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Jan 1, 1991

Jan 1, 1991

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Apology - Benjamin Jowett

The Project Gutenberg EBook of Apology, by Plato

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Title: Apology

       Also known as The Death of Socrates

Author: Plato

Translator: Benjamin Jowett

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

Last Updated: January 15, 2013

Language: English


Produced by Sue Asscher, and David Widger


By Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett



In what relation the Apology of Plato stands to the real defence of Socrates, there are no means of determining. It certainly agrees in tone and character with the description of Xenophon, who says in the Memorabilia that Socrates might have been acquitted 'if in any moderate degree he would have conciliated the favour of the dicasts;' and who informs us in another passage, on the testimony of Hermogenes, the friend of Socrates, that he had no wish to live; and that the divine sign refused to allow him to prepare a defence, and also that Socrates himself declared this to be unnecessary, on the ground that all his life long he had been preparing against that hour. For the speech breathes throughout a spirit of defiance, (ut non supplex aut reus sed magister aut dominus videretur esse judicum', Cic. de Orat.); and the loose and desultory style is an imitation of the 'accustomed manner' in which Socrates spoke in 'the agora and among the tables of the money-changers.' The allusion in the Crito may, perhaps, be adduced as a further evidence of the literal accuracy of some parts. But in the main it must be regarded as the ideal of Socrates, according to Plato's conception of him, appearing in the greatest and most public scene of his life, and in the height of his triumph, when he is weakest, and yet his mastery over mankind is greatest, and his habitual irony acquires a new meaning and a sort of tragic pathos in the face of death. The facts of his life are summed up, and the features of his character are brought out as if by accident in the course of the defence. The conversational manner, the seeming want of arrangement, the ironical simplicity, are found to result in a perfect work of art, which is the portrait of Socrates.

Yet some of the topics may have been actually used by Socrates; and the recollection of his very words may have rung in the ears of his disciple. The Apology of Plato may be compared generally with those speeches of Thucydides in which he has embodied his conception of the lofty character and policy of the great Pericles, and which at the same time furnish a commentary on the situation of affairs from the point of view of the historian. So in the Apology there is an ideal rather than a literal truth; much is said which was not said, and is only Plato's view of the situation. Plato was not, like Xenophon, a chronicler of facts; he does not appear in any of his writings to have aimed at literal accuracy. He is not therefore to be supplemented from the Memorabilia and Symposium of Xenophon, who belongs to an entirely different class of writers. The Apology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said, but an elaborate composition, quite as much so in fact as one of the Dialogues. And we may perhaps even indulge in the fancy that the actual defence of Socrates was as much greater than the Platonic defence as the master was greater than the disciple. But in any case, some of the words used by him must have been remembered, and some of the facts recorded must have actually occurred. It is significant that Plato is said to have been present at the defence (Apol.), as he is also said to have been absent at the last scene in the Phaedo. Is it fanciful to suppose that he meant to give the stamp of authenticity to the one and not to the other?—especially when we consider that these two passages are the only ones in which Plato makes mention of himself. The circumstance that Plato was to be one of his sureties for the payment of the fine which he proposed has the appearance of truth. More suspicious is the statement that Socrates received the first impulse to his favourite calling of cross-examining the world from the Oracle of Delphi; for he must already have been famous before Chaerephon went to consult the Oracle (Riddell), and the story is of a kind which is very likely to have been invented. On the whole we arrive at the conclusion that the Apology is true to the character of Socrates, but we cannot show that any single sentence in it was actually spoken by him. It breathes the spirit of Socrates, but has been cast anew in the mould of Plato.

There is not much in the other Dialogues which can be compared with the Apology. The same recollection of his master may have been present to the mind of Plato when depicting the sufferings of the Just in the Republic. The Crito may also be regarded as a sort of appendage to the Apology, in which Socrates, who has defied the judges, is nevertheless represented as scrupulously obedient to the laws. The idealization of the sufferer is carried still further in the Gorgias, in which the thesis is maintained, that 'to suffer is better than to do evil;' and the

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  • (4/5)
    Socrates would have made a great internet troll.
  • (5/5)
    These days when we think of the word apology we usually connect it with saying sorry for something that we have done wrong, however that is not necessarily the origin of the word. Christianity has a field of study known as apologetics, and once again, this is not necessarily saying sorry for the many evils deeds that have been committed under the name of Christianity but rather putting up a defense against attacks that are levelled against the faith and providing a reason for the hope that we have. This is what the Apology of Socrates is about: it is the defense that Socrates made against the charges that were levelled against him in 399 BC which ultimately led to his death. I note that the dating of this work is about 9 years after Socrates' death, so many of the sayings (such as the 'unexamined life is not worth living') are second hand, however we should note that Plato was present at the trial so this is in effect an eyewitness account. Also, it is clear that this was transcribed and published at least 9 years after the events themselves, and since the memories of the ancients were much better than our memories (namely because they did not have sources such as Wikipedia at their disposal) I am willing to accept that this is a fairly accurate report of what happened at the trial.The Apology is divided into three parts, corresponding with the way that an Athenian trial would be conducted. When you appeared in an Athenian court you were not allowed to have somebody appear on your behalf, as is the practice today, but had to make your charges, and answer them, yourself. As such a hugely profitable business arose in which speech writers would write the speech on your behalf for you to deliver it. No doubt Miletus, the person making the accusation against Socrates, either used this service, or was a sophist (the person who would write the speech) himself.The first, and the longest, section of the Apology is Socrates' defense. From reading the defense we can determine that the charges were twofold, heresy and corrupting the youth. During his response, he refers to Anaxagoras, a philosopher who was also brought up on charges of heresy, but Socrates distances himself from Anaxagoras namely because Anaxagoras was an atheist; Socrates was not. The second charge, corrupting the youth, is not the same as we would understand it today. Today, crimes against youths (that is people under the age of 18) are generally always sexual, though crimes do exist where the perpetrator encourages the youth to commit a crime (though to be brought up on such a charge, the person that you are influencing could be of any age). The charge against Socrates was that he taught the youth to question everything and that his teachings were decidedly anti-democratic.It is clear from the Apology that Socrates held a very dim view of Athenian Democracy, and from what we can gather I am not surprised. It has been suggested that Socrates leant to the right but I do not believe that we can ascribe modern political theory to the politics of Athens. The concern Socrates had with Athenian democracy was that it was clearly based on popular opinion rather than upon truth and justice. One example he raises is the events at the battle of Arginusae. Despite that battle being an Athenian victory, it was also quite disastrous for the city, best described as a Pyrrhic victory (despite Pyrrhus living after these events). As a result the generals leading the battle were put on trial, and despite the generals actually being innocent and the trial being little more that a witch hunt, they were found guilty by popular opinion and executed. This is the problem that Socrates had with democracy (and in many ways it is still the case today, where a government will act unconstitutionally because popular opinion demands that the government act as such: for instance, at a trial in South Australia the judge acquitted the accused, and there was such a public outcry over the acquittal that the government stepped in, overturned the acquittal, and ordered a new trial, as well as sacking the Director of Public Prosecutions).The concerns that a certain party had was that Socrates' teachings would undermine the democratic system of which Athens was so proud. However, Socrates' position was that one should only act in a just manner, and it is this desire for justice that made Socrates such a thorn in people's side. Socrates himself even says that he stayed well away from public office simply because he did not trust himself to be able to maintain his position with regards to justice if he were to find himself in a position of power. Obviously he was required to attend the assembly, as was expected of all Athenian citizens, however he never put himself forward (or so we are told) to be elected to the executive council, or any of the other positions that were available to Athenian citizens.The second part of the Apology is where Socrates puts forward his proposed punishment. Once again it is similar to our legal system where once a person is found guilty (and in Athens is was not beyond reasonable doubt, but rather a balance of probabilities, and of the 500 members of the jury, just over half voted in favour of his guilt, so it appears to have been a tight run thing) both sides have the option of swaying the judge in regards to the punishment. No doubt the prosecution always goes for the toughest sentence possible, while the defense will then put forward a sentence that is much lighter. Socrates, however, suggests that the only sentence that is beneficial for him would be death simply because he has no money to pay a fine, and that even imprisonment is not an option because of the fact that he is poor. He also considers banishment, but suggests that due to his reputation, and due to his age, there really is no point. He does settle on the idea of a fine, however he did suggest that due to his influence in the city, maybe being treated as a hero was much better.Obviously he was sentenced to death so the third part of the Apology is his final speech to the jury and in this speech he indicates that he really doesn't care about his punishment. He is not scared of death and he feels that he has lived a long enough life that death does not really concern him, particularly since he is destined to die anyway. Even then, the uncertainty of death simply means that it is another opportunity for him to learn something new.I wish to finish off on another comment that he makes, and that is that if they do execute him they should be aware that somebody like him is unlikely to come around for a long time, so they need to be aware that once he is gone, he is gone for good. Mind you, others have appeared (Jesus Christ for instance) however he is quite correct in that, not that he is being arrogant, but indicating that his motivations, and his desire for truth and justice, is what keeps the city for falling into obscurity. He sees himself as a challenger and as a moderator against the extremes. He also speaks of a voice whom he listens to because the voice moderates his activity. It is not that he voice tells him to do things, but rather tells him not to do things. He is very clear on that, and one thus questions whether this is schizophrenia in the true sense. Mysterious voices tend to urge people on to do things (and usually bad things) however Socrates is quite clear that his voice is a voice of restraint. To be honest with you, I am more likely to listen to a voice of restraint than I am to listen to the opposite, and the reason for this is that restraint tends to protect you from putting your foot in your mouth and making enemies than does a voice that urges you on to do things that maybe you shouldn't really be doing.
  • (3/5)
    Socrates might just be trolling Athens...
  • (4/5)
    I haven't read anything by Plato before this, or really anything about Socrates. But since Socrates was illiterate, we only have Plato's accounts of his philosophies and actions. Before this I didn't know much about Greek philosophy or Socrates death. Now I can really appreciate the Renaissance painting of Socrates Death. I can also now see why people found Socrates and his Socratic Method so annoying. I would be annoyed as well is someone used questions to back me into a corner until I had to agree with what they were saying and then called me a fool. But despite this, Socrates philosophy was, in his time and place, a turning point for Greek philosophy. I'm very glad I got to read this. I certainly humbled me and opened my eyes a little. I also appreciated the authenticity of this translation. From it the reader can get a good idea of Socrates himself as a man and how he spoke. It was very refreshing.
  • (5/5)
    This book is a portuguese translation of the famous Plato's work Απολογία Σωχράτους. The only philosophy book I have read three times (so far) and a very enjoyable short digression about justice, truth, and a moral way of living.
  • (5/5)
    Aah, the first thing I ever read in Greek! Then Apology is wonderful even in translation, but the beauty of Plato's prose just blew me away. This edition is fabulous, too, because it has a glossary at the back, which I think is a really helpful too for beginning readers.