|Plato's Apology of Socrates
Translated by James Redfield
[17a] I don't know how you felt about the prosecution, gentlemen; as for me I almost forgot myself, their speech was so convincing. And yet as far as truth goes, they said pretty nearly nothing. But of all the lies they told there was one that really amazed me, where they said you had to be careful not to let me fool you, because I am such a powerful speaker. For them to have no shame that the facts would immediately prove them wrong when I turn out not to be powerful at all—this I thought was really the limit of shamelessness on their part—unless they mean by "powerful speaker" someone who tells the truth; if that's what they are saying, I would admit to being—though not in their style—an orator.
[17b] However, as I was saying, while they said little or nothing that was true, from me you will hear the whole truth—but for god's sake, gentlemen, not with the language all fixed up, like their speeches, with phrases and vocabulary in their fancy clothes; you will hear me talking casually with whatever words come along—because I believe what I am saying is right—so no one should expect anything else. After all, it would hardly be appropriate for a man of my age to come before you like these young people with their made-up stories
[17c] Which brings me to one thing, gentlemen, that I really do want you to allow me: if you hear me defending myself with the same kind of talk I normally talk in the marketplace by the bankers' tables,1 where many of you have heard me, and other places, don't be shocked and interrupt me just for that. Because this is how it is: although I am now seventy years old, today I come before a law court for the very first time, so I am really like a foreigner when it comes to this kind of talking. You know if I really were a foreigner you would take it easy on me if I used the dialect and the manners I was brought up with, so in the actual case, I have this request—perfectly just, I think—that you don't concern yourself with the manner of my speech—maybe it is worse, or it might even be better—but the one thing I want you to keep in mind and to pay attention to is this: is my case just or isn't it? Because that is the special excellence of a judge, while an orator is supposed to tell the truth.
[18a] First of all, gentlemen, I am justified in defending myself against the first false prosecution, against my first prosecutors, and then against the one that came after and the people that came with it. Because, you see, I have had many prosecutors before you; and for a long time, for many years now, they have been telling you things that are not at all true. And I am much more afraid of them than of Anytus and his crowd, although these also are powerful people. But, gentlemen those are even more powerful; they got hold of most of you when you were still children and convinced you and accused me of a lot of things no more true than the other, saying "There is somebody named Socrates who is a wise man; he's an intellectual concerned with the heavens; and he has investigated everything beneath the earth; also he makes the worse case the stronger." These, gentlemen, the people who have spread this rumor around, these are my really powerful prosecutors. For people who hear such things suppose that people engaged in such research do not believe in the gods either. Furthermore, these prosecutors are numerous, and they have been conducting their prosecution for a long time already. And then they spoke to you when you were of an age most likely to believe them, when you were children, some of you, and young people; and it was literally a prosecution by default, since there was no one to defend me. Worst of all, I am not even able to know and to tell you their names—unless one of them is actually a comic poet.2 Those who employed envy and prejudice to convince you—some people got convinced and then went out and convinced others—all these people are really impossible; I can't put them on the stand here or cross-examine them, but I have to literally shadow-box my defense, and cross-examine people who won't answer me. Anyway, as I say, I want you to understand that there are two sets of prosecutors, one set who are prosecuting now, and then the other long-standing set I'm telling you about, and I want you to accept that I have to defend myself against them first, because you heard their prosecution first, and much more intensely than the current lot.
[18e] OK. In this little time let me defend myself, gentlemen, let me try to clear out the prejudice you have held for so long. I only wish I could do it—if that would be better for you and for me—then I do wish I could get somewhere with my defense. Still, I accept that it will be hard; I'm not closing my eyes to the facts. All the same, let that be as it may please the god; I must obey the law and make my defense.
[19a] So let us take up from the beginning the prosecution that produced the prejudice against me, that gave Meletus the confidence to enter his indictment. OK. What do the prejudiced say to produce prejudice against me? We have to read it aloud, as if it were the formal charge of prosecutors: "Socrates is a criminal and a busybody. He seeks things beneath the earth and in the heavens, and he makes the weaker case the stronger, and he teaches other people to do these things." It's something like that. You yourself have seen these things in the comedy of Aristophanes—some kind of Socrates dangling there and saying he treads the air3 and talking a lot of other nonsense that is not even slightly within my competence. Not that I mean to despise this kind of knowledge, if someone has this kind of wisdom—I hope I would never be prosecuted by Meletus on a charge as serious as that!—but, gentlemen, I am not mixed up in anything like that. As my witnesses I offer most of you, and I ask as many of you as have ever heard me conversing to teach one another and say—since many of you have heard me—tell each other if you ever heard me conversing about such matters even slightly—and from this you can figure that all the other things most people say about me are just the same kind of stuff.
[19d] Anyway, there's nothing in any of that; also, it's untrue if you heard from somebody that I try to educate people and make money for it. As far as that goes, I think it a fine thing if somebody like Gorgias of Leontini or Prodicus of Ceos or Hippias of Elis is able to educate human beings; any of these can go into any city, and convince the young people—who can hang around with any of their own citizens absolutely gratis—they convince them to leave that crowd and hang around with themselves instead, and pay for the privilege, and feel grateful to boot. And there is another wise man from Paros that I see is in town. In fact, I ran into a man who has spent more money on sophists than all the rest of them put together, Callias, son of Hipponicus; and I asked him (you know, he has two sons): "Callias" I said, "if your sons were colts or calves you would be able to get a trainer for them and pay somebody to teach them what is really worth knowing, with the appropriate kind of excellence. And this would be, I suppose, one of the horse people, or one of the farmers. But as it is, since they actually are human beings, who do you have in mind to get for their trainer? When it comes to this kind of excellence, of a human being and a citizen, who knows about that? I suppose you must have looked into this, since you have sons. Is there anybody, I ask, or isn't there?" "Oh sure," he said. "Who is it?" I said, "Where is he from? What's the price of his teaching?" "Evenus," he said, "Socrates, he's a Parian, and his price is five mnæ."4And I felt like congratulating Evenus if he really had this art and taught it at such reasonable rates. If I knew how to do this myself, I would think myself a superior person and would patronize all and sundry; but, gentlemen, I don't know it.
[20c] Now maybe one of you might ask, "Well, Socrates, what is your business? Where does this prejudice against you come from? Because after all, if you were not a peculiar sort of person in the way you spend your time, this kind of rumor and story about you would never have gotten started, if you didn't do anything different from most people. So tell us what it is, so that we don't just condemn you out of hand." Now that seems to me a very fair question, and I will try to show you how I got this name and what produced the prejudice. So just listen. Maybe some of you will think I am joking, but please understand: I am telling you the complete truth. I got this name, gentlemen, for no other reason than through some kind of wisdom. What kind of wisdom is it? The kind, maybe, that is human wisdom, because, really, I probably am wise in just that way. Those other people, the ones I was just now talking about, might be wise with some wisdom greater than human, or else…I don't know what. Anyway, I don't know anything like that and anybody who says I do is lying and trying to make you prejudiced. And now, gentlemen, don't interrupt what I'm going to say, even if you think I'm boasting. Because this is not mine, the tale that I tell; I'm going to give you a reliable source. On the issue of my wisdom—what it is, what kind it is—I call to witness the god in Delphi.
[20e] Now, you probably all knew Chærephon. He was my companion from childhood, and he was your companion, one of the popular party; he went into exile with you, and he came back with you.5 You know the kind of person Chærephon was, how impetuous he was, whatever he set out to do. Well once he actually went to Delphi, and had the nerve to ask the oracle—please remember, don't interrupt me, gentlemen—he asked if there was anyone wiser than me. The answer came from the Pythia that no one was wiser. And about all this his brother here will be your witness, since the man himself is dead.
[21b] Now you'll see why I am telling you all this. I'm going to explain how the prejudice against me got started. Once I had heard this, I thought it over like this: "What on earth does the god mean, and whatever is his riddle? Because I know in my heart that I am not even slightly wise, so what on earth does he mean calling me wisest? He wouldn't be lying; they don't let him do that!6 " For a long time I was baffled: what on earth did he mean? Then at long last I began to inquire into him, more or less like this. I went to a person thought to be wise, with the idea that here, if anywhere, I would refute the prophesy, and that I was going to show the oracle: "this man here is wiser than me, but you said I was." So I looked into this person—I don't have to tell you his name, he was one of the political people—and when I looked into him I had the following experience, gentlemen, when I was talking to him; it seemed to me that this man seemed wise to many other people, and most of all to himself, but that he was not. So then I tried to show him that he thought he was wise but was not. At that point he became irritated with me, and so did many of those present. So I went away thinking to myself: "I really am wiser than this person. Probably neither of us knows anything really worth knowing, but this one thinks that he knows, although he doesn't, whereas I, just as I don't know, don't think that I do." So it seemed that by just this small amount I was wiser than him, in that what I did not know, I did not think that I knew. From there I went to another of those who are thought to be wise, and I came to the same conclusion; and on that occasion also he and many others became irritated with me.
[21e] Starting here I went on to one after another; I noticed—and I was sorry—and even afraid—that I was being irritating. All the same, I thought I had to make the god the first priority; I had to go on, looking into what the oracle meant, to all those thought to know anything. By the dog,7 gentlemen—because I have to tell you the truth—I swear this was my experience: those with the greatest reputation seemed to me nearly the most lacking when I inquired on behalf of the god, while there were others thought pretty average types who turned out to be somewhat superior in their intelligence.
[22a] Now I must tell you of my quest, as if I were performing labors8 only to find my oracle after all irrefutable. After the statesmen, I went to the poets, poets of tragedy and dithyramb and so on, thinking that here I was going to catch myself in the very act of being stupider than they were. Taking up their poems, those which seemed to me to be most carefully worked out, I would ask them what they might mean—so that at the same time I might learn something. Gentlemen, I am ashamed to tell you the truth; however, it must be told. Practically any one of the bystanders could speak better than they could about their own work. So it didn't take me long to see through the poets also: they do not make their work by wisdom, but by some kind of talent and by inspiration, like the seers and the oraclemongers. These people, too, say many things, wonderful things, but they know nothing about what they are saying. And it seemed to me that the poets had the same experience, and at the same time I noticed that because of their poetry they thought themselves very wise people in general, which they were not. So I went away thinking that I was better off than they, just as with the statesmen.
[22c] Finally, then, I went to the craftsmen, because I knew in my heart that I know practically nothing, but these I knew I would find knowing many and wonderful things—and I was not deceived; they knew things I did not know, and in this way they were wiser than I. But, gentlemen, they seemed to me to make the same mistake that the poets made, these fine craftsmen. Because they had worked out their art so well, each of them claimed also to be wisest on other topics, on the most important things; and this immodesty of theirs overshadowed their wisdom, so that I asked myself on behalf of the oracle whether I would prefer to be as I am, neither wise with their wisdom nor ignorant with their ignorance, or to have both things they have, and then I answered myself—and the oracle—that I was better off to stay as I am.
[22e] When I examine people this way, gentlemen, I annoy them a lot—in the worst way, the most depressing, producing all kinds of prejudice against me—so I get called this name, "wise," because each time the bystanders think I am wise about whatever is the topic of my refutation. In all likelihood, gentlemen, god is really wise, and this is what he means by his oracle: that our human kind of wisdom is worth little or nothing. And it turns out that this is what he means by "Socrates": he is using my name, taking me as a kind of example, as if someone would say, "Humankind, that one among you is wisest who, like Socrates, realizes that in truth he is worth nothing in relation to wisdom." So, for my part, even now I still go around on behalf of the god and identify for my research anyone, citizen or stranger, whom I might think to be wise; and when he seems to me not to be so, in alliance with the god I show him that he is not wise. And because this keeps me constantly busy I have never had the time to take any part in public life worth mentioning, nor to manage my own property; actually I am totally broke because of my volunteer work for the god.
[23c] Furthermore, the young men who follow me around, the ones who have the most spare time, the sons of the richest families—they follow me quite spontaneously, as they enjoy hearing people being examined, and a lot of times they imitate me and then they try to examine others. At that point I suppose they find absolutely no shortage of people who think that they know something but actually know little or nothing. And then the people they examine become angry—not with themselves, but with me—and they say, "There is some kind of Socrates, scum of the earth, who corrupts the youth"; and when somebody asks them what he does and what he teaches, they don't know what to say. They are stuck. Then so people won't think they have nothing to say, they bring out the usual charges about the philosophers, things about the heavens and beneath the earth, and not believing in the gods and making the worse reason the stronger.
[23d] The truth is what I don't suppose they'd ever be willing to admit, that they have been exposed as pretending to know and knowing nothing. Given that they are reputable people, I suppose, and fervent, and numerous, and that they never quit and are quite convincing about me, they have filled your ears these many years, and made the prejudice very strong. Meletus is one of this bunch, and Anytus, and Lycon—Meletus representing the poets in their irritation, Anytus representing the craftsmen and the political people, and Lycon representing the orators. So—as I said at the beginning—I would be surprised if I were able to root out so much prejudice in such a little bit of time, now that it has become so great. Nevertheless, gentlemen, this is the plain truth, and I am not holding back the slightest bit when I tell you this, nor have I trimmed my sails. I am nearly sure that I am right now irritating these very same people, which is proof that I speak the truth, and that this is the prejudice against me, and its cause. Whether you look into it now or later, you will find it so.
[24b] Concerning the prosecution brought by my first prosecutors, then, this should be an adequate defense before you. But in response to this superior fellow Meletus, this self-styled patriot, and to the recent set, I will now try to make a defense. So once again, as if this were another prosecution, let us take up their deposition. It goes something like this: "Socrates," he says, "is a criminal corrupting the youth, and he does not observe the gods whom the city observes, but rather new spiritual things." That is the complaint, and of this complaint let us examine each separate point.
[24c] He says that I am a criminal corrupting the young. But I, gentlemen, say that Meletus is a criminal because he's playing at serious things and brings people to trial in a lighthearted way, pretending to be serious and full of tender concern about things that matter9to him not at all. The truth of this I will now try to demonstrate. Come here, Meletus, and tell me: is it true that you have made the absolute goodness of the young people your highest priority?
[24d] Now tell these people, who makes them better? Obviously you know, since it matters to you. You have identified their corrupter—me, as you say—and you bring me before these people and prosecute me. The one who makes them better—come on, tell us, be our informant about that person. You see, Meletus, you are silent—you don't know what to say. Don't you think it's shameful and a sufficient proof of what I was saying that none of this has ever mattered to you? Come on, friend, who makes them better?
[24e] But I wasn't asking you that, my fine friend, but what person—who, in
the first place, knows this very thing, the laws?
"These people, Socrates, the jurors."
What do you mean, Meletus? Can these people educate the young and make
All of them? Or some of them, and not the others?
"All of them."
Good news, by Hera—no shortage of improvement! What about the
spectators—do they make them better or don't they?
"They do too."
What about the members of the council?
"The councillors too."
[25a] Well, Meletus, I don't suppose you are going to tell us that the people in the Assembly—the members of the Assembly—that they corrupt the young? Or do they also make them better, all of them?
So it turns out all Athenians except for me make people the right sort of people, and I alone corrupt them, is that what you're saying?
"That is exactly what I'm saying."
Well, you've certainly assigned me more than my fair share of misfortune. But answer me this: is the case of horses like that? They get better by people in general but some one person corrupts them? Or isn't it quite the opposite: there's some one person who is able to make them better, or very few people, people who understand horses, but most people corrupt horses if they spend time with them and use them? Isn't that the way it is, Meletus, with horses and all other animals? Yes it is, whether you and Anytus agree or not. It certainly would be a great stroke of good luck in the case of the young people if there was some one person alone who corrupted them and everybody else was making them better. You see, Meletus, you have made it perfectly clear that you've never even thought about the young people and you've revealed that your method has no matter, that this charge on which you've brought me to trial matters to you not at all.
[25c] Next question, by god, Meletus: is it better to live with good citizens or wicked ones? Answer me, mister; I'm not asking a hard question. Do not the wicked harm those who happen to be in their neighborhood, whereas the good do good?
[25d] Is there anybody who wants to be harmed by his companions rather than benefited? Answer, friend, the law requires you to answer! Is there anybody who wants to be harmed?
"No there isn't."
Now then. Did you bring me here as one who corrupts the young and makes them more wicked intentionally or unintentionally?
"Intentionally is what I say!"
[25d] How so, Meletus? Are you at your age so much wiser than I am at my age that you have figured out that bad people do something bad to those who are closest to them, and good people do good; whereas I have arrived at such perfect ignorance that I don't even know that if I make one of my companions vicious he will probably hurt me, so that I intentionally, as you say, make this bad thing happen? I am not convinced, Meletus, and I doubt anybody else would be. Either I do not corrupt them, or if I do corrupt them, I do it unintentionally, so in either case you're lying. And if I corrupt them unintentionally, the law does not bring people here for that kind of error; rather you should take me aside in private and explain it to me, reprove me. Obviously once I get it, I will stop what I am doing unintentionally. But you have avoided my company; you haven't wanted to explain things; instead you brought me here, a place provided by the law for people requiring punishment, not insight.
[26a] However, gentlemen, by this time my point is made, that these things never mattered even the slightest bit to Meletus. All the same, another question: how do you say I corrupt them Meletus, these young people? Or isn't it clear, according to the indictment you composed, that it's by teaching them not to believe in gods that the city believes in, but to believe in other new spiritual things? You mean that by teaching this I corrupt them?
"That's just exactly what I do say."
[26b] Now in the name of the very gods we're talking about, Meletus, explain it a little more clearly to me and to these people here. I really don't get it. Do you say that I teach people to believe that certain gods exist—not, however, the gods the city believes in, but different ones, so that I myself do believe in gods and am not altogether an atheist, I am not a criminal in that sense—but your complaint is that they are different? Or do you say I don't believe in gods at all, and teach other people that?
"That's what I say, that you do not believe in gods at all."
[26d] Meletus, this is truly amazing! What are you trying to say? Don't I believe that the sun and the moon are gods, the way most people do?
"No he doesn't, gentlemen of the jury! He says that the sun is a stone and that the moon is earth!"
[26d] Do you think you are prosecuting Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus? Or have you such contempt for these people, and do you think them so illiterate as not to know that the books of Anaxagoras of Clazomenæ are full of this kind of talk? And then the young people are supposed to learn these things from me, which they could get anytime for a drachma—at the most—from the orchestra by making a purchase there, and then they could laugh at Socrates if he pretended that this was his own doctrine, especially as it's really pretty peculiar. However, before god, this is your position, that I don't believe in any god?
"No he doesn't, by Zeus, not any one at all!"
[26e] Well this is unbelievable, Meletus, and I can't even think you believe it! My view, gentlemen, is that this person is brutal and out of control; and that he has composed this indictment with a certain kind of out-of-control brutality and immaturity; and it's put together like a riddle, as if he were teasing us: "Will Socrates, this wise man, understand that I am having fun and that I am contradicting myself? Or can I get away with this in front of him and everybody watching us?" Because it's obvious to me that he's contradicting himself in his indictment. It's as if somebody would say: "Socrates is a criminal believing in gods but not believing in gods!" That really has to be a joke.
[27a] Join me, gentlemen, in examining the obvious; and you, Meletus, answer our questions. And please, all of you, just as I asked you in the beginning, remember not to interrupt me if I talk in my normal manner.
[27b] Is there any person, Meletus, who believes in human things but does not believe in humans? Let him answer, gentlemen, don't make all these various interruptions! Is there anybody who does not believe in horses but believes in horsey things? Or does not believe in the existence of flute players but believes in
flute-playing things? Well, there isn't, you know! If you don't want to answer, I will speak for you, and for all these other people. But do answer me this question at least: is there anybody who believes that there are spiritual things but no spirits?
"No there isn't."
[27c] Well, thank you very much, you did finally answer me when these people made you do it. Now you say that I believe in and teach spiritual things— whether they're new or old, at least some kind of spiritual things according to your account—and you swore to that in your formal indictment. And if I believe in spiritual things, then I suppose it's absolutely necessary I have to believe in spirits! Isn't that true? Yes it is. I'm going to put you down as agreeing with me since you won't answer. Now, those spirits—don't we suppose that they are either gods or the children of gods? Do you agree or not?
"Yes I do."
[27d] Surely if I suppose there are spirits, as you say, and if spirits are some kind of gods, that would be what I say is the riddle you're having fun with, when you say that I don't suppose there are gods, and then again suppose there are, since I suppose there are spirits. But if in turn spirits are children of gods, some kind of bastards, or by nymphs, or some other kinds of ways they tell us—what person could suppose the children of gods exist and not gods? That would be just as peculiar as if someone supposed that children of horses and donkeys exist, mules— but not horses and donkeys! Meletus, the only explanation is that you're teasing us in the way you composed this indictment, or else you had no idea how to complain of any true crime. Because how in the world could you convince anybody who had even the smallest grain of sense that the same person could suppose that spiritual and even divine things exist, and also suppose that spirits or gods or heroes do not? There's just no way you could do it.
[28a] Well, gentlemen, I don't think it requires much of a defense that I have committed no crime according to Meletus' indictment; this is really enough. However, as I told you in the beginning, there is plenty of irritation against me— and it's everywhere, believe you me! That's what will convict me, if I am convicted, not Meletus nor Anytus, but the prejudice of the people and their hostility. It has already convicted many good men, and I suppose it will convict more; there is no danger of it's stopping with me.
[28b] Perhaps then someone is going to say, "Aren't you ashamed, Socrates, of living a lifestyle that puts you at risk of your life?" The answer I would have to give him is this: "You're wrong, my friend, if you think a man who's worth anything is supposed to worry about the danger of life or death; there is only one thing we have to keep track of as we act, whether the action is just or unjust, whether it is the act of a good man or a bad man. Because by your kind of argument, those demigods who died in Troy would be contemptible, particularly the son of Thetis, who so much despised danger in comparison to enduring any shame. You know when his mother said to him in his eagerness to kill Hector—and she was a goddess— something like this, as I remember: 'Child, if you avenge your friend Patroclus, and his murder, and you kill Hector, you yourself will die. 'straightway', she said, 'after Hector's, your fate is ready.'10 And when he heard this about death and danger, he ignored it. He was much more afraid to live as a coward, and not get revenge for his
friend. 'Straightway,' he said, 'let me die, bringing justice to the criminal, so that I may not linger, mocked at by the hollow ships as a burden on the earth'11. You don't think he was worried about death and danger?"
[28d] That's the way it is, gentlemen, in truth. Wherever someone has posted himself, supposing it best, or wherever he has been posted by his commander, there he must stand his ground, I think, in the face of danger, and not take into account death or anything else next to shame. It would be pretty bizarre behavior, gentlemen, if when my commanding officers posted me somewhere, the people whom you elected to rule over me in Potidæa and Amphipolis and Delium, then I held the position where they posted me—just as we all did, and I ran the risk of death; but when god has posted me somewhere, as I thought and understood him, that I was under orders to live philosophizing, examining myself and other people, then I would fear death or anything else whatsoever and leave the ranks. That would be bizarre, and might truly justify bringing me before the law court on a charge of disbelief in gods, because I disobeyed the oracle and was afraid of death and therefore supposed I was wise when I was not.
[29a] Because to be afraid of death, gentlemen, is nothing else than to seem to be wise when one is not, because it is to seem to know what one does not know. Nobody knows about death. Maybe it is the greatest good thing that can happen to a person; but people fear it as if they knew well that it was the worst possible thing. This has to be the most disgraceful ignorance, that of thinking that you know what
you do not know. And I, gentlemen, just right here, maybe, differ from most men; and if I would admit to be wiser in any way than anyone else, it would be in this: I not only don't know much about the next world, I am also aware that I don't. But to be a criminal, to disobey my superior, god or man, that is bad and shameful—this I do know. Therefore as an alternative to an evil that I know to be evil, when threatened with what I don't know—with what might even be good—I will never be afraid, nor will I run away. So let's suppose you acquit me now, paying no attention to Anytus—who said that I should never have come here in the first place but that since I did come here, you absolutely have to kill me, telling you that if I get away at this point, your sons will all adopt the life-style I supposedly teach, and they'll all be corrupted—let's suppose you respond like this: "Socrates, we are not convinced by Anytus. We let you go—on one condition, however: on the condition that you no longer pass your time in this investigation or philosophize. If you are ever caught doing it again you will die." Well just suppose, as I say, you were to let me go on this condition, then I would say to you: "Gentlemen, I am fond of you, I like you; but I would rather obey the god than you; and as long as I draw breath and am able, I am not going to stop philosophizing and warning you and making my point to any one of you I happen to run into. I will go on saying the kind of things that I always do say, such as: 'My friend, you are an Athenian, your city is the greatest and most famous for wisdom and for strength; aren't you ashamed to worry about money, getting as much as you can, and about prestige and status, instead of intelligence and truth and the soul, getting it to be the best it can be? You don't worry about that, you don't even think about it.'" And if someone wants to argue with me and say that he does worry about it, I'm not going to release him right off, or go away, but I will ask him and I will examine him and I will refute him, and if I think he has not acquired excellence but says he does, I will abuse him because he has his priorities wrong and makes trivialities important. It won't matter if he's younger or older, I'll do this with anyone I meet, foreigner or citizen—but especially the citizens, because you are family. That's what the god told me to do, I want you to understand that; and I think the best thing that ever happened to this city is my service to the god, because the only thing I do wherever I go is convince each of you, younger and older, not to worry about your body or your money but first to worry about your soul, to get it to be the best it can be; saying that it is not money that makes excellence, but excellence that makes money and all other good things good for people, in their private and public lives. And if by saying that I corrupt the youth, it must be bad for them; but if someone says that I say anything else, he's talking nonsense. So then I would say, gentlemen, either Anytus can convince you or not, you can acquit me or not, but understand that I am not going to do anything else, not if you were to kill me many times.
[30c] Don't interrupt me, gentlemen. but stick by the rule I asked of you, that you don't interrupt what I have to say, but listen to it. Actually in my opinion it would do you good to listen. I am going to say some other things now that might start you yelling; but just don't do it. I want you to know that if you kill me—kill the kind of person I'm talking about—it'll hurt you more than it hurts me. They won't hurt me, Meletus or Anytus, they can't; in my opinion it is not admissible for a better man to be hurt by a worse one. They could kill me, I suppose, or send me into exile, or take away my rights, but these things—well, maybe somebody else might think they are great evils, but I don't think so; it is a much worse thing to do what these people are now doing when they take a man and unjustly try to kill him.
[30d] You know, gentlemen, I'm not really making my own defense here, far from it; I am here to defend you against making a mistake about god's gift to you by convicting me. For if you do kill me, you will not easily find my replacement. I am literally (if it's not too ridiculous to put it this way) stuck on the city by the god, as if on a big, whopping horse that because of its size is rather sluggish and needs to be waked up by a horsefly or something—it seems to me the god has sent me to the city to be something like that fly; I wake you and convince you, and criticize each and every one of you, and am constantly at it, all day long, settling all over you. A replacement for that kind of person you're not going to get so easily, gentlemen; I want to convince you to conserve me. Here perhaps you're getting irritated, the way people do when they're waked up from a nap; you're ready to give me a slap, as Anytus advises, and casually kill me, and then the rest of your life you can go on sleeping—unless in his concern for you the god sends you somebody else.
[31a] I can produce some evidence that I really am like this, and am a gift of the god to the city. There is something supernatural about my general self-neglect, the way I've stood it so many years neglecting my property, that I have always done what you needed, going around to each of you as if I were your brother or your father, trying to convince you to worry about excellence. If I had gotten anything out of it and been paid for my advice it would have made some sense, but you will notice that even my accusers in all their barefaced accusations have never been so barefaced as to provide a witness that I ever made any money from anybody or asked for it, and I can provide you with a perfectly adequate witness that I am speaking the truth: my poverty.
[31c] Perhaps someone may think it strange that I remain in private practice when I go about giving advice and mind everybody else's business, but in public I'm never so bold as to come before the people and advise the city. The reason is the one I've explained to you so many times: that something divine or spiritual does happen to me—Meletus made a grotesque reference to it in the language of his indictment. I have (it started in childhood) some kind of voice that comes to me, and when it comes it always keeps me from doing something I was going to do, it never tells me to do anything. This is what has kept me out of politics, and I think it did very well to keep me out. I want you to understand, gentlemen, that if I had long since tried to do the business of politics I would long since be dead, of no use to anybody, not even myself. Don't get irritated with me for telling the truth; actually no human being can survive in opposition to you or with any other populace if he chivalrously tries to prevent all kinds of unjust and illegal things from going on in the city; anyone who really fights for justice, if he is going to survive any time at all, must necessarily stay in private practice and not become a public figure.
[32a] Furthermore I can provide you with substantial evidence of all this, and not mere talk but what you value: facts. So just listen to what happened to me so that you can know that I would never make any concessions to anyone on a matter of right and wrong because I was afraid to die. I would never surrender, I would rather perish. I'm going to tell you the kind of stupid story people tell in law suits— but at least mine is true! I, gentlemen, never held any other office in the city but I was a member of the council12; and it so happened that my tribe, Antiochis, was in the chair when you put on trial the ten generals who had not picked up the survivors of the sea battle, and you wanted to judge them all in a bunch, illegally, as you all understood later—but then I was the only one of the presiding committee who tried to keep you from acting illegally, and I voted against it.13And then some of the orators were quite ready to indict me and arrest me; and you were egging them on and yelling about it, but I thought I had to stand with law and justice and take my chances, rather than stand with you, when your deliberation was unjust, because I was afraid of prison or death. And that was while the city was a democracy. And then there was an oligarchy, and the Thirty sent for me to be in charge of a group of five. They brought me into the committee room, and they told me to go to Salamis and arrest Leon of Salamis to be executed, the kind of thing they did to many other people at that time because they wanted to involve as many people as possible and infect them with their crimes. I proceeded to give not a verbal but a practical demonstration that I am not worried one scrap about death, if you'll excuse the expression; but when it comes to wrongdoing or impiety, then I am totally worried. I was not intimidated by that regime (although it was a pretty rough crowd) to the point of committing a crime; I went away from the committee room and the other four went off to Salamis.14 They arrested Leon; but I just went home. And probably I would have died for that if the regime hadn't fallen pretty soon. Of all this you will have many witnesses.
[32e] So do you think I would have lasted all these years if I had gotten involved in public affairs and had acted there as a good man should, in alliance with justice, and (as we all should) had made this my highest priority? No I wouldn't, gentlemen; nor would any other man. As for me, take my whole life, whatever I did in public life you'll see I'm the same; and in private just the same person, never making any concession to anybody that was wrong, no, not with any of those people they slander me about, and say were my students. Actually, I was never anybody's teacher. When I was talking and doing what I do, if somebody wanted to hear me, young or old, I never held out on them, nor did I converse with people who paid me, and not with those who didn't; but just the same with rich, with poor, I offered myself for questioning or to question somebody if he wanted to answer my questions and hear what I had to say.15 And if somebody became good— or didn't—as a result, it's not fair to blame me, since I never promised anybody anything ever as a lesson, nor did I teach. And if someone says that he ever heard from me anything in private different from what everybody heard when we were all together, you have to know that he is not telling the truth.
[33b] But why in the world is it, then, that certain people have enjoyed spending a lot of time with me? I told you, gentlemen, I already gave you the whole truth about that. It's because they enjoy hearing people being examined who think
they are wise but are not. It is pretty enjoyable. As for me, I'm trying to tell you, I have been instructed by the god to do this, through oracles, through dreams, and in every way in which any divine disposition has ever instructed any human being to do anything. This, gentlemen, is not only true but easily checked. For if I in fact corrupt some of the young men and have corrupted others, then it should be— shouldn't it?—that when some of them became older and realized that when they were young I had given them some kind of bad advice, now they would come up here and accuse me and try to punish me. Or if they didn't want to do it themselves, then some of their families—their fathers, their brothers, other people who are related to them—if I had made something bad happen to their relatives, they would bring it up now and try to get me punished. Anyway, there are a lot of them here in court, as I see; first of all, there's Crito, we were children together, from the same neighborhood—he's the father of Critobulus here; Lysanias from Sphettus, father of Aeschines over there; also here's Antiphon of Cephisis, father of Epigenes. Then there are these others, whose brothers spent their time that way: Nicostratus, son of Theozotides, brother of Theodotus—you know Theodotus is dead, so he could not be holding back his brother—and Paralius, here son of Demodocus, whose brother was Theages. I could mention Adeimantus, son of Ariston; there is his brother Plato; and Aeantodorus, whose brother was Apollodorus; and many others I could mention—Meletus really should have called them in his speech as witnesses; but if he forgot, well, let him call them now—I yield the floor—and let him tell us if he's got anybody like that. You will find that it's just the opposite, gentlemen; they're all ready to support me, their corrupter, the man who—according to Meletus and Anytus—has injured their relatives. As for those who are themselves corrupted, it might make some sense that they are on my side, but those who are uncorrupted, who are already older people, their own relatives—what reason would they have to support my speech other than righteousness and justice, that they know Meletus is lying and I am telling the truth?
[34b] Okay, gentlemen. What I would have to say in my defense is pretty much that and more of the same. Now maybe one of you is going to feel irritated because he remembers his own case when he was on trial on some less serious charge than this one—how he implored you, supplicated the judges, shed floods of tears, put his children up on the stand to produce maximum pity, produced other family and friends in crowds—and I'm not doing any of these things, although my danger, people might think, is of the worst. Maybe some one of you, thinking of all that would get arrogant and rageful about it and would vote out of rage. Now, if any of this applies—I don't think it should, but if—the decent thing to say to him, it seems to me is this: "Well, friend, I also have some relatives, and as the line says in Homer, I was not born 'from an oak or a rock,' but from human beings, so that I have family—sons actually, gentlemen, three of them; one is already a young man, the other two are boys—but just the same I'm not going to bring any of them up here and plead with you to acquit me." Why not, you may ask? Well, it isn't from arrogance, gentlemen, nor from any disrespect for you—but as to how I feel about death, well, that's another story—but as far as my reputation goes, and yours, and that of the whole city, I don't think it looks good to do any of these things, especially at my age, with the name I have; whether it is true or false, people do at least think that Socrates is a little different from most people. And if those of you who are supposed to be special in wisdom or courage or in any other kind of excellence are going to be like that, it looks bad. I have many times seen this person or that, when they are on trial—people supposed to be really somebody—doing the most amazing things, evidently thinking something absolutely terrible was going to happen to them if they died, as if they were going to live forever if only you would not kill them. I think they make the whole city look bad; even somebody from out of town might get the idea that these special Athenians, people of excellence, people they themselves have singled out for official positions and honored in other ways, these notables are no different from women. Well gentlemen, the people who are supposed to amount to something shouldn't do this to you, and if we do do it you shouldn't let us. You ought to make this perfectly clear: you will convict those who stage these pitiable melodramas and make the city ridiculous, rather than those who keep the peace.
[35b] Setting aside the question of reputation, gentlemen, it does not seem right to plead with a judge, nor to get off by pleading, but rather to teach and persuade. That is not why a judge sits up there—to hand out justice as a favor—but to adjudicate the matter. Also, he has sworn not to give favors whenever he feels like it, but to judge according to the laws. Surely we should not get you used to breaking your oaths, nor should you get used to it; it's not pious behavior for either of us. Please, gentlemen, do not ask me to do things which I do not think look good, that are not right, or pious, especially—in god's name—when I am, after all, fighting a charge of impiety by Meletus here. It seems pretty clear: if I manage to convince you and, by begging, even force you against your oath, I would be teaching you to think there are no gods, and I would literally accuse myself by my defense, guilty of not believing in gods. However it is quite otherwise; I do believe in them, gentlemen, as no one of my accusers does, and I entrust to you and to god to adjudicate my case in whatever way is going to be best for me and for you.
[35e] I'm not going to make myself particularly miserable, gentlemen, about what has happened here—that you convicted me—for a number of reasons, mainly that there was nothing unexpected about what happened. I'm actually more surprised about the vote count, how close it was; I would have thought it wouldn't be that close, but more one-sided. As it is, it seems that if only thirty votes had changed sides I would have been acquitted.16 So I think I was acquitted in relation to Meletus—not only acquitted, but it's really pretty clear that if Anytus and Lycon hadn't come down here to accuse me he would have had to pay the thousand drachmæ for not getting twenty per cent of the votes.
[36b] Anyway, he proposes a penalty of death. OK, what counter-penalty shall I propose to you, gentlemen? Obviously, what I deserve. What is that? What do I deserve to suffer or to pay because for some reason I was never in my life able to keep the peace, because I didn't worry about the things most people worry about: money, and housekeeping, and wars, and public speeches, and various offices—and conspiracies and sedition when we were having that? I really thought better of myself than to seek my personal security that way, and so I never put myself in places where I would have been absolutely no use to you or myself; I went around privately to each of you as your benefactor—none better, I'd claim—trying to convince each of you not to worry about anything he owned before worrying about himself, making himself the best and brightest person he could, and not to worry about anything belonging to the city before worrying about the city itself, and to worry about everything else the same way—what do I deserve to get for being that kind of person? Something good, gentlemen, if I am truly to receive my just deserts. Furthermore it should be an appropriate good thing. And what is appropriate to a poor man, your benefactor, who has given all his time to your instruction? I can't think of anything more appropriate for such a person gentlemen, than to dine with the government—much more than somebody who with one or two or four horses wins at Olympia.17 He makes you seem happy, I make you actually happy; he does not need looking after, but I do. So if I'm going to be sentenced to what in all fairness I deserve, I would pick that: to dine with the government.
[37a] Maybe in what I've just said some of you may think that I talk pretty much the way I did when I talked about pity and about pleading, that I'm arrogant. Actually that's not right, gentlemen; it's really more like this: I am convinced that nobody ever does wrong on purpose—but I won't convince you of that, because we're only talking together a little while. However in my opinion I could convince you if we had a law, as some other people do, that on a capital charge you can't judge it in one day but several. The way we do it it's not easy in such a rush to get rid of such gigantic prejudice. Anyway, I am convinced that I have committed no crime, so I am certainly not going to behave criminally toward myself and tell you that I deserve something bad and propose it as my sentence. What am I supposed to be afraid of? That I'll get what Meletus proposes as my sentence? I've already told you I don't know whether that is good or bad, so instead of that should I choose something I know perfectly well is bad and propose that as the penalty? Maybe imprisonment? But why should I live in a prison, slave to whoever is put in charge of it, to the committee on executions? Or maybe money, and then be imprisoned until I pay it? But that's really just the same as the other, because I don't have any money to pay with. Or shall I propose a sentence of exile? That is a sentence you might even accept. However, gentlemen, I would really be hanging on for dear life if I could talk myself into thinking that whereas you, my fellow citizens, couldn't stand my lifestyle and my arguments, and they made you so depressed and hostile that now you're trying to get rid of me, nevertheless some other people are going to be able to stand me better. It's pretty implausible, gentlemen. So that would be a fine life for a man of my age, changing around from one city to another, a life of constant rejection. I have to understand that wherever I go the young men will listen to me talk just the way they do here. And if I reject them, they will convince their elders to reject me; if I don't reject them, their fathers and their relatives will do it on their behalf.
[37e] Now somebody might say, "Why don't you shut up and keep still, Socrates? Couldn't you live elsewhere that way?" That is just the hardest thing to convince you about. If I call this disobedience to the god and say that's why I can't keep still, you'll be unconvinced, you'll think I'm being ironic. But suppose I say that in fact the greatest good for mankind is this: every day to discuss excellence and all the other things that you hear me discussing, examining myself and others, and that an unexamined life is no kind of human life—these things would be even less convincing when I say them. They are as they are, as I claim, gentlemen; but not obvious.
[38a] Anyway, I am not in the habit of thinking I deserve anything bad. If I had any money, I would propose a penalty of money, some amount that I could pay—since that wouldn't do me any harm. However I don't have any—unless there's some amount I could pay, and you're prepared to accept that as a sentence. I suppose I could pay one mna in silver, so I propose that for my sentence.
[38b] Oh, Plato here, and Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus—they tell me to propose a penalty of thirty mnæ and they themselves will guarantee it. So I'll propose a sentence of that amount, and they can be guarantors to you for the money; they're certainly good for it.
[38c] You haven't gained much time, gentlemen, and in exchange you'll have the name and the charge by people who want to insult the city, that you killed Socrates, a wise man—for they will call me wise, even if I am not, the people who want to deride you—whereas if you just waited a little while, what you want would have happened of its own accord. You can see how old I am, far along in life and close to death. I'm not talking to all of you, but to those who voted for my death, and I have more to say to the same people. Maybe you think, gentlemen, that I was condemned because I couldn't come up with convincing arguments, assuming that I was ready to say and do whatever it took to be acquitted. Far from it. I was condemned because I couldn't come up with—not arguments—I couldn't come up with the effrontery, the shamelessness; I couldn't bring myself to tell you the kind of things that you really like to hear—weeping and wailing and carrying on, and saying certain things that are really beneath me, I would claim—what you're used to hearing from other people. At that time, though, I did not think that because of the danger I should do something unworthy of a free man, nor have I changed my mind now about the kind of defense I made; I would much rather defend myself that way and die than some other way and live. In a lawsuit, or in a war, the idea for me or anybody else is not to come up with some smart move, whatever it takes, and avoid death. In a battle, too, lots of times there is some obvious way not to die—by abandoning your weapons and throwing yourself on the mercy of the people who are after you. And there are all kinds of other moves you can make, in any kind of danger, to escape death, if you really have the stomach for doing and saying whatever it takes. Possibly this is not the difficult part, gentlemen, escaping death; the difficulty is with wickedness. It runs quicker than death. And now I, who am so old and slow, have been taken by the slower runner, and my accusers, who are so clever and quick, have been taken by the swifter runner, by evil. And now I am going away, sentenced by you to death, and they go away sentenced by truth to bad character and vice. I will endure my sentence, and so will they. Maybe things had to be this way, and I suppose it's pretty much all right.
[39c] Next I desire to prophesy to you, you who convicted me, I am at the place where people do prophesy, at the point of death. I want to tell you, gentlemen, you who are killing me, that you will have a penalty immediately upon my death, much more severe, by god, than the one with which you kill me. You do this now thinking that you get out of the cross-examination of your lives; but as I see it the result will be quite the opposite. Many people will cross-examine you, people I kept back, although you never noticed. And they will be harsher because they are younger, and they will make you miserable. If you think that by killing people you can discourage them from denouncing the righteousness of your life, you need to think again. You can't get out of it that way; it can't be done and would look bad if it could. There is, however, another way that looks very good and is easy: not to penalize others, but to get ready to be the best person you can. For those who condemned me this is my prophesy, and I am done with you.
[39e] But you who voted to acquit, I would be very glad to talk to you about this event that just took place, while the authorities are busy and I don't yet go where I have to go to die. Please, gentlemen, stay with me a little while. Nothing prevents us from telling each other stories while we can. I count you my friends, and so I am ready to explain what has happened, what it means. Because, my judges—when I call you judges you deserve the name—a strange thing happened. I am by now used to this prophetic spiritual sign which has come so often in my life, and absolutely opposed me about trivialities if I was on the point of doing something not right. Here things have turned out for me as you yourselves see, this thing here that somebody might think and believe to be the worst of evils—but when I left the house in the morning the divine sign never opposed me, nor when I came up here to the law court, nor anywhere in my speech with anything I was going to say. And yet, other times when I was talking it has often opposed what I was saying, often in the middle of it; in this case neither in fact nor in word did it ever oppose me. What do I take to be the explanation? I will tell you. Probably what has happened here is something good, and there is no way that we can rightly understand it, as many of us as think that it is a bad thing to die. I have strong evidence for this. It absolutely would have opposed me, my usual sign, if I weren't going to experience something good.
[40c] Let us think this way about the considerable hope that it is something good. It is one of two things, dying. Either it is like having no awareness of anything when you're dead, or, as people tell us, it is some kind of transfer and change of address for the soul from the place where we are into some other place. And if it is no awareness at all but is like a sleep slept out without any dreams, then death would be a great gain. In my opinion, if somebody could pick out a night he slept so deeply that he had no dreams, and then took all the other nights and days of his life and put them up against that night, and then were asked how many of those days and nights had been better and more pleasant than that night, in his whole life—and I don't just mean a private person, but take the great king of Persia—it would be very few days that he could find, or nights, that would be better than that. So if death is like that, in my opinion it's a great gain. All of time would appear no more than a single night.
[40e] But if it's like going to another country, death, or into another place, and the things that they tell us are true, that all the dead people are there, what could be a greater good thing than that, my judges? For if when we come into Hades we get away from the people who are here called judges, and there find the real judges (we are told they do the judging there, Minos and Rhadamanthys, Aeacus and Triptolemus, and all the other demigods who were just in their own lives)—that would be no minor excursion. Or again, to get to know Orpheus and Musæus, Hesiod and Homer—how much would you pay for that? I would be willing to die a lot of times if all of that is true. For in my case I think that would be the most wonderful way for me to pass my time there; when I would meet Palamedes or Telamonian Ajax or any of the other people of the old time who died through some kind of unjust judgment; I could compare my experience with theirs—that would be pretty enjoyable, in my opinion. Then comes the best part: to carry on testing and inquiring into the people there, just like those here—who is wise, and who thinks he is but isn't? What would it be worth to you, gentlemen, to be able to examine the commander in the Trojan War, that great army, or Odysseus, or Sisyphus, or ten thousand other men and women I could mention? To talk to them there, and pass time with them, and examine them—wouldn't that be an amazing happiness? And after all, the people who are there couldn't kill you for it. People there are generally happier than people here, and they have the special advantage of being immortal once they get there, if what we are told is true.
[41c] Anyway, my judges, you should be of good hope about death, and keep in mind this one truth: it is not possible for anything bad to happen to a good man, either in life or in death, and his acts are never neglected by the god. My present situation has not happened by accident; it is obvious to me that the time has come for me to die and to be done with trouble, and this is better for me. And that is why the sign never turned me back. And so I am not really so angry with the people who convicted me, and with the prosecution—although this is not what they had in mind when they accused and convicted me; they thought they were going to harm me; I do have the right to hold that against them. [41e] I have this one request of them: when my sons come of age, be hard on them, giving them just the same kind of trouble that I gave you—if they seem to you to worry more about money or anything rather than excellence, and if they think they amount to something when they don't, keep after them, just as I did with you, that they don't worry about the right things, and that they think they amount to something when they are really worthless. And if you do this, you will be treating us justly, myself and my sons. But now it is already time to go away, I to die, you to live; but which of us goes to the better fate, that is dark to us all—except god.