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Also known as The Death of Socrates

by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett

February, 1999 [Etext #1656]

********The Project Gutenberg Etext of Apology, by Plato********
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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 Socrates.

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

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 Xenophon.

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 exhortation.

The first part commences with an apology for his colloquial style; he is,
as he has always been, the enemy of rhetoric, and knows of no rhetoric 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 here.

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 absurd.'

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 Thirty.

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

(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 Euthyph.)

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.




Translated by Benjamin Jowett

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 is 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

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 defence.

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 politicians.

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

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

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 hands.

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

End of this Project Gutenberg Etext of Apology, by Plato

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