From Ancient and Medieval Philosophy: Essential Selections, by James Fieser
Copyright 2016, updated 12/1/2016
Life of Socrates
Portrayals of Socrates: Aristophanes, Xenophon, Aristotle
Euthyphro: What is Piety?
Apology: Socrates on Trial
Crito: Obedience to the State
Phaedo: Socrates’ Death
LIFE OF SOCRATES (469–399 BCE) (Diogenes Laertius, Lives, 2)
Socrates was the son of Sophroniscus, a sculptor, and of Phsenarete, a midwife. As Plato records in his Theaetetus, he was a citizen of Athens, of the deme of Alopece. . . . He was a pupil of Anaxagoras, as some people say, not of Damon as the other story goes, as related by Alexander in his Successions. After the condemnation of Anaxagoras, he became a disciple of Archelaus, the natural philosopher. Indeed, Aristoxenus says that Archelaus was very fond of him. . . .
Socrates believed that natural philosophy had no immediate bearing on our interests, and he began to enter upon moral speculations, both in his workshop and in the marketplace. He said that the objects of his search were “Whatever good or harm can man happen in his own house” [Homer, Odyssey]. Very often, while arguing vehemently, men beat him with their fists, tore out his hair, and laughed at and ridiculed him. But he tolerated all this with great composure. [Alternative translations: “such was his vehemence in discourse, that he would frequently bend his fists, knock his knuckles against each other, and twitch the hairs of his beard from his chin, in such a way manner that the people condemning his odd gestures would laugh at him and insult him, which nevertheless he accepted with an extraordinary patience”]. Once when he had been kicked and knocked around, and had endured it all patiently, someone expressed surprise by this. Socrates replied, “If a mule kicked me, would you expect me to bring a law suit against it?”. . . . They say that Euripides gave Socrates a small work of Heraclitus to read, and asked him afterwards what he thought of it. He replied, "What I have understood is good, and so, I think, is the part that I have not understood; but the book requires a diver from Delos to get to bottom of it." He paid great attention also to the training of the body, and was always in excellent condition himself. . . .
Aristotle says that he had two wives. The first was Xanthippe, by whom he had a son named Lamprocles, and the second was Mrrto, the daughter of Aristides the Just. Socrates took her without any dowry, and by her he had two sons, Sophroniscus and Menexeuus. But some say that Myrto was his first wife. Some, among whom are Satyrus and Hieronymus of Rhodes, say that he had them both at the same time. For they say that the Athenians, because of the scarcity of men, passed a vote, with the purpose of increasing the population, that a man might marry one citizen, and might also have children by another who would be legitimate. For this reason Socrates did so. . . .
Socrates would practice the lyre when he had time, saying that it was not absurd to learn anything that one did not know. Also, he would frequently dance, thinking such an exercise good for the health of the body, as Xenophon relates in his Banquet. . . . Once when Xanthippe scolded him and then threw water at him, he said to her "Did I not say that Xanthippe’s thundering would end in rain?" When Alcibiades said to him, "The explosive temper of Xanthippe is intolerable," he replied, "But I am used to it, just as I would be if I were always hearing the noise of a pulley, and you yourself endure the sound of geese cackling." Alcibiades answered, "Yes, but they bring me eggs and goslings." Socrates rejoined, "Well, Xanthippe brings me children." Once she attacked him in the marketplace, and tore his cloak off. His friends advised him to hit her back." Yes, by Jove," said he, "and while we are boxing you may all shout out, Well done, Socrates, good hit, Xanthippe.” He would say, that one ought to live with an impatient woman, just as horsemen manage violent-tempered horses, saying "for when they have once mastered them, they are easily able to manage all others; so I, after managing Xanthippe, can easily live with anyone else." . . .
Socrates encountered great envy, but he also brought resentment on himself by convicting men of folly and ignorance when they thought highly of themselves. Undoubtedly he did this to Anytus, as is shown in Plato's Meno. For he, not being able to bear Socrates' jesting, first of all set Aristophanes to attack him, and then persuaded Meletus to institute a prosecution against him, on the ground of impiety and of corrupting the youth of the city. Accordingly Meletus instituted the prosecution, Polyeuctus delivered the speech, as Pharorinus records in his Universal History. Polycrates, the sophist, wrote the speech which was delivered, as Hermippus says, not Anytus, as others say. . . .
So he died. But the Athenians immediately regretted their action, and so they closed all the training grounds and gymnasia. They banished his accusers, and condemned Meletus to death. They honored Socrates with a bronze statue, which was the work of Lysippus, and placed it in the hall where the sacred vessels are kept. But Anytus had already left Athens, and the people of Heraclea banished him from that city the day of his arrival. . . . It appears that [Socrates’ follower] Antisthenes was the cause of Anytus's banishment and of Meletus's death. For having met with some young men of Pontus, who had come to Athens because of the reputation of Socrates, he took them to Anytus, telling them that in moral philosophy he was wiser than Socrates. Those who stood by were indignant at this, and drove Anytus away.
PORTRAYALS OF SOCRATES: ARISTOPHANES, XENOPHON, ARISTOTLE
Aristophanes: Socrates the Crazy Natural Philosopher and Sophist
(Strepsiades Knocks at the door.)
Strepsiades: Boy! Little boy!
Student (from within): Go to the devil! Who it is that knocked at the door?
Strepsiades: Strepsiades, the son of Phidon, of Cicynna.
Student: You are an idiot. You have kicked against the door so carelessly that it caused the miscarriage of an idea that I had conceived.
Strepsiades: I apologize. I’m from the country, far from here. Tell me what the thing was that miscarried.
Student: It is not permitted to mention it, except to students.
Strepsiades: Don’t worry, you can tell me since I’ve come here to be a student at the thinking-shop.
Student: OK, I will tell you, but you must keep these as secrets. Socrates recently asked Chaerephon about a flea, and how many of its own feet it had jumped. For after having bit Chaerephon’s eyebrow, it jumped away onto Socrates’ head.
Strepsiades: How then did he measure this?
Student: Most cleverly. He melted some wax; and then took the flea and dipped its feet into the wax. It then had a pair of Persian slippers stuck to its feet when cooled. He gently loosened these and measured the space inside.
Strepsiades: Mighty Zeus! What subtlety of thought! . . . Why then do we admire Thales? Open up the thinking-shop right now, and bring me to Socrates as quickly as possible so I can learn. Hurry, open the door.
(The door of the thinking-shop opens and the students of Socrates all have their heads on the ground, while Socrates himself is suspended in the air in a basket.)
Strepsiades: Good Hercules! What country are these wild beasts from?
Student: What are you wonder at? What do they seem like to you?
Strepsiades: Like the prisoners, like the Spartans who were taken at Pylos. But why in the world do they look at the ground?
Student: They are searching for things below the earth.
Strepsiades: Are they searching for roots? Tell them not to bother since I know where there are nice and large ones. What about those people over there who are hunched over so much?
Student: These are groping about in darkness under Tartarus.
Strepsiades: Why then do their butts look toward heaven?
Student: They’re learning astronomy. . . .
(Strepsiades looks up and sees Socrates.)
Strepsiades: Tell me, who is that man in the basket?
Student: The man himself.
Strepsiades: And who is that?
Strepsiades: Socrates! (Strepsiades speaks to the student) Shout out to him for me.
Student: No, shout to him yourself. I have no time for this!
Strepsiades: Socrates! My dear Socrates!
Socrates: Why do you call me, you creature of a day?
Strepsiades: First tell me, I beg you, what you are doing.
Socrates: I am walking in the air, and speculating about the sun.
Strepsiades: So you look down upon the gods from your basket, and not from the earth?
Socrates: I would not have properly discovered heavenly things if I did not suspend my intellect, and mixed my thought in a subtle form with air which is similar to it. If instead I was on the ground and speculated from below on things above, I would never have discovered them. For the earth forcibly attracts to itself the meditative moisture. Water-cresses also undergo the very same thing.
Strepsiades: What are you saying? Does meditation attract moisture to the water-cresses? Come then, my dear Socrates, come down to me so that you can teach me those things which I have come for.
(Socrates lowers himself and gets out of the basket.)
Socrates: What did you come for?
Strepsiades: I want to learn how to argue. I have borrowed money, and because of my very unpleasant creditors I have been pillaged and plundered, and had my possessions seized for debt.
Socrates: How did you get into debt without knowing about it?
Strepsiades: I have a horse-disease that is eating away at me. But please teach me one of your two types of arguing, specifically the one that never has to make good on debts. I will swear by the gods that I will pay you whatever you ask of me.
Socrates: By what gods will you swear? For, in the first place, gods are not a current coin with us. [Aristophanes, The Clouds]
Xenophon: Socrates the Model of Human Perfection who sought Death to Halt Dementia
I have often wondered by what arguments those who indicted Socrates could have persuaded the Athenians that his life was justly forfeited to the state. The indictment was to this effect: "Socrates is guilty of crime by refusing to recognize the gods acknowledged by the state, and importing strange divinities of his own; he is further guilty of corrupting the young." . . .
Socrates always lived in the public eye. At early morning he was to be seen going to one of the promenades, or wrestling-grounds. At noon he would appear with the gathering crowds in the market-place. As day declined, wherever the largest crowd might be found, there he would be, talking for the most part, while anyone who chose might stop and listen. Yet no one ever heard him say, or saw him do anything impious or irreverent. Indeed, in contrast to others, he turned away from all discussion of high matters such as the nature of the universe, how the "cosmos" (as the savants phrase it) came into being, or by what forces the celestial phenomena arise. To trouble one's brain about such matters was, he argued, to play the fool. He would ask first: Did these investigators feel their knowledge of things human so complete that they commit themselves to these lofty speculations? . . . But if this was his mode of describing those who meddle with such matters as these, he himself never wearied of discussing human topics. What is piety, or impiety, or the beautiful, or the ugly, or the noble, or the base? What is meant by just and unjust, or sobriety and madness, or courage and cowardice? What is a state, or a statesman? What is a ruler over men? What is a ruling character? and other similar problems. The knowledge of these, as he put it, conferred a claim of nobility on the possessor, whereas those who lacked the knowledge might deservedly be stigmatized as slaves. . . .
No less surprising to my mind is the belief that Socrates corrupted the young. This man, beyond what has been already stated, kept his sexual appetites and passions under strict control. He was preeminently capable of enduring winter's cold and summer's heat and every kind of toil. He was so schooled to curtail his needs that with the scantiest of means he never lacked sufficiency. Is it, then, credible that such a man could have made others irreverent or lawless, or immoral, or weak in face of toil? On the contrary, did he not save many by rousing within them a desire for virtue, and infusing within them the hope that, through careful management of themselves, they might grow to be truly beautiful and good? While he never undertook to be a teacher of virtue, but being evidently virtuous himself he made those who associated with him hope that by imitating they might at last resemble him. . . .
There is a popular belief (in accordance with views maintained concerning Socrates in speech and writing, and in either case conjecturally) that, however powerful he may have been in stimulating men to virtue in theory, in practice he was incapable of guiding them. It would be well for those who adopt this view to weigh carefully not only what Socrates accomplished "by way of criticism" when cross-questioning those who conceived themselves to be possessed of all knowledge, but also his everyday conversation with those who spent their time in close intercourse with himself. Having done this, let them decide whether he was incapable of making his companions better. . . .
To me, personally, he was what I have myself tried to describe. He was so pious and devoutly religious that he would take no step apart from the will of heaven. He was so just and upright that he never did even a trifling injury to any living soul. He was so self-controlled, so temperate, that he never at any time chose the sweeter in place of the better. He was so sensible, wise, and prudent that in distinguishing the better from the worse he never erred. Nor had he need of any helper, but for the knowledge of these matters, his judgment was at once infallible and self-sufficing. Capable of reasonably setting forth and defining moral questions, he was also able to test others, and where they erred, to cross-examine and convict them, and so to impel and guide them in the path of virtue and noble manhood. With these characteristics, he seemed to be the very model of human perfection and happiness. Such is my assessment. If the verdict fails to satisfy, I would ask those who disagree with it to place the character of any other side by side with this delineation, and then pass sentence. [Xenophon, Memorabilia, 1, 4]
Among the reminiscences of Socrates, none, as it seems to me, is more deserving of record than the guidance he took with himself (after being cited to appear before the court), not only with regard to his defense, but also as to the ending of his life. Others have written on this theme, and all without exception have touched upon the lofty style of the philosopher, which may be taken as a proof that the language used by Socrates was really of that type. But none of these writers has brought out clearly the fact that Socrates had come to regard death as for himself preferable to life. Consequently, there is a suspicion of recklessness in the arrogance of his speech. We have, however, from the lips of one of his intimate acquaintances, Hermogenes, the son of Hipponicus, an account of him that shows how his lofty performance was altogether in keeping with the master's rational purpose. Hermogenes says that, seeing Socrates discoursing on every topic rather than that of his impending trial, he directly asked him whether he should rather be debating the line of his defense. To this Socrates immediately answered: "What! do I not seem to you to have spent my whole life in pondering my defense?" When Hermogenes asked him, "How?" he added "By a lifelong persistence in doing nothing wrong, which I take to be the best practice for one’s defense that a man could devise." Returning to the topic, Hermogenes demanded: "Do you not see, Socrates, how often Athenian juries are compelled by arguments to put even innocent people to death, and no less often to acquit the guilty, either through some touch of pity in reaction to the pleadings, or that the defendant had skill to turn some charming phrase?"
Thus appealed to, Socrates replied: "No, solemnly I tell you, twice already I have attempted to consider my defense, and twice the divinity has hindered me." Hermogenes remarked, "That is strange!" Socrates answered again: "Strange, do you call it, that to God it should seem better for me to die at once? Do you not know that up to this moment I will not concede to any man to have lived a better life than I have. What can exceed the pleasure, which has been mine, of knowing that my whole life has been spent holily and justly? And indeed this verdict of self-approval I found re-echoed in the opinion which my friends and intimates have formed concerning me. Now if my age is still to be prolonged, I know that I cannot escape paying the penalty of old age, in increasing dimness of sight and dullness of hearing. I will find myself slower to learn new lessons, and quicker to forget the lessons I have learned. If to these are added the consciousness of failing faculties and the sting of shame, what prospect do I have of any further joy in living? It may be, you know, that God out of his great kindness is intervening in my behalf to permit me to close my life in the ripeness of age, and by the gentlest of deaths. For if at this time the sentence of death is passed upon me, it is plain I will be allowed to meet an end which, in the opinion of those who have studied the matter, is not only the easiest in itself, but one which will cause the least trouble to one’s friends, while producing the deepest longing for the departed. For of necessity he will only be thought of with regret and longing who leaves nothing behind unseemly or uncomfortable to haunt the imagination of those beside him, but, sound of body, and his soul still capable of friendly repose, fades tranquilly away. " [Xenophon, Apology]
Aristotle: Socrates the Philosopher of Ignorance, Virtue, Definition, Analogy
Socrates would ask questions and not to answer them, for he would admit that he did not know. [Aristotle, Sophistical Refutations]
After the [Presocratic] systems we have named came the philosophy of Plato, which in most respects followed these thinkers, but had uniquenesses that distinguished it from the philosophy of the Italians. For, having in his youth first become familiar with Cratylus and with the Heraclitean doctrines (that all sensible things are ever in a state of flux and there is no knowledge about them), these views he held even in later years. Socrates, however, was busy with ethical matters and, while neglecting the world of nature as a whole, he was seeking the universal in these ethical matters. He grounded thought for the first time upon definitions; Plato accepted his teaching, but held that the problem applied not to sensible things but to [metaphysical] entities of another kind; for this reason, the common definition could not be a definition of any sensible thing, since they were always changing. . . .
Socrates was occupying himself with the excellences of character [i.e., virtues], and in connection with them became the first to raise the problem of universal definition. For of the physicists Democritus only touched on the subject to a small extent, and in some way defined in the hot and the cold. The Pythagoreans had before this examined a few things, whose definitions they connected with numbers, for example, opportunity, justice, or marriage. But it was natural that Socrates should be seeking the essence, for he was seeking to syllogize, and “what a thing is” is the starting-point of syllogisms. For there was as yet none of the dialectical power which enables people even without knowledge of the essence to speculate about contraries and inquire whether the same science deals with contraries. For two things may be fairly ascribed to Socrates: inductive arguments [by analogy] and universal definition. Both of these are concerned with the starting-point of science. But Socrates did not make the universals or the definitions exist apart [from objects]. On the other hand, defenders of the ideal theory [i.e., Plato] gave them separate existence, and this was the kind of thing they called Forms. [Aristotle, Metaphysics 1.6, 13.4]
EUTHYPHRO: WHAT IS PIETY? (Plato, Euthyphro, complete)
Meletus’s Indictment against Socrates
Euthyphro: Why have you left your usual spot at the Lyceum, Socrates? What are you doing here at the Porch of the King Magistrate? Surely you cannot be involved in a prosecution before the King Magistrate, like I am.
Socrates: Not in a prosecution, Euthyphro, “indictment” is the word which the Athenians use.
Euthyphro: What! I suppose that someone has indicted you, for I cannot believe that you are indicting someone.
Socrates: Certainly not.
Euthyphro: Then someone else is indicting you?
Euthyphro: Who is he?
Socrates: A young man who is little known, Euthyphro, and I hardly know him myself. His name is Meletus, and he is from the deme of Pitthis [a suburb of Athens]. Perhaps you remember his appearance: he has a beaked nose, long straight hair, and a thin beard.
Euthyphro: No, I do not remember him, Socrates. So, what is the charge that he brings against you?
Socrates: What is the charge? Well, it is a very serious one, which shows a good deal of character in this young man, and for which he is certainly not to be despised. He says he knows how the youth are corrupted and who are their corruptors. I imagine that he must be a wise man, and seeing that I am the reverse of a wise man, he has discovered me, and is going to accuse me of corrupting his young friends. Our mother the state is to be the judge of this. It seems to me that, of all our political men, he is the only one who begins the right way, with the cultivation of virtue in youth. Like a good farmer, he is first concerned with the young branches, and clears away us who are the destroyers of them. This is only the first step, for he will next attend to the older branches. If he goes on as he has begun, he will be a very great public benefactor.
Euthyphro: I hope that he may. But I fear, Socrates, that the opposite will turn out to be the truth. My opinion is that in attacking you he is simply aiming a blow at the foundation of the state. But in what way does he say that you corrupt the young?
Socrates: He brings a strange accusation against me, which at first sounds shocking: he says that I am a poet or maker of gods, and that I invent new gods and deny the existence of old ones. This is the ground of his indictment.
Euthyphro: I understand, Socrates. He means to attack you about the divine signs which occasionally come to you, as you say. He thinks that you invent religious doctrines, and he is going to bring you before the court for this. He knows that such a charge is easily accepted by the world, as I myself know too well. For when I speak in the assembly about divine things, and foretell the future to them, they laugh at me and think that I am a madman. Yet every word that I say is true. But they are jealous of us all, and we must be brave and go at them.
Socrates: Their laughter, Euthyphro, is not a matter of much consequence. For a man may be thought wise, but the Athenians, I suspect, do not trouble themselves much about such a wise man until he begins to communicate his wisdom to others. Then for some reason or other, perhaps, as you say, from jealousy, they are angry.
Euthyphro: I am never likely to test their temper in this way.
Socrates: I should say not, for you are reserved in your behavior, and seldom communicate your wisdom. But I have a benevolent habit of pouring out myself to everybody, and would even pay for a listener, and I am afraid that the Athenians may think me too talkative. Now if, as I was saying, they would only laugh at me, as you say that they laugh at you, the time might pass lightheartedly enough in the court. But perhaps they are in earnest, and then what the end will be you only soothsayers can predict.
Euthyphro: I suspect that the matter will end in nothing, Socrates, and that you will win your cause. I also think that I will win my own.
Socrates: What is your prosecution, Euthyphro? Are you the pursuer or the defendant?
Euthyphro: I am the pursuer.
Socrates: Of whom?
Euthyphro: You will think I am crazy when I tell you.
Socrates: Why, does the fugitive have wings?
Euthyphro: No, he is not very speedy at his time of life.
Socrates: Who is he?
Euthyphro: My father.
Socrates: Your father? Good heavens!
Socrates: Of what is he accused?
Euthyphro: Of murder, Socrates.
Socrates: God almighty, Euthyphro! How little does the common herd know of the nature of right and truth. A man must be an extraordinary person, and have made great strides in wisdom, before he could have seen his way to bring such an action.
Euthyphro: Indeed, Socrates, he must.
Socrates: I suppose that the man whom your father murdered was one of your relatives. Surely he must have been, for if he had been a stranger you would never have thought of prosecuting your father.
Euthyphro: I am amused, Socrates, at your making a distinction between one who is a relation and one who is not a relation. For surely the pollution is the same in either case, if you knowingly associate with the murderer when you ought to clear yourself and him by proceeding against him. The real question is whether the murdered man has been justly killed. If justly, then your duty is to let the matter alone. But if unjustly, then even if the murderer lives under the same roof with you and eats at the same table, proceed against him. Now, the man who is dead was a poor dependent of mine who worked for us as a field laborer on our farm in Naxos, and one day in a fit of drunken passion he got into a quarrel with one of our domestic servants and killed him. My father bound him hand and foot and threw him into a ditch, and then sent to Athens to ask a soothsayer what he should do with him. Meanwhile he never attended to him and paid no attention to him, for he regarded him as a murderer, thought that no great harm would be done even if he did die. Now this was exactly what happened. For this was the effect that cold, hunger and chains had on him, that before the messenger returned from the soothsayer, he was dead. My father and family are angry with me for taking the side of the murderer and prosecuting my father. They say that he did not kill him, and that if he did, the dead man was only a murderer, and I should ignore it all, because a son who prosecutes his father is impious. This shows, Socrates, how little they know what the gods think about piety and impiety.
Socrates: Good heavens, Euthyphro! Is your knowledge of religion and of pious and impious things so exact that, supposing the circumstances to be as you state them, you are not afraid that you too may be doing an impious thing in bringing an action against your father?
Euthyphro: Precise knowledge of matters like this is what distinguishes me from other men, Socrates. What value would I have without it?
Socrates: Rare friend! I think that I cannot do better than be your disciple. Before my trial with Meletus begins, then, I will challenge him, and say that I have always had a great interest in religious questions, and now, as he charges me with rash ideas and innovations in religion, I have become your disciple. You, Meletus, as I will say to him, acknowledge Euthyphro to be a great theologian, and sound in his opinions. If you approve of him you ought to approve of me, and not have me into court. But if you disapprove, you should begin by indicting him who is my teacher, and who will be the ruin, not of the young, but of the old, namely, of myself whom he instructs, and of his old father whom he reprimands and chastises. If Meletus refuses to listen to me, but goes on, and does not shift the indictment from me to you, I cannot do better than repeat this challenge in the court.
Euthyphro: Yes, indeed, Socrates. If he attempts to indict me, I will surely find a flaw in him, and the court will have much more to say to him than to me.
Socrates: Knowing this, my good friend, I wish to become your disciple. For I observe that no one appears to notice you, not even this Meletus. But his sharp eyes have immediately discovered me, and he has indicted me for impiety. Therefore, I insist that you tell me the nature of piety and impiety, which you said that you knew so well, and also of murder, and of other offences against the gods. What are they? Is not piety in every action always the same? Again, is impiety not always the opposite of piety, and also the same with itself, having, as impiety, one notion which includes whatever is impious?
Euthyphro: Certainly, Socrates.
First Definition of Piety: Punishing Someone for Murder
Socrates: So, what is piety, and what is impiety?
Euthyphro: Piety is doing as I am doing, namely, prosecuting anyone who is guilty of murder, sacrilege, or any similar crime. It makes no difference whether he is your father or mother, or whoever he may be. Also, it is impiety not to prosecute them. Consider, Socrates, what a noteworthy proof I will give you of the truth of what I say, a proof which I have already given to others. What I mean to prove is the principle that the impious, whoever he may be, ought not to go unpunished. For do not men regard Zeus as the best and most righteous of the gods? Yet they admit that he imprisoned his father [Cronos] because he wickedly devoured his sons. He in turn castrated his own father [Uranus] for a similar reason. Yet when I proceed against my father, they are angry with me. So inconsistent are they in their way of talking when the gods are concerned, and when I am concerned.
Socrates: Perhaps this is the reason, Euthyphro, why I am charged with impiety, for I cannot accept these stories about the gods, and so I suppose that people think me wrong. But, as you who are well informed about them approve of them, I cannot do better than assent to your superior wisdom. What else can I say, admitting as I do, that I know nothing about them? Tell me, for the love of Zeus, whether you really believe that they are true.
Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates. I also believe things even more unusual, about which the world is in ignorance.
Socrates: Do you really believe that the gods fought with each other, and had terrible quarrels, battles, and the like, as the poets say, and as you may see represented in the works of great artists? The temples are full of them. In particular, the robe of Athene, which is carried up to the Acropolis at the great Panathenaea, is embroidered with them. Are all these tales of the gods true, Euthyphro?
Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates. As I said, I can tell you, if you would like to hear them, many other things about the gods which would completely amaze you.
Socrates: Absolutely! But you must tell me them at some other time when I have leisure. Right now, my friend, I would rather hear from you a more precise answer to the question “What is piety”, which you have not as yet given. When asked, you only replied, “Doing as you do, charging your father with murder.”
Euthyphro: What I said was true, Socrates.
Socrates: No doubt, Euthyphro. But you would admit that there are many other pious acts?
Euthyphro: There are.
Socrates: Remember that I did not ask you to give me two or three examples of piety, but to explain the general idea which makes all pious things to be pious. Do you not remember that there was one idea which made the impious impious, and the pious pious?
Euthyphro: I remember.
Socrates: Tell me what is the nature of this idea, and then I will have a standard to which I may look, and by which I may measure actions, whether yours or those of anyone else. Then I will be able to say that such and such an action is pious, such another impious.
Euthyphro: I will tell you, if you like.
Socrates: I would very much like that.
Second Definition of Piety: That Which is Dear to the gods
Euthyphro: Piety, then, is that which is dear to the gods, and impiety is that which is not dear to them.
Socrates: Very good, Euthyphro. You have now given me the sort of answer that I wanted. But whether what you say is true or not I cannot yet tell, although I have no doubt that you will prove the truth of your words.
Euthyphro: Of course.
Socrates: Come, then, and let us examine what we are saying. That thing or person which is dear to the gods is pious, and that thing or person which is hateful to the gods is impious, these two being the extreme opposites of each other. Is this what you said?
Euthyphro: It was.
Socrates: Well said?
Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates, I thought so. It was certainly said.
Socrates: Further, Euthyphro, you admitted that the gods have hostilities, hatreds and differences?
Euthyphro: Yes, I also said that.
Socrates: What sort of difference creates conflict and anger? Suppose for example that you and I, my good friend, differ about a number. Do differences of this sort make us enemies and set us at odds with each other? Do we not instead use arithmetic to put an end to our differences through calculation?
Socrates: Or suppose that we differ about sizes, do we not quickly end the differences by measuring?
Euthyphro: Very true.
Socrates: We end a controversy about heavy and light by resorting to a weight scale?
Socrates: But what differences are there which cannot be thus decided, and which therefore make us angry and set us in conflict with each other? I venture to say the answer does not occur to you at the moment, and therefore I will suggest that these hostilities arise when the matters of difference are the just and unjust, good and evil, honorable and dishonorable. Are not these the points about which men differ, and about which when we are unable satisfactorily to decide our differences, you and I and all of us quarrel, when we do quarrel?
Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates, the nature of the differences about which we quarrel is exactly as you describe.
Socrates: Are the quarrels between the gods, Euthyphro, of a similar nature when they occur?
Euthyphro: They certainly are.
Socrates: They have differences of opinion, as you say, about good and evil, just and unjust, honorable and dishonorable. If there had been no such differences, then there would have been no quarrels among them. Am I right?
Euthyphro: You are quite right.
Socrates: Does not every person love that which he consideres noble and just and good, and hate the opposite of them?
Euthyphro: Very true.
Socrates: But, as you say, people regard the same things, some as just and others as unjust. They dispute about these, and so wars and conflicts arise between them.
Euthyphro: Very true.
Socrates: Then the same things are hated by the gods and loved by the gods, and are both hateful and dear to them?
Socrates: On this view, Euthyphro, the same things will be both pious and impious?
Euthyphro: So I would suppose.
Socrates: Then, my friend, I say with surprise that you have not answered the question which I asked. For I certainly did not ask you to tell me what action is both pious and impious. But now it would seem that what is loved by the gods is also hated by them. Therefore, Euthyphro, by punishing your father you may very likely be doing what is agreeable to Zeus but disagreeable to Cronos or Uranus, and what is acceptable to Hephaestus but unacceptable to Hera, and there may be other gods who have similar differences of opinion.
Euthyphro: But I believe, Socrates, that all the gods would agree about the rightness of punishing a murderer: there would be no difference of opinion about that.
Socrates: Well, but speaking of men, Euthyphro, did you ever hear anyone arguing that a murderer or any sort of evil-doer ought to be let off?
Euthyphro: I would instead say that these are the questions which they are always arguing, especially in courts of law. People commit all sorts of crimes, and there is nothing that they will not do or say in their own defense.
Socrates: But do they admit their guilt, Euthyphro, and at the same time say that they ought not to be punished?
Euthyphro: No, they do not.
Socrates: Then there are some things which they do not attempt to say and do. For, they do not attempt to argue that the guilty are to be unpunished, but they deny their guilt. Do they not?
Socrates: Then they do not argue that the evil-doer should not be punished, but they argue about the fact of who the evil-doer is, and what he did and when?
Socrates: The gods are in the same case. If as you assert they quarrel about just and unjust, and some of them say while others deny that injustice is done among them. For surely neither god nor man will ever attempt to say that the doer of injustice is not to be punished?
Euthyphro: That is basically it, Socrates.
Socrates: But they debate about the particulars, gods and men alike. If they dispute at all, they dispute about some act which is called in question, and which by some is affirmed to be just, by others to be unjust. Is that not true?
Euthyphro: Perfectly true.
Socrates: Well then, my good friend Euthyphro, please tell me, for my better instruction and information, what proof you have that, in the opinion of all the gods, a servant dies unjustly if he is guilty of murder, is put in chains by the master of the dead man, and dies because he is put in chains before he who bound him can learn from the interpreters of the gods what he ought to do with him. Further, that, on behalf of such a person, a son ought to proceed against his father and accuse him of murder. How would you show that all the gods absolutely agree in approving of his act? Prove to me that they do, and I will praise your wisdom as long as I live.
Euthyphro: It will be a difficult task; but I could make the matter very clear indeed to you.
Socrates: I understand; you mean to say that I am not so quick of understanding as the judges: for to them you will be sure to prove that the act is unjust, and hateful to the gods.
Euthyphro: Yes indeed, Socrates, at least if they will listen to me.
Third Definition of Piety: That which All the gods Love
Socrates: But they will be sure to listen if they find that you are a good speaker. There was a notion that came into my mind while you were talking. I said to myself: “Well, and what if Euthyphro does prove to me that all the gods regarded the death of the worker as unjust, how do I know anything more of the nature of piety and impiety? for granting that this action may be hateful to the gods, still piety and impiety are not adequately defined by these distinctions, for that which is hateful to the gods has been shown to be also pleasing and dear to them.” Therefore, Euthyphro, I do not ask you to prove this. I will suppose, if you like, that all the gods condemn and hate such an action. But I will amend the definition so far as to say the following: what all the gods hate is impious, and what they love pious; and what some of them love and others hate is both or neither. Will this be our definition of piety and impiety?
Euthyphro: Why not, Socrates?
Socrates: Why not! Certainly, as far as I am concerned, Euthyphro, there is no reason why not. But whether this admission will greatly assist you in the task of instructing me as you promised, is a matter for you to consider.
Euthyphro: Yes, I would say that what all the gods love is pious, and the opposite which they all hate, impious.
Socrates: Should we inquire into the truth of this, Euthyphro, or simply to accept the mere statement on our own authority and that of others? What do you say?
Euthyphro: We should inquire, and I believe that the statement will stand the test of inquiry.
Socrates: We will soon know better, my good friend. The point which I first wish to understand is “whether the pious is loved by the gods because it is pious, or pious because it is loved by the gods.” [i.e., is there an external standard of piety, or is piety defined by what the gods love.]
Euthyphro: I do not understand what you mean, Socrates.
Socrates: I will try to explain. We speak of carrying and we speak of being carried, of leading and being led, seeing and being seen. You know that in all such cases there is a difference, and you know also in what the difference lies?
Euthyphro: I think that I understand.
Socrates: Is not that which is beloved distinct from that which loves?
Socrates: Excellent. Now tell me, is that which is carried in this state of carrying because it is carried, or for some other reason?
Euthyphro: No, that is the reason.
Socrates: The same is true of what is led and of what is seen?
Socrates: A thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen. Nor is a thing led because it is in the state of being led, or carried because it is in the state of being carried, but the converse of this. Now I think, Euthyphro, that my meaning will be intelligible; and my meaning is, that any state of action or passion implies previous action or passion. It does not become because it is becoming, but it is in a state of becoming because it becomes; neither does it suffer because it is in a state of suffering, but it is in a state of suffering because it suffers. Do you not agree?
Socrates: Is not that which is loved in some state either of becoming or suffering?
Socrates: The same holds as in the previous cases: the state of being loved follows the act of being loved, and not the act the state.
Socrates: What do you say of piety, Euthyphro: is not piety, according to your definition, loved by all the gods?
Socrates: Because it is pious, or for some other reason?
Euthyphro: No, that is the reason.
Socrates: It is loved because it is pious, not pious because it is loved?
Socrates: That which is dear to the gods is loved by them, and is in a state to be loved by them because it is loved by them?
What the gods Love is Irrelevant to what Piety Is
Socrates: Then, Euthyphro, that which is dear to the gods is not the same thing as the pious, nor is that which is pious the same thing as loved by the gods, as you affirm. They are two different things. [i.e., what the gods love is irrelevant to what piety is.]
Euthyphro: How do you mean, Socrates?
Socrates: I mean to say that we have already acknowledged that the pious is to be loved by the gods because it is pious, not pious because it is loved. [i.e., there is an external standard of piety.]
Socrates: But that which is dear to the gods is dear to them because it is loved by them, not loved by them because it is dear to them.
Socrates: But, my friend Euthyphro, if that which is pious is the same as that which is dear to the gods, and is loved because it is pious, then that which is dear to the gods would have been loved as being dear to the gods. If that which is dear to the gods is dear to him because it is loved by him, then that which is pious would have been pious because it is loved by him. But now you see that the reverse is the case, and that they are quite different from each other. For one is of a kind to be loved because it is loved, and the other is loved because it is of a kind to be loved. Thus, Euthyphro, it seems to me that when I ask you what is the essence of piety, you only offered an attribute of it, and not its essence, where the attribute is being loved by all the gods. But you still refuse to explain to me the nature of piety. Therefore, if you please, I will ask you not to hide this from me, but to tell me once more what piety really is, and also what is impiety, regardless of whether it is dear to the gods or not (for that is a matter about which we will not quarrel).
Euthyphro: I really do not know how to express what I mean, Socrates. For somehow or other our arguments, on whatever ground we rest them, seem to turn around and walk away from us.
Socrates: Your words, Euthyphro, are like the handiwork of my ancestor Daedalus [who created statues that could move]. If I were maintaining them, you might say that, because I am related to him, my arguments walk away and will not remain fixed where they are placed. But now, since these notions are your own, you must find some other witty response, for they certainly, as you yourself admit, show an inclination to be on the move.
Euthyphro: No, Socrates, I will still say that you are the Daedalus who sets arguments in motion. It is certainly not I. You make them move or go around, for they would never have move, as far as I am concerned.
Socrates: Then I must be greater than Daedalus: for whereas he only made his own inventions to move, I move those of other people as well. And the beauty of it is, that I would rather not. For I would give the wisdom of Daedalus, and the wealth of Tantalus, to be able to detain them and keep them fixed. But enough of this. As I see that you are lazy, I will myself try to show you how you might instruct me about the nature of piety, and I hope that you will not resent your effort.
Piety is Part of Justice, that is, a Subset of Justice
Socrates: Tell me, then, is not that which is pious necessarily just?
Socrates: Is, then, all which is just pious? or, is that which is pious all just, but that which is just, only in part and not all, pious?
Euthyphro: I do not understand you, Socrates.
Socrates: Yet I know that you are much wiser than I am, as you are younger. But, as I was saying, revered friend, the abundance of your wisdom makes you lazy. Please to exert yourself, for there is no real difficulty in understanding me. What I mean I may explain by an illustration of what I do not mean. The poet [Stasinus] sings: “Of Zeus, the author and creator of all these things, you will not tell: for where there is fear there is also reverence.” Now I disagree with this poet. Should I tell you in what respect?
Euthyphro: By all means.
Socrates: I should not say that where there is fear there is also shame, for I am sure that many persons fear poverty and disease, and similar evils. But I do not perceive that they are ashamed of the objects of their fear.
Euthyphro: Very true.
Socrates: But where shame is, there is fear. For he who has a feeling of shame and humiliation about the commission of any action, fears and is afraid of a bad reputation.
Euthyphro: No doubt.
Socrates: Then we are wrong in saying that where there is fear there is also shame. Rather, we should say that where there is shame there is also fear. But there is not always shame where there is fear. For fear is a more extended notion, and shame is a part of fear, just as the odd is a part of number, and number is a more extended notion than the odd. I suppose that you follow me now? [i.e., all shame involves fear, but sometimes fear does not involve shame]
Euthyphro: Quite well.
Socrates: That was the sort of question which I meant to raise when I asked whether the just is always the pious, or the pious always the just; and whether there may not be justice where there is not piety. For justice is the more extended notion of which piety is only a part. [i.e., all piety involves justice, but sometimes justice does not involve piety.] Do you disagree?
Euthyphro: No, I think that you are quite right.
Socrates: Then, if piety is a part of justice, I suppose that we should inquire what part? If you had pursued the inquiry in the previous cases. For instance, if you had asked me what is an even number, and what part of number the even is, I would have had no difficulty in replying, a number which represents a figure having two equal sides. Do you not agree?
Euthyphro: Yes, I certainly agree.
Socrates: In a similar way, I want you to tell me what part of justice piety is, so that I may be able to tell Meletus not to do me injustice, or indict me for impiety, as I am now adequately instructed by you in the nature of piety, and their opposites.
Fourth Definition of Piety: Caring for the gods
Euthyphro: Piety, Socrates, appears to me to be that part of justice which involves caring for the gods, just as there is the other part of justice which involves caring for people.
Socrates: That is good, Euthyphro. Yet still there is a little point about which I would like to have further information. What is the meaning of “caring”? For caring can hardly be used in the same sense when applied to the gods as when applied to other things. For instance, horses are said to require caring, and not every person is able to care for them, but only a person skilled in horsemanship. Is that not so?
Socrates: I suppose that the art of horsemanship is the art of caring for horses?
Socrates: Nor is everyone qualified to care for dogs, but only the houndsman?
Socrates: I also imagine that the art of the houndsman is the art of caring for dogs?
Socrates: Just as the art of the oxherd is the art of caring for oxen?
Euthyphro: Very true.
Socrates: In a similar way, piety is the art of caring for the gods? Is that your meaning, Euthyphro?
Socrates: Is not caring always designed for the good or benefit of that to which the attention is given? As in the case of horses, you may observe that when cared for by the horseman's art they are benefited and improved, are they not?
Socrates: Just as the dogs are benefited by the houndsman’s art, and the oxen by the art of the oxherd, and all other things are cared for their good and not for their harm?
Euthyphro: Certainly, not for their harm.
Socrates: But for their good?
Euthyphro: Of course.
Socrates: Does piety, which has been defined to be the art of caring for the gods, benefit or improve them? Would you say that when you do a pious act you make any of the gods better?
Euthyphro: No, no, that was certainly not what I meant.
Socrates: I never supposed that you did, Euthyphro. I asked you the question about the nature of such care, because I thought that you did not.
Euthyphro: You do me justice, Socrates. That is not the sort of care that I mean.
Socrates: Good. But I must still ask what is this care for the gods which is called piety?
Euthyphro: It is like that which servants show to their masters.
Socrates: I understand, a sort of service to the gods.
Socrates: Medicine is also a sort of service, having in view the attainment of some object. Would you say it is of health?
Euthyphro: I would.
Socrates: Again, there is an art which services the shipbuilder with a view to attain some result?
Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates, with a view to the building of a ship.
Socrates: Just as there is an art which services the housebuilder with a view to build a house?
Socrates: Now tell me, my good friend, about the art which services the gods. What work does that help to accomplish? For you must surely know if, as you say, you are of all men living the one who is best instructed in religion.
Euthyphro: I speak the truth, Socrates.
Socrates: Tell me then, please tell me, what is that magnificent work that the gods do by the help of our services?
Euthyphro: There are many and magnificent works that they do, Socrates.
Socrates: Why, my friend, so too are those of a general. But the main one is easily identified. Would you not say that victory in war is the main of them?
Socrates: The works of the farmer are also many and magnificent, if I am not mistaken. But his chief work is the production of food from the earth?
Fifth Definition: A Sacrifice to the gods
Socrates: Of the many and magnificent things done by the gods, which is the main or principal one?
Euthyphro: I have told you already, Socrates, that to learn all these things accurately will be very tiresome. Let me simply say that piety is learning how to please the gods in word and action, by prayers and sacrifices. Such piety is the salvation of families and states, just as the impious, which is unpleasing to the gods, is their ruin and destruction.
Socrates: I think that you could have answered in much fewer words the main question which I asked, Euthyphro, if you had chosen. But I see plainly that you are not inclined to instruct me. Clearly not. Otherwise why, when we reached the point, did you turn aside? Had you only answered me I would have truly learned of you by this time the nature of piety. Now, as the asker of a question is necessarily dependent on the answerer, where he leads I must follow. I can only ask again, what is the pious, and what is piety? Do you mean that they are a sort of science of praying and sacrificing?
Euthyphro: Yes, I do.
Socrates: Sacrificing is giving to the gods, and prayer is asking of the gods?
Euthyphro: Yes, Socrates.
Socrates: On this view, then, piety is a science of asking and giving?
Euthyphro: You understand me perfectly, Socrates.
Socrates: Yes, my friend. The reason is that I am a follower of your wisdom, and give my mind to it. Therefore nothing which you say will be thrown away upon me. Please then tell me, what is the nature of this service to the gods? Do you mean that we ask requests and give gifts to them?
Euthyphro: Yes, I do.
Socrates: Is not the right way of asking to ask of them what we want?
Socrates: The right way of giving is to give to them in return what they want of us. There would be no meaning in an art which gives to anyone that which he does not want.
Euthyphro: Very true, Socrates.
Socrates: Then piety, Euthyphro, is an art which gods and men have of doing business with each other?
Euthyphro: That is an expression which you may use, if you like.
Socrates: But I have no particular liking for anything but the truth. I wish, however, that you would tell me what benefit comes to the gods from our gifts. There is no doubt about what they give to us, for there is no good thing which they do not give. But how we can give any good thing to them in return is far from being equally clear. If they give everything and we give nothing, that must be an matter of business in which we have very greatly the advantage over them.
Euthyphro: Do you imagine, Socrates, that any benefit comes to the gods from our gifts?
Socrates: But if not, Euthyphro, what is the meaning of gifts which are conferred by us upon the gods?
Euthyphro: What else, but tributes of honor, and, as I was just now saying, what pleases them.
Socrates: Piety, then, is pleasing to the gods, but not beneficial or dear to them?
Euthyphro: I would say that nothing could be dearer.
Socrates: Then once more the assertion is repeated that piety is dear to the gods?
Socrates: When you say this, can you wonder that your words do not stand firm, but instead walk away? Will you accuse me of being the Daedalus who makes them walk away, not perceiving that there is another and far greater artist than Daedalus who makes them go around in a circle, and he is yourself. For the argument, as you will perceive, comes around to the same point. Were we not saying that the pious was not the same with that which is loved of the gods? Have you forgotten?
Euthyphro: I quite remember.
Socrates: Are you not saying that what is loved of the gods is pious? Is this not the same as what is dear to them? Do you see?
Socrates: Then either we were wrong in our earlier assertion, or, if we were right then, we are wrong now.
Euthyphro: One of the two must be true.
Socrates: Then we must begin again and ask, What is piety? That is an inquiry which I will never tire of pursuing as long as I can. I ask you not to ridicule me, but to apply your mind to the furthest, and tell me the truth. For, if any one knows, you are he. Therefore, I must detain you, like Proteus, until you speak. If you had not certainly known the nature of piety and impiety, I am confident that you would never, on behalf of a servant, have charged your aged father with murder. You would not have run such a risk of doing wrong in the sight of the gods, and you would have had too much respect for the opinions of men. I am sure, therefore, that you know the nature of piety and impiety. Speak out then, my dear Euthyphro, and do not hide your knowledge.
Euthyphro: Another time, Socrates, I am in a hurry, and I must go now.
Socrates: Oh no! My friend, will you leave me in despair? I was hoping that you would instruct me in the nature of piety and impiety. Then I might have cleared myself of Meletus and his indictment. I would have told him that I had been enlightened by Euthyphro, and had given up rash innovations and speculations, in which I indulged only through ignorance, and that now I am about to lead a better life.
APOLOGY: SOCRATES ON TRIAL (Plato, Apology, complete)
Two Groups of Socrates’ Accusers: Older and Newer
Athenians, I cannot tell how you have been affected by my accusers, but I know that they almost made me forget who I was, because of how persuasively they spoke. Yet they have hardly spoken a word of truth. But of the many falsehoods they spoke, there was one which completely amazed me. I mean, when they said that you should be on your guard and not allow yourselves to be deceived by the force of my eloquence. As I see things, it is very shameless for them to say this, since as soon as I open my mouth and proved to be far from a great speaker, they will certainly to be detected. Although, if by “the force of eloquence” they mean the force of truth, then in that sense I admit that I am eloquent. But in how different a manner from theirs!
Well, as I was saying, they have hardly spoken the truth at all. But from me you will hear the whole truth, but not delivered in their style as a fixed speech, properly decorated with words and phrases. Not at all! I will use the words and arguments that occur to me at the moment. I am confident that I am right in taking this approach since, at my time of life, I must not appear before you Athenians in the character of a youthful orator. Let no one expect that of me.
But I must ask you to grant me one favor. If I defend myself in my usual manner, and you hear me using the words that I have been in the habit of using in the Marketplace, or at the tables of the money-changers, or anywhere else, I ask that you not be surprised, and not to interrupt me for doing this. 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 this place. Therefore, I would have you consider 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 own country. Is this an unfair request that I am making of you? Ignore my manner, which may or may not be any good, but think only about the truth of my words, and pay attention to that. Let the speaker speak truly and the judge decide justly.
First, I must reply to the older charges and my first accusers, and then I will go on to the later ones. I have had many accusers from the past, who have falsely attacked me before you during many years. I am more afraid of them than of Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in a different way. But the others are far more dangerous, who began when you were children, and took hold of your minds with their falsehoods. They told you about some Socrates fellow, a wise man, who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into the earth below, and made the worse appear the better cause. The disseminators of this tale are the accusers whom I really dread, for their listeners are likely to imagine that such inquirers do not believe in the existence of the gods. They are many, and their charges against me go way back, and were made by them in the days when you were more impressible than you are now, in your childhood, or maybe in your youth. But the accusation when heard was simply assumed to be true, for there was no one to answer it. Worst of all, I do not even know the names of those accusers, except in the rare case of a Comic poet [i.e., Aristophanes]. From envy and malice they have persuaded you, and some of them having first to convinced themselves. This entire group of people is very difficult to deal with, since I cannot have them up here and cross-examine them. So, I must simply fight with shadows in my own defense, and argue when there is no one who answers. I will ask you then to assume with me, as I have said, that my opponents are of two kinds: one recent, the other from the past. I hope that you will see the wisdom of my answering the older first, for these accusations you heard long before the others, and much more frequently.
Older Accusers Portrayed Socrates as a Natural Philosopher and Sophist
Well, then, I must make my defense and, in the short time I have, try to clear away a slander which has lingered a long time. I hope I succeed, especially if that success will be for my good and yours, or likely to benefit me in my cause. The task is not an easy one, and I fully understand the nature of it. So, trusting the gods, and in obedience to the law, I will now make my defense.
I will start 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 proceed against me. What do the slanderers say? They will be my prosecutors, and I will sum up their words in an affidavit: “Socrates is an evil-doer, and a prying person, who searches into things beneath the earth and in heaven; he makes the worse appear the better cause, and he teaches these doctrines to others.” This is the nature of the accusation. It is exactly what you have yourselves seen in the comedy of Aristophanes [The Clouds]. In this he has introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going around and saying that he walks in air, and talking a lot of nonsense about matters of which I do not pretend to know either much or little (although I do not I mean to speak critically of anyone who is a student of natural philosophy). I should be very sorry if Meletus make such a case against me. But the simple truth, Athenians, is that I have nothing to do with these studies. 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 neighbors whether any of you have ever known me to talk about these matters in few words or many. [Socrates pauses.] You hear their answer. From what they say of this part of the charge you will be able to judge of the truth about the rest.
Now, there is just as little foundation for the report that I am a teacher who takes money. This accusation certainly has no more truth in it than the other. Although, if someone were really able to teach, in my opinion it would be honorable to receive money for giving instruction. There is Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who travel the circuit of the cities. They are able to persuade 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 to be allowed to pay. There is currently a philosopher from Paros residing in Athens, who I heard about in this way. I met someone, Callias the son of Hipponicus, who has spent a lot of money on the Sophists. Knowing that he had sons, I said to him, “Callias, if your two sons were colts or calves, there would be no difficulty in finding someone to instruct them. We would simply hire a trainer of horses, or probably a farmer, who would improve and perfect them in their own proper virtue and excellence. But since they are human beings, whom are you thinking of placing over them? Is there anyone who understands human and political virtue? Since you have sons, you must have thought about the issue.” He responded, “There is.” I then asked, “Who is he? Where is he from? What does he charge?” He replied, “It is Evenus of Paros; he is the one, and he charges five minas” [i.e., the wages for about 15 months of labor]. I then thought to myself, how fortunate for Evenus if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a moderate charge. If I had the same wisdom, I would be very proud and conceited. But the truth is that I have no knowledge of that kind.
Challenging Apollo and the Oracle of Delphi: Why Socrates became Hated
I suppose, Athenians, that someone 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 rumors 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 would be sorry to judge you so hastily.” Now I regard this as a fair challenge, and I will try to explain to you the reason why I am called wise and have such an evil reputation. Please hear what I say. 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 from 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. However, the persons of whom I was speaking have a superhuman wisdom which I may fail to describe, because I do not have it myself. He who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking away my character.
Here, Athenians, I ask you not to interrupt me, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the words which I will speak are not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit. That witness will be the god of Delphi, and he will tell you about my wisdom, if I have any, and of what sort it is. You must have known Chaerephon; he was an early friend of mine, and also a friend of yours, for he shared in the recent exile of the people, and returned with you. Well, as you know, Chaerephon was impulsive with everything that he did. He went to Delphi and boldly asked the oracle to tell him whether—as I said, I must beg you not to interrupt—he asked the oracle to tell him whether anyone was wiser than I was. 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 a bad reputation. When I heard the answer, I said to myself, What can the god mean? 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? Yet he is a god and cannot lie, for that would be against his nature. After long consideration, I thought of a method of testing 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 would say to him, “Here is a man who is wiser than I am; but you said that I was the wisest.”
Socrates Examines and Alienates Politicians, Poets and Craftsmen
So, I went to someone 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 this. When I began to talk with him, I could not help thinking that he was not really wise, although he was considered wise by many, and still wiser by himself. Immediately I tried to explain to him that he thought he was wise, but was not really wise. The consequence was that he hated me, and his hostility 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 over him.” Then I went to another who had still higher pretensions to wisdom, and my conclusion was exactly the same. After this I made another enemy of him, and of many others besides him.
I went to one man after another, being aware of the animosity which I provoked, and I grieved and feared this. But necessity was laid upon me: the word of the god, I thought, ought to be considered first. I said to myself, “I must go to all who appear to know, and find out the meaning of the oracle.” 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 most reputable men were all but the most foolish, and that others less respected were really wiser and better. I will tell you the tale of my journey and of the “Herculean” labors, as I may call them, which I endured only to find at last that the oracle was irrefutable.
After the politicians, I went to the poets: tragic, dithyrambic, and all sorts. 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 admit the truth, but I must say that there is hardly a person present who would not have talked better about their poetry than the poets did themselves. Then I knew that it is 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. 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 left, thinking myself to be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians.
Finally, 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 admirable things. 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 higher matters, and this defect in them overshadowed their wisdom. 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. I answered to myself and to the oracle that I was better off as I was.
Wisdom Consists of Recognizing One’s Ignorance
This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind, and has given occasion also to great slander. 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, men of Athens, that the 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. It is as if he said, “Among you mortal men, he is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing.” So I go about the world, obedient to the god, and search and make inquiry into the wisdom of anyone, whether citizen or stranger, who appears to be wise. If he is not wise, then in vindication of the oracle I show him that he is not wise. My occupation completely absorbs me, and I have no time left either for any public matter of interest or any concern of my own. 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 little to do, hang around me by their own choice. 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. Then, those who are examined by them are angry with me, instead of being angry with themselves. This annoying Socrates, they say. This villainous misleader of youth! Then if somebody asks them, “Why, what evil does he practice 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 admit that their pretense of knowledge has been detected, which is the truth. Since they are numerous, ambitious and energetic, and are in battle formation and have persuasive tongues, they have filled your ears with their loud and deep-rooted slander.
This is the reason why my three accusers, Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, have come after me. Meletus has a quarrel with me on behalf of the poets, Anytus, on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians, and Lycon, on behalf of the rhetoricians. As I said at the beginning, I cannot expect to get rid of such a mass of slander all in a moment. This, men of Athens, is the truth and the whole truth. I have concealed nothing, and I have said nothing misleading. 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? From this the prejudice against me has arisen. This is the reason of it, as you will find out either in this or in any future inquiry.
Socrates vs. Meletus: Who Improves the Youth?
I have said enough in my defense against the first class of my accusers. I turn now 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 defense. Let their deposition be read, which 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 points. He says that I am a doer of evil, and corrupt the youth. But I say that Meletus is a doer of evil, in that he pretends to be in earnest when he is insincere, and is so eager to bring men to trial from a pretended zeal and interest about matters in which he really never had the slightest interest. I will try to prove the truth of this to you.
Socrates: Come here, Meletus, and let me ask a you a question. You think a great deal about the improvement of youth?
Meletus: Yes, I do.
Socrates: Tell the judges, then, who improves them. You must know since you have worked hard to discover who corrupts them, since you have summoned and accused me before them. Speak, then, and tell the judges who improves them. Observe, Meletus, that you are silent, and have nothing to say. But is not this 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 improves them.
Meletus: The laws.
Socrates: But that is not what I mean. I want to know who the person is, who, in the first place, knows the laws.
Meletus: The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.
Socrates: Are you saying, Meletus, that they are able to instruct and improve the youth?
Meletus: Certainly they are.
Socrates: What, all of them, or some only and not others?
Meletus: All of them.
Socrates: By the goddess Hera, that is good news! There are plenty of improvers of the youth, then. What do you say of the audience: do they improve them?
Meletus: Yes, they do.
Socrates: The senators?
Meletus: Yes, the senators improve them.
Socrates: But perhaps the members of the assembly corrupt them, or do they too improve them?
Meletus: They improve them.
Socrates: Then every Athenian improves and elevates them, all except myself. I alone am their corrupter: is that what you maintain?
Meletus: That is what I firmly maintain.
Socrates: 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 injure them instead. Is this not true, Meletus, of horses, or of any other animals? Certainly it is, whether you and Anytus say yes or no. Fortunate 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.
Socrates vs. Meletus: Does Socrates Intentionally Corrupt People?
Socrates: Now, Meletus, I will ask you another question, by Zeus. Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among good ones? I ask you to respond, for the question has an easy answer. Don’t good people do good to their neighbors, and bad people do them evil?
Socrates: Is there anyone who would rather be injured than benefited by those who live with him? Answer, my friend, the law requires you to answer. Does anyone like to be injured?
Meletus: Certainly not.
Socrates: When you accuse me of corrupting the youth, do you allege that I corrupt them intentionally or unintentionally?
Meletus: Intentionally, I say.
Socrates: But you have just admitted that good people do their neighbors good, and the evil people do them evil. Now, is that a truth which your superior wisdom has recognized early in life? 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? Yet I corrupt him, and intentionally, too? You say this, 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. In either case, you lie. If my offence is unintentional, the law does not recognize unintentional offences. You ought to have taken me privately, and warned or criticized me. For if I had been better advised, I would have stopped doing what I only did unintentionally. No doubt I would have. But you had nothing to say to me and refused to teach me. Now you bring me to this court, which is not a place of instruction, but of punishment.
Socrates vs. Meletus: Does Socrates Deny the gods?
It will be very clear to you, Athenians, as I was saying, that Meletus does not care in any way about the issue. But, Meletus, I would still like to know in what manner I allegedly corrupt the young. As I infer from your indictment, I suppose you mean that I teach them not to acknowledge the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new divinities or spiritual agencies instead. Are these the lessons by which I corrupt the youth, as you say?
Meletus: Yes, I say that emphatically.
Socrates: Then, Meletus, by the gods (of whom we are speaking), tell me and the court in clearer terms what you mean. For I do not yet understand. Perhaps you maintain that I teach other men to acknowledge some gods, and therefore that I actually do believe in gods, and am not an entire atheist (this you do not charge against me). Or, perhaps you say that they are not the same gods which the city recognizes (the charge against me is that they are different gods). Or, do you mean that I am an atheist simply, and a teacher of atheism?
Meletus: I mean the latter, that you are a complete atheist.
Socrates: What an extraordinary statement! Why do you think so, Meletus? Do you mean that I do not believe that the sun or moon are gods, like other men do?
Meletus: I assure you, judges, that he does not. For he says that the sun is stone, and the moon is earth.
Socrates: Meletus, you think that you are accusing Anaxagoras. Do you have such a bad opinion of the judges and imagine them so illiterate as not to know that these doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras the Clazomenian, which are full of them? Or, that Socrates teaches the youth what is frequently playing at the theatre, where they might pay their money, and laugh at Socrates if he pretends to hold these ridiculous views? So, Meletus, you really think that I do not believe in any god?
Meletus: I swear by Zeus that you believe absolutely in none at all.
Socrates: 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 disrespect and youthful boldness. Has he not created a riddle, thinking to test me? He said to himself: “I will see whether the wise Socrates will discover my frivolous contradiction, or whether I will 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 at the same time believing in them. But this is not like a person who is in earnest.
Men of Athens, I would like you to join me in examining what I conceive to be his inconsistency. And, Meletus, you must answer. I remind the audience of my request that they would not make a disturbance if I speak in my usual manner.
Socrates: Did anyone, Meletus, ever believe in the existence of human things, and not of human beings? Athenians, I wish that he would answer, and not keep trying to work up a disruption. Did anyone ever 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, since you refuse to answer for yourself. No one who ever did. Please now answer this next question: Can a man believe in spiritual and divine agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?
Meletus: He cannot.
Socrates: How lucky I am to have extracted that answer from you with 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, it does not matter). In any event, I believe in spiritual agencies, so you say and swear in the affidavit. Yet if I believe in divine beings, how can I help believing in spirits or demigods? Must I not? Certainly I must. 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?
Meletus: Certainly they are.
Socrates: But this is what I call the silly 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, but deny the existence of horses and donkeys. You could only have intended this nonsense to test me, Meletus. You have put this into the indictment because you had nothing real of which to accuse me. But no one who has a speck 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.
Whether Socrates is Ashamed of a Life that will End in his Execution
I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus. Any elaborate defense is unnecessary, but I know only too well how numerous are the hostilities that I have experienced, and this will be the cause of my destruction if I am destroyed. It will not be by Meletus, or even 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 chance of my being the last of them.
Someone may ask, “Are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a course of life which is likely to bring you to a premature end?” To this I may honestly answer: Here you are mistaken. A man who is good for anything should not calculate the chance of living or dying. Rather, he should only consider whether in doing anything he is doing right or wrong, that is, acting the part of a good man or of a bad. Otherwise, on your view, the heroes who fell at Troy were not good for much, and especially the son of Thetis who altogether despised danger in comparison with disgrace. 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. She thus said, in these or similar words, ““Fate,waits for you next after Hector.” Receiving this warning, he completely rejected danger and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live in dishonor, and not to avenge his friend. “Let me die immediately,” he replies, “and be punished by my enemy, rather than stand here by the arched ships, a laughing-stock and a burden of the earth.” Did Achilles have any thought of death and danger? For wherever a man's place is, that is where he should remain in the hour of danger, whether the place which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a commander. He should not think about death, but only about disgrace. This is a true saying, men of Athens.
I was ordered by the generals whom you chose to command me at Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium. I remained where they placed me, like any other man, facing death. Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, men of Athens, if now, when, as I conceive and imagine, the 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, imagining that I was wise when I was not wise. For the fear of death is indeed the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom, since it is a pretense of knowing the unknown. No one knows whether death, which men in their fear consider 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? In this respect only I believe myself to differ from men in general, and may perhaps claim to be wiser than they are. While I know only a little about the underworld, I do not presume that I know. But I do know that injustice and disobedience to a superior, whether god or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain evil.
Socrates Cannot accept a Deal to Live yet Remain Silent
Anytus has said that since I had been prosecuted I must be put to death (for if I am not I should not have been prosecuted in the first place), and that if I escape now, your sons will all be completely ruined by listening to my words. If you are not convinced by Anytus and let me go now, you may say to me, “Socrates, this time we will not listen to Anytus, and you will be let off, but only on one condition, which is that you may not inquire and speculate in this way anymore, and that if you are caught doing so again you will die.”
If this was the condition on which you let me go, I must reply. Athenians, I honor and love you, but I will obey the god rather than you. While I have life and strength I will never stop practicing and teaching of philosophy, urging anyone whom I meet and instructing him in the following way. You, my friend (a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens) are you not ashamed of acquiring the greatest amount of money, honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom, truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you never regard or notice at all? If the person with whom I am arguing, says “Yes, but I do care,” then I will not leave him or let him go at once, but I will continue to interrogate, examine and cross-examine him. If I think that he has no virtue in him, but only says that he has, I will criticize him for undervaluing that which is greater, and overvaluing that which is less. I will repeat the same words to everyone whom I meet, young or old, citizen or foreigner, but especially to the citizens, since they are my brothers. For, know that this is the command of the 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 mainly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that virtue is not given by money, but rather 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 harmful person. But if anyone says that this is not my teaching, he is speaking falsely. So, men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus proposes or not as he proposes, and either acquit me or not. But whichever you do, understand that I will never alter my ways, not even if I have to die many times.
Athens Benefits from Socrates being an Inquisitive and Nagging Gadfly
Athenians, do not interrupt, but listen to 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 it will be good for you to hear me, and so I beg that you will not shout out. I want you to know, that if you kill someone like me, you will injure yourselves more than you will injure me. Nothing will injure me, not Meletus nor yet Anytus. They cannot, since a bad man is not permitted to injure a better than himself. I do not deny that Anytus may, perhaps, kill a better person, or drive him into exile, or deprive him of civil rights. He may imagine, and others may imagine, that he is inflicting a great injury upon him. But here I do not agree. For the evil of doing as he is doing, namely, the evil of unjustly taking away the life of another, is greater far.
Now, Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake, as you may think, but for yours, so that you may not sin against the god by condemning me, insofar as I am his gift to you. For if you kill me you will not easily find a successor to me since I am a sort of gadfly (if I may use such a ridiculous figure of speech) and am given to the state by the god. The state is a great and noble horse that is slow in its motions because of its large size and needs to be agitated into life. I am that gadfly which the god has attached to the state, and all day long, and in all places, I am always latching onto you, provoking, persuading and criticizing 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 the god in his care of you sent you another gadfly. When I say that I am given to you by the god, the proof of my mission is this. If I had been like other men, I would 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, urging you to regard virtue. Such conduct, I say, would be unlike human nature. If I had gained anything, or if my urging had been for payment, there would have been some sense in my doing so. But now, as you will see, not even my rash accusers suggest that I have ever obtained or sought payment from anyone. Of this they have no witness, but I have a clear witness to the truth of what I say, namely, my poverty.
Civic Justice is Better Pursued as Private Citizen rather than as a Public Politician
Someone may wonder why I go about in private giving advice, and busying myself with the concerns of others, but do not come forward in public and advise the state. I will tell you why. You have heard me speak at various times and in different 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 me from doing something I am about to do, but never commands me to do anything. This is what discourages me from being a politician, and rightly, I think. For I am certain, men of Athens, that if I had engaged in politics, I would have died long ago, and done no good either to you or to myself. Do not be offended at my telling you the truth. For the truth is that no man who attempts to battle with you or any other multitude, honestly striving against the many lawless and unrighteous deeds that are done in a state, will preserve his life. He who will fight for what is right, if he would live even for a brief time, must have a private position and not a public one.
I can give you convincing evidence of what I say, not with words only, but what you value far more, namely with actions. Let me relate to you an event from my own life which will prove to you that I would never have surrendered 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 story of the courts, not very interesting perhaps, but nevertheless true. The only office of state which I ever held, 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. You proposed to try them in a body, contrary to law, as you all realized afterwards. But at the time I was the only one of the Prytanes who was opposed to the illegality, and I voted against you. When the orators threatened to arrest and prosecute me, and you all shouted in support, I made up my mind that I would take the risk, having law and justice on my side, rather than participate 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 Hall, and commanded us to bring Leon of from Salamis, since they wanted to put him to death. This was an example of the sort of commands which they were always giving, with the purpose of implicating as many as possible in their crimes. Then I showed, not in word only but indeed, that, if I may be permitted to use such an expression, I cared not a bit for death, and that my great and only care was that I might do an unrighteous or unholy thing. For the strong arm of that oppressive power did not frighten me into doing wrong. When we came out of the Hall, the other four went to Salamis and retrieved Leon, but I went quietly home. For this I might have lost my life, had not the power of the Thirty shortly afterwards come to an end. Many will attest to what I say.
Do you think 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 what is right and pursued justice as the most important 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. I have never agreed to anything unjust with those who are slanderously termed my students, or to anyone else. I have never had any regular students. However, if anyone 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 anyone, whether rich or poor, may ask and answer me and listen to my words. Whether he turns out to be a bad man or a good one, neither result can be justly attributed to me, for I never taught or professed to teach him anything. If anyone says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private which all the world has not heard, I tell you that he is lying.
None of Socrates’ Students or their Relatives Accuse Socrates of Corrupting them
You may ask, “Why do people enjoy 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, since there is amusement in it. Now this duty of cross-examining other men has been imposed upon me by the god. It has been shown to me by oracles, visions, and in every way in which the will of divine power was ever signified to anyone. This is true, Athenians, or, if not true, it 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 wish to come forward themselves, some of their relatives, fathers, brothers, or other relatives, 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 the same age and of the same deme as myself, and there is his son Critobulus, whom I also see. There is also Lysanias of Sphettus, who is the father of Aeschines; he is present. So is Antiphon of Cephisus, who is the father of Epigenes. There are the brothers of several who have associated with me. There is Nicostratus the son of Theosdotides, and the brother of Theodotus (Theodotus himself is dead, and so he cannot in any event try to stop him). There is Paralus the son of Demodocus, who had a brother Theages. There is Adeimantus the son of Ariston, whose brother Plato is present. I also see Aeantodorus, who is the brother of Apollodorus. I could mention many others, some of whom Meletus could have produced as witnesses in the course of his speech. Let him still produce them, if he has forgotten, and I will make way for him. Let him say whether he has any testimony of the sort which he can produce. No, Athenians, the very opposite is the truth. For all these are ready to witness on behalf of the corrupter, of the injurer of their relatives, as Meletus and Anytus call me. Not just the corrupted youth are ready (there might have been a motive for this), but their uncorrupted elder relatives also. 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.
It would be Dishonorable and Wrong for Socrates’ Family to Plea for Him
Well, Athenians, this and similar things is all the defense that I have to offer. But let me add one more word. Perhaps there is someone who is offended at me, when he recollects how he himself on a similar, or even a less serious occasion, begged and pleaded with the judges by crying and producing his children in court, which was a moving spectacle, together with a host of relations and friends. But 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 with me because of this. Now if there is such a person among you (and 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. Yes, Athenians, I have a family and three sons, one almost a man, and two others who are still young. Yet I will not bring any of them here in order to appeal to you for an acquittal. Why not? Not from any arrogance or lack 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 concern for 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 is deserved or not, the world has nevertheless decided that Socrates is in some way superior to other men. 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 imagine that they were going to suffer something dreadful if they died, and that they could be immortal if you only allowed them to live. I think that these people dishonor 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 honor and command, are no better than women. I say that these things ought not to be done by those of us who have a reputation. If they are done, you should not permit them. Instead, you should show that you are far more inclined to condemn the man who puts on a pitiful display 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 favor of a judge, and thus obtaining an acquittal, instead of informing and convincing him. For his duty is only to pronounce judgment, not to make justice a gift. He has sworn that he will judge according to the laws, and not according to his own good pleasure. We should 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 dishonorable, impious and wrong, especially now, when I am being tried for impiety on the indictment of Meletus. For if, men of Athens, by force of persuasion and appeal I could overpower your oaths, then I would be teaching you to believe that there are no gods, and in defending myself would simply convict myself of the charge of not believing in them. But that is not so. For, on the contrary, I do believe that there are gods, and in a sense higher than that in which any of my accusers believe in them. To you and to the god I commit my cause, to be determined by you as is best for you and me.
[The Jury votes and finds Socrates guilty.]
Socrates found Guilty, Requests Reward as Alternative Punishment
There are many reasons why I am not saddened at the vote of condemnation, men of Athens. I expected it, and am only surprised that the votes are so nearly equal. I had thought that the majority against me would have been far larger. But now, if thirty votes had gone over to the other side, I would have been acquitted. I may say, I think, that I have escaped Meletus. I may say more. For without the assistance of Anytus and Lycon, anyone 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 drachma [i.e., the wage for about a year and a half of labor].
So he proposes death as the penalty. What will I propose on my part, men of Athens? Clearly that which is my due. What is my due? What return will be made to the man who has never been idle during his whole life, yet has been careless of what the many care for, namely, wealth, family interests, military positions, speaking in the assembly, magistrate positions, political factions, 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. Rather I went where I could do the greatest good privately to everyone of you, and tried 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 benefits from the state before he looks to the interests of the state. This should be the order which he observes in all his actions. What should be done to such a person? Undoubtedly some good thing, men of Athens, if he has his reward. The reward should be of a kind that is suitable to him. What would be a reward suitable to a poor man who is your benefactor, and who desires leisure so that he may instruct you? There can be no reward so fitting as a feasts in the Prytaneum, 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 need, and he has enough. He only gives you the appearance of happiness, while I give you the reality. If I am to estimate the penalty fairly, I would say being given feasts in the Prytaneum is the just reward.
Perhaps you think that I am scorning 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 because I am convinced that I never intentionally wronged anyone, although I cannot convince you, for 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 would have convinced you. But I cannot in a moment refute great slanders. As I am convinced that I never wronged another, I will assuredly not wrong myself. I will not say about 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?
Socrates Rejects Imprisonment and Exile, Offers to Pay Fine
Will I say imprisonment? Why should I live in prison, and be the slave of the magistrates of the year, or of the Eleven [who are in charge of the prisons]? Or will the penalty be a fine, and imprisonment until the fine is paid? There is the same objection. I would have to stay in prison, for I have no money, and cannot pay. Perhaps I should say exile, which may possibly be the penalty which you will accept. 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 dreadful and detestable that you will have no more of them, others are likely to put up with me. No indeed, men of Athens, that is not very likely. What a life should I lead, at my age, wandering from city to city, always changing my place of exile, and always being driven out! I am quite sure that wherever I go, there, as here, the young men will flock to me. If I drive them away, their elders will drive me out at their request. But if I let them come, their fathers and friends will drive me out for their sakes.
Someone will say: “Yes, Socrates, but why can’t you hold your tongue, and then you might go to a foreign city and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For you will not believe that I am serious if I tell you that I cannot hold my tongue since doing so would be disobedient to the god. You are still less likely to believe me if I say again that daily discourse about virtue (and the other things about which you hear me examining myself and others) is the greatest human good, and that the unexamined life is not worth living. Yet I say what is true, although it is something of which it is hard for me to persuade you.
I have never been accustomed to think that I deserve to experience any harm. If I had 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 one mina [i.e., the wage for about 100 days of labor], and therefore I propose that penalty. Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus, my friends here, ask me to propose thirty minas [i.e., about 8 years of wages] and they will be the guarantors. Let thirty minas be the penalty, for which sum they will be ample security to you.
[The jury deliberates and rejects Socrates’ proposed fine.]
Socrates accepts Death Penalty and Warns his Condemners about Retaliation
Not much time will be gained, Athenians, in return for the evil name which you will get from the defamers 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 reprimand 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 see, and not far from death. I am speaking now not to all of you, but only to those who have condemned me to death. 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, that is, if I had thought fit to leave nothing undone or unsaid. Not so. The deficiency that led to my conviction was not of words. Definitely not. But I did not have the boldness, arrogance or inclination to address you as you would have liked me to do, such as weeping, wailing and lamenting. I did not say and do the many things that 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 base when in danger, and I do not now regret the style of my defense. I would rather die having spoken in my usual manner, than speak in your manner and live. For neither in war nor even in law should I or any man use every way of escaping death. Often in battle there can be no doubt that if a man will throw away his weapons, and fall on his knees before his pursuers, he might escape death. 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 [i.e., death] has overtaken me. My accusers are keen and quick, but the faster runner, who is unrighteousness, has overtaken them. I now leave, 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. I must accept my punishment, and let them accept theirs. I suppose that these things may be regarded as fated, and I think that is fine.
Now, those of you who have condemned me, I gladly make this prophesy against you. For I am about to die, and in the hour of death men are gifted with prophetic power. I prophesy to you who are my murderers that, immediately after my departure, a punishment far heavier than you have inflicted on me will surely await you. You have killed me because you wanted to escape the accuser, and not to give an account of your lives. But that will not be as you suppose. On the contrary, for I say that there will be more accusers of you than there are now, accusers whom previously I have restrained. Since 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 someone from criticizing your evil lives, you are mistaken. That is not a way of escape which is either possible or honorable. The easiest and the noblest way is not to be silencing others, but to be improving yourselves. This is the prophecy which I utter before my departure to the judges who have condemned me.
Socrates Consoles his Friends by Arguing that Death is not a Bad Thing
My friends who would have acquitted me, I would like also to talk with you about what has happened, while the magistrates are busy, and before I go to the place where I must die. Stay then a little longer, for we may as well talk with each other while there is time. You are my friends, and I would like to explain to you the meaning of this event which has happened to me. My judges, for you are the ones that I may truly call judges, I would like to tell you about an extraordinary circumstance. Until now, my divine prophetic power, my internal oracle, has continually been in the habit of opposing me even with trivial matters, whether I was about to make a slip or error in any way. But now, as you see, there has come upon me that which may be thought, and is generally believed to be, the greatest and worst evil. But my oracle made no sign of opposition at anything which I was going to say, 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. Yet I have often been stopped in the middle of a speech, but now in nothing I either said or did relating to the matter in hand has my oracle opposed me. What do I take to be the explanation of this silence? I will tell you. It is an indication 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 my familiar oracle would surely have opposed me if I had been heading towards evil and not good.
Let us reflect in another way, and we will see that there is great reason to hope that death is a good. For death is 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 that of a person who is undisturbed even by dreams, death will be an indescribable gain. Suppose that a person was 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 just an ordinary man but even a great king, will not find many such days or nights, when compared with the others. Now if death is 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 live, what good, my friends and judges, can be greater than this? That pilgrimage will surely be worth making if, when the pilgrim arrives in the underworld, he is freed from the professors of justice in this world, and finds the true judges who are said to give judgment there, such as Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus, and other sons of God who were righteous in their own life. What would not a man give if he could converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? In fact, if this is true, let me die again and again. I myself, too, will have a great 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. There will be no small pleasure, as I think, in comparing my own sufferings with theirs. Most importantly, I will then be able to continue my search into true and false knowledge: as in this world, so also in the next. I will find out who is wise, who pretends to be wise, and is not. A person would give anything, judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great Trojan expedition, or Odysseus, or Sisyphus, or countless others, men and women too. What endless joy 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. Certainly not, for besides being happier than we are, they will be immortal, if what is said is true.
Therefore, judges, be cheerful about death, and know with 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, and for this reason my 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. For this I may gently blame them.
I still have a favor to ask them. When my sons are grown, I would ask you, my friends, to punish them if they seem to care about riches, or anything, more than about virtue. I would have you criticize them, as I have criticized you. If they pretend to be something when they are really nothing, then, just as I have corrected you, correct them for not caring about that for which they ought to care, and thinking that they are something when they are really nothing. If you do this, both I and my sons will have received justice at your hands.
The time of my departure has arrived, and we go our ways: I to die, and you to live. Which is better only the god knows.
CRITO: OBEDIENCE TO THE STATE (Plato, Crito, complete)
Socrates: Why have you come at this hour, Crito? It must be very early.
Crito: Yes, it is.
Socrates: What is the exact time?
Crito: The dawn is breaking.
Socrates: I wonder why did the keeper of the prison let you in.
Crito: He knows me because I often come, Socrates. Also, I have done him a favor.
Socrates: Have you only just arrived?
Crito: No, I came some time ago.
Socrates: Then why did you sit and say nothing instead of waking me right away?
Crito: By Zeus, I personally would not want to be awake and troubled in your situation. I was surprised to see you sleeping peacefully, so I did not waken you because I wished to minimize your pain. I have always thought you to be of a happy disposition, but I have seen anything like the easy, tranquil manner in which you bear this tragedy.
Socrates: Crito, when a man has reached my age, he should not be worrying about the approach of death.
Crito: Yet other old men find themselves in similar misfortunes, and age does not prevent them from worrying.
Socrates: That is true. But you have not told me why you come at this early hour.
Crito: I have come to bring you a message that is sad and painful, perhaps not to yourself, but to all of us who are your friends, and saddest of all to me.
Socrates: What? Has the ship come from Delos, upon the arrival of which I am to die?
Crito: No, the ship has not actually arrived, but it will probably be here today, for people who have come from Sunium tell me that they have left it there. So, tomorrow, Socrates, will be the last day of your life.
Socrates: So be it, Crito. If that is the will of the gods, I am willing. But my belief is that there will be a delay of a day.
Crito: Why do you think so?
Socrates: I will tell you. I am supposed to die on the day after the arrival of the ship, right?
Crito: Yes, that is what the authorities say.
Socrates: But I do not think that the ship will be here until tomorrow. This I infer from a vision that I had last night, or rather only just now, when you fortunately allowed me to sleep.
Crito: What was the nature of the vision?
Socrates: The image of an attractive woman wearing bright clothes appeared to me. She called to me and said: Socrates, “Three days from now you will go to fertile Phthia” [Homer, Iliad]
Crito: What a remarkable dream, Socrates!
Socrates: I think there can be no doubt about the meaning.
Crito: Yes, the meaning is only too clear.
Crito’s Arguments for Escaping
Crito: But Socrates my friend, let me beg you once more to take my advice and escape. If you die I will not only lose a friend who can never be replaced, but there is greater harm. People who do not know you and me will believe that I might have saved you if I had been willing to give money, but that I did not care. Now, can there be a worse disgrace than that I should be thought to value money more than the life of a friend? For the many will not be persuaded that I wanted you to escape, and that you refused.
Socrates: But why, Crito, should we care about the opinion of the many? Reasonable people, who are the only ones worth considering, will think about these events as they actually happened.
Crito: But you see, Socrates, that the opinion of the many must be regarded, for what is now happening shows that they can do the greatest harm to anyone who has fallen out of their favor.
Socrates: I only wish it were so, Crito, and that the many could do the greatest harm. For then they would also be able to do the greatest good, and what a wonderful thing this would be. But in reality they can do neither. For they cannot make a man either wise or foolish, and whatever they do is the result of chance.
Crito: Well, I will not dispute with you. But please tell me, Socrates, whether you are not acting out of consideration for me and your other friends. Are you not afraid that if you escape from prison we may get into trouble with the informers for having taken you away, and lose much or even all of our property, or that even a worse harm may happen to us? Now, if you fear on our account, do not let that concern you. For in order to save you, we should surely to take this risk, or even a greater one. Be persuaded, then, and please do as I suggest.
Socrates: Yes, Crito, that is one fear which you mention, but by no means the only one.
Crito: Do not worry, for there are people who are willing to get you out of prison at no great cost. As for the informers, they are not excessive in their demands; a little money will satisfy them. My means, which are certainly sufficient, are at your service, and if you have a hesitation about spending all mine, there are strangers here who will give you the use of theirs. One of them, Simmias the Theban, has brought a large amount of money for this precise purpose. Cebes and several others are prepared to spend their money to help you escape. So please do not hesitate on our accounts.
Also, do not say, as you did in the court, that you will have difficulty knowing what to do with yourself anywhere else. For men will appreciate you in other places to which you may go, and not just in Athens. I have friends in Thessaly, if you would like to go to them, who will welcome and protect you. No Thessalian will give you any trouble. Nor can I think that you are at all justified, Socrates, in betraying your own life when you might be saved. In acting in that way you are playing directly into the hands of your enemies, who are eager for your destruction.
Further, I must say that you are abandoning your own children when you could otherwise raise and educate them. Instead, you go away and abandon them, and they will have to take their chances. They very well may face the usual fate of orphans. No one should bring children into the world who is unwilling to continue until the end with their nurture and education. You appear to be choosing the easier route, not the better and more courageous one, which would be more appropriate for someone who claims to care for virtue in everything he does, like yourself.
I am truly ashamed not only of you, but of us who are your friends, when I reflect that the whole business will be attributed entirely to our lack of courage. The trial should never have happened, or at least it should have been managed differently. But this final act, or crowning folly, will appear to have occurred through our negligence and cowardice. We might have saved you if we had been good for anything, and you might have saved yourself, since there was no difficulty at all. Consider, Socrates, how bad and shameful are the consequences, both to us and you. Make up your mind then, or rather have your mind already made up, because the moment for deciding is over. There is only one thing to be done, which must be done this very night, and if we delay at all it will be no longer practical or possible. So I beg you, Socrates, take my advice, and do as I say.
Socrates’ Criticism: Disregard the Views of the Many
Socrates: Your zeal is invaluable, Crito, if it is for the correct purpose. But if not, then the greater the zeal the greater the danger. So, we need to consider whether I will or will not do as you advise. I am, and always have been, the kind of person who must be guided by reason, whatever the reason may be that upon reflection appears to me to be the best. Now that this situation has arisen for me, I cannot take back my own words. The principles which I have until now honored and respected I still honor, and unless we can at once find other and better principles, I cannot agree with you, not even if the power of the multitude could inflict many more imprisonments, confiscations, or deaths that might frighten us like children with nightmarish terrors. What will be the fairest way of considering the question?
Maybe we should return to your arguments from our previous discussions about the opinions of others. We were saying that some of them are to be accepted, and others not. Now, were we right in maintaining this before I was condemned? Has the argument which was once good now proved to be mere words for the sake of talking, like mere childish nonsense? That is what I want to consider now with your help, Crito. Under my present circumstances, does the argument appear to be in any way different or not? Should I accept it or reject it? As I then said, that argument, which as I believe is held by many people in authority, was essentially that the opinions of some people should be regarded, and those of others should not to be regarded. Now you, Crito, are not going to die tomorrow, at least, there is no reasonable probability of this. Therefore you are disinterested and not likely to be deceived by the circumstances in which you are placed. Tell me, then, whether I am right in saying that some opinions, and the opinions of some people only, are to be valued, and that other opinions, and the opinions of other people, are not to be valued. I ask you whether I was right in maintaining this?
Socrates: The good are to be regarded, and not the bad?
Socrates: The opinions of the wise are good, and the opinions of the unwise are bad?
Socrates: What about this: should the student who devotes himself to the practice of gymnastics care about the praise and blame and opinion of every man, or of only the one man who is his physician or trainer, whoever he may be?
Crito: Of one man only.
Socrates: Should he fear the criticism and welcome the praise of that one only, and not of the many?
Crito: Clearly so.
Socrates: Should he act and train, and eat and drink in the way which seems good to his single master who has understanding, rather than according to the opinion of all other men put together?
Socrates: If he disobeys and disregards the opinion and approval of the one, and regards the opinion of the many who have no understanding, will he not suffer harm?
Crito: Certainly he will.
Socrates: What will the harm be, its tendency and affect, in the disobedient person?
Crito: Clearly, it will affect the body. That is what is destroyed by the harm.
Respect the View of the Expert of Justice
Socrates: Very good. Is this not true, Crito, of other things which we need not separately list? In questions of just and unjust, fair and unfair, good and bad, which are the subjects of our present discussion, should we follow the opinion of the many and fear them, or instead follow the opinion of the one man who has understanding? Should we not fear and respect him more than all the rest of the world? If we defy him, will we not destroy and injure that principle in us which may be assumed to be improved by justice and worsened by injustice. Is there such a principle?
Crito: Certainly there is, Socrates.
Socrates: Suppose that we fail to act under the advice of those who have understanding about the part of us that is improved by health and degraded by disease. Life, then, would not be worth living when that part of us is destroyed, namely, our bodies.
Crito: That is right.
Socrates: Could we live having a damaged and corrupted body?
Crito: Certainly not.
Socrates: Will life be worth living if that part of us is destroyed which is improved by justice and depraved by injustice? Whatever it may be in us which involves justice and injustice, should we suppose that that part of us is inferior to the body?
Socrates: Is it more honorable than the body?
Crito: Far more.
Socrates: Then, my friend, we must not regard what the many say of us, but what he, the one man who has understanding of the just and unjust, will say, and what the truth will say. Therefore, you begin in error when you advise that we should regard the opinion of the many about just and unjust, good and bad, honorable and dishonorable. “Well,” someone will say, “but the many can kill us.”
Crito: Yes, Socrates, that will clearly be the answer.
Socrates: It is true. But still I am surprised to find that our previous argument is firm as ever. I would like to know whether I may say the same of another proposition, not concerning just life, but whether a good life is to be chiefly valued?
Crito: Yes, that also stands firm.
Socrates: A good life is equivalent to a just and honorable one. That holds also?
Crito: Yes, it does.
Socrates: From these premises, I will next argue the question whether I should or should not to try and escape without the consent of the Athenians. If I am clearly right in escaping, then I will make the attempt. But if not, I will remain. The other considerations which you mention, that is, the money and loss of character and the obligation of educating one’s children, are, I fear, only the views of the many. But they would be as ready to restore people to life, if they were able, as they are to put them to death, and with as little reason. But now, since the argument has so far succeeded, there is just one question which remains to be considered. That is, will we be acting rightly or wrongly by escaping or allowing others assist in our escape and paying them with money and gratitude. If acting this way is not right, then death or any other adversity which may result by my remaining here must not enter into the calculation.
Crito: I think that you are right, Socrates. How then will we proceed?
Socrates: Let us consider the matter together, and you must either refute me if you can, and I will be convinced, or else you must stop repeating to me that I ought to escape against the wishes of the Athenians. For I highly value your attempts to persuade me to do so, but I may not be persuaded against my own better judgment. Now please consider my first position, and try how you can best answer me.
Crito: I will.
Inflicting Harm is Always Wrong, Even in Retaliation
Socrates: Can we say that we should never intentionally do wrong, or that in some ways we should and other ways we should not do wrong? Or is doing wrong always evil and shameful, as I was just now saying, and as we have already acknowledged? Should we just throw away all of our conclusions that we made over the past few days? Should we admit that, while we have been earnestly discoursing with each other throughout our lives, we are no better than children at our current age? Alternatively, in spite of the opinion of the many, and in spite of consequences whether better or worse, should we insist on the truth of what we previously said, that injustice is always an evil and dishonor to him who acts unjustly? Should we say this or not?
Socrates: Then we must do no wrong?
Crito: Certainly not.
Socrates: Nor when injured should we injure in return, as the many imagine. For we must injure no one at all?
Crito: Clearly not.
Socrates: Again, Crito, may we do harm?
Crito: Surely not, Socrates.
Socrates: What about doing harm in return for harm, which is the morality of the many. Is that just or not?
Crito: It is not just.
Socrates: For doing harm to another is the same as injuring him?
Socrates: Then we should not retaliate or inflict harm for harm to anyone, whatever harm we may have suffered from him. But I would have you consider, Crito, whether you really mean what you are saying. For this opinion has never been held, and never will be held, by any considerable number of persons. Those who agree and those who do not agree upon this point have no common ground, and can only despise each other when they see how widely they differ. Tell me, then, whether you agree with and accept my first principle, that neither injury nor retaliation nor avoiding harm through harm is ever right. Will that be the premise of our argument? Or do you disagree with this and reject it? For I have always thought this and will continue to do so. But, if you have another opinion, let me hear what you have to say. If, however, you remain of the same opinion as before, I will proceed to the next step.
Crito: You may proceed, for I have not changed my mind.
Socrates: Then I will go on to the next point, which may be put in the form of a question: Should someone do what he admits to be right, or should he to go against what is right?
Crito: He should do what he thinks right.
Socrates: But if this is true, consider how it applies to my situation. By escaping from prison against the will of the Athenians, do I wrong anyone? Or rather, do I not wrong those whom I should least wrong? Do I not abandon the principles which we acknowledged to be just? What do you say?
Crito: I cannot tell, Socrates; I just do not know.
Dialogue with the Athenian Laws: Athens Like a Parent to Socrates
Socrates: Then consider the matter in this way. Imagine that I am about to skip town (you may call it by any name which you like), and the laws and the government come and interrogate me. “Tell us, Socrates,” they say, “what are you doing? Through your action, aren’t you attempting to destroy us as much as you can, we who are the laws, and the whole state? Do you think that a state can exist and not be overthrown when the decisions of law have no power, but are set aside and trampled upon by individuals?” What will be our answer, Crito, to these and similar words? Anyone, and especially a rhetorician, will have a much to say on behalf of the law which requires a sentence to be carried out. He will argue that this law should not be set aside. Will we reply, “Yes, but the state has injured us and given an unjust sentence.” Should I say that?
Crito: Yes, Socrates, that is exactly what you should say.
Socrates: The law would answer, “Was that our agreement with you, or were you to accept the sentence of the state?” If I were to express my surprise at their words, the law would probably add: “Answer us, Socrates, instead of looking surprised, since you are in the habit of asking and answering questions yourself. Tell us, what complaint do you have against us which justifies you in attempting to destroy us and the state? In the first place did we not bring you into existence? Your father married your mother with our help and gave birth to you. Say whether you have any objection to urge against those of us who regulate marriage?” None, I should reply. “Or against those of us who after birth regulate the nurture and education of children, in which you also were trained? Were not the laws, which have the charge of education, right in commanding your father to train you in music and gymnastics?” Right, I should reply. “Well then, since you were brought into the world and nurtured and educated by us, can you deny in the first place that you are our child and slave, as your fathers were before you? If this is true you are not on equal terms with us. Nor can you think that you have a right to do to us what we are doing to you. Would you have any right to strike or insult or do any other evil to your father, or even your master if you had one, because you have been assaulted or insulted by him, or received some other evil at his hands? You would not say this. Because we think it is right to destroy you, do you think that you have any right to destroy us and your country in return, to the degree that you can? Will you, professor of true virtue, pretend that you are justified in this? Has a philosopher like you failed to discover that our country is more to be valued and is higher and far more holy than mother, father or any ancestor, and more to be regarded in the eyes of the gods and of men of understanding? Also to be soothed, and gently and reverently pleaded to when angry, even more than a father, and either to be persuaded, or if not persuaded, to be obeyed? When we are punished by her, whether with imprisonment or lashes, the punishment is to be endured in silence. If she leads us to wounds or death in battle, there we follow, as is the right thing to do. Neither may anyone surrender, retreat or leave his position. Whether in battle or in a court of law, or in any other place, he must do what his city and his country order him. Otherwise he must change their view of what is just: and, if he may, he must do no violence to his father or mother, much less may he do violence to his country.” What answer will we make to this, Crito? Do the laws speak truly, or do they not?
Crito: I think that they do.
Social Contract between Socrates and Athens
Socrates: Then the laws will say: “Consider, Socrates, whether we are speaking correctly that in your present attempt you are going to do us an injury. For, having brought you into the world, and nurtured and educated you, and given you and every other citizen a share in every good which we had to give, we further proclaim to any Athenian by the liberty which we allow him, that if he does not like us when he has become of age and has seen the ways of the city, and made our acquaintance, he may go where he pleases and take his goods with him. None of us laws will forbid him or interfere with him. Anyone who does not like us and the city, and who wants to emigrate to a colony or to any other city, may go where he likes, retaining his property. But he who has experience of the manner in which we order justice and administer the state, and still remains, has entered into an implied contract that he will do as we command him. He who disobeys us is, as we maintain, wrong in three ways. First, in disobeying us he is disobeying his parents. Secondly, we are the authors of his education. Thirdly, he has made an agreement with us that he will appropriately obey our commands. But he neither obeys them nor convinces us that our commands are unjust. We do not forcefully impose those commands, but give him the alternative of obeying or convincing us. That is what we offer, and he does neither. These are the sort of accusations to which, as we were saying, you, Socrates, will be exposed if you accomplish your intentions. You, more than any other Athenian.”
Suppose now I ask, why me rather than anybody else? They will justly reply to me that I, more than all other men, have acknowledged the agreement. “There is clear proof,” they will say, “Socrates, that we and the city were not displeasing to you. Of all Athenians you have been the most constant resident in the city, which we may suppose that you love since you never leave it. You never went out of the city either to see the games, except once when you went to the Isthmus, or to any other place unless when you were on military service. Nor did you travel as other men do. Nor had you any curiosity to know other states or their laws: your affections did not go beyond us and our state. We were your especial favorites, and you accepted our governing of you. Right here in this city you had your children, which is a proof of your satisfaction. Further, during your trial, if you had liked, you might have fixed the penalty at banishment. The state which refuses to let you go now would have let you go then. But you pretended that you preferred death to exile, and that you were not unwilling to die. Now you have forgotten these lofty sentiments, and you disrespect us the laws, who you seek to destroy. You are doing what only a pathetic slave would do, running away and turning your back upon the compacts and agreements which you made as a citizen. Now answer this specific question: Are we right in saying that you agreed to be governed according to us in your actions, and not merely in your words? Is that true or not?” How will we answer, Crito? Must we not assent?
Crito: We have no choice but to assent, Socrates.
Socrates: Then will they not say: “You, Socrates, are breaking the covenants and agreements which you made with us at your leisure, but not in any haste or under any compulsion or deception. Rather, it is after you have had seventy years to think of them, during which time you were at liberty to leave the city, if we were not to your liking, or if our covenants appeared to you to be unfair. You had your choice, and might have gone either to Lacedaemon or Crete, both which states you often praised for their good government, or to some other Greek or foreign state. Because you, more than other Athenians, seemed to be so fond of the state, or, in other words, of us her laws (and who would care about a state which has no laws?), that you never stirred out of her. The lame, the blind, the maimed were not more stationary in her than you were. But now you run away and forsake your agreements. Not so, Socrates, if you will take our advice. Do not make yourself ridiculous by escaping out of the city.
Bad Prospects for Socrates if he Flees
Socrates: “For just consider, if you transgress and err in this sort of way, what good will you do either to yourself or to your friends? It is reasonably certain that your friends will be driven into exile and deprived of citizenship, or will lose their property. You yourself, if you flee to one of the neighboring cities, such as Thebes or Megara, both of which are well governed, will come to them as an enemy, Socrates, and their government will be against you, and all patriotic citizens will cast an evil eye upon you as a subverter of the laws, and you will confirm in the minds of the judges the justice of their own condemnation of you. For he who is a corrupter of the laws is more than likely to be a corrupter of the young and foolish portion of mankind. Will you then flee from well-ordered cities and virtuous men? Is existence worth having on these terms? Or will you go to them without shame, and talk to them, Socrates? What will you say to them? What you say here about virtue and justice and institutions and laws being the best things among men? Would that be decent of you? Surely not. But if you go away from well-governed states to Crito’s friends in Thessaly, where there is great disorder and corruption, they will be entertained by the tale of your escape from prison, embellished with comical particulars of the way in which you were wrapped in a goatskin or some other disguise, and transformed as is typical of fugitives. But will there be anyone to remind you that in your old age you were brazen enough to violate the most sacred laws, all because of a pitiful desire of a little more life? Perhaps not, if you keep them in a good mood. But if they lose patience with you, you will hear many degrading things. Yes, you will live, but how? As the flatterer of all men, and the servant of all men? And doing what: Eating and drinking in Thessaly, having gone abroad in order that you may get a dinner? Where will be your lofty feelings about justice and virtue? Suppose that you wish to live for the sake of your children. You want to bring them up and educate them. Will you then take them into Thessaly and deprive them of Athenian citizenship? Is this the benefit which you will confer upon them? Or are you under the impression that they will be better cared for and educated in Athens if you are still alive yet absent from them, assuming that your friends will indeed take care of them? Do you imagine that, if you are an inhabitant of Thessaly they will take care of them, but that if you are dead and in the underworld they will not take care of them? No, but if they who call themselves friends are good for anything, they will. Absolutely, they will.
“Listen, then, Socrates, to us who have raised you. Do not think about your life and children first, and of justice afterwards; rather, consider justice first so that you may be justified before the rulers of the underworld. For if you do as Crito proposes, neither you nor any that belong to you will be happier or holier or more just in this life, or happier in another. Now you depart in innocence, a victim of harm but not a doer of harm. You are a victim, not of the laws, but of men. But suppose that you leave, returning harm for harm, and injury for injury, breaking the contracts and agreements which you have made with us, and wronging those whom you ought least of all to wrong (namely, yourself, your friends, your country, and us). Then we will be angry with you while you live, and our brothers, the laws in the underworld, will receive you as an enemy. For they will know that you have done your best to destroy us. So, listen to us and not to Crito.”
This, dear Crito, is the voice which I seem to hear murmuring in my ears, like the sound of the flute in the ears of the mystic. That voice is humming in my ears, and prevents me from hearing any other. I know that anything more which you may say will be pointless. Yet speak, if you have anything to say.
Crito: I have nothing to say, Socrates.
Socrates: Leave me then, Crito, to fulfill the will of the god, and to follow where he leads.
PHAEDO: SOCRATES’ DEATH (Plato, Phaedo)
Why Socrates’ Execution was Delayed
Echecrates: Were you yourself, Phaedo, in the prison with Socrates on the day when he drank the poison?
Phaedo: Yes, Echecrates, I was.
Echecrates: I would so like to hear about his death. What did he say in his last hours? We were informed that he died by taking poison, but no one knew anything more. For no Phliasian ever goes to Athens now, and it is a long time since any stranger from Athens has found his way here. So that we had no clear account.
Phaedo: Did you not hear of the proceedings at the trial?
Echecrates: Yes, someone told us about the trial. But we could not understand why, after he was condemned, he was not put to death for such a long time. What was the reason of this?
Phaedo: An accident, Echecrates. The stern of the ship which the Athenians send to Delos happened to have been crowned on the day before he was tried.
Echecrates: What is this ship?
Phaedo: It is the ship in which, according to Athenian tradition, Theseus went to Crete when he took with him fourteen youths, and was the saviour of them and of himself. They were said to have vowed to Apollo at the time, that if they were saved they would send a yearly mission to Delos. Now this custom still continues, and the whole period of the voyage to and from Delos, beginning when the priest of Apollo crowns the stern of the ship, is a holy season, during which the city is not allowed to be polluted by public executions; and when the vessel is detained by contrary winds, the time spent in going and returning is very considerable. As I was saying, the ship was crowned on the day before the trial, and this was the reason why Socrates lay in prison and was not put to death until long after he was condemned.
Echecrates: What was the manner of his death, Phaedo? What was said or done? And which of his friends were with him? Or did the authorities forbid them to be present, so that he had no friends near him when he died?
Phaedo: No, there were several of them with him.
Echecrates: If you have nothing to do, I wish that you would tell me what passed, as exactly as you can.
Phaedo: Crito made a sign to the servant, who was standing by. He went out, and having been absent for some time, returned with the jailer carrying the cup of poison. Socrates said: “You, my good friend, who are experienced in these matters, will give me directions how I am to proceed.” The man answered: “You have only to walk about until your legs are heavy, and then to lie down, and the poison will act.” At the same time, he handed the cup to Socrates, who in the easiest and gentlest manner, without the least fear or change of color or expression, looking at the man with all his eyes, Echecrates, as his manner was, took the cup and said: “What do you say about making a libation out of this cup to any god? May I, or may I not [pour some on the ground]?” The man answered: “We only prepare, Socrates, just so much as we deem enough.” “I understand,” he said: “but I may and must ask the gods to prosper my journey from this to the other world, even so, and so be it according to my prayer.” Then raising the cup to his lips, quite readily and cheerfully he drank off the poison. Until then most of us had been able to control our sorrow. But now when we saw him drinking, and saw too that he had finished, we could no longer forbear, and in spite of myself my own tears were flowing fast. I covered my face and wept, not for him, but at the thought of my own calamity in having to part from such a friend. Nor was I the first. For Crito, when he found himself unable to restrain his tears, had got up, and I followed. At that moment, Apollodorus, who had been weeping all the time, broke out in a loud and passionate cry which made cowards of us all. Socrates alone retained his calmness. “What is this strange outcry?” he said. “I sent away the women mainly in order that they might not misbehave in this way, for I have been told that a man should die in peace. Be quiet, then, and have patience.” When we heard his words we were ashamed, and refrained our tears. He walked about until, as he said, his legs began to fail, and then he lay on his back, according to the directions. The man who gave him the poison now and then looked at his feet and legs; after a while he pressed his foot hard, and asked him if he could feel. He said “No.” Then his leg, and so upwards and upwards, and showed us that he was cold and stiff. He felt them himself and said, “When the poison reaches the heart, that will be the end.” He was beginning to grow cold around the groin, when he uncovered his face (for he had covered himself up), and said his last words. He said: “Crito, I owe a chicken to Asclepius; will you remember to pay the debt?” Crito said, “The debt will be paid; is there anything else?” There was no answer to this question. In a minute or two a movement was heard, and the attendants uncovered him. His eyes were set, and Crito closed his eyes and mouth. Such was the end of our friend, concerning whom I may truly say, that of all the men of his time whom I have known, he was the wisest and justest and best.
Questions for Review
1. What are some of the great qualities of Socrates that Xenophon describes?
2. In the Euthyphro, what is the first definition of piety, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
3. In the Euthyphro, what is the second definition of piety, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
4. In the Euthyphro, what is the third definition of piety, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
5. In the Euthyphro, what is the fourth definition of piety, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
6. In the Euthyphro, what is the fifth definition of piety, and Socrates’ criticism of it?
7. In the Apology, who are the two groups of Socrates’ accusers, and what is Socrates’ response to the first group?
8. In the Apology, what did Socrates find wrong with the claims to knowledge by the politicians, poets and craftsmen?
9. In the first exchange between Socrates and Meletus in the Apology, what is the issue and what does Socrates conclude?
10. In the second exchange between Socrates and Meletus in the Apology, what is the issue and what does Socrates conclude?
11. In the third exchange between Socrates and Meletus in the Apology, what is the issue and what does Socrates conclude?
12. In the section in the Apology about whether Socrates is ashamed of a life that led to his execution, what is Socrates’ answer?
13. In the section in the Apology where Socrates consoles his friends, what are his three arguments for why death is not a bad thing?
14. In the Crito, what are Crito’s reasons for why Socrates should escape?
15. In the Crito, what is Socrates criticism of Crito’s reasons for escaping?
16. In the section in the Crito that discusses Athens being like a parent to Socrates, what is the basis for that claim?
17. In the section in the Crito that discusses the social contract between Socrates and Athens, what is the basis for that contract?
Questions for Analysis
1. Pick one of the five definitions of piety in the Euthyphro and defend it against Socrates’ criticism.
2. Two famous quotes in the Apology are “He is the wisest, who, like Socrates, knows that his wisdom is in truth worth nothing” and “The unexamined life is not worth living”. Pick one then explain and evaluate what Socrates means by it in the context of the Apology.
3. In the Crito, there are two arguments for why Socrates should obey the decision of the Athenian jury and follow through on his execution: that Athens is like a parent to Socrates, and Socrates made a social contract with Athens. Pick one of these, then explain and evaluate it as it appears in the Crito.
4. Aristophanes' account of Socrates is often dismissed as mean-spirited lampooning. Kierkegaard, however, says the following: "Aristophanes' view of Socrates will be found to be ore true in terms of the comic, and, consequently, more just" (The Concept of Irony). That is, for Kierkegaard, Aristophanes captures the true ironic comic nature of a younger Socrates, whereas Plato portrays Socrates as he was in his final decades. Look at an online version of Aristophanes "The clouds". Then compare and contrast it with expressions of Socratic irony in the Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito. Socratic irony is usually understood as pretending to be ignorant to gain an advantage.
5. Nietzsche makes the following criticism of Socrates’ use of dialectics: “With Socrates, Greek taste veers around in favor of dialectics. . . . All the world over, where authority is still part of good usage, where one does not "demonstrate" but commands, the dialectician is a sort of clown: he is laughed at and is not taken seriously. Socrates was the clown who got himself taken seriously. What really happened here? . . . As a dialectician, a person has a merciless instrument in his hand: he can play the tyrant with it. He compromises when he conquers. The dialectician leaves it to his opponent to demonstrate that he is not an idiot; he is made furious, and at the same time helpless. The dialectician paralyzes the intellect of his opponent. What? Is dialectics only a form of revenge with Socrates?” (Twilight of the Idols). Based on the examples of Socratic dialectics in the Euthyphro, Apology and Crito, is Nietzsche correct? Explain.
6. Plato scholar Gregory Vlastos argues that our best account of Socrates is in Plato’s early dialogues, and in these we find these common themes in what Socrates teaches: (1) virtue is knowledge, (2) virtue is a requirement for happiness, (3) it is better to suffer than to be unjust, (4) it is impossible to act contrary to knowledge of what is good, (5) piety is doing the gods’ work. Pick one of these themes and discuss it as it appears in the Euthyphro, Apology, and Crito.
7. According to Plato scholar Louis-André Dorion, Xenophon’s version of Socrates maintains that control over bodily pleasures is required for virtue, whereas for Plato wisdom is the key to virtue. Compare and contrast the quote from Xenophon that begins “No less surprising to my mind” with the view of Socratic wisdom in Plato’s Apology.