates, when there are not
unfrequently exhibitions of them at the theatre (Probably in allusion to
Aristophanes who caricatured, and to Euripides who borrowed the notions
of Anaxagoras, as well as to other dramatic poets.) (price of admission
one drachma at the most); and they might pay their money, and laugh at
Socrates if he pretends to father these extraordinary views. And so,
Meletus, you really think that I do not believe in any god?

I swear by Zeus that you believe absolutely in none at all.

Nobody will believe you, Meletus, and I am pretty sure that you do not
believe yourself. I cannot help thinking, men of Athens, that Meletus
is reckless and impudent, and that he has written this indictment in a
spirit of mere wantonness and youthful bravado. Has he not compounded a
riddle, thinking to try me? He said to himself:--I shall see whether
the wise Socrates will discover my facetious contradiction, or whether I
shall be able to deceive him and the rest of them. For he certainly does
appear to me to contradict himself in the indictment as much as if he
said that Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods, and yet of
believing in them--but this is not like a person who is in earnest.

I should like you, O men of Athens, to join me in examining what I
conceive to be his inconsistency; and do you, Meletus, answer. And
I must remind the audience of my request that they would not make a
disturbance if I speak in my accustomed manner:

Did ever man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things, and not
of human beings?...I wish, men of Athens, that he would answer, and not
be always trying to get up an interruption. Did ever any man believe
in horsemanship, and not in horses? or in flute-playing, and not in
flute-players? No, my friend; I will answer to you and to the court, as
you refuse to answer for yourself. There is no man who ever did. But now
please to answer the next question: Can a man believe in spiritual and
divine agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?

He cannot.

How lucky I am to have extracted that answer, by the assistance of the
court! But then you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in
divine or spiritual agencies (new or old, no matter for that); at any
rate, I believe in spiritual agencies,--so you say and swear in the
affidavit; and yet if I believe in divine beings, how can I help
believing in spirits or demigods;--must I not? To be sure I must; and
therefore I may assume that your silence gives consent. Now what are
spirits or demigods? Are they not either gods or the sons of gods?

Certainly they are.

But this is what I call the facetious riddle invented by you: the
demigods or spirits are gods, and you say first that I do not believe in
gods, and then again that I do believe in gods; that is, if I believe in
demigods. For if the demigods are the illegitimate sons of gods, whether
by the nymphs or by any other mothers, of whom they are said to be the
sons--what human being will ever believe that there are no gods if they
are the sons of gods? You might as well affirm the existence of mules,
and deny that of horses and asses. Such nonsense, Meletus, could only
have been intended by you to make trial of me. You have put this into
the indictment because you had nothing real of which to accuse me. But
no one who has a particle of understanding will ever be convinced by you
that the same men can believe in divine and superhuman things, and yet
not believe that there are gods and demigods and heroes.

I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus: any elaborate
defence is unnecessary, but I know only too well how many are the
enmities which I have incurred, and this is what will be my destruction
if I am destroyed;--not Meletus, nor yet Anytus, but the envy and
detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and
will probably be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being
the last of them.

Some one will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of
life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may
fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything
ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to
consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong--acting
the part of a good man or of a bad. Whereas, upon your view, the heroes
who fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis above
all, who altogether despised danger in comparison with disgrace; and
when he was so eager to slay Hector, his goddess mother said to him,
that if he avenged his companion Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would
die himself--'Fate,' she said, in these or the like words, 'waits for
you next after Hector;' he, receiving this warning, utterly despised
danger and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live
in dishonour, and not to avenge his friend. 'Let me die forthwith,'
he replies, 'and be avenged of my enemy, rather than abide here by the
beaked ships, a laughing-stock and a burden of the earth.' Had Achilles
any thought of death and danger? For wherever a man's place is, whether
the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a
commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he should
not think of death or of anything but of disgrace. And this, O men of
Athens, is a true saying.

Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if I who, when I
was ordered by the generals whom you chose to command me at Potidaea
and Amphipolis and Delium, remained where they placed me, like any other
man, facing death--if now, when, as I conceive and imagine, God orders
me to fulfil the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and
other men, I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other
fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned in
court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed the oracle
because I was afraid of death, fancying that I was wise when I was not
wise. For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not
real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows
whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest
evil, may not be the greatest good. Is not this ignorance of a
disgraceful sort, the ignorance which is the conceit that a man knows
what he does not know? And in this respect only I believe myself to
differ from men in general, and may perhaps claim to be wiser than
they are:--that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not
suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a
better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonourable, and I will never
fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil. And therefore
if you let me go now, and are not convinced by Anytus, who said that
since I had been prosecuted I must be put to death; (or if not that I
ought never to have been prosecuted at all); and that if I escape now,
your sons will all be utterly ruined by listening to my words--if you
say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and you shall
be let off, but upon one condition, that you are not to enquire and
speculate in this way any more, and that if you are caught doing so
again you shall die;--if this was the condition on which you let me go,
I should reply: Men of Athens, I honour and love you; but I shall obey
God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never
cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any
one whom I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend,--a
citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens,--are you
not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour and
reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest
improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? And if
the person with whom I am arguing, says: Yes, but I do care; then I do
not leave him or let him go at once; but I proceed to interrogate and
examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue in
him, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the
greater, and overvaluing the less. And I shall repeat the same words to
every one whom I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially
to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For know that this is
the command of God; and I believe that no greater good has ever happened
in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about
persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your
persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the
greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given
by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of
man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the
doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person. But if
any one says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth.
Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not
as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whichever you do,
understand that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die
many times.

Men of Athens, do not interrupt, but hear me; there was an understanding
between us that you should hear me to the end: I have something more to
say, at which you may be inclined to cry out; but I believe that to hear
me will be good for you, and therefore I beg that you will not cry out.
I would have you know, that if you kill such an one as I am, you will
injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Nothing will injure me,
not Meletus nor yet Anytus--they cannot, for a bad man is not permitted
to injure a better than himself. I do not deny that Anytus may, perhaps,
kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights; and
he may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is inflicting a great
injury upon him: but there I do not agree. For the evil of doing as
he is doing--the evil of unjustly taking away the life of another--is
greater far.

And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may
think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning
me, who am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find
a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech,
am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great
and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size,
and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has
attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always
fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You
will not easily find another like me, and therefore I would advise you
to spare me. I dare say that you may feel out of temper (like a person
who is suddenly awakened from sleep), and you think that you might
easily strike me dead as Anytus advises, and then you would sleep on
for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you sent you
another gadfly. When I say that I am given to you by God, the proof of
my mission is this:--if I had been like other men, I should not have
neglected all my own concerns or patiently seen the neglect of them
during all these years, and have been doing yours, coming to you
individually like a father or elder brother, exhorting you to regard
virtue; such conduct, I say, would be unlike human nature. If I had
gained anything, or if my exhortations had been paid, there would have
been some sense in my doing so; but now, as you will perceive, not even
the impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted
or sought pay of any one; of that they have no witness. And I have a
sufficient witness to the truth of what I say--my poverty.

Some one 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. You have heard me
speak at sundry times and in divers places of an oracle or sign
which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the
indictment. This sign, which is a kind of voice, first began to come
to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to
do anything which I am going to do. This is what deters me from being a
politician. And rightly, as I think. For I am certain, O men of Athens,
that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago, and
done no good either to you or to myself. And do not be offended at my
telling you the truth: for the truth is, that no man who goes to war
with you or any other multitude, honestly striving against the many
lawless and unrighteous deeds which are done in a state, will save his
life; he who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief
space, must have a private station and not a public one.

I can give you convincing evidence of what I say, not words only, but
what you value far more--actions. Let me relate to you a passage of my
own life which will prove to you that I should never have yielded to
injustice from any fear of death, and that 'as I should have refused to
yield' I must have died at once. I will tell you a tale of the courts,
not very interesting perhaps, but nevertheless true. The only office of
state which I ever held, O men of Athens, was that of senator: the tribe
Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the
generals who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle
of Arginusae; and you proposed to try them in a body, contrary to law,
as you all thought afterwards; but at the time I was the only one of the
Prytanes who was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against
you; and when the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and you
called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having
law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because
I feared imprisonment and death. This happened in the days of the
democracy. But when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent
for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the
Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to put him to death. This was a
specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving with
the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I
showed, not in word only but in deed, that, if I may be allowed to use
such an expression, I cared not a straw for death, and that my great and
only care was lest I should do an unrighteous or unholy thing. For
the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing
wrong; and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to
Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might
have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards
come to an end. And many will witness to my words.

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
maintained the right and had made justice, as I ought, the first thing?
No indeed, men of Athens, neither I nor any other man. But I have been
always the same in all my actions, public as well as private, and never
have I yielded any base compliance to those who are slanderously termed
my disciples, or to any other. Not that I have any regular disciples.
But if any one likes to come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission,
whether he be young or old, he is not excluded. Nor do I converse only
with those who pay; but any one, whether he be rich or poor, may ask and
answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out to be a bad
man or a good one, neither result can be justly imputed to me; for I
never taught or professed to teach him anything. And if any one says
that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all
the world has not heard, let me tell you that he is lying.

But I shall be asked, Why do people delight in continually conversing
with you? I have told you already, Athenians, the whole truth about this
matter: they like to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to
wisdom; there is amusement in it. Now this duty of cross-examining other
men has been imposed upon me by God; and has been signified to me by
oracles, visions, and in every way in which the will of divine power was
ever intimated to any one. This is true, O Athenians, or, if not true,
would be soon refuted. If I am or have been corrupting the youth, those
of them who are now grown up and have become sensible that I gave them
bad advice in the days of their youth should come forward as accusers,
and take their revenge; or if they do not like to come themselves, some
of their relatives, fathers, brothers, or other kinsmen, should say what
evil their families have 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 Epigenes; 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, some of whom Meletus should have produced as witnesses in
the course of his speech; and let him still produce them, if he has
forgotten--I will make way for him. And let him say, if he has any
testimony of the sort which he can produce. Nay, Athenians, the very
opposite is the truth. For all these are ready to witness on behalf of
the corrupter, of the injurer 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 a liar.

Well, Athenians, this and the like of this is all the defence which I
have to offer. Yet a word more. Perhaps there may be some one who is
offended at me, when he calls to mind how he himself on a similar, or
even a less serious occasion, prayed and entreated the judges with many
tears, and how he produced his children in court, which was a moving
spectacle, together with a host of relations and friends; whereas I,
who am probably in danger of my life, will do none of these things. The
contrast may occur to his mind, and he may be set against me, and vote
in anger because he is displeased at me on this account. Now if there
be such a person among you,--mind, I do not say that there is,--to him I
may fairly reply: My friend, I am a man, and like other men, a creature
of flesh and blood, and not 'of wood or stone,' as Homer says; and I
have a family, yes, and sons, O Athenians, three in number, one almost a
man, and two others who are still young; and yet I will not bring any of
them hither in order to petition you for an acquittal. And why not? Not
from any self-assertion or want of respect for you. Whether I am or am
not afraid of death is another question, of which I will not now speak.
But, having regard to public opinion, I feel that such conduct would be
discreditable to myself, and to you, and to the whole state. One who
has reached my years, and who has a name for wisdom, ought not to demean
himself. Whether this opinion of me be deserved or not, at any rate the
world has decided that Socrates is in some way superior to other
men. And if those among you who are said to be superior in wisdom
and courage, and any other virtue, demean themselves in this way, how
shameful is their conduct! I have seen men of reputation, when they have
been condemned, behaving in the strangest manner: they seemed to fancy
that they were going to suffer something dreadful if they died, and that
they could be immortal if you only allowed them to live; and I think
that such are a dishonour to the state, and that any stranger coming in
would have said of them that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the
Athenians themselves give honour and command, are no better than women.
And I say that these things ought not to be done by those of us who have
a reputation; and if they are done, you ought not to permit them; you
ought rather to show that you are far more disposed to condemn the man
who gets up a doleful scene and makes the city ridiculous, than him who
holds his peace.

But, setting aside the question of public opinion, there seems to be
something wrong in asking a favour of a judge, and thus procuring an
acquittal, instead of informing and convincing him. For his duty is,
not to make a present of justice, but to give judgment; and he has sworn
that he will judge according to the laws, and not according to his own
good pleasure; and we ought not to encourage you, nor should you allow
yourselves to be encouraged, in this habit of perjury--there can be
no piety in that. Do not then require me to do what I consider
dishonourable and impious and wrong, especially now, when I am being
tried for impiety on the indictment of Meletus. For if, O men of Athens,
by force of persuasion and entreaty I could overpower your oaths, then
I should be teaching you to believe that there are no gods, and in
defending should simply convict myself of the charge of not believing in
them. But that is not so--far otherwise. For I do believe that there
are gods, and in a sense higher than that in which any of my accusers
believe in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to be
determined by you as is best for you and me.


There are many reasons why I am not grieved, O men of Athens, at the
vote of condemnation. I expected it, and am only surprised that the
votes are so nearly equal; for I had thought that the majority against
me would have been far larger; but now, had thirty votes gone over to
the other side, I should have been acquitted. And I may say, I think,
that I have escaped Meletus. I may say more; for without the assistance
of Anytus and Lycon, any one may see that 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.

And so he proposes death as the penalty. And what shall I propose on my
part, O men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. And what is my due?
What return shall be made to the man who has never had the wit to be
idle during his whole life; but has been careless of what the many care
for--wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and speaking in
the assembly, and magistracies, and plots, and parties. Reflecting that
I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live, I did not go
where I could do no good to you or to myself; but where I could do the
greatest good privately to every one of you, thither I went, and sought
to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek
virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to
the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this
should be the order which he observes in all his actions. What shall be
done to such an one? Doubtless some good thing, O men of Athens, if he
has his reward; and the good should be of a kind suitable to him. What
would be a reward suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, and
who desires leisure that he may instruct you? There can be no reward so
fitting as maintenance in the Prytaneum, O men of Athens, a reward which
he deserves far more than the citizen who has won the prize at Olympia
in the horse or chariot race, whether the chariots were drawn by two
horses or by many. For I am in want, and he has enough; and he only
gives you the appearance of happiness, and I give you the reality. And
if I am to estimate the penalty fairly, I should say that maintenance in
the Prytaneum is the just return.

Perhaps you think that I am braving you in what I am saying now, as in
what I said before about the tears and prayers. But this is not so. I
speak rather because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged
any one, although I cannot convince you--the time has been too short; if
there were a law at Athens, as there is in other cities, that a capital
cause should not be decided in one day, then I believe that I should
have convinced you. But I cannot in a moment refute great slanders; and,
as I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not
wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or
propose any penalty. Why should I? because I am afraid of the penalty of
death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether death is a good
or an evil, why should I propose a penalty which would certainly be an
evil? Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison, and be
the slave of the magistrates of the year--of the Eleven? Or shall the
penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the
same objection. I should have to lie in prison, for money I have none,
and cannot pay. And if I say exile (and this may possibly be the penalty
which you will affix), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life, if
I am so irrational as to expect that when you, who are my own citizens,
cannot endure my discourses and words, and have found them so grievous
and odious that you will have no more of them, others are likely to
endure me. No indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. And what
a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, ever
changing my place of exile, and always being driven out! For I am quite
sure that wherever I go, there, as here, the young men will flock to
me; and if I drive them away, their elders will drive me out at their
request; and if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me
out for their sakes.

Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and
then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you?
Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this.
For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the
God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe
that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about
virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining
myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined
life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yet
I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to
persuade you. Also, I have never been accustomed to think that I deserve
to suffer any harm. Had I money I might have estimated the offence at
what I was able to pay, and not have been much the worse. But I have
none, and therefore I must ask you to proportion the fine to my means.
Well, perhaps I could afford a mina, and therefore I propose that
penalty: Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus, my friends here, bid
me say thirty minae, and they will be the sureties. Let thirty minae be
the penalty; for which sum they will be ample security to you.


Not much time will be gained, O Athenians, in return for the evil name
which you will get from the detractors of the city, who will say that
you killed Socrates, a wise man; for they will call me wise, even
although I am not wise, when they want to reproach you. If you had
waited a little while, your desire would have been fulfilled in the
course of nature. For I am far advanced in years, as you may perceive,
and not far from death. I am speaking now not to all of you, but only to
those who have condemned me to death. And I have another thing to say to
them: you think that I was convicted because I had no words of the sort
which would have procured my acquittal--I mean, if I had thought fit to
leave nothing undone or unsaid. Not so; the deficiency which led to my
conviction was not of words--certainly not. But I had not the boldness
or impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to
do, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing many things
which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I
maintain, are unworthy of me. I thought at the time that I ought not to
do anything common or mean when in danger: nor do I now repent of the
style of my defence; I would rather die having spoken after my manner,
than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at law
ought I or any man to use every way of escaping death. Often in battle
there can be no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall
on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other
dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to
say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death,
but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old
and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers
are keen and quick, and the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has
overtaken them. And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the
penalty of death,--they too go their ways condemned by the truth
to suffer the penalty of villainy and wrong; and I must abide by my
award--let them abide by theirs. I suppose that these things may be
regarded as fated,--and I think that they are well.

And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you;
for I am about to die, and in the hour of death men are gifted with
prophetic power. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that
immediately after my departure punishment far heavier than you have
inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you
wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives.
But that will not be as you suppose: far otherwise. For I say that there
will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom
hitherto I have restrained: and as they are younger they will be more
inconsiderate with you, and you will be more offended at them. If you
think that by killing men you can prevent some one from censuring your
evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is
either possible or honourable; the easiest and the noblest way is not
to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the
prophecy which I utter before my departure to the judges who have
condemned me.

Friends, who would have acquitted me, I would like also to talk with you
about the thing which has come to pass, while the magistrates are busy,
and before I go to the place at which I must die. Stay then a little,
for we may as well talk with one another while there is time. You are my
friends, and I should like to show you the meaning of this event which
has happened to me. O my judges--for you I may truly call judges--I
should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the divine
faculty of which the internal oracle is the source has constantly been
in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make
a slip or error in any matter; and now as you see there has come upon me
that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last and
worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either when I was
leaving my house in the morning, or when I was on my way to the court,
or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say; and yet I
have often been stopped in the middle of a speech, but now in nothing
I either said or did touching the matter in hand has the oracle opposed
me. What do I take to be the explanation of this silence? I will tell
you. It is an intimation that what has happened to me is a good, and
that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. For the
customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and
not to good.

Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great
reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things--either death
is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say,
there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another.
Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like
the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an
unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his
sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the
other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many
days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more
pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private
man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights,
when compared with the others. Now if death be of such a nature, I say
that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if
death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the
dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than
this? If indeed when the pilgrim arrives in the world below, he is
delivered from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the
true judges who are said to give judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus
and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in
their own life, that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a
man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and
Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again. I myself, too,
shall have a wonderful interest in there meeting and conversing with
Palamedes, and Ajax the son of Telamon, and any other ancient hero who
has suffered death through an unjust judgment; and there will be no
small pleasure, as I think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs.
Above all, I shall then be able to continue my search into true and
false knowledge; as in this world, so also in the next; and I shall find
out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not. What would
not a man give, O judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great
Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men
and women too! What infinite delight would there be in conversing with
them and asking them questions! In another world they do not put a man
to death for asking questions: assuredly not. For besides being happier
than we are, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.

Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a
certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or
after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own
approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that the
time had arrived when it was better for me to die and be released from
trouble; wherefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason, also, I am
not angry with my condemners, or with my accusers; they have done me no
harm, although they did not mean to do me any good; and for this I may
gently blame them.

Still I have a favour to ask of them. When my sons are grown up, I would
ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble
them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or
anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something
when they are really nothing,--then reprove them, as I have reproved
you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and
thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And
if you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your

The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways--I to die, and you
to live. Which is better God only knows.

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