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"while I breathe, I will not cease from the pursuit of philosophy"
Wikipedia - Full Text - Print Edition: ISBN 0872206335
The Apology is ostensibly an account of Socrates' trial and the philosopher's defence on the charge of corrupting the young people of Athens. Actually it is an exposition of all that was best in the doctrines of Socrates, who was as misunderstood by most of his followers as by his enemies. To the bourgeoisie of Athens the master's aim was to turn his pupils into caustic critics and somewhat arrogant and self-satisfied revolutionaries. Socrates had spent himself largely in destructive criticism, but here, he attempts to put something constructive in its place by deliberately not defending himself in what might well be one of the two great judicial suicides of history.
This version is based on the condensed version first published by Sir John Hammerton in 1919.
Plato of Athens
Squashed version edited by Glyn Hughes © 2011
I - THE INDICTMENT AND THE REAL CHARGES
WHAT my accusers have said, Athenians, has been most specious, but none of it is true. The falsehood which most astonished me was that you must beware of being beguiled by my consummate eloquence; for I am not eloquent at all, unless speaking pure truth be eloquence. You will hear me speak without adornments and without premeditation, in my everyday language. I am seventy years old, yet this is my first appearance in the courts and I have no experience of forensic arts. All I ask is that you will take heed whether what I say be just.
It is just that I should begin by defending myself against my accusers from of old, in priority to Anytus and these other latter-day accusers. For, skilful as these are, I fear those more-those who from your youth have been untruthfully warning you against one Socrates, a wise man, who speculates about everything in heaven and under the earth, and tries to make the worse cause better. Their charge is the craftier, because you think that a man who does as they say has no thought for the gods. I cannot name these gentlemen precisely, beyond indicating that one is a writer of comedies; I cannot meet and refute them individually. However, I must try to enter a brief defence. I think I know where my difficulty will lie; but the issue will be as the gods choose.
Now, what is the basis of this charge, on which Meletus also relies? 'Socrates is an evil-doer, a busybody, who pries into things in heaven and under the earth, and teaches the same things to others.' You all saw the Socrates in the comedy of Aristophanes engaged in these pursuits. I have nothing to say against such inquiries; but do not let Meletus charge me with them, for I have no part in them. Many of you have heard me talk, but never one on these subjects. From this you should be able to gauge the other things that are said against me.
Equally untrue is the charge that I make a paid business of teaching my neighbours. It is a fine thing to be able to impart knowledge like Gorgias and Prodicus and Hippias, who can go from city to city and draw to converse with them young men who pay for the privilege instead of enjoying their companions' society for nothing. I am told there is one Evenus, a Parian, practising now, whose fee is five minae. It must be delightful to possess such valuable knowledge and to impart it - if they do possess it. I should like to do it myself. but I do not possess the knowledge.
"Whence, then, comes the trouble, Socrates?" you will say; "if you have been doing nothing unusual, how have these rumours and slanders arisen?"
I will tell you what I take to be the explanation. It is due to a certain wisdom with which I seem to be endowed - not superhuman at all like that of these gentlemen. I speak not arrogantly, but on the evidence of the Oracle of Delphi, who told Chaerephon, a man known to you, that there was no wiser man than Socrates. Now, I am not conscious of possessing wisdom; but the god cannot lie. What did he mean?
Well, I tried to find out, by going to a man reputed wise, thinking to prove that there were wiser men. But I found him not wise at all, though he fancied himself so. I sought to show him this, but he was only very much annoyed. I concluded that, after all, I was wiser than he in one particular, because I was under no delusion that I possessed knowledge, as he was. I tried all the men reputed wise, one after the other, and made myself very unpopular, for the result was always the same. It was the same with the poets as with the politicians, and with the craftsmen as with the poets. The last did know something about their own particular art, and therefore imagined that they knew all about everything.
I went on, taking every opportunity of finding out whether people reputed wise, and thinking themselves so, were wise in reality, and pointing out that they were not. And because of my exposing the ignorance of others, I have got this groundless reputation of having knowledge myself, and have been made the object of many other calumnies. And young gentlemen of position who have heard me follow my example, and annoy people by exposing their ignorance; and this is all visited on me; and I am called an ill-conditioned person who corrupts youth. To prove which my calumniators have to fall back on charging me with prying into all things in heaven and under the earth, and the rest of it.
II - THE CROSS-EXAMINING OF MELETUS
SUCH is my answer to the charges which have been poured into your ears for a long time. Now let me defend myself against these later accusations of Meletus and the rest - the virtuous patriot Meletus. I am an evildoer, a corrupter of youth, who pays no reverence to the gods whom the city reveres, but to strange daemons. Not I, but Meletus is the evil-doer, who makes accusations so frivolous, pretending much concern for matters about which he has never troubled himself. Answer me, Meletus. You think it of the utmost importance that our youth should be made as excellent as possible?
Socrates: Tell us, then, who is it that makes them better; for of course, you know. You are silent? The laws, you say? The question was, 'Who?'
Mel.: The judges; all the judges.
Soc.: In other words, all the Athenian people - everyone but me? And I alone corrupt them? Truly, I am in ill plight! But in the case of all other animals, horses, for instance, there are only a few people who are able to improve them. Your answer shows that you have never bestowed attention on the care of young people. Next, tell me is it better for a man to dwell among good citizens or bad? The good, since the bad will injure him. I cannot, then, set about making bad citizens designedly. My friend, no man designedly brings injury upon himself. If I corrupt them, it must be undesignedly - reason good for admonishing and instructing me, which you have not done; but not for bringing me into court, which you have done! However, I corrupt them by teaching them not to believe in the gods in whom the city believes, but in strange deities? Do I teach that there are some gods, or that there are no gods at all? Mel.: I say that you believe in no gods. You say the sun is a stone, and the moon earth. Soc.: Most excellent Meletus, everyone knows that Anaxagoras says so: you can buy that information for a drachma! Do I really appear to you to revere no gods? Mel.: No, no gods at all. Soc.: Now, that is incredible! You must have manufactured this riddle out of sheer wantonness, for in the indictment you charge me with reverencing gods! Can anyone believe that there are human affairs, or equine affairs, or instrumental affairs without believing that there are men or horses or instruments? You say expressly that I believe in daemonic affairs, therefore in daemons; but daemons are a sort of gods, or the offspring of gods. Therefore, you cannot possibly believe that I do not believe in gods. Really, I have sufficiently answered the indictment. If I am condemned, it will not be on the indictment of Meletus, but on popular calumnies; which have condemned good men before me, and assuredly I shall not be the last.
III - THE DEFENCE
IT may be suggested that I ought to be ashamed of practices which have brought me into danger of death. Risk of death is not to be taken into account in any action which really matters at all. If it ought to be, the heroes before Troy were bad characters! Every man should stand to his post, come life, come death. Should I have stood to my post and faced death when on service at Potidaea, but have failed through fear of death when the deity imposed on me a certain course of action?
Whether to die be evil or good, I know not, though many think they know it to be evil. But to disobey authority, human or divine, I know to be evil; and I will not do what I know to be evil to avoid what may in fact be good. Insomuch that if you now offer to set me free on condition that I should cease from these pursuits on pain of death, I should reply: 'Men of Athens, I love and honour you, but I will obey god rather than you; and while I breathe and have the power I will not cease from the pursuit of philosophy, or from exhorting and warning you, as I have done hitherto, against caring much for riches and nothing for the perfecting of your souls. This is the bidding of god. If to speak thus be to corrupt youth, then I corrupt youth. But he who says I speak other things than this talks vanity; and this I will do, though the penalty were many deaths.'
Do not murmur, but listen, for you will profit. If you put me to death, you will harm yourselves more than me, for it is worse to do wrong than to suffer it. You will not easily find another to serve as the gadfly which rouses a noble horse - as I have done, being commissioned thereto by god. For that I have made no profit for myself from this course my poverty proves.
If it seems absurd that I should meddle thus with each man privately, but take no part in public affairs, that is because of the divine or daemonic influence of which I have spoken, named also in mockery by Meletus in the indictment. This is a voice which checks but never urges me on. Indeed, had I meddled with politics, I should have been dead long ago.
But I have never posed as an instructor or taken money for giving instruction. Anyone who chooses can question me and hear what I have to say. People take pleasure in my society, because they like to hear those exposed who deem themselves wise but are not; this duty god has laid on me by oracles and dreams and every mode of divine authority. If I am corrupting or have corrupted youth, why do none of these bear witness against me, or their fathers or brothers or other kinsman? Many I see around me who should do so if this charge were true; yet all are ready to assist me.
This, and the like, is what I have to say in my defence. Perhaps some of you, thinking how, in a like case with mine but less exigent, he has sought the compassion of the court with tears and pleadings of his children and kinsfolk, will be indignant that I do none of these things, though I have three boys of my own. That is not out of disrespect to you, but because I think it would be unbeseeming to me. Such displays, as though death were something altogether terrifying, are to me astonishing and degrading to our city in the sight of strangers, for persons reputed to excel in anything, as in some respects I am held to excel the generality.
But apart from credit, I count that we ought to inform and convince our judges, not seek to sway them by entreaties; that they may judge rightly according to the laws, and not by favour. For you are sworn. And how should I persuade you to break your oath, who am charged by Meletus with impiety? For by so doing, I should be persuading you to disbelief in the gods, and making that very charge against myself. To you and to the gods I leave it, that I may be judged as shall be best for you and for me.
IV - AFTER THE VERDICT
YOUR condemnation does not grieve me, for various reasons, one of which is that I fully expected it. What surprises me is the small majority by which it was carried. Evidently, Meletus, if left to himself, would have failed to win the few votes needed to save him from the fine.
Well, the sentence he fixes is death, and I have to propose an alternative - presumably, the sentence I deserve. I have neglected all the ordinary pursuits and ambitions of men - which would have been no good either to me or to you - that I might benefit each man privately, by persuading him to give attention to himself first - how to attain his own best and wisest - and his mere affairs afterwards, and the city in like manner. The proper reward is that I should be maintained in the Prytaneum as a public benefactor.
You may think this merely a piece of insolence, but it is not so. I am not conscious of having wronged any man. Time does not permit me to prove my case, and I will not admit guilt by owning that I deserve punishment by a fine. What have I to fear? The penalty fixed by Meletus, as to which I do not know whether it is good or bad? Shall I, to escape this, choose something which is certainly bad? Imprisonment, to be the slave of the Eleven? A fine, to be a prisoner till I pay it? - which comes to the same thing, as I cannot pay. Exile? If my fellow citizens cannot put up with me, how can I expect strangers to do so?
Why cannot I go, and hold my tongue, you may ask. That is the one thing which I cannot do. That would be to disobey the god, and the life would not be worth living, though you do not believe me. I might undertake to pay a mina. However, as Plato and Crito and Appollodorus urge me to name thirty minae, for which they will be security, I propose thirty minae.
Your enemies will reproach you, Athenians, for having put to death that wise man Socrates. Yet you would have had but a short time to wait, for I am old. I speak to those of you who have condemned me. I am condemned, not for lack of argument, but because I have not chosen to plead after the methods that would have been pleasant and flattering to you, but degrading to me.
But to you, my true judges, who voted for my acquittal, I would speak while yet we may. I have to tell you that my warning daemon has in no way withstood the course I have taken, and the reason, assuredly, is that I have done what is best, gaining blessing, death being no evil at all. For death is either only to cease from sensations altogether as in a dreamless sleep, and that is no loss; or else it is a passing to another place where all the dead are - the heroes, the poets, the wise men of old. How priceless were it to hold converse with them and question them!
But be you hopeful with regard to death, for to the good man, neither in life nor in death is there anything that can harm him. And for me, I am confident that it is better to die than to live. Therefore I have no resentment against those who have caused my death.
And now we part our two ways. I go on to death and you to life; but which of us goes on to the better, the God only knows.
Plato of Athens c424-348BC
Socrates was forced to commit suicide by poison for 'Corrupting the youth of Athens with new ideas'
His last resting place is unknown. Plato went on to found an influential School.
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