THE DEATH OF SOCRATES - BY
Socrates' Apology (by Plato)
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Socrates' Apology by Plato.
It follows the English
translation of the full text transcript of
Socrates' Apology according to Plato, delivered at
Athens, Greece - 399 BC.
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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 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 justly.
And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first
accusers, and then I will go on to the later ones. For of old I have had
many accusers, who have accused me falsely to you during many years;
and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are
dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are the others,
who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with
their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated
about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made
the worse appear the better cause. The disseminators of this tale are
the accusers whom I dread; for their hearers are apt to fancy that such
enquirers do not believe in the existence of the gods. And they are
many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they were
made by them in the days when you were more impressible than you are
now--in childhood, or it may have been in youth--and the cause when
heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And hardest of all,
I do not know and cannot tell the names of my accusers; unless in the
chance case of a Comic poet. All who from envy and malice have persuaded
you--some of them having first convinced themselves--all this class of
men are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and
cross-examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my
own defence, and argue when there is no one who answers. I will ask you
then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two
kinds; one recent, the other ancient: and I hope that you will see the
propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you
heard long before the others, and much oftener.
Well, then, I must make my defence, and endeavour to clear away in a
short time, a slander which has lasted a long time. May I succeed, if to
succeed be for my good and yours, or likely to avail me in my cause!
The task is not an easy one; I quite understand the nature of it. And so
leaving the event with God, in obedience to the law I will now make my
I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation which has
given rise to the slander of me, and in fact has encouraged Meletus to
proof this charge against me. Well, what do the slanderers say? They
shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit:
'Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into
things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the
better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.' Such is
the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have yourselves seen
in the comedy of Aristophanes (Aristoph., Clouds.), who has introduced a
man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he walks in
air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do
not pretend to know either much or little--not that I mean to speak
disparagingly of any one who is a student of natural philosophy. I
should be very sorry if Meletus could bring so grave a charge against
me. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with
physical speculations. Very many of those here present are witnesses to
the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard
me, and tell your neighbours whether any of you have ever known me hold
forth in few words or in many upon such matters...You hear their answer.
And from what they say of this part of the charge you will be able to
judge of the truth of the rest.
As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and
take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than the other.
Although, if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive
money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honour to him.
There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis,
who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men
to leave their own citizens by whom they might be taught for nothing,
and come to them whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be
allowed to pay them. There is at this time a Parian philosopher residing
in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this
way:--I came across a man who has spent a world of money on the
Sophists, Callias, the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons,
I asked him: 'Callias,' I said, 'if your two sons were foals or calves,
there would be no difficulty in finding some one to put over them; we
should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer probably, who would improve
and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they
are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there
any one who understands human and political virtue? You must have
thought about the matter, for you have sons; is there any one?' 'There
is,' he said. 'Who is he?' said I; 'and of what country? and what does
he charge?' 'Evenus the Parian,' he replied; 'he is the man, and his
charge is five minae.' Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really
has this wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge. Had I the same,
I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I
have no knowledge of the kind.
I dare say, Athenians, that some one among you will reply, 'Yes,
Socrates, but what is the origin of these accusations which are brought
against you; there must have been something strange which you have been
doing? All these rumours and this talk about you would never have arisen
if you had been like other men: tell us, then, what is the cause of
them, for we should be sorry to judge hastily of you.' Now I regard this
as a fair challenge, and I will endeavour to explain to you the reason
why I am called wise and have such an evil fame. Please to attend then.
And although some of you may think that I am joking, I declare that I
will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine
has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what
kind of wisdom, I reply, wisdom such as may perhaps be attained by man,
for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the
persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom which I may fail
to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have,
speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of
Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say
something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I
will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit; that witness shall
be the God of Delphi--he will tell you about my wisdom, if I have any,
and of what sort it is. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a
friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the recent
exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you
know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and
boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether--as I was saying, I must beg
you not to interrupt--he asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was
wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered, that there was no
man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself; but his brother, who is in court,
will confirm the truth of what I am saying.
Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have
such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can
the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know
that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he
says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie;
that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of
a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find
a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in
my hand. I should say to him, 'Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but
you said that I was the wisest.' Accordingly I went to one who had the
reputation of wisdom, and observed him--his name I need not mention; he
was a politician whom I selected for examination--and the result was as
follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that
he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and
still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he
thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was
that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present
and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well,
although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really
beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,--for he knows nothing,
and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this
latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.
Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and
my conclusion was exactly the same. Whereupon I made another enemy of
him, and of many others besides him.
Then I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the
enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity
was laid upon me,--the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered
first. And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and
find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians,
by the dog I swear!--for I must tell you the truth--the result of my
mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but
the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and
better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the 'Herculean' labours, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the
oracle irrefutable. After the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic,
dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be
instantly detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant
than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate
passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of
them--thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me?
I am almost ashamed to confess the truth, but I must say that there is
hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their
poetry than they did themselves. Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets
write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like
diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not
understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in
the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their
poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things
in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to
be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the
At last I went to the artisans. I was conscious that I knew nothing at
all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and
here I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I
was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I
observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the
poets;--because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew
all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their
wisdom; and therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether
I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their
ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and to the
oracle that I was better off as I was.
This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most
dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies. And I
am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess
the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of
Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show
that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking
of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if
he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his
wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient
to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one,
whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not
wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise;
and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to
any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in
utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.
There is another thing:--young men of the richer classes, who have not
much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the
pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine
others; there are plenty of persons, as they quickly discover, who think
that they know something, but really know little or nothing; and then
those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves
are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous
misleader of youth!--and then if somebody asks them, Why, what evil does
he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in order
that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made
charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things
up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making
the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that
their pretence of knowledge has been detected--which is the truth; and
as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in
battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears
with their loud and inveterate calumnies. And this is the reason why my
three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus,
who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of
the craftsmen and politicians; Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians: and
as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of such a mass of
calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the
whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And
yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is
their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth?--Hence has arisen
the prejudice against me; and this is the reason of it, as you will find
out either in this or in any future enquiry.
I have said enough in my defence against the first class of my accusers;
I turn to the second class. They are headed by Meletus, that good man
and true lover of his country, as he calls himself. Against these, too,
I must try to make a defence:--Let their affidavit be read: it contains
something of this kind: It says that Socrates is a doer of evil, who
corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state,
but has other new divinities of his own. Such is the charge; and now let
us examine the particular counts. He says that I am a doer of evil, and
corrupt the youth; but I say, O men of Athens, that Meletus is a doer of
evil, in that he pretends to be in earnest when he is only in jest, and
is so eager to bring men to trial from a pretended zeal and interest
about matters in which he really never had the smallest interest. And
the truth of this I will endeavour to prove to you.
Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you. You think a
great deal about the improvement of youth?
Yes, I do.
Tell the judges, then, who is their improver; for you must know, as you
have taken the pains to discover their corrupter, and are citing and
accusing me before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who their
improver is.--Observe, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to
say. But is not this rather disgraceful, and a very considerable proof
of what I was saying, that you have no interest in the matter? Speak up,
friend, and tell us who their improver is.
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
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
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?
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?
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.
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