Plato: Apology (Part 2)

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Title: Apology

Also known as "The Death of Socrates"

Author: Plato

Translator: Benjamin Jowett

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

Release Date: February, 1999

Language: English


Produced by Sue Asscher


By Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


In what relation the Apology of Plato stands to the real defence of

Socrates, there are no means of determining. It certainly agrees in

tone and character with the description of Xenophon, who says in the

Memorabilia that Socrates might have been acquitted 'if in any moderate

degree he would have conciliated the favour of the dicasts;' and who

informs us in another passage, on the testimony of Hermogenes, the

friend of Socrates, that he had no wish to live; and that the divine

sign refused to allow him to prepare a defence, and also that Socrates

himself declared this to be unnecessary, on the ground that all his life

long he had been preparing against that hour. For the speech breathes

throughout a spirit of defiance, (ut non supplex aut reus sed magister

aut dominus videretur esse judicum', Cic. de Orat.); and the loose and

desultory style is an imitation of the 'accustomed manner' in

which Socrates spoke in 'the agora and among the tables of the

money-changers.' The allusion in the Crito may, perhaps, be adduced as a

further evidence of the literal accuracy of some parts. But in the

main it must be regarded as the ideal of Socrates, according to Plato's

conception of him, appearing in the greatest and most public scene of

his life, and in the height of his triumph, when he is weakest, and yet

his mastery over mankind is greatest, and his habitual irony acquires a

new meaning and a sort of tragic pathos in the face of death. The facts

of his life are summed up, and the features of his character are brought

out as if by accident in the course of the defence. The conversational

manner, the seeming want of arrangement, the ironical simplicity, are

found to result in a perfect work of art, which is the portrait of


Yet some of the topics may have been actually used by Socrates; and

the recollection of his very words may have rung in the ears of his

disciple. The Apology of Plato may be compared generally with those

speeches of Thucydides in which he has embodied his conception of the

lofty character and policy of the great Pericles, and which at the same

time furnish a commentary on the situation of affairs from the point of

view of the historian. So in the Apology there is an ideal rather than a

literal truth; much is said which was not said, and is only Plato's view

of the situation. Plato was not, like Xenophon, a chronicler of facts;

he does not appear in any of his writings to have aimed at literal

accuracy. He is not therefore to be supplemented from the Memorabilia

and Symposium of Xenophon, who belongs to an entirely different class of

writers. The Apology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said,

but an elaborate composition, quite as much so in fact as one of the

Dialogues. And we may perhaps even indulge in the fancy that the actual

defence of Socrates was as much greater than the Platonic defence as the

master was greater than the disciple. But in any case, some of the words

used by him must have been remembered, and some of the facts recorded

must have actually occurred. It is significant that Plato is said to

have been present at the defence (Apol.), as he is also said to have

been absent at the last scene in the Phaedo. Is it fanciful to suppose

that he meant to give the stamp of authenticity to the one and not to

the other?--especially when we consider that these two passages are the

only ones in which Plato makes mention of himself. The circumstance that

Plato was to be one of his sureties for the payment of the fine which he

proposed has the appearance of truth. More suspicious is the statement

that Socrates received the first impulse to his favourite calling of

cross-examining the world from the Oracle of Delphi; for he must already

have been famous before Chaerephon went to consult the Oracle (Riddell),

and the story is of a kind which is very likely to have been invented.

On the whole we arrive at the conclusion that the Apology is true to the

character of Socrates, but we cannot show that any single sentence in it

was actually spoken by him. It breathes the spirit of Socrates, but has

been cast anew in the mould of Plato.

There is not much in the other Dialogues which can be compared with the

Apology. The same recollection of his master may have been present

to the mind of Plato when depicting the sufferings of the Just in the

Republic. The Crito may also be regarded as a sort of appendage to the

Apology, in which Socrates, who has defied the judges, is nevertheless

represented as scrupulously obedient to the laws. The idealization

of the sufferer is carried still further in the Gorgias, in which the

thesis is maintained, that 'to suffer is better than to do evil;' and

the art of rhetoric is described as only useful for the purpose of

self-accusation. The parallelisms which occur in the so-called Apology

of Xenophon are not worth noticing, because the writing in which they

are contained is manifestly spurious. The statements of the Memorabilia

respecting the trial and death of Socrates agree generally with Plato;

but they have lost the flavour of Socratic irony in the narrative of


The Apology or Platonic defence of Socrates is divided into three

parts: 1st. The defence properly so called; 2nd. The shorter address in

mitigation of the penalty; 3rd. The last words of prophetic rebuke and


The first part commences with an apology for his colloquial style;

he is, as he has always been, the enemy of rhetoric, and knows of

no rhetoric but truth; he will not falsify his character by making a

speech. Then he proceeds to divide his accusers into two classes; first,

there is the nameless accuser--public opinion. All the world from their

earliest years had heard that he was a corrupter of youth, and had seen

him caricatured in the Clouds of Aristophanes. Secondly, there are

the professed accusers, who are but the mouth-piece of the others. The

accusations of both might be summed up in a formula. The first say,

'Socrates is an evil-doer and a curious person, searching into things

under the earth and above the heaven; and making the worse appear the

better cause, and teaching all this to others.' The second, 'Socrates is

an evil-doer and corrupter of the youth, who does not receive the gods

whom the state receives, but introduces other new divinities.' These

last words appear to have been the actual indictment (compare Xen.

Mem.); and the previous formula, which is a summary of public opinion,

assumes the same legal style.

The answer begins by clearing up a confusion. In the representations

of the Comic poets, and in the opinion of the multitude, he had been

identified with the teachers of physical science and with the Sophists.

But this was an error. For both of them he professes a respect in the

open court, which contrasts with his manner of speaking about them in

other places. (Compare for Anaxagoras, Phaedo, Laws; for the Sophists,

Meno, Republic, Tim., Theaet., Soph., etc.) But at the same time

he shows that he is not one of them. Of natural philosophy he knows

nothing; not that he despises such pursuits, but the fact is that he is

ignorant of them, and never says a word about them. Nor is he paid for

giving instruction--that is another mistaken notion:--he has nothing to

teach. But he commends Evenus for teaching virtue at such a 'moderate'

rate as five minae. Something of the 'accustomed irony,' which may

perhaps be expected to sleep in the ear of the multitude, is lurking


He then goes on to explain the reason why he is in such an evil name.

That had arisen out of a peculiar mission which he had taken upon

himself. The enthusiastic Chaerephon (probably in anticipation of the

answer which he received) had gone to Delphi and asked the oracle if

there was any man wiser than Socrates; and the answer was, that there

was no man wiser. What could be the meaning of this--that he who knew

nothing, and knew that he knew nothing, should be declared by the oracle

to be the wisest of men? Reflecting upon the answer, he determined to

refute it by finding 'a wiser;' and first he went to the politicians,

and then to the poets, and then to the craftsmen, but always with the

same result--he found that they knew nothing, or hardly anything more

than himself; and that the little advantage which in some cases they

possessed was more than counter-balanced by their conceit of knowledge.

He knew nothing, and knew that he knew nothing: they knew little or

nothing, and imagined that they knew all things. Thus he had passed

his life as a sort of missionary in detecting the pretended wisdom of

mankind; and this occupation had quite absorbed him and taken him away

both from public and private affairs. Young men of the richer sort had

made a pastime of the same pursuit, 'which was not unamusing.' And hence

bitter enmities had arisen; the professors of knowledge had revenged

themselves by calling him a villainous corrupter of youth, and by

repeating the commonplaces about atheism and materialism and sophistry,

which are the stock-accusations against all philosophers when there is

nothing else to be said of them.

The second accusation he meets by interrogating Meletus, who is present

and can be interrogated. 'If he is the corrupter, who is the improver of

the citizens?' (Compare Meno.) 'All men everywhere.' But how absurd, how

contrary to analogy is this! How inconceivable too, that he should make

the citizens worse when he has to live with them. This surely cannot be

intentional; and if unintentional, he ought to have been instructed by

Meletus, and not accused in the court.

But there is another part of the indictment which says that he teaches

men not to receive the gods whom the city receives, and has other new

gods. 'Is that the way in which he is supposed to corrupt the youth?'

'Yes, it is.' 'Has he only new gods, or none at all?' 'None at all.'

'What, not even the sun and moon?' 'No; why, he says that the sun is a

stone, and the moon earth.' That, replies Socrates, is the old confusion

about Anaxagoras; the Athenian people are not so ignorant as to

attribute to the influence of Socrates notions which have found

their way into the drama, and may be learned at the theatre. Socrates

undertakes to show that Meletus (rather unjustifiably) has been

compounding a riddle in this part of the indictment: 'There are no gods,

but Socrates believes in the existence of the sons of gods, which is


Leaving Meletus, who has had enough words spent upon him, he returns to

the original accusation. The question may be asked, Why will he persist

in following a profession which leads him to death? Why?--because he

must remain at his post where the god has placed him, as he remained

at Potidaea, and Amphipolis, and Delium, where the generals placed him.

Besides, he is not so overwise as to imagine that he knows whether death

is a good or an evil; and he is certain that desertion of his duty is

an evil. Anytus is quite right in saying that they should never have

indicted him if they meant to let him go. For he will certainly obey God

rather than man; and will continue to preach to all men of all ages the

necessity of virtue and improvement; and if they refuse to listen to him

he will still persevere and reprove them. This is his way of corrupting

the youth, which he will not cease to follow in obedience to the god,

even if a thousand deaths await him.

He is desirous that they should let him live--not for his own sake, but

for theirs; because he is their heaven-sent friend (and they will never

have such another), or, as he may be ludicrously described, he is the

gadfly who stirs the generous steed into motion. Why then has he never

taken part in public affairs? Because the familiar divine voice has

hindered him; if he had been a public man, and had fought for the right,

as he would certainly have fought against the many, he would not have

lived, and could therefore have done no good. Twice in public matters

he has risked his life for the sake of justice--once at the trial of

the generals; and again in resistance to the tyrannical commands of the


But, though not a public man, he has passed his days in instructing

the citizens without fee or reward--this was his mission. Whether his

disciples have turned out well or ill, he cannot justly be charged with

the result, for he never promised to teach them anything. They might

come if they liked, and they might stay away if they liked: and they

did come, because they found an amusement in hearing the pretenders to

wisdom detected. If they have been corrupted, their elder relatives (if

not themselves) might surely come into court and witness against him,

and there is an opportunity still for them to appear. But their fathers

and brothers all appear in court (including 'this' Plato), to witness

on his behalf; and if their relatives are corrupted, at least they

are uncorrupted; 'and they are my witnesses. For they know that I am

speaking the truth, and that Meletus is lying.'

This is about all that he has to say. He will not entreat the judges to

spare his life; neither will he present a spectacle of weeping children,

although he, too, is not made of 'rock or oak.' Some of the judges

themselves may have complied with this practice on similar occasions,

and he trusts that they will not be angry with him for not following

their example. But he feels that such conduct brings discredit on the

name of Athens: he feels too, that the judge has sworn not to give away

justice; and he cannot be guilty of the impiety of asking the judge to

break his oath, when he is himself being tried for impiety.

As he expected, and probably intended, he is convicted. And now the tone

of the speech, instead of being more conciliatory, becomes more

lofty and commanding. Anytus proposes death as the penalty: and what

counter-proposition shall he make? He, the benefactor of the Athenian

people, whose whole life has been spent in doing them good, should at

least have the Olympic victor's reward of maintenance in the Prytaneum.

Or why should he propose any counter-penalty when he does not know

whether death, which Anytus proposes, is a good or an evil? And he is

certain that imprisonment is an evil, exile is an evil. Loss of money

might be an evil, but then he has none to give; perhaps he can make up

a mina. Let that be the penalty, or, if his friends wish, thirty minae;

for which they will be excellent securities.

(He is condemned to death.)

He is an old man already, and the Athenians will gain nothing but

disgrace by depriving him of a few years of life. Perhaps he could have

escaped, if he had chosen to throw down his arms and entreat for his

life. But he does not at all repent of the manner of his defence; he

would rather die in his own fashion than live in theirs. For the penalty

of unrighteousness is swifter than death; that penalty has already

overtaken his accusers as death will soon overtake him.

And now, as one who is about to die, he will prophesy to them. They have

put him to death in order to escape the necessity of giving an account

of their lives. But his death 'will be the seed' of many disciples who

will convince them of their evil ways, and will come forth to reprove

them in harsher terms, because they are younger and more inconsiderate.

He would like to say a few words, while there is time, to those who

would have acquitted him. He wishes them to know that the divine sign

never interrupted him in the course of his defence; the reason of which,

as he conjectures, is that the death to which he is going is a good and

not an evil. For either death is a long sleep, the best of sleeps, or

a journey to another world in which the souls of the dead are gathered

together, and in which there may be a hope of seeing the heroes of

old--in which, too, there are just judges; and as all are immortal,

there can be no fear of any one suffering death for his opinions.

Nothing evil can happen to the good man either in life or death, and his

own death has been permitted by the gods, because it was better for him

to depart; and therefore he forgives his judges because they have done

him no harm, although they never meant to do him any good.

He has a last request to make to them--that they will trouble his sons

as he has troubled them, if they appear to prefer riches to virtue, or

to think themselves something when they are nothing.


'Few persons will be found to wish that Socrates should have defended

himself otherwise,'--if, as we must add, his defence was that with which

Plato has provided him. But leaving this question, which does not admit

of a precise solution, we may go on to ask what was the impression which

Plato in the Apology intended to give of the character and conduct of

his master in the last great scene? Did he intend to represent him (1)

as employing sophistries; (2) as designedly irritating the judges? Or

are these sophistries to be regarded as belonging to the age in which

he lived and to his personal character, and this apparent haughtiness as

flowing from the natural elevation of his position?

For example, when he says that it is absurd to suppose that one man is

the corrupter and all the rest of the world the improvers of the youth;

or, when he argues that he never could have corrupted the men with whom

he had to live; or, when he proves his belief in the gods because

he believes in the sons of gods, is he serious or jesting? It may be

observed that these sophisms all occur in his cross-examination of

Meletus, who is easily foiled and mastered in the hands of the great

dialectician. Perhaps he regarded these answers as good enough for his

accuser, of whom he makes very light. Also there is a touch of irony

in them, which takes them out of the category of sophistry. (Compare


That the manner in which he defends himself about the lives of his

disciples is not satisfactory, can hardly be denied. Fresh in the memory

of the Athenians, and detestable as they deserved to be to the newly

restored democracy, were the names of Alcibiades, Critias, Charmides. It

is obviously not a sufficient answer that Socrates had never professed

to teach them anything, and is therefore not justly chargeable with

their crimes. Yet the defence, when taken out of this ironical form,

is doubtless sound: that his teaching had nothing to do with their evil

lives. Here, then, the sophistry is rather in form than in substance,

though we might desire that to such a serious charge Socrates had given

a more serious answer.

Truly characteristic of Socrates is another point in his answer, which

may also be regarded as sophistical. He says that 'if he has corrupted

the youth, he must have corrupted them involuntarily.' But if, as

Socrates argues, all evil is involuntary, then all criminals ought to be

admonished and not punished. In these words the Socratic doctrine of the

involuntariness of evil is clearly intended to be conveyed. Here

again, as in the former instance, the defence of Socrates is untrue

practically, but may be true in some ideal or transcendental sense. The

commonplace reply, that if he had been guilty of corrupting the youth

their relations would surely have witnessed against him, with which he

concludes this part of his defence, is more satisfactory.

Again, when Socrates argues that he must believe in the gods because he

believes in the sons of gods, we must remember that this is a refutation

not of the original indictment, which is consistent enough--'Socrates

does not receive the gods whom the city receives, and has other new

divinities'--but of the interpretation put upon the words by Meletus,

who has affirmed that he is a downright atheist. To this Socrates fairly

answers, in accordance with the ideas of the time, that a downright

atheist cannot believe in the sons of gods or in divine things. The

notion that demons or lesser divinities are the sons of gods is not

to be regarded as ironical or sceptical. He is arguing 'ad hominem'

according to the notions of mythology current in his age. Yet he

abstains from saying that he believed in the gods whom the State

approved. He does not defend himself, as Xenophon has defended him,

by appealing to his practice of religion. Probably he neither wholly

believed, nor disbelieved, in the existence of the popular gods; he

had no means of knowing about them. According to Plato (compare Phaedo;

Symp.), as well as Xenophon (Memor.), he was punctual in the performance

of the least religious duties; and he must have believed in his own

oracular sign, of which he seemed to have an internal witness. But the

existence of Apollo or Zeus, or the other gods whom the State approves,

would have appeared to him both uncertain and unimportant in comparison

of the duty of self-examination, and of those principles of truth

and right which he deemed to be the foundation of religion. (Compare

Phaedr.; Euthyph.; Republic.)

The second question, whether Plato meant to represent Socrates as

braving or irritating his judges, must also be answered in the negative.

His irony, his superiority, his audacity, 'regarding not the person of

man,' necessarily flow out of the loftiness of his situation. He is not

acting a part upon a great occasion, but he is what he has been all his

life long, 'a king of men.' He would rather not appear insolent, if

he could avoid it (ouch os authadizomenos touto lego). Neither is

he desirous of hastening his own end, for life and death are simply

indifferent to him. But such a defence as would be acceptable to his

judges and might procure an acquittal, it is not in his nature to make.

He will not say or do anything that might pervert the course of justice;

he cannot have his tongue bound even 'in the throat of death.' With

his accusers he will only fence and play, as he had fenced with other

'improvers of youth,' answering the Sophist according to his sophistry

all his life long. He is serious when he is speaking of his own mission,

which seems to distinguish him from all other reformers of mankind, and

originates in an accident. The dedication of himself to the improvement

of his fellow-citizens is not so remarkable as the ironical spirit in

which he goes about doing good only in vindication of the credit of the

oracle, and in the vain hope of finding a wiser man than himself. Yet

this singular and almost accidental character of his mission agrees with

the divine sign which, according to our notions, is equally accidental

and irrational, and is nevertheless accepted by him as the guiding

principle of his life. Socrates is nowhere represented to us as a

freethinker or sceptic. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity when

he speculates on the possibility of seeing and knowing the heroes of the

Trojan war in another world. On the other hand, his hope of immortality

is uncertain;--he also conceives of death as a long sleep (in

this respect differing from the Phaedo), and at last falls back on

resignation to the divine will, and the certainty that no evil

can happen to the good man either in life or death. His absolute

truthfulness seems to hinder him from asserting positively more than

this; and he makes no attempt to veil his ignorance in mythology and

figures of speech. The gentleness of the first part of the speech

contrasts with the aggravated, almost threatening, tone of the

conclusion. He characteristically remarks that he will not speak as a

rhetorician, that is to say, he will not make a regular defence such as

Lysias or one of the orators might have composed for him, or, according

to some accounts, did compose for him. But he first procures himself a

hearing by conciliatory words. He does not attack the Sophists; for they

were open to the same charges as himself; they were equally ridiculed by

the Comic poets, and almost equally hateful to Anytus and Meletus. Yet

incidentally the antagonism between Socrates and the Sophists is allowed

to appear. He is poor and they are rich; his profession that he teaches

nothing is opposed to their readiness to teach all things; his talking

in the marketplace to their private instructions; his tarry-at-home life

to their wandering from city to city. The tone which he assumes towards

them is one of real friendliness, but also of concealed irony. Towards

Anaxagoras, who had disappointed him in his hopes of learning about mind

and nature, he shows a less kindly feeling, which is also the feeling

of Plato in other passages (Laws). But Anaxagoras had been dead thirty

years, and was beyond the reach of persecution.

It has been remarked that the prophecy of a new generation of teachers

who would rebuke and exhort the Athenian people in harsher and more

violent terms was, as far as we know, never fulfilled. No inference

can be drawn from this circumstance as to the probability of the

words attributed to him having been actually uttered. They express the

aspiration of the first martyr of philosophy, that he would leave behind

him many followers, accompanied by the not unnatural feeling that they

would be fiercer and more inconsiderate in their words when emancipated

from his control.

The above remarks must be understood as applying with any degree of

certainty to the Platonic Socrates only. For, although these or similar

words may have been spoken by Socrates himself, we cannot exclude the

possibility, that like so much else, e.g. the wisdom of Critias, the

poem of Solon, the virtues of Charmides, they may have been due only to

the imagination of Plato. The arguments of those who maintain that the

Apology was composed during the process, resting on no evidence, do not

require a serious refutation. Nor are the reasonings of Schleiermacher,

who argues that the Platonic defence is an exact or nearly exact

reproduction of the words of Socrates, partly because Plato would not

have been guilty of the impiety of altering them, and also because many

points of the defence might have been improved and strengthened, at all

more conclusive. (See English Translation.) What effect the death of

Socrates produced on the mind of Plato, we cannot certainly

determine; nor can we say how he would or must have written under the

circumstances. We observe that the enmity of Aristophanes to Socrates

does not prevent Plato from introducing them together in the Symposium

engaged in friendly intercourse. Nor is there any trace in the Dialogues

of an attempt to make Anytus or Meletus personally odious in the eyes of

the Athenian public.


How you, O Athenians, have been affected by my accusers, I cannot tell;

but I know that they almost made me forget who I was--so persuasively

did they speak; and yet they have hardly uttered a word of truth. But

of the many falsehoods told by them, there was one which quite amazed

me;--I mean when they said that you should be upon your guard and not

allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. To say

this, when they were certain to be detected as soon as I opened my lips

and proved myself to be anything but a great speaker, did indeed appear

to me most shameless--unless by the force of eloquence they mean

the force of truth; for it such is their meaning, I admit that I am

eloquent. But in how different a way from theirs! Well, as I was saying,

they have scarcely spoken the truth at all; but from me you shall hear

the whole truth: not, however, delivered after their manner in a set

oration duly ornamented with words and phrases. No, by heaven! but I

shall use the words and arguments which occur to me at the moment; for

I am confident in the justice of my cause (Or, I am certain that I am

right in taking this course.): at my time of life I ought not to be

appearing before you, O men of Athens, in the character of a juvenile

orator--let no one expect it of me. And I must beg of you to grant me

a favour:--If I defend myself in my accustomed manner, and you hear me

using the words which I have been in the habit of using in the agora, at

the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I would ask you not

to be surprised, and not to interrupt me on this account. For I am more

than seventy years of age, and appearing now for the first time in a

court of law, I am quite a stranger to the language of the place; and

therefore I would have you regard me as if I were really a stranger,

whom you would excuse if he spoke in his native tongue, and after the

fashion of his country:--Am I making an unfair request of you? Never

mind the manner, which may or may not be good; but think only of the

truth of my words, and give heed to that: let the speaker speak truly

and the judge decide justly.

And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first

accusers, and then I will go on to the later ones. For of old I have had

many accusers, who have accused me falsely to you during many years;

and I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are

dangerous, too, in their own way. But far more dangerous are the others,

who began when you were children, and took possession of your minds with

their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man, who speculated

about the heaven above, and searched into the earth beneath, and made

the worse appear the better cause. The disseminators of this tale are

the accusers whom I dread; for their hearers are apt to fancy that such

enquirers do not believe in the existence of the gods. And they are

many, and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they were

made by them in the days when you were more impressible than you are

now--in childhood, or it may have been in youth--and the cause when

heard went by default, for there was none to answer. And hardest of all,

I do not know and cannot tell the names of my accusers; unless in the

chance case of a Comic poet. All who from envy and malice have persuaded

you--some of them having first convinced themselves--all this class of

men are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have them up here, and

cross-examine them, and therefore I must simply fight with shadows in my

own defence, and argue when there is no one who answers. I will ask you

then to assume with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two

kinds; one recent, the other ancient: and I hope that you will see the

propriety of my answering the latter first, for these accusations you

heard long before the others, and much oftener.

Well, then, I must make my defence, and endeavour to clear away in a

short time, a slander which has lasted a long time. May I succeed, if to

succeed be for my good and yours, or likely to avail me in my cause!

The task is not an easy one; I quite understand the nature of it. And so

leaving the event with God, in obedience to the law I will now make my


I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation which has

given rise to the slander of me, and in fact has encouraged Meletus to

proof this charge against me. Well, what do the slanderers say? They

shall be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit:

'Socrates is an evil-doer, and a curious person, who searches into

things under the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the

better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others.' Such is

the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have yourselves seen

in the comedy of Aristophanes (Aristoph., Clouds.), who has introduced a

man whom he calls Socrates, going about and saying that he walks in

air, and talking a deal of nonsense concerning matters of which I do

not pretend to know either much or little--not that I mean to speak

disparagingly of any one who is a student of natural philosophy. I

should be very sorry if Meletus could bring so grave a charge against

me. But the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with

physical speculations. Very many of those here present are witnesses to

the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak then, you who have heard

me, and tell your neighbours whether any of you have ever known me hold

forth in few words or in many upon such matters...You hear their answer.

And from what they say of this part of the charge you will be able to

judge of the truth of the rest.

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and

take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than the other.

Although, if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive

money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honour to him.

There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis,

who go the round of the cities, and are able to persuade the young men

to leave their own citizens by whom they might be taught for nothing,

and come to them whom they not only pay, but are thankful if they may be

allowed to pay them. There is at this time a Parian philosopher residing

in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I came to hear of him in this

way:--I came across a man who has spent a world of money on the

Sophists, Callias, the son of Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons,

I asked him: 'Callias,' I said, 'if your two sons were foals or calves,

there would be no difficulty in finding some one to put over them; we

should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer probably, who would improve

and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence; but as they

are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there

any one who understands human and political virtue? You must have

thought about the matter, for you have sons; is there any one?' 'There

is,' he said. 'Who is he?' said I; 'and of what country? and what does

he charge?' 'Evenus the Parian,' he replied; 'he is the man, and his

charge is five minae.' Happy is Evenus, I said to myself, if he really

has this wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge. Had I the same,

I should have been very proud and conceited; but the truth is that I

have no knowledge of the kind.

I dare say, Athenians, that some one among you will reply, 'Yes,

Socrates, but what is the origin of these accusations which are brought

against you; there must have been something strange which you have been

doing? All these rumours and this talk about you would never have arisen

if you had been like other men: tell us, then, what is the cause of

them, for we should be sorry to judge hastily of you.' Now I regard this

as a fair challenge, and I will endeavour to explain to you the reason

why I am called wise and have such an evil fame. Please to attend then.

And although some of you may think that I am joking, I declare that I

will tell you the entire truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine

has come of a certain sort of wisdom which I possess. If you ask me what

kind of wisdom, I reply, wisdom such as may perhaps be attained by man,

for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I am wise; whereas the

persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom which I may fail

to describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have,

speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, O men of

Athens, I must beg you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say

something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I

will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit; that witness shall

be the God of Delphi--he will tell you about my wisdom, if I have any,

and of what sort it is. You must have known Chaerephon; he was early a

friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the recent

exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, Chaerephon, as you

know, was very impetuous in all his doings, and he went to Delphi and

boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether--as I was saying, I must beg

you not to interrupt--he asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was

wiser than I was, and the Pythian prophetess answered, that there was no

man wiser. Chaerephon is dead himself; but his brother, who is in court,

will confirm the truth of what I am saying.

Why do I mention this? Because I am going to explain to you why I have

such an evil name. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can

the god mean? and what is the interpretation of his riddle? for I know

that I have no wisdom, small or great. What then can he mean when he

says that I am the wisest of men? And yet he is a god, and cannot lie;

that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of

a method of trying the question. I reflected that if I could only find

a man wiser than myself, then I might go to the god with a refutation in

my hand. I should say to him, 'Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but

you said that I was the wisest.' Accordingly I went to one who had the

reputation of wisdom, and observed him--his name I need not mention; he

was a politician whom I selected for examination--and the result was as

follows: When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that

he was not really wise, although he was thought wise by many, and

still wiser by himself; and thereupon I tried to explain to him that he

thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was

that he hated me, and his enmity was shared by several who were present

and heard me. So I left him, saying to myself, as I went away: Well,

although I do not suppose that either of us knows anything really

beautiful and good, I am better off than he is,--for he knows nothing,

and thinks that he knows; I neither know nor think that I know. In this

latter particular, then, I seem to have slightly the advantage of him.

Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and

my conclusion was exactly the same. Whereupon I made another enemy of

him, and of many others besides him.

Then I went to one man after another, being not unconscious of the

enmity which I provoked, and I lamented and feared this: but necessity

was laid upon me,--the word of God, I thought, ought to be considered

first. And I said to myself, Go I must to all who appear to know, and

find out the meaning of the oracle. And I swear to you, Athenians,

by the dog I swear!--for I must tell you the truth--the result of my

mission was just this: I found that the men most in repute were all but

the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and

better. I will tell you the tale of my wanderings and of the 'Herculean'

labours, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last the

oracle irrefutable. After the politicians, I went to the poets; tragic,

dithyrambic, and all sorts. And there, I said to myself, you will be

instantly detected; now you will find out that you are more ignorant

than they are. Accordingly, I took them some of the most elaborate

passages in their own writings, and asked what was the meaning of

them--thinking that they would teach me something. Will you believe me?

I am almost ashamed to confess the truth, but I must say that there is

hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their

poetry than they did themselves. Then I knew that not by wisdom do poets

write poetry, but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like

diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not

understand the meaning of them. The poets appeared to me to be much in

the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their

poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things

in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to

be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the


At last I went to the artisans. I was conscious that I knew nothing at

all, as I may say, and I was sure that they knew many fine things; and

here I was not mistaken, for they did know many things of which I

was ignorant, and in this they certainly were wiser than I was. But I

observed that even the good artisans fell into the same error as the

poets;--because they were good workmen they thought that they also knew

all sorts of high matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their

wisdom; and therefore I asked myself on behalf of the oracle, whether

I would like to be as I was, neither having their knowledge nor their

ignorance, or like them in both; and I made answer to myself and to the

oracle that I was better off as I was.

This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most

dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to many calumnies. And I

am called wise, for my hearers always imagine that I myself possess

the wisdom which I find wanting in others: but the truth is, O men of

Athens, that God only is wise; and by his answer he intends to show

that the wisdom of men is worth little or nothing; he is not speaking

of Socrates, he is only using my name by way of illustration, as if

he said, He, O men, is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his

wisdom is in truth worth nothing. And so I go about the world, obedient

to the god, and search and make enquiry into the wisdom of any one,

whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise; and if he is not

wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise;

and my occupation quite absorbs me, and I have no time to give either to

any public matter of interest or to any concern of my own, but I am in

utter poverty by reason of my devotion to the god.

There is another thing:--young men of the richer classes, who have not

much to do, come about me of their own accord; they like to hear the

pretenders examined, and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine

others; there are plenty of persons, as they quickly discover, who think

that they know something, but really know little or nothing; and then

those who are examined by them instead of being angry with themselves

are angry with me: This confounded Socrates, they say; this villainous

misleader of youth!--and then if somebody asks them, Why, what evil does

he practise or teach? they do not know, and cannot tell; but in order

that they may not appear to be at a loss, they repeat the ready-made

charges which are used against all philosophers about teaching things

up in the clouds and under the earth, and having no gods, and making

the worse appear the better cause; for they do not like to confess that

their pretence of knowledge has been detected--which is the truth; and

as they are numerous and ambitious and energetic, and are drawn up in

battle array and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears

with their loud and inveterate calumnies. And this is the reason why my

three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have set upon me; Meletus,

who has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets; Anytus, on behalf of

the craftsmen and politicians; Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians: and

as I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of such a mass of

calumny all in a moment. And this, O men of Athens, is the truth and the

whole truth; I have concealed nothing, I have dissembled nothing. And

yet, I know that my plainness of speech makes them hate me, and what is

their hatred but a proof that I am speaking the truth?--Hence has arisen

the prejudice against me; and this is the reason of it, as you will find

out either in this or in any future enquiry.

I have said enough in my defence against the first class of my accusers;

I turn to the second class. They are headed by Meletus, that good man

and true lover of his country, as he calls himself. Against these, too,

I must try to make a defence:--Let their affidavit be read: it contains

something of this kind: It says that Socrates is a doer of evil, who

corrupts the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state,

but has other new divinities of his own. Such is the charge; and now let

us examine the particular counts. He says that I am a doer of evil, and

corrupt the youth; but I say, O men of Athens, that Meletus is a doer of

evil, in that he pretends to be in earnest when he is only in jest, and

is so eager to bring men to trial from a pretended zeal and interest

about matters in which he really never had the smallest interest. And

the truth of this I will endeavour to prove to you.

Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you. You think a

great deal about the improvement of youth?

Yes, I do.

Tell the judges, then, who is their improver; for you must know, as you

have taken the pains to discover their corrupter, and are citing and

accusing me before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who their

improver is.--Observe, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to

say. But is not this rather disgraceful, and a very considerable proof

of what I was saying, that you have no interest in the matter? Speak up,

friend, and tell us who their improver is.

The laws.

But that, my good sir, is not my meaning. I want to know who the person

is, who, in the first place, knows the laws.

The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.

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

improve youth?

Certainly they are.

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

All of them.

By the goddess Here, that is good news! There are plenty of improvers,

then. And what do you say of the audience,--do they improve them?

Yes, they do.

And the senators?

Yes, the senators improve them.

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

improve them?

They improve them.

Then every Athenian improves and elevates them; all with the exception

of myself; and I alone am their corrupter? Is that what you affirm?

That is what I stoutly affirm.

I am very unfortunate if you are right. But suppose I ask you a

question: How about horses? Does one man do them harm and all the world

good? Is not the exact opposite the truth? One man is able to do them

good, or at least not many;--the trainer of horses, that is to say, does

them good, and others who have to do with them rather injure them?

Is not that true, Meletus, of horses, or of any other animals? Most

assuredly it is; whether you and Anytus say yes or no. Happy indeed

would be the condition of youth if they had one corrupter only, and

all the rest of the world were their improvers. But you, Meletus, have

sufficiently shown that you never had a thought about the young: your

carelessness is seen in your not caring about the very things which you

bring against me.

And now, Meletus, I will ask you another question--by Zeus I will:

Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? Answer,

friend, I say; the question is one which may be easily answered. Do not

the good do their neighbours good, and the bad do them evil?


And is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those

who live with him? Answer, my good friend, the law requires you to

answer--does any one like to be injured?

Certainly not.

And when you accuse me of corrupting and deteriorating the youth, do you

allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?

Intentionally, I say.

But you have just admitted that the good do their neighbours good, and

the evil do them evil. Now, is that a truth which your superior wisdom

has recognized thus early in life, and am I, at my age, in such darkness

and ignorance as not to know that if a man with whom I have to live is

corrupted by me, I am very likely to be harmed by him; and yet I corrupt

him, and intentionally, too--so you say, although neither I nor any

other human being is ever likely to be convinced by you. But either I do

not corrupt them, or I corrupt them unintentionally; and on either view

of the case you lie. If my offence is unintentional, the law has

no cognizance of unintentional offences: you ought to have taken me

privately, and warned and admonished me; for if I had been

better advised, I should have left off doing what I only did

unintentionally--no doubt I should; but you would have nothing to say to

me and refused to teach me. And now you bring me up in this court, which

is a place not of instruction, but of punishment.

It will be very clear to you, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus

has no care at all, great or small, about the matter. But still I should

like to know, Meletus, in what I am affirmed to corrupt the young. I

suppose you mean, as I infer from your indictment, that I teach them not

to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new

divinities or spiritual agencies in their stead. These are the lessons

by which I corrupt the youth, as you say.

Yes, that I say emphatically.

Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, tell me and the

court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you mean! for I do not as yet

understand whether you affirm that I teach other men to acknowledge

some gods, and therefore that I do believe in gods, and am not an entire

atheist--this you do not lay to my charge,--but only you say that they

are not the same gods which the city recognizes--the charge is that they

are different gods. Or, do you mean that I am an atheist simply, and a

teacher of atheism?

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

What an extraordinary statement! Why do you think so, Meletus? Do you

mean that I do not believe in the godhead of the sun or moon, like other


I assure you, judges, that he does not: for he says that the sun is

stone, and the moon earth.

Friend Meletus, you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras: and you have

but a bad opinion of the judges, if you fancy them illiterate to such

a degree as not to know that these doctrines are found in the books of

Anaxagoras the Clazomenian, which are full of them. And so, forsooth,

the youth are said to be taught them by Socrates, when there are not

unfrequently exhibitions of them at the theatre (Probably in allusion to

Aristophanes who caricatured, and to Euripides who borrowed the notions

of Anaxagoras, as well as to other dramatic poets.) (price of admission

one drachma at the most); and they might pay their money, and laugh at

Socrates if he pretends to father these extraordinary views. And so,

Meletus, you really think that I do not believe in any god?

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

Nobody will believe you, Meletus, and I am pretty sure that you do not

believe yourself. I cannot help thinking, men of Athens, that Meletus

is reckless and impudent, and that he has written this indictment in a

spirit of mere wantonness and youthful bravado. Has he not compounded a

riddle, thinking to try me? He said to himself:--I shall see whether

the wise Socrates will discover my facetious contradiction, or whether I

shall be able to deceive him and the rest of them. For he certainly does

appear to me to contradict himself in the indictment as much as if he

said that Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods, and yet of

believing in them--but this is not like a person who is in earnest.

I should like you, O men of Athens, to join me in examining what I

conceive to be his inconsistency; and do you, Meletus, answer. And

I must remind the audience of my request that they would not make a

disturbance if I speak in my accustomed manner:

Did ever man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human things, and not

of human beings?...I wish, men of Athens, that he would answer, and not

be always trying to get up an interruption. Did ever any man believe

in horsemanship, and not in horses? or in flute-playing, and not in

flute-players? No, my friend; I will answer to you and to the court, as

you refuse to answer for yourself. There is no man who ever did. But now

please to answer the next question: Can a man believe in spiritual and

divine agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?

He cannot.

How lucky I am to have extracted that answer, by the assistance of the

court! But then you swear in the indictment that I teach and believe in

divine or spiritual agencies (new or old, no matter for that); at any

rate, I believe in spiritual agencies,--so you say and swear in the

affidavit; and yet if I believe in divine beings, how can I help

believing in spirits or demigods;--must I not? To be sure I must; and

therefore I may assume that your silence gives consent. Now what are

spirits or demigods? Are they not either gods or the sons of gods?

Certainly they are.

But this is what I call the facetious riddle invented by you: the

demigods or spirits are gods, and you say first that I do not believe in

gods, and then again that I do believe in gods; that is, if I believe in

demigods. For if the demigods are the illegitimate sons of gods, whether

by the nymphs or by any other mothers, of whom they are said to be the

sons--what human being will ever believe that there are no gods if they

are the sons of gods? You might as well affirm the existence of mules,

and deny that of horses and asses. Such nonsense, Meletus, could only

have been intended by you to make trial of me. You have put this into

the indictment because you had nothing real of which to accuse me. But

no one who has a particle of understanding will ever be convinced by you

that the same men can believe in divine and superhuman things, and yet

not believe that there are gods and demigods and heroes.

I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus: any elaborate

defence is unnecessary, but I know only too well how many are the

enmities which I have incurred, and this is what will be my destruction

if I am destroyed;--not Meletus, nor yet Anytus, but the envy and

detraction of the world, which has been the death of many good men, and

will probably be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being

the last of them.

Some one will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of

life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end? To him I may

fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man who is good for anything

ought not to calculate the chance of living or dying; he ought only to

consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong--acting

the part of a good man or of a bad. Whereas, upon your view, the heroes

who fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis above

all, who altogether despised danger in comparison with disgrace; and

when he was so eager to slay Hector, his goddess mother said to him,

that if he avenged his companion Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would

die himself--'Fate,' she said, in these or the like words, 'waits for

you next after Hector;' he, receiving this warning, utterly despised

danger and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live

in dishonour, and not to avenge his friend. 'Let me die forthwith,'

he replies, 'and be avenged of my enemy, rather than abide here by the

beaked ships, a laughing-stock and a burden of the earth.' Had Achilles

any thought of death and danger? For wherever a man's place is, whether

the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a

commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he should

not think of death or of anything but of disgrace. And this, O men of

Athens, is a true saying.

Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if I who, when I

was ordered by the generals whom you chose to command me at Potidaea

and Amphipolis and Delium, remained where they placed me, like any other

man, facing death--if now, when, as I conceive and imagine, God orders

me to fulfil the philosopher's mission of searching into myself and

other men, I were to desert my post through fear of death, or any other

fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might justly be arraigned in

court for denying the existence of the gods, if I disobeyed the oracle

because I was afraid of death, fancying that I was wise when I was not

wise. For the fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not

real wisdom, being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows

whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest

evil, may not be the greatest good. Is not this ignorance of a

disgraceful sort, the ignorance which is the conceit that a man knows

what he does not know? And in this respect only I believe myself to

differ from men in general, and may perhaps claim to be wiser than

they are:--that whereas I know but little of the world below, I do not

suppose that I know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a

better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonourable, and I will never

fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil. And therefore

if you let me go now, and are not convinced by Anytus, who said that

since I had been prosecuted I must be put to death; (or if not that I

ought never to have been prosecuted at all); and that if I escape now,

your sons will all be utterly ruined by listening to my words--if you

say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and you shall

be let off, but upon one condition, that you are not to enquire and

speculate in this way any more, and that if you are caught doing so

again you shall die;--if this was the condition on which you let me go,

I should reply: Men of Athens, I honour and love you; but I shall obey

God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never

cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy, exhorting any

one whom I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend,--a

citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens,--are you

not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money and honour and

reputation, and caring so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest

improvement of the soul, which you never regard or heed at all? And if

the person with whom I am arguing, says: Yes, but I do care; then I do

not leave him or let him go at once; but I proceed to interrogate and

examine and cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue in

him, but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing the

greater, and overvaluing the less. And I shall repeat the same words to

every one whom I meet, young and old, citizen and alien, but especially

to the citizens, inasmuch as they are my brethren. For know that this is

the command of God; and I believe that no greater good has ever happened

in the state than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about

persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought for your

persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to care about the

greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given

by money, but that from virtue comes money and every other good of

man, public as well as private. This is my teaching, and if this is the

doctrine which corrupts the youth, I am a mischievous person. But if

any one says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth.

Wherefore, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not

as Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whichever you do,

understand that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I have to die

many times.

Men of Athens, do not interrupt, but hear me; there was an understanding

between us that you should hear me to the end: I have something more to

say, at which you may be inclined to cry out; but I believe that to hear

me will be good for you, and therefore I beg that you will not cry out.

I would have you know, that if you kill such an one as I am, you will

injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Nothing will injure me,

not Meletus nor yet Anytus--they cannot, for a bad man is not permitted

to injure a better than himself. I do not deny that Anytus may, perhaps,

kill him, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights; and

he may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is inflicting a great

injury upon him: but there I do not agree. For the evil of doing as

he is doing--the evil of unjustly taking away the life of another--is

greater far.

And now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may

think, but for yours, that you may not sin against the God by condemning

me, who am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find

a successor to me, who, if I may use such a ludicrous figure of speech,

am a sort of gadfly, given to the state by God; and the state is a great

and noble steed who is tardy in his motions owing to his very size,

and requires to be stirred into life. I am that gadfly which God has

attached to the state, and all day long and in all places am always

fastening upon you, arousing and persuading and reproaching you. You

will not easily find another like me, and therefore I would advise you

to spare me. I dare say that you may feel out of temper (like a person

who is suddenly awakened from sleep), and you think that you might

easily strike me dead as Anytus advises, and then you would sleep on

for the remainder of your lives, unless God in his care of you sent you

another gadfly. When I say that I am given to you by God, the proof of

my mission is this:--if I had been like other men, I should not have

neglected all my own concerns or patiently seen the neglect of them

during all these years, and have been doing yours, coming to you

individually like a father or elder brother, exhorting you to regard

virtue; such conduct, I say, would be unlike human nature. If I had

gained anything, or if my exhortations had been paid, there would have

been some sense in my doing so; but now, as you will perceive, not even

the impudence of my accusers dares to say that I have ever exacted

or sought pay of any one; of that they have no witness. And I have a

sufficient witness to the truth of what I say--my poverty.

Some one may wonder why I go about in private giving advice and busying

myself with the concerns of others, but do not venture to come forward

in public and advise the state. I will tell you why. You have heard me

speak at sundry times and in divers places of an oracle or sign

which comes to me, and is the divinity which Meletus ridicules in the

indictment. This sign, which is a kind of voice, first began to come

to me when I was a child; it always forbids but never commands me to

do anything which I am going to do. This is what deters me from being a

politician. And rightly, as I think. For I am certain, O men of Athens,

that if I had engaged in politics, I should have perished long ago, and

done no good either to you or to myself. And do not be offended at my

telling you the truth: for the truth is, that no man who goes to war

with you or any other multitude, honestly striving against the many

lawless and unrighteous deeds which are done in a state, will save his

life; he who will fight for the right, if he would live even for a brief

space, must have a private station and not a public one.

I can give you convincing evidence of what I say, not words only, but

what you value far more--actions. Let me relate to you a passage of my

own life which will prove to you that I should never have yielded to

injustice from any fear of death, and that 'as I should have refused to

yield' I must have died at once. I will tell you a tale of the courts,

not very interesting perhaps, but nevertheless true. The only office of

state which I ever held, O men of Athens, was that of senator: the tribe

Antiochis, which is my tribe, had the presidency at the trial of the

generals who had not taken up the bodies of the slain after the battle

of Arginusae; and you proposed to try them in a body, contrary to law,

as you all thought afterwards; but at the time I was the only one of the

Prytanes who was opposed to the illegality, and I gave my vote against

you; and when the orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and you

called and shouted, I made up my mind that I would run the risk, having

law and justice with me, rather than take part in your injustice because

I feared imprisonment and death. This happened in the days of the

democracy. But when the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they sent

for me and four others into the rotunda, and bade us bring Leon the

Salaminian from Salamis, as they wanted to put him to death. This was a

specimen of the sort of commands which they were always giving with

the view of implicating as many as possible in their crimes; and then I

showed, not in word only but in deed, that, if I may be allowed to use

such an expression, I cared not a straw for death, and that my great and

only care was lest I should do an unrighteous or unholy thing. For

the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing

wrong; and when we came out of the rotunda the other four went to

Salamis and fetched Leon, but I went quietly home. For which I might

have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards

come to an end. And many will witness to my words.

Now do you really imagine that I could have survived all these years,

if I had led a public life, supposing that like a good man I had always

maintained the right and had made justice, as I ought, the first thing?

No indeed, men of Athens, neither I nor any other man. But I have been

always the same in all my actions, public as well as private, and never

have I yielded any base compliance to those who are slanderously termed

my disciples, or to any other. Not that I have any regular disciples.

But if any one likes to come and hear me while I am pursuing my mission,

whether he be young or old, he is not excluded. Nor do I converse only

with those who pay; but any one, whether he be rich or poor, may ask and

answer me and listen to my words; and whether he turns out to be a bad

man or a good one, neither result can be justly imputed to me; for I

never taught or professed to teach him anything. And if any one says

that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all

the world has not heard, let me tell you that he is lying.

But I shall be asked, Why do people delight in continually conversing

with you? I have told you already, Athenians, the whole truth about this

matter: they like to hear the cross-examination of the pretenders to

wisdom; there is amusement in it. Now this duty of cross-examining other

men has been imposed upon me by God; and has been signified to me by

oracles, visions, and in every way in which the will of divine power was

ever intimated to any one. This is true, O Athenians, or, if not true,

would be soon refuted. If I am or have been corrupting the youth, those

of them who are now grown up and have become sensible that I gave them

bad advice in the days of their youth should come forward as accusers,

and take their revenge; or if they do not like to come themselves, some

of their relatives, fathers, brothers, or other kinsmen, should say what

evil their families have suffered at my hands. Now is their time. Many

of them I see in the court. There is Crito, who is of the same age and

of the same deme with myself, and there is Critobulus his son, whom I

also see. Then again there is Lysanias of Sphettus, who is the father of

Aeschines--he is present; and also there is Antiphon of Cephisus, who is

the father of Epigenes; and there are the brothers of several who have

associated with me. There is Nicostratus the son of Theosdotides, and

the brother of Theodotus (now Theodotus himself is dead, and therefore

he, at any rate, will not seek to stop him); and there is Paralus the

son of Demodocus, who had a brother Theages; and Adeimantus the son of

Ariston, whose brother Plato is present; and Aeantodorus, who is the

brother of Apollodorus, whom I also see. I might mention a great many

others, some of whom Meletus should have produced as witnesses in

the course of his speech; and let him still produce them, if he has

forgotten--I will make way for him. And let him say, if he has any

testimony of the sort which he can produce. Nay, Athenians, the very

opposite is the truth. For all these are ready to witness on behalf of

the corrupter, of the injurer of their kindred, as Meletus and Anytus

call me; not the corrupted youth only--there might have been a motive

for that--but their uncorrupted elder relatives. Why should they too

support me with their testimony? Why, indeed, except for the sake of

truth and justice, and because they know that I am speaking the truth,

and that Meletus is a liar.

Well, Athenians, this and the like of this is all the defence which I

have to offer. Yet a word more. Perhaps there may be some one who is

offended at me, when he calls to mind how he himself on a similar, or

even a less serious occasion, prayed and entreated the judges with many

tears, and how he produced his children in court, which was a moving

spectacle, together with a host of relations and friends; whereas I,

who am probably in danger of my life, will do none of these things. The

contrast may occur to his mind, and he may be set against me, and vote

in anger because he is displeased at me on this account. Now if there

be such a person among you,--mind, I do not say that there is,--to him I

may fairly reply: My friend, I am a man, and like other men, a creature

of flesh and blood, and not 'of wood or stone,' as Homer says; and I

have a family, yes, and sons, O Athenians, three in number, one almost a

man, and two others who are still young; and yet I will not bring any of

them hither in order to petition you for an acquittal. And why not? Not

from any self-assertion or want of respect for you. Whether I am or am

not afraid of death is another question, of which I will not now speak.

But, having regard to public opinion, I feel that such conduct would be

discreditable to myself, and to you, and to the whole state. One who

has reached my years, and who has a name for wisdom, ought not to demean

himself. Whether this opinion of me be deserved or not, at any rate the

world has decided that Socrates is in some way superior to other

men. And if those among you who are said to be superior in wisdom

and courage, and any other virtue, demean themselves in this way, how

shameful is their conduct! I have seen men of reputation, when they have

been condemned, behaving in the strangest manner: they seemed to fancy

that they were going to suffer something dreadful if they died, and that

they could be immortal if you only allowed them to live; and I think

that such are a dishonour to the state, and that any stranger coming in

would have said of them that the most eminent men of Athens, to whom the

Athenians themselves give honour and command, are no better than women.

And I say that these things ought not to be done by those of us who have

a reputation; and if they are done, you ought not to permit them; you

ought rather to show that you are far more disposed to condemn the man

who gets up a doleful scene and makes the city ridiculous, than him who

holds his peace.

But, setting aside the question of public opinion, there seems to be

something wrong in asking a favour of a judge, and thus procuring an

acquittal, instead of informing and convincing him. For his duty is,

not to make a present of justice, but to give judgment; and he has sworn

that he will judge according to the laws, and not according to his own

good pleasure; and we ought not to encourage you, nor should you allow

yourselves to be encouraged, in this habit of perjury--there can be

no piety in that. Do not then require me to do what I consider

dishonourable and impious and wrong, especially now, when I am being

tried for impiety on the indictment of Meletus. For if, O men of Athens,

by force of persuasion and entreaty I could overpower your oaths, then

I should be teaching you to believe that there are no gods, and in

defending should simply convict myself of the charge of not believing in

them. But that is not so--far otherwise. For I do believe that there

are gods, and in a sense higher than that in which any of my accusers

believe in them. And to you and to God I commit my cause, to be

determined by you as is best for you and me.


There are many reasons why I am not grieved, O men of Athens, at the

vote of condemnation. I expected it, and am only surprised that the

votes are so nearly equal; for I had thought that the majority against

me would have been far larger; but now, had thirty votes gone over to

the other side, I should have been acquitted. And I may say, I think,

that I have escaped Meletus. I may say more; for without the assistance

of Anytus and Lycon, any one may see that he would not have had a fifth

part of the votes, as the law requires, in which case he would have

incurred a fine of a thousand drachmae.

And so he proposes death as the penalty. And what shall I propose on my

part, O men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. And what is my due?

What return shall be made to the man who has never had the wit to be

idle during his whole life; but has been careless of what the many care

for--wealth, and family interests, and military offices, and speaking in

the assembly, and magistracies, and plots, and parties. Reflecting that

I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live, I did not go

where I could do no good to you or to myself; but where I could do the

greatest good privately to every one of you, thither I went, and sought

to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek

virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to

the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this

should be the order which he observes in all his actions. What shall be

done to such an one? Doubtless some good thing, O men of Athens, if he

has his reward; and the good should be of a kind suitable to him. What

would be a reward suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, and

who desires leisure that he may instruct you? There can be no reward so

fitting as maintenance in the Prytaneum, O men of Athens, a reward which

he deserves far more than the citizen who has won the prize at Olympia

in the horse or chariot race, whether the chariots were drawn by two

horses or by many. For I am in want, and he has enough; and he only

gives you the appearance of happiness, and I give you the reality. And

if I am to estimate the penalty fairly, I should say that maintenance in

the Prytaneum is the just return.

Perhaps you think that I am braving you in what I am saying now, as in

what I said before about the tears and prayers. But this is not so. I

speak rather because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged

any one, although I cannot convince you--the time has been too short; if

there were a law at Athens, as there is in other cities, that a capital

cause should not be decided in one day, then I believe that I should

have convinced you. But I cannot in a moment refute great slanders; and,

as I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not

wrong myself. I will not say of myself that I deserve any evil, or

propose any penalty. Why should I? because I am afraid of the penalty of

death which Meletus proposes? When I do not know whether death is a good

or an evil, why should I propose a penalty which would certainly be an

evil? Shall I say imprisonment? And why should I live in prison, and be

the slave of the magistrates of the year--of the Eleven? Or shall the

penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the

same objection. I should have to lie in prison, for money I have none,

and cannot pay. And if I say exile (and this may possibly be the penalty

which you will affix), I must indeed be blinded by the love of life, if

I am so irrational as to expect that when you, who are my own citizens,

cannot endure my discourses and words, and have found them so grievous

and odious that you will have no more of them, others are likely to

endure me. No indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. And what

a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, ever

changing my place of exile, and always being driven out! For I am quite

sure that wherever I go, there, as here, the young men will flock to

me; and if I drive them away, their elders will drive me out at their

request; and if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me

out for their sakes.

Some one will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and

then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you?

Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this.

For if I tell you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the

God, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe

that I am serious; and if I say again that daily to discourse about

virtue, and of those other things about which you hear me examining

myself and others, is the greatest good of man, and that the unexamined

life is not worth living, you are still less likely to believe me. Yet

I say what is true, although a thing of which it is hard for me to

persuade you. Also, I have never been accustomed to think that I deserve

to suffer any harm. Had I money I might have estimated the offence at

what I was able to pay, and not have been much the worse. But I have

none, and therefore I must ask you to proportion the fine to my means.

Well, perhaps I could afford a mina, and therefore I propose that

penalty: Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus, my friends here, bid

me say thirty minae, and they will be the sureties. Let thirty minae be

the penalty; for which sum they will be ample security to you.


Not much time will be gained, O Athenians, in return for the evil name

which you will get from the detractors of the city, who will say that

you killed Socrates, a wise man; for they will call me wise, even

although I am not wise, when they want to reproach you. If you had

waited a little while, your desire would have been fulfilled in the

course of nature. For I am far advanced in years, as you may perceive,

and not far from death. I am speaking now not to all of you, but only to

those who have condemned me to death. And I have another thing to say to

them: you think that I was convicted because I had no words of the sort

which would have procured my acquittal--I mean, if I had thought fit to

leave nothing undone or unsaid. Not so; the deficiency which led to my

conviction was not of words--certainly not. But I had not the boldness

or impudence or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to

do, weeping and wailing and lamenting, and saying and doing many things

which you have been accustomed to hear from others, and which, as I

maintain, are unworthy of me. I thought at the time that I ought not to

do anything common or mean when in danger: nor do I now repent of the

style of my defence; I would rather die having spoken after my manner,

than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor yet at law

ought I or any man to use every way of escaping death. Often in battle

there can be no doubt that if a man will throw away his arms, and fall

on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death; and in other

dangers there are other ways of escaping death, if a man is willing to

say and do anything. The difficulty, my friends, is not to avoid death,

but to avoid unrighteousness; for that runs faster than death. I am old

and move slowly, and the slower runner has overtaken me, and my accusers

are keen and quick, and the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has

overtaken them. And now I depart hence condemned by you to suffer the

penalty of death,--they too go their ways condemned by the truth

to suffer the penalty of villainy and wrong; and I must abide by my

award--let them abide by theirs. I suppose that these things may be

regarded as fated,--and I think that they are well.

And now, O men who have condemned me, I would fain prophesy to you;

for I am about to die, and in the hour of death men are gifted with

prophetic power. And I prophesy to you who are my murderers, that

immediately after my departure punishment far heavier than you have

inflicted on me will surely await you. Me you have killed because you

wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives.

But that will not be as you suppose: far otherwise. For I say that there

will be more accusers of you than there are now; accusers whom

hitherto I have restrained: and as they are younger they will be more

inconsiderate with you, and you will be more offended at them. If you

think that by killing men you can prevent some one from censuring your

evil lives, you are mistaken; that is not a way of escape which is

either possible or honourable; the easiest and the noblest way is not

to be disabling others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the

prophecy which I utter before my departure to the judges who have

condemned me.

Friends, who would have acquitted me, I would like also to talk with you

about the thing which has come to pass, while the magistrates are busy,

and before I go to the place at which I must die. Stay then a little,

for we may as well talk with one another while there is time. You are my

friends, and I should like to show you the meaning of this event which

has happened to me. O my judges--for you I may truly call judges--I

should like to tell you of a wonderful circumstance. Hitherto the divine

faculty of which the internal oracle is the source has constantly been

in the habit of opposing me even about trifles, if I was going to make

a slip or error in any matter; and now as you see there has come upon me

that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the last and

worst evil. But the oracle made no sign of opposition, either when I was

leaving my house in the morning, or when I was on my way to the court,

or while I was speaking, at anything which I was going to say; and yet I

have often been stopped in the middle of a speech, but now in nothing

I either said or did touching the matter in hand has the oracle opposed

me. What do I take to be the explanation of this silence? I will tell

you. It is an intimation that what has happened to me is a good, and

that those of us who think that death is an evil are in error. For the

customary sign would surely have opposed me had I been going to evil and

not to good.

Let us reflect in another way, and we shall see that there is great

reason to hope that death is a good; for one of two things--either death

is a state of nothingness and utter unconsciousness, or, as men say,

there is a change and migration of the soul from this world to another.

Now if you suppose that there is no consciousness, but a sleep like

the sleep of him who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an

unspeakable gain. For if a person were to select the night in which his

sleep was undisturbed even by dreams, and were to compare with this the

other days and nights of his life, and then were to tell us how many

days and nights he had passed in the course of his life better and more

pleasantly than this one, I think that any man, I will not say a private

man, but even the great king will not find many such days or nights,

when compared with the others. Now if death be of such a nature, I say

that to die is gain; for eternity is then only a single night. But if

death is the journey to another place, and there, as men say, all the

dead abide, what good, O my friends and judges, can be greater than

this? If indeed when the pilgrim arrives in the world below, he is

delivered from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the

true judges who are said to give judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus

and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in

their own life, that pilgrimage will be worth making. What would not a

man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and

Homer? Nay, if this be true, let me die again and again. I myself, too,

shall have a wonderful interest in there meeting and conversing with

Palamedes, and Ajax the son of Telamon, and any other ancient hero who

has suffered death through an unjust judgment; and there will be no

small pleasure, as I think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs.

Above all, I shall then be able to continue my search into true and

false knowledge; as in this world, so also in the next; and I shall find

out who is wise, and who pretends to be wise, and is not. What would

not a man give, O judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great

Trojan expedition; or Odysseus or Sisyphus, or numberless others, men

and women too! What infinite delight would there be in conversing with

them and asking them questions! In another world they do not put a man

to death for asking questions: assuredly not. For besides being happier

than we are, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.

Wherefore, O judges, be of good cheer about death, and know of a

certainty, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or

after death. He and his are not neglected by the gods; nor has my own

approaching end happened by mere chance. But I see clearly that the

time had arrived when it was better for me to die and be released from

trouble; wherefore the oracle gave no sign. For which reason, also, I am

not angry with my condemners, or with my accusers; they have done me no

harm, although they did not mean to do me any good; and for this I may

gently blame them.

Still I have a favour to ask of them. When my sons are grown up, I would

ask you, O my friends, to punish them; and I would have you trouble

them, as I have troubled you, if they seem to care about riches, or

anything, more than about virtue; or if they pretend to be something

when they are really nothing,--then reprove them, as I have reproved

you, for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and

thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. And

if you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your


The hour of departure has arrived, and we go our ways--I to die, and you

to live. Which is better God only knows.

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