Plato's Apology

17a to 42a

Translated by Hugh Tredennick from

The Collected Works of Plato, Huntington and Cairns (ed.), Princeton U. Press, 1980, p. 4-26.

Death before dishonor links

Although the word "apology" is the direct descendant into English of the Greek word apología, the meaning has changed. Socrates was not apologizing or making excuses. He wasn't sorry. The Greek word apología simply and precisely meant a defense, or a defense speech. This meaning has been preserved in English in some related words:  An "apologist" is still someone who argues a defense of someone or something, and "apologetics" is still a discipline or system of argued defense of something, usually a doctrine, cause, or institution. Socrates' speech thus might be translated The Defense of Socrates without the possible confusion over the modern meaning; but after long usage, it is hard to imagine calling the Apology anything else.

Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D., Department of Philosophy, Los Angeles Valley College

Links to Later Sections of the Apology:

·  Socrates Discusses His Penalty

·  Socrates's Argument that Death is not a Bad Thing

school scenes from a 4th century Athenian vase


The Royal Stoa where the preliminary hearing of Socrates took place                a diagram of the law court where the trial took place

I do not know what effect my accusers have had upon you, gentlemen, but for my own part I was almost carried away by them--their arguments were so convincing. On the other hand, scarcely a word of what they said was true. I was especially astonished at one of their many misrepresentations; I mean when they told you that you must be careful not to let me deceive you--the implication being that I am a skillful speaker. I thought that it was peculiarly brazen of them to tell you this without a blush, since they must know that they will soon be effectively confuted, when it becomes obvious that I have not the slightest skill as a speaker--unless, of course, by a skillful speaker they mean one who speaks the truth. If that is what they mean, I would agree that I am an orator, though not after their pattern.

Although Socrates is on trial for his life, his prosecutors (Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon) are private individuals. There is no public prosecutor at Athens, no District Attorney. All actions are brought by private individuals, although they themselves might be politically prominent, or officials.  There is no judge and so no one to keep the trial in order, to explain the law to the jurors or to rule on what evidence is admissible. Nor are there lawyers: the accusers and the defendant speak for themselves.The law in Athens was not written down, and crimes could be vague in their definition. What, after all, was impiety, the crime of which Socrates was accused? It was in effect left up to the jurors each to define it for himself. The jury also has to decide for itself what evidence is reliable. The procedure of the trial is that the prosecutor or prosecutors make their speeches, accusing the defendant, then the defendant makes his defense speech. This is where the Apology begins, as we can tell, since Socrates initially comments on what he has just heard from his prosecutors. After the defense, the jury votes innocent or guilty. The jury does not retire, nor is there any deliberation. Furthermore the jury is very large: a typical jury had 500-600 jurors. Only a bare majority is needed, though, as Socrates mentions, the prosecution is fined if it does not get a fifth of the vote. In this case, Socrates is barely (by 30 votes) found guilty. Then we get what today is called the "penalty phase of the trial." The prosecution proposes a punishment it thinks is fitting, in this case death. Then Socrates proposes a counter-penalty. The jury again votes to pick which penalty to impose. Socrates is condemned to death. The final part of the Apology, then, is what Socrates has to say after that vote, after he knows that he is sentenced to die. [See Robin Waterfield, Athens: A History.]

It is important to think about what you are witnessing here because it is the birth of the fundamental democratic institution of trial by a jury of one’s peers. While this trial may lack some of the features that we associate with trials—a clearly-defined indictment, a judge, rules of due process, deliberation by the jury—it does include judgment as to a citizen's  guilt or innocence made entirely by other citizens: one's peers. The jurors were not all aristocrats: they ranged from wealthy to quite poor. Jurors were paid a per diem that was substantial enough to allow all but the poorest citizens to be jurors. There was no institution like it anywhere else in the ancient world. The Apology of course is told by Plato and Plato was no democrat and no fan of the jury as an institution. In his eyes, the Apology is the story of the wrongful conviction of an upright, just, and great man—his teacher and friend—by manipulation of a biased and too-easily swayed jury. In The Knights, Aristophanes says this:

O People of Athens, how fine is your rule,

When all men fear you as they would a tyrant.

But you’re so easily led: you love

To be flattered and deceived.

You’re impressed by every new speaker.

Just now your mind is on vacation.

Without doubt, this expresses Plato’s view too, I. F. Stone in  an interview about his book on the trial of Socrates says:

“Plato turned the trial of his master, Socrates, into a trial of Athens and of democracy. He used it to demonstrate that the common people were too ignorant, benighted and fickle to entrust with political power. In Plato’s "Apology," the contrast drawn between the nobility of Socrates and the grim verdict of his juror-judges indicted democracy in the eyes of posterity. And thanks to his genius, no other trial except that of Jesus has so captured the imagination of Western man.”"

Nonetheless, we should not let Plato’s biases obscure the significance of the very existence of a jury as the arbiter of Socrates’ fate.

Socrates was most envied; and especially because he would take to task those who thought highly of themselves, proving them to be fools, as to be sure he treated Anytus, according to Plato’s Meno.  For Anytus could not endure to be ridiculed by Socrates, and so in the first place stirred up against him Aristophanes and his friends; then afterwards he helped to persuade Meletus to indict him on a charge of impiety and corrupting the youth.


The indictment was brought by Meletus, and the speech was delivered by Polyeuctus, according to Favorinus in his Miscellaneous History.  The speech was written by Polycrates the sophist, according to Hermippus; but some say that it was by Anytus.  Lycon the demagogue had made all the needful preparations.


Antishenes in his Successions of Philosophers, and Plato in his Apology, say that there were three accusers, Anytus, Lycon and Meletus; that Anytus was roused to anger on behalf of the craftsmen and politicians, Lycon on behalf of the rhetoricians, Meletus of the poets, all three of which classes had felt the lash of Socrates.  Favorinus in the first book of his Memorabilia declares that the speech of Polycrates against Socrates is not authentic; for he mentions the rebuilding of the walls by Conon, which did not take place till six years after the death of Socrates. And this is the case.

 The affidavit in the case, which is still preserved, says Favorinus, in the Metroon, ran as follows:  “This indictment and affidavit is sworn by Meletus, the son of Meletus of Pitthos, against Socrates, the son of Sophroniscus of Alopece: Socrates is guilty of refusing to recognize the gods recognized by the state, and introducing other new divinties.  He is also guilty of corrupting the youth.  The penalty demanded is death.”  The philosopher then, after Lysias had written a defense for him; read it through and said: “A fine speech, Lysias; it is not, however, suitable to me.”  For it was plainly more forensic than philosophical.  Lysias said, “If it is a fine speech, how can it fail to suit you?”  “Well,” he replied, “would not fine raiment and fine shoes be just as unsuitable to me?” 

Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, c. 225 c.e. or a.d.

 My accusers, then, as I maintain, have said little or nothing that is true, but from me you shall hear the whole truth--not, I can assure you, gentlemen, in flowery language like theirs, decked out with fine words and phrases. No, what you will hear will be a straightforward speech in the first words that occur to me, confident as I am in the justice of my cause, and I do not want any of you to expect anything different. It would hardly be suitable, gentlemen, for a man of my age to address you in the artificial language of a schoolboy orator. One thing, however, I do most earnestly beg and entreat of you. If you hear me defending myself in the same language which it has been my habit to use, both in the open spaces of this city--where many of you have heard me--and elsewhere, do not be surprised, and do not interrupt. Let me remind you of my position. This is my first appearance in a court of law, at the age of seventy,

"Age of seventy." We learn Socrates' age. This may explain a lot. People in the 5th century BC did not ordinarily live to seventy. Thirty-five is more like the average age of people in ancient cemeteries, but even in more recent times, as in Ireland, average lifespan has sometimes only been about nineteen. Socrates, therefore, has already perhaps lived something like two, or three, lifetimes. He has also outlived most of his own generation. He often refers to the youth of his accusers and of the jury. These are people who did not grow up with him but only know him by reputation. The reputation doesn't have much to do with what he is like. But his age may have a lot to do with why he is in trouble. His own contemporaries, who would never have dreamed of trying to effect a judicial murder on him, are mostly gone. He, and they, are now strangers to most of the jury.

 and so I am a complete stranger to the language of this place. Now if I were really from another country, you would naturally excuse me if I spoke in the manner and dialect in which I had been brought up, and so in the present case I make this request of you, which I think is only reasonable, to disregard the manner of my speech--it may be better or it may be worse--and to consider and concentrate your attention upon this one question, whether my claims are fair or not. That is the first duty of the juryman, just as it is the pleader's duty to speak the truth.

Socrates refers to his manner of speech as "things spoken at random and expressed in the first words that come to mind." We know from Xenophon that Socrates had not prepared a defense and just walked into court. The result that we find here may seem very considered and accomplished, but one thing to keep in mind is that the text is produced, not by Socrates, but by Plato, probably the greatest stylist in the history of philosophy. Plato need not have been manufacturing Socrates' speech for it to be reproduced in the manner of Plato's own writing.

--Ross at

The proper course for me, gentlemen of the jury, is to deal first with the earliest charges that have been falsely brought against me, and with my earliest accusers, and then with the later ones. I make this distinction because I have already been accused in your hearing by a great many people for a great many years, though without a word of truth, and I am more afraid of those people than I am of Anytus and his colleagues, although they are formidable enough. But the others are still more formidable. I mean the people who took hold of so many of you when you were children and tried to fill your minds with untrue accusations against me, saying, There is a wise man called Socrates who has theories about the heavens and has investigated everything below the earth, and can make the weaker argument defeat the stronger.

It is these people, gentlemen, the disseminators of these rumors, who are my dangerous accusers, because those who hear them suppose that anyone who inquires into such matters must be an atheist. Besides, there are a great many of these accusers, and they have been accusing me now for a great many years. And what is more, they approached you at the most impressionable age, when some of you were children or adolescents, and they literally won their case by default, because there was no one to defend me.

This is one reason why modern trials see to it that jurors do not know the defendant or have any prior opinion about the case. The original English juries though, from whom our own jury system is most directly descended were made up of the neighbors and friends of the defendant and it was thought to be good that they knew him or her and the circumstances surrounding the case. It was not thought then that ignorance was conducive to justice.


And the most fantastic thing of all is that it is impossible for me even to know and tell you their names, unless one of them happens to be a playwright.

All these people, who have tried to set you against me out of envy and love of slander--and some too merely passing on what they have been told by others--all these are very difficult to deal with. It is impossible to bring them here for cross-examination; one simply has to conduct one's defense and argue one's case against an invisible opponent, because there is no one to answer. So I ask you to accept my statement that my critics fall into two classes, on the one hand my immediate accusers, and on the other those earlier ones whom I have mentioned, and you must suppose that I have first to defend myself against the latter. After all, you heard them abusing me longer ago and much more violently than these more recent accusers.

Very well, then, I must begin my defense, gentlemen, and I must try, in the short time that I have, to rid your minds of a false impression which is the work of many years. I should like this to be the result, gentlemen, assuming it to be for your advantage and my own; and I should like to be successful in my defense, but I think that it will be difficult, and I am quite aware of the nature of my task. However, let that turn out as God wills. I must obey the law and make my defense.

Let us go back to the beginning and consider what the charge is that has made me so unpopular, and has encouraged Meletus to draw up this indictment. Very well, what did my critics say in attacking my character? I must read out their affidavit, so to speak, as though they were my legal accusers: Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example. It runs something like that. You have seen it for yourselves in the play by Aristophanes, where Socrates goes whirling round, proclaiming that he is walking on air, and uttering a great deal of other nonsense about things of which I know nothing whatsoever.

 He is referring here to the great playwright Aristophanes whose play The Clouds poked fun at Socrates but which is also one of the most important original sources of information about Socrates. The three main contemporary records we have are Plato’s dialogues, The Clouds, and the Memorabilia of Socrates by Xenophon. (These two works are linked to the syllabus if you wish to read them.)

Here Socrates is suspended in the air the better to study the

universe, while his followers have their butts in the air studying the earth.

“In his play Clouds, first produced in 423 B.C.E., Aristophanes presents Socrates as an eccentric and comic headmaster of a "thinkery" (or "thoughtery").  He is portrayed "stalking the streets" of Athens barefoot,  "rolling his eyes" at remarks he found unintelligent, and "gazing up" at the clouds.  Socrates at the time of Clouds must have been perceived more as a harmless town character than as a serious threat to Athenian values and democracy.  Socrates himself, apparently, took no offense at his portrayal in Clouds.  Plutarch, in his Moralia, quoted Socrates as saying, "When they break a jest upon me in the theatre, I feel as if I were at a big party of good friends."  Plato, in his Symposium, describes Socrates and Aristophanes engaged in friendly conversation.”  --Douglas Lindner



I mean no disrespect for such knowledge, if anyone really is versed in it--I do not want any more lawsuits brought against me by Meletus--but the fact is, gentlemen, that I take no interest in it. What is more, I call upon the greater part of you as witnesses to my statement, and I appeal to all of you who have ever listened to me talking--and there are a great many to whom this applies--to clear your neighbors' minds on this point. Tell one another whether any one of you has ever heard me discuss such questions briefly or at length, and then you will realize that the other popular reports about me are equally unreliable.

Diogenes Laertius however gives this view: In my opinion Socrates discoursed on physics as well as on ethics, since he holds some conversations about providence, even according to Xanophon, who, however, declares that he only discussed ethics.

The fact is that there is nothing in any of these charges, and if you have heard anyone say that I try to educate people and charge a fee, there is no truth in that either.

Least of all did he tend to make his companions greedy of money. He would not, while restraining passion generally, make capital out of the one passion which attached others to himself; and by this abstinence, he believed, he was best consulting his own freedom; in so much that he stigmatized those who condescended to take wages for their society as vendors of their own persons, because they were compelled to discuss for the benefits of their paymasters. What surprised him was that any one possessing virtue should deign to ask money as its price instead of simply finding his reward in the acquisition of an honest friend, as if the new-fledged soul of honor could forget her debt of gratitude to her greatest benefactor.

                                                      Xenophon, Memorabilia


I wish that there were, because I think that it is a fine thing if a man is qualified to teach, as in the case of Gorgias of Leontini and Prodicus of Ceos and Hippias of Elis. Each one of these is perfectly capable of going into any city and actually persuading the young men to leave the company of their fellow citizens, with any of whom they can associate for nothing, and attach themselves to him, and pay money for the privilege, and be grateful into the bargain.

Gorgias lived in the Greek settlement of Leontium on the island of Sicily from about 483-375 B.C.E.. He did, however, travel to Athens in an ambassadorial role. He is famous for making the following three rather astounding assertions: nothing really exists, even if something did it couldn't be known, and even if something existed and could be known, knowledge of it couldn't be imparted to others! Scholars debate whether Gorgias was actually serious or making some sort of joke (for example, that the power of rhetoric was such that even the most absurd statements could be made to appear plausible). In any event he abandoned philosophy (including discussions of questions of truth and morality) and turned exclusively to the study and teaching of rhetoric.  Socrates, of course, would stand opposed to all of this and, thus, the disparaging reference to him in this part of the Apology.

a modern copy of Plato's dialogue Gorgias and remaining fragments of an original text

Prodicus heralded from the Aegean Island of Ceos and was supposedly a rather pessimistic fellow. He held, for example, that such are the evils of this life that death is a desirable alternative. He is most famous for his contributions to the philosophy of religion, arguing that at the most primitive stage of development people worship what is useful for immediate survival (sun, rain, rivers, etc.) and, at a later stage, the inventors of various arts (agriculture, the forge, etc.). Needless to say these unorthodox views got him into trouble in Athens with the traditionally pious. Despite this he was one of the more popular Sophists and was able to demand large fees for his services. Socrates, apparently, was on friendly terms with him and even sent him some students though this may have been no compliment considering they were only the dull-witted ones!


Relatively little is known about Hippias. He was from Elis which is in the Peloponnesian Peninsula in southern Greece. He appears to have had a broad base of knowledge being familiar with mythology, rhetoric, mathematics, astronomy, history, and literature among others. Plato portrays him as opposing law as a force both unnatural and unduly limiting of human freedom. Given  Socrates enormous respect for the law (which is developed in the dialogue, Crito) we can well imagine this was a major point of disagreement between the men.

                  -Kent Anderson & Norm Freund


There is another expert too from Paros who I discovered was here on a visit; I happened to meet a man who has paid more in Sophists' fees than all the rest put together--I mean Callias, the son of Hipponicus. So I asked him--he has two sons, you see--Callias, I said, if your sons had been colts or calves, we should have had no difficulty in finding and engaging a trainer to perfect their natural qualities, and this trainer would have been some sort of horse dealer or agriculturalist. But seeing that they are human beings, whom do you intend to get as their instructor? Who is the expert in perfecting the human and social qualities? I assume from the fact of your having sons that you must have considered the question. Is there such a person or not?

Certainly, said he.

Who is he, and where does he come from? said I. And what does he charge?

Evenus of Paros, Socrates, said he, and his fee is five minas.

I felt that Evenus was to be congratulated if he really was a master of this art and taught it at such a moderate fee. I should certainly plume myself and give myself airs if I understood these things, but in fact, gentlemen, I do not.

Here perhaps one of you might interrupt me and say, But what is it that you do, Socrates? How is it that you have been misrepresented like this? Surely all this talk and gossip about you would never have arisen if you had confined yourself to ordinary activities, but only if your behavior was abnormal. Tell us the explanation, if you do not want us to invent it for ourselves.

This seems to me to be a reasonable request, and I will try to explain to you what it is that has given me this false notoriety. So please give me your attention. Perhaps some of you will think that I am not being serious, but I assure you that I am going to tell you the whole truth.

I have gained this reputation, gentlemen, from nothing more or less than a kind of wisdom. What kind of wisdom do I mean? Human wisdom, I suppose. It seems that I really am wise in this limited sense. Presumably the geniuses whom I mentioned just now are wise in a wisdom that is more than human. I do not know how else to account for it. I certainly have no knowledge of such wisdom, and anyone who says that I have is a liar and willful slanderer.

The Greeks were fond of thinking of creatures as coming in three kinds: Gods (and demi-gods and various spirits); humans; and animals. Aristotle remarks in the Nichomachean Ethics that people who don't need the friendship of others must be either beasts or gods, but they can't be humans. "Human wisdom" for Socrates means a wisdom greater than that of animals but less than true wisdom, that possessed by the gods. He is accusing these "geniuses" of thinking that they are as wise as gods. But he says, no one human is that wise and he wishes to point out to them the much more modest limits of human wisdom.

Now, gentlemen, please do not interrupt me if I seem to make an extravagant claim, for what I am going to tell you is not my own opinion. I am going to refer you to an unimpeachable authority. I shall call as witness to my wisdom, such as it is, the god at Delphi.

 Socrates often refers to "the god" (ho theós). If Socrates is thinking of a particular god, and he is, he never does actually name the god, though later we will have no difficulty understanding who it is. In older translations of the Apology, it is not uncommon to find Socrates referring to "God" rather than "the god." This is an accurate translation for mediaeval or modern Greek, where the article tends to be used with "God" (as in Arabic, Allâh = al-Ilâh, "the God"), but not for ancient Greek. Nor is the lack of a proper name unusual. Gods who are being invoked in a specific case are often left unnamed in ancient religious practice. This was common with the Egyptians (the "good god" was the King) and can also be seen in Homer, who invokes a Muse as "the goddess" without naming her, and also in Parmenides, who details a long instruction from a goddess who is never named. The more traditional translation, however, may also have been based on some idea that Socrates was a monotheist. Plato and Aristotle, maybe, but there is no evidence of monotheism in the Apology, or in the early dialogues that we can confidently say reflect Socrates' own ideas. No, "the god" is a common locution, as common as Socrates' oaths involving Zeus or Hera; and the more that this god happened to mean personally to Socrates, the less likely that he would actually pronounce his name

Ross at



left, The Priestess at Delphi, John Collier; right,  another depiction of the Pythoness from Dagobert Runes, A Pictorial History of Philosophy


 The ruins of the Temple at Delphi



The god at Delphi, was as it happens Apollo. From now on, when Socrates refers to "the god," it is much more obvious who he is talking about. While Apollo, the son the Zeus and Leto, was not mythologically more important than most of the other Olympians, his shrine at Delphi came to be considered the second most sacred place, after Olympia, in all of Greece. It was even considered the center, the "navel," of the world. The importance of Delphi, however, was mainly because of the Oracle -- a priestess, the Pythía, who sat in an inner room (the ádyton), breathed fumes coming up through the floor (fumes from gas dissolved in spring water, in geologically active Greece, or from incense burning beneath), entered a trance, and was possessed by the god Apollo. For a suitable donation, a question could be put to the Pythia and an answer obtained from Apollo. Since the words of the Pythia were hard to understand, the priests attending her wrote up the answer in verse and delivered it to the petitioner. The answers were legendarily obscure or ambiguous -- the source of the modern of meaning of "oracular," which is precisely to be obscure or ambiguous.



You know Chaerephon, of course. He was a friend of mine from boyhood, and a good democrat who played his part with the rest of you in the recent expulsion and restoration. And you know what he was like, how enthusiastic he was over anything that he had once undertaken. Well, one day he actually went to Delphi and asked this question of the god--as I said before, gentlemen, please do not interrupt--he asked whether there was anyone wiser than myself. The priestess replied that there was no one. As Chaerephon is dead, the evidence for my statement will be supplied by his brother, who is here in court.

Please consider my object in telling you this. I want to explain to you how the attack upon my reputation first started. When I heard about the oracle's answer, I said to myself, What does the god mean? Why does he not use plain language? I am only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom, great or small. So what can he mean by asserting that I am the wisest man in the world? He cannot be telling a lie; that would not be right for him.

After puzzling about it for some time, I set myself at last with considerable reluctance to check the truth of it in the following way. I went to interview a man with a high reputation for wisdom, because I felt that here if anywhere I should succeed in disproving the oracle and pointing out to my divine authority, You said that I was the wisest of men, but here is a man who is wiser than I am.

Well, I gave a thorough examination to this person--I need not mention his name, but it was one of our politicians that I was studying when I had this experience--and in conversation with him I formed the impression that although in many people's opinion, and especially in his own, he appeared to be wise, in fact he was not. Then when I began to try to show him that he only thought he was wise and was not really so, my efforts were resented both by him and by many of the other people present. However, I reflected as I walked away, Well, I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of, but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.


Socrates has made a switch: the oracle told him that he was the wisest of men, but he is inquiring whether anyone has more knowledge than him. Wisdom and knowledge are not the same: knowledge is knowing the facts, knowing what's true, whereas wisdom implies a certain understanding, a perspective, a grasp of the big picture. Wisdom is not just knowing what's true but understanding why it's true. One can have a great deal of knowledge but not much wisdom: the "educated fool" or the person who is an expert on something but seems to have no clue about anything else. So we could give this rough formula:

            Knowledge=believing without doubt that what is true is true and what is false is false.

           Wisdom=knowledge + understanding why what is true is true.

Socrates himself recognizes this. After all, once the oracle tells him that he is the wisest of men, he knows that he is--he doesn't think that the oracle is lying to him (or mistaken). But is he content with "mere" knowledge of this fact? Not at all. He goes on his search in order to find out why the oracle says this, to understand what the oracle means.

This insistence on having wisdom and not mere knowledge explains Socrates' view about moral knowledge in the Euthyphro. Euthyphro ventures the idea that we do know some moral claims to be true because the gods have told us they are true. Socrates asks: do you mean that something is morally right because the gods say so? Or is it that the gods tell us something is morally right because it is in fact morally right (independently of what the gods say or don't say)? Socrates rejects the first option, that something is morally right simply because the gods decree that it is, for two reasons. The first is that it has unfortunate, almost paradoxical consequences: the gods could make any horrible atrocity right just by saying that it is. So if the gods said that it was morally acceptable to round up all your neighbors, torture, rape and shoot them, it would be right. Socrates can't believe this. The second reason is more relevant to our discussion of knowledge and wisdom. It's that this explanation of morality doesn't give us any wisdom. We would know the facts about morality, we would know what things were right and which wrong, but we wouldn't have any understanding of why.  If something's being right is must a matter of an arbitrary decision on the part of the gods, then there's nothing to understand. And this is unsatisfactory to Socrates. He wants to know not only how to live a good life, he wants to understand why the good life is the good life, and why other types of lives are not good.  So he argues it must be the second option: that what is right and good is so for objective reasons and the gods are simply reliable reporters about what is right. So if the gods tell us something is right, we can know that it is right, but there is still more to understand about why it is right, in order to have moral wisdom.

What is the point of Socrates' questioning method then? The most common view is that he uses it to clear the ground of all the things that we think we know but don't actually know, so that we can start fresh to gain reliable moral knowledge and wisdom.  On this view Socrates is a skeptic about the views of the people around him (and about his own too), but is not a principled skeptic. He is a skeptic in the sense that he is doubtful that those around him really know what they claim to know. He is not a principled skeptic because a principled skeptic denies that anyone can ever have real moral knowledge, either because there are no moral facts, just moral opinions or because while there are moral facts we don't have any way to find out what they are. (There is a physical fact about whether at 10:30 a.m. 4/11/06 at exactly 35,012 feet deep in the Marianas trench at GPS coordinates such and such a fish is eating another fish, but we'll never know what the truth is.)

The other view holds Socrates to be closer to a principled skeptic and to view his questioning as a barrier to the kind of injustice caused by blind adherence to ideologies and creeds. He wishes on this view to inculcate moral humility and to curb the willingness of those who think they know the truth to hurt others in the name of this "truth."  Beyond that, whether there is genuine moral knowledge to be gained, he is silent. (Though Plato of course believed there was such knowledge.)



See this link for more Intellectual Honesty, open-mindedness and Humility


After this I went on to interview a man with an even greater reputation for wisdom, and I formed the same impression again, and here too I incurred the resentment of the man himself and a number of others.

"...a reputation for wisdom, for in each case the bystanders thought that I myself possessed the wisdom that I proved that my interlocutor [Latin, inter, between, loquor, to speak] did not have." Socrates was doing something very unusual. He was taking things that people said and showing that they were incoherent, while at the same time he did not claim to have the right answers to any of the issues that came up. Since, as we know, everyone has an opinion, it was natural for people to think that Socrates must have opinions also, and must think that he had answers to the kinds of questions he asked. If he didn't give his answers in public, it was also natural that people might think he "taught" his answers privately, since that is what the Sophists and others actually did. Socrates probably had never tried to disabuse people of this impression before, and it is one of the very great misunderstandings about him that he must deal with in his defense. But it is not the only one. Seeing Socrates always ask questions and never give answers, there are other interpretations possible. Socrates made people look ridiculous. This is amusing and evidently drew crowds. This might suggest that maybe Socrates didn't care what the answers to his questions were. He just enjoyed getting a laugh out of making others look foolish. Maybe he was actually ridiculing people's beliefs about the issues he dealt with -- the just and the unjust, right and wrong, good and evil, etc. -- and didn't really believe anything about those issues himself. In short, people could see Socrates as what now we call a nihilist (Latin nihil = nothing). This was a much more serious misunderstanding of Socrates; for, although he was certainly not a nihilist himself, there were young men (néoi, "youth") who hung out with him who actually were nihilists. Ross at


From that time on I interviewed one person after another. I realized with distress and alarm that I was making myself unpopular, but I felt compelled to put my religious duty first. Since I was trying to find out the meaning of the oracle, I was bound to interview everyone who had a reputation for knowledge. And by dog, gentlemen, for I must be frank with you, my honest impression was this. It seemed to me, as I pursued my investigation at the god's command, that the people with the greatest reputations were almost entirely deficient, while others who were supposed to be their inferiors were much better qualified in practical intelligence.

"You don't seem to appreciate what happens when you come into close proximity with Socrates and strike up a conversation with him. Whatever the original topic of your conversation is, before long he's bound to head you off and finally trap you into trying to explain your own way of life and how you've lived up to now."                  [Plato, Laches, 187e]

This is why Socrates frequently demands of his interlocutors that they voice only their genuine beliefs. We live by our beliefs, so if they accede to this demand, they are laying their lives on the line; and if their beliefs change (as a result of Socratic questioning or for whatever reason), the way they live will change.                         Robin Waterfield,  p. xi, introduction to Plato, Gorgias

Now for God's sake, Callicles, and for the sake of our friendship, please don't think it's all right for you to play games with me and answer my questions any old how, without caring whether you contradict what you really think--and at the same time, don't treat what you hear from me as if I were playing games with you. Are you somehow unaware that there's nothing which even a relatively unintelligent person would take more seriously than the issue we're discussing--the issue of how to live one's life?

                            Plato, Gorgias 500b-c

I want you to think of my adventures as a sort of pilgrimage undertaken to establish the truth of the oracle once for all. After I had finished with the politicians I turned to the poets, dramatic, lyric, and all the rest, in the belief that here I should expose myself as comparative ignoramus. I used to pick up what I thought were some of their most perfect works and question them closely about the meaning of what they had written, in the hope of incidentally enlarging my own knowledge. Well, gentlemen, I hesitate to tell you the truth, but it must be told. It is hardly an exaggeration to say that any of the bystanders could have explained those poems better than their actual authors. So I soon made up my mind about the poets too. I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled them to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean. It seemed clear to me that the poets were in much the same case, and I also observed that the very fact that they were poets made them think that they had a perfect understanding of all other subjects, of which they were totally ignorant. So I left that line of inquiry too with the same sense of advantage that I had felt in the case of the politicians.

Last of all I turned to the skilled craftsmen. I knew quite well that I had practically no technical qualifications myself, and I was sure that I should find them full of impressive knowledge. In this I was not disappointed. They understood things which I did not, and to that extent they were wiser than I was. But, gentlemen, these professional experts seemed to share the same failing which I had noticed in the poets. I mean that on the strength of their technical proficiency they claimed a perfect understanding of every other subject, however important, and I felt that this error more than outweighed their positive wisdom. So I made myself spokesman for the oracle, and asked myself whether I would rather be as I was--neither wise with their wisdom nor stupid with their stupidity--or possess both qualities as they did. I replied through myself to the oracle that it was best for me to be as I was.

The effect of these investigations of mine, gentlemen, has been to arouse against me a great deal of hostility, and hostility of a particularly bitter and persistent kind, which has resulted in various malicious suggestions, including the description of me as a professor of wisdom. This is due to the fact that whenever I succeed in disproving another person's claim to wisdom in a given subject, the bystanders assume that I know everything about that subject myself. But the truth of the matter, gentlemen, is pretty certainly this, that real wisdom is the property of God, and this oracle is his way of telling us that human wisdom has little or no value. It seems to me that he is not referring literally to Socrates, but has merely taken my name as an example, as if he would say to us, The wisest of you men is he who has realized, like Socrates, that in respect of wisdom he is really worthless.


What does Socrates think the oracle means when she describes him as the wisest of men?


That is why I still go about seeking and searching in obedience to the divine command, if I think that anyone is wise, whether citizen or stranger, and when I think that any person is not wise, I try to help the cause of God by proving that he is not. This occupation has kept me too busy to do much either in politics or in my own affairs. In fact, my service to God has reduced me to extreme poverty.

There is another reason for my being unpopular. A number of young men with wealthy fathers and plenty of leisure have deliberately attached themselves to me because they enjoy hearing other people cross-questioned. These often take me as their model, and go on to try to question other persons. Whereupon, I suppose, they find an unlimited number of people who think that they know something, but really know little or nothing. Consequently their victims become annoyed, not with themselves but with me, and they complain that there is a pestilential busybody called Socrates who fills young people's heads with wrong ideas. If you ask them what he does, and what he teaches that has this effect, they have no answer, not knowing what to say. But as they do not want to admit their confusion, they fall back on the stock charges against any philosopher, that he teaches his pupils about things in the heavens and below the earth, and to disbelieve in gods, and to make the weaker argument defeat the stronger. They would be very loath, I fancy, to admit the truth--which is that they are being convicted of pretending to knowledge when they are entirely ignorant. So, jealous, I suppose, for their own reputation, and also energetic and numerically strong, and provided with a plausible and carefully worked-out case against me, these people have been dinning into your ears for a long time past their violent denunciations of myself.

But, the accuser answers, the two men[4] who wrought the greatest evils to the state at any time--to wit, Critias and Alcibiades--were both companions of Socrates--Critias the oligarch, and Alcibiades the democrat. Where would you find a more arrant thief, savage, and murderer[5] than the one? where such a portent of insolence, incontinence, and high-handedness as the other? For my part, in so far as these two wrought evil to the state, I have no desire to appear as the apologist of either. I confine myself to explaining what this intimacy of theirs with Socrates really was.


Never were two more ambitious citizens seen at Athens. Ambition was in their blood. If they were to have their will, all power was to be in their hands; their fame was to eclipse all other. Of Socrates they knew--first that he lived an absolutely independent life on the scantiest means; next that he was self-disciplined to the last degree in respect of pleasures; lastly that he was so formidable in debate that there was no antagonist he could not twist round his little finger. Such being their views, and such the character of the pair, which is the more probable: that they sought the society of Socrates because they felt the fascination of his life, and were attracted by the bearing of the man? or because they thought, if only we are leagued with him we shall become adepts in statecraft and unrivalled in the arts of speech and action? For my part I believe that if the choice from Heaven had been given them to live such a life as they saw Socrates living to its close, or to die, they would both have chosen death.


Their acts are a conclusive witness to their characters. They no sooner felt themselves to be the masters of those they came in contact with than they sprang aside from Socrates and plunged into that whirl of politics but for which they might never have sought his society.

                                                      Xenophon, Memorabilia



democracy crowning demos (the people): anti-tyranny bas-relief from c. 330 b.c.e.

Critias, without question, was the more frightening of the two former pupils of Socrates.  I.F. Stone, in his The Trial of Socrates, describes Critias (a cousin of Plato's) as "the first Robespierre," a cruel and inhumane man "determined to remake the city to his own antidemocratic mold whatever the human cost."  The oligarchy confiscated the estates of Athenian aristocrats, banished 5,000 women, children, and slaves, and summarily executed about 1,500 of Athen's most prominent democrats.

The other was the celebrated Alcibiades (c.450-404). He was born to privilege; and after his father died in battle (447/6), he was raised by his famous uncle, the great leader of Athens, Pericles. He hung out with Socrates. Plato wrote an entire dialogue featuring him (the Alcibiades), which begins with Socrates homoerotically admiring the first blush of beard on his face. In the Symposium, however, Plato has Alcibiades stumbling into the party, drunk, telling a story of how he had gotten Socrates to sleep over once, trying to seduce him, only to have Socrates pay him no more sexual attention "than an elder brother" (212d-219d). Alcibiades would have come of age in about 429 but first came to political notice in about 420. At that point the war with Sparta appeared to be over. The "Ten Years" or "Archidamian" War, 431-421, had ended in the aftermath of the Athenians trapping and capturing a force of Spartans on the island of Sphacteria, near the Homeric city of Pylos, in 425. This was sensational, since the Spartans were always expected to fight to the death, as they had against the Persians at Thermopylae. The Peace however, was compromised by continued fighting, often because of plans by Alcibiades himself to organize opposition to Sparta. The supreme opportunity came in 416, when Greek cities in Sicily appealed to Athens for help against Syracuse, the largest Greek city there, which was also an ally of Sparta. Alcibiades got himself elected general to lead an expedition against Syracuse, which would materially damage the Sparta cause and win the thanks of the other Sicilian Greeks (often called "Siciliots"). The older leader Nicias was also elected general to look after Alcibiades, since he already had a certain wild reputation... In 415, the night before the expedition was supposed to leave for Sicily, someone went around and mutilated statues of the god Hermes that stood all over Athens. Hermês was the protector of, among other things, traffic, markets, and roads. His image was used in such locations, often at intersections, and to mark boundaries. Thus, there were a lot of these images. An individual statue is now called a "Herm"; and in the plural, the Latin form is used, "Hermae." The incident is called the "multilation of the Hermae." The Athenians did not think that the mutilation of the Hermae was funny, or a virtuous suppression of obscenity; they thought it was a shocking and terrifying sacrilege. Hermes was there to protect the city, and if he was offended, then he could withdraw his protection. Nevertheless, no one knew quite what to do about it at the moment. So the expedition left for Sicily. As the days passed, however, suspicion grew that Alcibiades and his friends were just the kind of guys, without much respect for traditional religion, to have done this. It is not hard to imagine what happened. Young men, about to leave for war, get drunk, and in the wee hours decide to go looking for trouble -- like Animal House (1978). Someone gets the bright idea to mess with the familiar statues of Hermes, which they may already think are rather more funny than holy. The next day, they would just as soon forget about it, but it's too late. A warrant was sworn out for Alcibiades and a ship sent to Syracuse. On the way back, however, Alcibiades jumped ship. Flight to avoid prosecution. Desertion. Evidence of guilt in a charge of sacrilege. But then Alcibiades went even further. He went over to the Spartans. He advised them now to defeat the Athenian expedition in Sicily. The Athenian army and fleet were annihilated. Alcibiades was condemned to death in absentia and his property confiscated. When Sparta then reopened the main war with Athens, the "Decelean" or "Ionian" War of 413-404, Alcibiades advised the construction of a fleet to contest the sea with Athens and accompanied the ships to Ionia, which was the scene of much of the subsequent fighting.

Thus, Alcibiades can be credited with sacrilege, desertion, flight to avoid prosecution, and, last but not least, treason. So people would ask, "How did he get to be like that?" And they might remember, "He used to hang out with Socrates. Indeed, they were very friendly, perhaps even lovers." So Socrates, a philosopher, who, as we all know, go around teaching their doctrines, must be responsible. If Alcibiades can be substantially blamed for the loss of the war against Sparta, then Socrates can ultimately be blamed also. So let's get him.

Ross at

At the time of Socrates' trial, Athens had just come through the devastating Peloponnesian Wars, in which she had gone from being the ruling city of a great empire to being conquered by her rival Sparta. The Spartans and their sympathizers in Athens, such as the Thirty and including Socrates' friend Critias and pupil Alcibiades, replaced democracy with a dictatorship, slew thousands of democratic sympathizers, and installed a puppet government. Only two years before Socrates' trial, the "oligarchs," as they were called, revolted and attempted to overthrow Athenian democracy again. So this was a time of great political uncertainty and even hysteria. In such a period, to be associated with anti-democrats like Critias and traitors like Alcibiades was not conducive to getting a fair public hearing. Socrates' criticisms of democracy and of public officials would be heard as treasonous, not as philosophical. Imagine someone immediately after 9/11 who had been friends with bin Laden (when he was just a businessman) and who argued against the war in Iraq. Such a person would be judged by his friendship and would no doubt be seen as himself a terrorist; his arguments against the war would be seen as pro-al-Qaeda, and their rationale ignored. Socrates' situation was similar so that even though he was a passionate lover of Athens, and so no traitor or Spartan sympathizer, and though he saw his criticisms as arising from love of Athenian democracy and a wish to improve it, he was no doubt seen as someone whose loyalty was seriously in doubt.

 Socrates prefers Athens not because he was born there but because of Athens' democratic constitution and the freedom it made possible. He may regard other cities, such as the oligarchies of Sparta or Crete, as more law-abiding and disciplined, but his refusal to leave Athens for even brief periods reveals an appreciation of the moral distinctiveness of a democratic constitution--a constitution which, as Pericles noted, not only made citizens free and equal but provided a freedom of expression and tolerance unmatched in the Greek World. Only in Athens could Socrates have practiced philosophical citizenship in the manner he did for as long as he did. Only in Athens did there exist the freedom and equality which allowed him to pursue the kind of moral improvement he had in mind, one which depended upon individual effort, reflection, and judgment, not upon the coercive instrumentalities of moral habituation, inclucation,and punishment. . . . However, his appreciation of the Laws of Athens and the possibilities they create does not prevent him from being a fierce critic of Athenian political practice and many of the values that guide it.

It isn't unusual in times of turmoil for people to mistake the criticism that stems from loving a country and wanting it to be better for disloyalty. I can recall when I was in college in the 60's, people (like me) who criticized American government policy on the war in Vietnam were often accused of being anti-American, of being Communists even and were told to go live in Vietnam if we liked it so much. That one could love America yet dissent from the policies of the particular government of the moment, that one could be against a war on Vietnam without being pro-Communist or pro-North Vietnamese, was lost to many in the political passions of the time. Similarly in the McCarthyite witch-hunts of the Fifties, people who dissented from McCarthy's excesses were accused by him, and many others, of being anti-American and pro-Communist, as if McCarthy and America were identical. So with Socrates. His attacks on the current democratic regime were mistaken for attacks on democracy as such and confused with disloyalty. His friendships with traitors and anti-democrats made this mistake almost impossible to resist.

So democracies can, and do, go off the deep end in times of serious political stress: they engage in witchhunts and are not very open to subtle distinctions, tending to opt for views of the caliber of "if  you're not with us, you're against us." What should we conclude from that? Plato makes the irrationality of democracy worse by downplaying the serious political tensions that led this jury to convict Socrates and thus making it appear that juries in general were subject to manipulation and bias and were not liable to mete out real justice. But Plato was anti-democratic: he thought that governing a state was like piloting a ship--it called for experts not votes of "the many." A defender of democracy though can reply that such irrationalities are not the usual thing, that no system of government is perfect and that someone once said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others."

    "the moral individualist [like Socrates] thinks that social life and public opinion are constantly generating shared beliefs, passions, and rarely-examined convictions. Consequently, much of social life, has the character of a feverish dream since it is drive by misguided certainties about wherein virtue consists and who is and who is not virtuous. We always find ourselves immersed in unquestioned belief and assaulted by the will to believe, all the while remaining oblivious to the moral effects of this state of affairs.

            Villa, Socratic Citizenship p. 57



# 23c"...often imitate me and try to question others." Socrates acts like the only objection people have to his erstwhile followers is that they made nuisances of themselves by questioning people the way Socrates did. This is a grave trivialization of the problem. As we saw above, things like sacrilege, desertion, and treason are more like what people were worried about. Socrates would not be seen as a possible enemy of Athens if all his friends had done was ask questions. But his friends going over to or collaborating with the Spartans -- that raises the issue of Socrates' own loyalty. He is not actually accused of treason, but the accusation of "corrupting the young" is definitely about something that is connected to such a serious charge.

# 23c. "...angry, not with themselves..." Socrates pursues the conceit that people are just angry about these young men asking questions. This is probably the least honest part of the Apology and perhaps might be considered evidence for the authenticity of Plato's rendition, since he might otherwise have been at pains to fix up the argument and address the real issue, treason, and not beat a straw man, as Socrates does.

Ross at

Aeschines Against Timarchus 173 (Loeb Classical Library)


Did you put to death Socrates the sophist, fellow citizens, because he was shown to have been the teacher of Critias, one of the Thirty who put down the democracy, and after that, shall Demosthenes succeed in snatching companions of his own out of your hands, Demosthenes, who takes such vengeance on private citizens and friends of the people for their freedom of speech?


Xenophon Memorabilia 1.2.9 (from Perseus Project)


But, said his accuser, he taught his companions to despise the established laws by insisting on the folly of appointing public officials by lot, when none would choose a pilot or builder or flautist by lot, nor any other craftsman for work in which mistakes are far less disastrous than mistakes in statecraft. Such sayings, he argued, led the young to despise the established constitution and made them violent.


Xenophon, Mem.1.2.13.Now I have no intention of excusing the wrong these two men wrought the state; but I will explain how they came to be with Socrates. But he claims they sought out Socrates as their teacher "only to attain the utmost proficiency in speech and action." And "as soon as they thought themselves superior to their fellow disciples, they sprang away from Socrates and took to politics."


Xen., Mem, 1.2.56. Again, his accuser alleged that he selected from the most famous poets the most immoral passages, and used them as evidence in teaching his companions to be tyrants and malefactors:

There you have the causes which led to the attack upon me by Meletus and Anytus and Lycon, Meletus being aggrieved on behalf of the poets, Anytus on behalf of the professional men and politicians, and Lycon on behalf of the orators. So, as I said at the beginning, I should be surprised if I were able, in the short time that I have, to rid your minds of a misconception so deeply implanted.

Meletus authored the written indictment against Socrates in 399 B.C.E. and, thus, is the principal prosecutor. At least on the surface that is. He would have been quite young at the time and far less skillful in the political arena than another prosecutor, Anytus. For this reason, many scholars consider Anytus the real "power behind the throne" regarding the prosecution of Socrates. Some evidence exists that Meletus, a poet by trade, may have been a bona fide religious fanatic who was far more concerned with the charge of impiety lodged against Socrates than with the corruption charge. In any event, Plato portrays him as a very serious and patriotic sort of fellow who probably sincerely believed the prosecution of Socrates was for the good of his city-state of Athens. The third person who forms part of the prosecution is Lycon.

                           --Anderson & Freund


What were the charges brought against Socrates by these accusers?

How does he answer these charges?

There, gentlemen, you have the true facts, which I present to you without any concealment or suppression, great or small. I am fairly certain that this plain speaking of mine is the cause of my unpopularity, and this really goes to prove that my statements are true, and that I have described correctly the nature and the grounds of the calumny which has been brought against me. Whether you inquire into them now or later, you will find the facts as I have just described them.

So much for my defense against the charges brought by the first group of my accusers. I shall now try to defend myself against Meletus--high-principled and patriotic as he claims to be--and after that against the rest.

See the discussion above about Socrates' guilt by association. In such times, those who would suppress dissent always clothe themselves in the flag of being true patriots acting only out of principle.

Let us first consider their deposition again, as though it represented a fresh prosecution. It runs something like this: Socrates is guilty of corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the state Such is the charge. Let us examine its points one by one.

For a discussion of the idea of "corruption" click this link.

First it says that I am guilty of corrupting the young. But I say, gentlemen, that Meletus is guilty of treating a serious matter with levity, since he summons people to stand their trial on frivolous grounds, and professes concern and keen anxiety in matters about which he has never had the slightest interest. I will try to prove this to your satisfaction.

Come now, Meletus, tell me this. You regard it as supremely important, do you not, that our young people should be exposed to the best possible influence?

I do.

Very well, then, tell these gentlemen who it is that influences the young for the better. Obviously you must know, if you are so much interested. You have discovered the vicious influence, as you say, in myself, and you are now prosecuting me before these gentlemen. Speak up and inform them who it is that has a good influence upon the young. . . . You see, Meletus, that you are tongue-tied and cannot answer. Do you not feel that this is discreditable, and a sufficient proof in itself of what I said, that you have no interest in the subject? Tell me, my friend, who is it that makes the young good?

The laws.

That is not what I mean, my dear sir. I am asking you to name the person whose first business it is to know the laws.

These gentlemen here, Socrates, the members of the jury.

Do you mean, Meletus, that they have the ability to educate the young, and to make them better?


Does this apply to all jurymen, or only to some?

To all of them.

Excellent! A generous supply of benefactors. Well, then, do these spectators who are present in court have an improving influence, or not?

Yes, they do.

And what about the members of the Council?

Yes, the councilors too.

But surely, Meletus, the members of the Assembly do not corrupt the young? Or do all of them too exert an improving influence?

Yes, they do.

Then it would seem that the whole population of Athens has a refining effect upon the young, except myself, and I alone demoralize them. Is that your meaning?

Most emphatically, yes.

This is certainly a most unfortunate quality that you have detected in me. Well, let me put another question to you. Take the case of horses. Do you believe that those who improve them make up the whole of mankind, and that there is only one person who has a bad effect on them? Or is the truth just the opposite, that the ability to improve them belongs to one person or to very few persons, who are horse trainers, whereas most people, if they have to do with horses and make use of them, do them harm? Is not this the case, Meletus, both with horses and with all other animals? Of course it is, whether you and Anytus deny it or not. It would be a singular dispensation of fortune for our young people if there is only one person who corrupts them, while all the rest have a beneficial effect. But I need say no more. There is ample proof, Meletus, that you have never bothered your head about the young, and you make it perfectly clear that you have never taken the slightest interest in the cause for the sake of which you are now indicting me.

The horse trainer is to horses as who is to whom? What is the point Socrates is making by this analogy?

Here is another point. Tell me seriously, Meletus, is it better to live in a good or in a bad community? Answer my question, like a good fellow; there is nothing difficult about it. Is it not true that wicked people have a bad effect upon those with whom they are in the closest contact, and that good people have a good effect?

Quite true.

Is there anyone who prefers to be harmed rather than benefited by his associates? Answer me, my good man; the law commands you to answer. Is there anyone who prefers to be harmed?

Of course not.

Well, then, when you summon me before this court for corrupting the young and making their characters worse, do you mean that I do so intentionally or unintentionally?

I mean intentionally.

Why, Meletus, are you at your age so much wiser than I at mine? You have discovered that bad people always have a bad effect, and good people a good effect, upon their nearest neighbors. Am I so hopelessly ignorant as not even to realize that by spoiling the character of one of my companions I shall run the risk of getting some harm from him? Because nothing else would make me commit this grave offense intentionally. No, I do not believe it, Meletus, and I do not suppose that anyone else does. Either I have not a bad influence, or it is unintentional, so that in either case your accusation is false.

Socrates suspects that the only reason anyone does anything is for a good end (Aristotle later defines the good as whatever it is at which anything aims). This is the point upon which this passage in the Apology turns. We get an actual argument for it at Meno 77c-78b. Socrates reasons that anything bad would contribute to unhappiness, and so only those desiring to be unhappy would want what is bad. Thus, he asks Meno, "Does anyone wish to be miserable and unhappy?" [78a, Grube p.67]. Meno answers no,

Ross at  


And if I unintentionally have a bad influence, the correct procedure in cases of such involuntary misdemeanors is not to summon the culprit before this court, but to take him aside privately for instruction and reproof, because obviously if my eyes are opened, I shall stop doing what I do not intend to do. But you deliberately avoided my company in the past and refused to enlighten me, and now you bring me before this court, which is the place appointed for those who need punishment, not for those who need enlightenment.

What is Socrates’ point here?

It is quite clear by now, gentlemen, that Meletus, as I said before, has never shown any degree of interest in this subject. However, I invite you to tell us, Meletus, in what sense you make out that I corrupt the minds of the young. Surely the terms of your indictment make it clear that you accuse me of teaching them to believe in new deities instead of the gods recognized by the state. Is not that the teaching of mine which you say has this demoralizing effect?

My colleague Darcy Otto, whose speciality is Ancient Greek philosophy says this about the charge of impiety laid to Socrates

First, impiety was clearly a serious matter - more serious than murder, for example, because while murder affected one person, impiety invited retribution of the gods.  Here is what Euthyphro says (14b):
"Piety preserves both families and cities and keeps them safe.  the opposite of what is acceptable to the gods is impious, and impiety overturns and destroys all things."

Second, what counted as impiety was normally action-based wrongs rather than belief-based wrongs (if I am remembering my readings in Greek religion correctly).  For example, profaning the Eleusian Mysteries, or mutilating sacred objects (Alcibiades and the Herms, anyone?), or sacrilege that affects the religion of the city - all that good stuff.  This is primarily because Athenian religion is a matter not of dogma but of ritual observance.  But there are no records or mention of Socrates doing anything of this sort (although he was closely associated with people like Charmides, Critias - two of the Thirty that certainly polluted the city with their actions - and Alcibiades who did commit sacrilege).
Third, impiety was the usual charge brought against philosophers - Anaxagoras was prosecuted for believing that the sun and moon were hot stones, not gods.  Aristotle similarly (and if you don't know the story of that, he fled saying that he would not allow Athens to sin twice against philosophy).
So, my guess is that the charge of impiety merely had the effect of getting Socrates into court on a serious offence, rather than giving a substantive reason for conviction.  Guilt by association with Charmides, Critias and Alcibiades.  And remember that just about any citizen could drag someone into court - and once there, the defendant defended against the speech of the prosecutor or prosecutors, not the written charges.


That is precisely what I maintain.

Then I appeal to you, Meletus, in the name of these same gods about whom we are speaking, to explain yourself a little more clearly to myself and to the jury, because I cannot make out what your point is. Is it that I teach people to believe in some gods--which implies that I myself believe in gods, and am not a complete atheist, so that I am not guilty on that score--but in different gods from those recognized by the state, so that your accusation rests upon the fact that they are different? Or do you assert that I believe in no gods at all, and teach others to do the same?

Yes, I say that you disbelieve in gods altogether.

You surprise me, Meletus. What is your object in saying that? Do you suggest that I do not believe that the sun and moon are gods, as is the general belief of all mankind?

He certainly does not, gentlemen of the jury, since he says that the sun is a stone and the moon a mass of earth.

Do you imagine that you are prosecuting Anaxagoras, my dear Meletus? Have you so poor an opinion of these gentlemen, and do you assume them to be so illiterate as not to know that the writings of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae are full of theories like these?

Socrates is messing with Meletus' head here. Meletus has been cajoled  by Anytus and others into bringing these capricious charges against Socrates. They are mere proxies for what Anytus believes Socrates to be really guilty of: anti-democratic teachings and possibly treason. But when the democrats replaced the Thirty they agreed to an amnesty for all crimes committed under the regime of the Thirty and even agreed that such crimes should never be spoken of. So Anytus and company cannot bring Socrates up on these charges or even mention them in court on pain of having their case thrown out. So Meletus has to soldier on, trying to make these ludicrous charges stick. Socrates is poking fun at Meletus' predicament, letting him know that he knows what Meletus would like to charge Socrates with and mocking his dilemma of having to try to prove these ridiculous charges and having his tongue tied about the real charges. This amnesty raises an issue that has become important in our own time. In the last few decades, we have seen atrocities committed, often by governments against their own people: the slaughter of millions of Cambodians by Pol Pot, similar if less vast murders in Uganda by Idi Amin, the genocide in Rwanda, the "ethnic cleansing" in Yugoslavia, apartheid in South Africa, to name just a few of the most prominent. In the aftermath of such horrors, societies have had to decide what to do. Some such as Yugoslavia have opted to pursue justice: to put those responsible for the atrocities on trial in order to give them the punishment they deserve (although it is an open question whether there is any punishment serious enough for some of these crimes). There are International Criminal Courts set up to deal with the Rwandan genocide and the Yugoslavian crimes, for example. Other societies, like South Africa, have decided that reconciliation is more important than justice, that they needed to look forward rather than back at crimes of the past. The new South AFrican government issued an amnesty to all those who had committed crimes such as torture and murder under the old government, if they would give full and truthful testimony about their crimes. South Africa believed that getting the truth out was more important than meting out justice. In the case of Athens it appears that the amnesty obtained neither truth nor justice: no trials of the Thirty were held subsequently and no one was allowed to bring charges up, so the events were just swept under the rug.

                                                                                                                                    a Greek coin depicting Anaxagoras

Anaxagoras was a Greek philosopher of Clazomenae in Asia Minor, born about 500 BCE. Aristotle describes him to have been older than Empedocles, but to come 'after him in his works'. It is not clear whether this means that he wrote later than Empedocles or that he was inferior to him in his achievements. From a noble family, but wishing to devote himself entirely to science, he gave up his property to his

relatives, and removed to Athens, where he lived in intimacy with Pericles. Shortly before the outbreak of the Peloponnesian War he was charged by the political opponents of Pericles with impiety, that is, with denying the gods recognized by the State. Though acquitted through his friend's influence, he felt compelled to emigrate to Lampsacus, where he died soon after, aged seventy-two. He not only had the honor of giving philosophy a home at Athens, where it flourished for a thousand years, but he was the first philosopher who introduced a spiritual principle which gives matter life and form. He laid down his doctrine in a prose work, "On Nature," written in the Ionic dialect, of which only fragments are preserved.

--the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

the crater on the moon named after Anaxagoras

And do you seriously suggest that it is from me that the young get these ideas, when they can buy them on occasion in the market place for a drachma at most, and so have the laugh on Socrates if he claims them for his own, to say nothing of their being so silly? Tell me honestly, Meletus, is that your opinion of me? Do I believe in no god?

No, none at all, not in the slightest degree.

You are not at all convincing, Meletus--not even to yourself, I suspect. In my opinion, gentlemen, this man is a thoroughly selfish bully, and has brought this action against me out of sheer wanton aggressiveness and self-assertion. He seems to be devising a sort of intelligence test for me, saying to himself, Will the infallible Socrates realize that I am contradicting myself for my own amusement, or shall I succeed in deceiving him and the rest of my audience?

It certainly seems to me that he is contradicting himself in this indictment, which might just as well run: Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods, but believing in the gods. And this is pure flippancy.

I ask you to examine with me, gentlemen, the line of reasoning which leads me to this conclusion. You, Meletus, will oblige us by answering my questions. Will you all kindly remember, as I requested at the beginning, not to interrupt if I conduct the discussion in my customary way?

Is there anyone in the world, Meletus, who believes in human activities, and not in human beings? Make him answer, gentlemen, and don't let him keep on making these continual objections. Is there anyone who does not believe in horses, but believes in horses' activities? Or who does not believe in musicians, but believes in musical activities? No, there is not, my worthy friend. If you do not want to answer, I will supply it for you and for these gentlemen too. But the next question you must answer. Is there anyone who believes in supernatural activities and not in supernatural beings?


How good of you to give a bare answer under compulsion by the court! Well, do you assert that I believe and teach others to believe in supernatural activities? It does not matter whether they are new or old. The fact remains that I believe in them according to your statement; indeed you solemnly swore as much in your affidavit. But if I believe in supernatural activities, it follows inevitably that I also believe in supernatural beings. Is not that so? It is. I assume your assent, since you do not answer. Do we not hold that supernatural beings are either gods or the children of gods? Do you agree or not?


Then if I believe in supernatural beings, as you assert, if these supernatural beings are gods in any sense, we shall reach the conclusion which I mentioned just now when I said that you were testing my intelligence for your own amusement, by stating first that I do not believe in gods, and then again that I do, since I believe in supernatural beings. If on the other hand these supernatural beings are bastard children of the gods by nymphs or other mothers, as they are reputed to be, who in the world would believe in the children of gods and not in the gods themselves? It would be as ridiculous as to believe in the young of horses or donkeys and not in horses and donkeys themselves.

Reading about Greek mythology may give people the impression that there was a unified Greek national religion. Nothing of the sort ever existed. Each Greek city essentially had its own state religion, with its own particular gods. Even gods with the same name in different locations may nevertheless be represented differently. Traditional and archaic cult statues, like the surviving one of the Artemis of Ephesus, laden with breasts or testicles or something, may look very strange compared to the humanistic images produced by later Greek art. The main gods at Athens were Athena, after whom the city was named, and Poseidon, who had a conspicuous temple on the height at Cape Sunion, the tip of the peninsula of Attica. Even the Acropolis, however, had more than one Athena -- Athena Parthenos, "Athena the Virgin," in the Parthenon and another one in the Temple of Athena Nike, "Athena of Victory." In time, some sites, like Olympia and Delphi, gained the reputation as representing Greek religion as a whole, but this was a very incomplete and non-institutional organization.

Ross at  



What is Socrates’ argument against Meletus’ charge?

No, Meletus, there is no avoiding the conclusion that you brought this charge against me as a test of my wisdom, or else in despair of finding a genuine offense of which to accuse me. As for your prospect of convincing any living person with even a smattering of intelligence that belief in supernatural and divine activities does not imply belief in supernatural and divine beings, and vice versa, it is outside all the bounds of possibility.

As a matter of fact, gentlemen, I do not feel that it requires much defense to clear myself of Meletus' accusation. What I have said already is enough. But you know very well the truth of what I said in an earlier part of my speech, that I have incurred a great deal of bitter hostility, and this is what will bring about my destruction, if anything does--not Meletus nor Anytus, but the slander and jealousy of a very large section of the people. They have been fatal to a great many other innocent men, and I suppose will continue to be so; there is no likelihood that they will stop at me.

But perhaps someone will say, Do you feel no compunction, Socrates, at having followed a line of action which puts you in danger of the death penalty?

I might fairly reply to him, You are mistaken, my friend, if you think that a man who is worth anything ought to spend his time weighing up the prospects of life and death. He has only one thing to consider in performing any action--that is, whether he is acting rightly or wrongly, like a good man or a bad one.

For further discussion of integrity, click this link

Socrates also displays courage. Click here for more.

On your view the heroes who died at Troy would be poor creatures, especially the son of Thetis. He, if you remember, made light of danger in comparison with incurring dishonor when his goddess mother warned him, eager as he was to kill Hector, in some such words as these, I fancy: My son, if you avenge your comrade Patroclus' death and kill Hector, you will die yourself--'Next after Hector is thy fate prepared.' When he heard this warning, he made light of his death and danger, being much more afraid of an ignoble life and of failing to avenge his friends. 'Let me die forthwith,' said he, 'when I have requited the villain, rather than remain here by the beaked ships to be mocked, a burden on the ground.' 1 Do you suppose that he gave a thought to death and danger?

The truth of the matter is this, gentlemen. Where a man has once taken up his stand, either because it seems best to him or in obedience to his orders, there I believe he is bound to remain and face the danger, taking no account of death or anything else before dishonor.

Why does Socrates believe that it is right for him to risk death by doing what he does?

This being so, it would be shocking inconsistency on my part, gentlemen, if, when the officers whom you chose to command me assigned me my position at Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium, I remained at my post like anyone else and faced death, and yet afterward, when God appointed me, as I supposed and believed, to the duty of leading the philosophical life, examining myself and others, I were then through fear of death or of any other danger to desert my post.

Socrates states, in the Apology, that dishonor is worse than death, and he offers three personal examples of courage from his own military experience where he served as a hoplite soldier in three very important military battles:  Potidaea, Delium, and  Amphipolis. His argument is that no one so willing to fight and die for his country would be guilty of disregarding its gods and corrupting (intentionally) its youth.


In the Crito, Socrates, reflecting on his own military experience, reminds Crito that his willingness to serve in the Athenian military implies that he agrees to follow Athenian law - even if they seem to be unjust.


Hoplite Soldier

Artist: Ru Dien-Jen


Hoplites were the heavily armed infantry. They wore helmets, breastplates, and leg armor made of bronze. In addition, they possessed a swords and spears. Their armor allowed them to withstand attack by arrows. On the negative side, though, they were much slower moving than the lightly armed infantry, which posed a major problem if required to make a hasty retreat or assault.

Athenian citizens who were not able to maintain horses but could afford their own armor were required to be hoplites. That's right, unlike today's army you had to buy your own equipment! The fact, then, that Socrates was a hoplite suggests he wasn't always poor. Apparently, his dedication to philosophy over and above material concerns gradually led to his impoverishment.

Anderson & Freund

What is the inconsistency that Socrates says he would be guilty of?

That would indeed be shocking, and then I might really with justice be summoned into court for not believing in the gods, and disobeying the oracle, and being afraid of death, and thinking that I am wise when I am not. For let me tell you, gentlemen, that to be afraid of death is only another form of thinking that one is wise when one is not; it is to think that one knows what one does not know. No one knows with regard to death whether it is not really the greatest blessing that can happen to a man, but people dread it as though they were certain that it is the greatest evil, and this ignorance, which thinks that it knows what it does not, must surely be ignorance most culpable. This, I take it, gentlemen, is the degree, and this the nature of my advantage over the rest of mankind, and if I were to claim to be wiser than my neighbor in any respect, it would be in this-- that not possessing any real knowledge of what comes after death, I am also conscious that I do not possess it. But I do know that to do wrong and to disobey my superior, whether God or man, is wicked and dishonorable, and so I shall never feel more fear or aversion for something which, for all I know, may really be a blessing, than for those evils which I know to be evils.

What new argument does Socrates give for choosing to do right even it means losing his life?

Suppose, then, that you acquit me, and pay no attention to Anytus, who has said that either I should not have appeared before this court at all, or, since I have appeared here, I must be put to death, because if I once escaped your sons would all immediately become utterly demoralized by putting the teaching of Socrates into practice. Suppose that, in view of this, you said to me, Socrates, on this occasion we shall disregard Anytus and acquit you, but only on one condition, that you give up spending your time on this quest and stop philosophizing. If we catch you going on in the same way, you shall be put to death.

Read more on moral character

Well, supposing, as I said, that you should offer to acquit me on these terms, I should reply, Gentlemen, I am your very grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you, and so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practicing philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet. I shall go on saying, in my usual way, My very good friend, you are an Athenian and belong to a city which is the greatest and most famous in the world for its wisdom and strength. Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honor, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your soul?

What good is money, asks Socrates and the Greeks in general. In and of itself, it does us no good at all: one can have a bank account with a billion dollars and it does no good for us until we spend it. Money is a tool, an instrument for getting other things. But when we begin to spend it we face choices, of a sort that the Greeks want us to think hard about: What should I spend it on? Well, there are of course necessities: shelter, food, clothing, transportation. But do I need a house and if so how big a house once I have shelter? I need to get to work, but could I take mass transit? Are there ways that I could avoid contributing to the degradation of the environment by buying a car?  After the necessities are gotten, what then? Well, there’s always pleasure: movies, fine clothes, dinners out, books, sporting events, boats, vacation trips and so on. And I could give to charity, use my money to help others. But is life only about pleasure? Aren’t there important things in life besides enjoying oneself? The Greeks believed there were: Socrates here lists “truth, understanding, and the perfection of your soul.”  Because we need to think about our mortality: we have only so much time to live and every minute we use on pleasure is a minute lost from something that might be more important. This is true with money also: to get money we exchange time for it, time taken  from our limited life spans. Is it worth it to work so many hours to get pleasure? Is owning a boat worth however many  hours of your life it would take to earn it? Think of the idea of “soul” for a moment. For Socrates and the Greeks, this was not the Christian soul, it was not an immortal spiritual part of us. For them, it was something more like our character. If we are to lead good and happy lives, we must see to it that we have good characters. A rich but vicious ignorant idle dissolute and friendless man will not be happy. We need to lead lives with some meaning to them, lives with good work, lives with significant friendships, lives of contributing to our communities. Insofar as earning money interferes with these things, we should spurn it. Now take the Christian idea of the soul and the message traditionally has not been much different. “Consider the lilies of the field” who do not work. “Take no thought for tomorrow.” Christ said that we should give all we have to the poor and that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven. The message is much the same: take care of your character, see to it that you are a good person, avoid sin, have faith—these are the important thing sin life, not earning money.

There is, Socrates said,  only one good, that is, knowledge, and only one evil, that is, ignorance; wealth and good birth bring their possessor no dignity, but on the contrary evil.—Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Eminent Philosophers

The habit and style of living to which he subjected his soul and body was one which under ordinary circumstances[5] would enable any one adopting it to look existence cheerily in the face and to pass his days serenely: it would certainly entail no difficulties as regards expense. So frugal was it that a man must work little indeed who could not earn the quantum which contented Socrates. Of food he took just enough to make eating a pleasure--the appetite he brought to it was sauce sufficient; while as to drinks, seeing that he only drank when thirsty, any draught refreshed.[6] If he accepted an invitation to dinner, he had no difficulty in avoiding the common snare of over- indulgence, and his advice to people who could not equally control their appetite was to avoid taking what would allure them to eat if not hungry or to drink if not thirsty.—Xenophon, Memorabilia


And if any of you disputes this and professes to care about these things, I shall not at once let him go or leave him. No, I shall question him and examine him and test him; and if it appears that in spite of his profession he has made no real progress toward goodness, I shall reprove him for neglecting what is of supreme importance, and giving his attention to trivialities.

Why are money, reputation and honor “trivialities?” What is really important in life, according to Socrates?

 I shall do this to everyone that I meet, young or old, foreigner or fellow citizen, but especially to you, my fellow citizens, inasmuch as you are closer to me in kinship. This, I do assure you, is what my God commands, and it is my belief that no greater good has ever befallen you in this city than my service to my God. For I spend all my time going about trying to persuade you, young and old, to make your first and chief concern not for your bodies nor for your possessions, but for the highest welfare of your souls, proclaiming as I go, Wealth does not bring goodness, but goodness brings wealth and every other blessing, both to the individual and to the state.

Now if I corrupt the young by this message, the message would seem to be harmful, but if anyone says that my message is different from this, he is talking nonsense. And so, gentlemen, I would say, You can please yourselves whether you listen to Anytus or not, and whether you acquit me or not. You know that I am not going to alter my conduct, not even if I have to die a hundred deaths.

Order, please, gentlemen! Remember my request to give me a hearing without interruption. Besides, I believe that it will be to your advantage to listen. I am going to tell you something else, which may provoke a storm of protest, but please restrain yourselves. I assure you that if I am what I claim to be, and you put me to death, you will harm yourselves more than me. Neither Meletus nor Anytus can do me any harm at all; they would not have the power, because I do not believe that the law of God permits a better man to be harmed by a worse. No doubt my accuser might put me to death or have me banished or deprived of civic rights, but even if he thinks--as he probably does, and others too, I dare say--that these are great calamities, I do not think so. I believe that it is far worse to do what he is doing now, trying to put an innocent man to death.

This belief of  Socrates is one of the most difficult for a contemporary person to understand. On the abstract level,  Socrates and  Plato both believe that what is more real (and, therefore, superior) cannot be adversely affected by what is less real. On the more concrete moral plateau, which is referenced in the Apology, Socrates professes that a bad person (that is, one which is less real) can not harm a better one.


It appears that he had something like the following in mind. True harm involves remaining in the wretchedness of ignorance and vice. Since each of us is personally responsible for the state of our soul each can move out of this wretchedness through our own effort and no one can impose this evil on us! Sure, others can harm our bodies, even kill us, but this is nothing compared to the moral pollution we impose on ourselves!

                           Anderson & Freund


 Why are these things not calamities? Why is it far worse to try to put an innocent man to death than to suffer death?

For this reason, gentlemen, so far from pleading on my own behalf, as might be supposed, I am really pleading on yours, to save you from misusing the gift of God by condemning me. If you put me to death, you will not easily find anyone to take my place. It is literally true, even if it sounds rather comical, that God has specially appointed me to this city, as though it were a large thoroughbred horse which because of its great size is inclined to be lazy and needs the stimulation of some stinging fly. It seems to me that God has attached me to this city to perform the office of such a fly, and all day long I never cease to settle here, there, and everywhere, rousing, persuading, reproving every one of you. You will not easily find another like me, gentlemen, and if you take my advice you will spare my life. I suspect, however, that before long you will awake from your drowsing, and in your annoyance you will take Anytus' advice and finish me off with a single slap, and then you will go on sleeping till the end of your days, unless God in his care for you sends someone to take my place.

How does Socrates describe the mission given to him by the god? What does he mean by likening himself to a stinging fly (a “gadfly” in most translations)?


If you doubt whether I am really the sort of person who would have been sent to this city as a gift from God, you can convince yourselves by looking at it in this way. Does it seem natural that I should have neglected my own affairs and endured the humiliation of allowing my family to be neglected for all these years, while I busied myself all the time on your behalf, going like a father or an elder brother to see each one of you privately, and urging you to set your thoughts on goodness?

Socrates ever lived in the public eye; at early morning he was to be seen betaking himself to one of the promenades, or wrestling- grounds; at noon he would appear with the gathering crowds in the market-place; and as day declined, wherever the largest throng might be encountered, there was he to be found, talking for the most part, while any one who chose might stop and listen. Yet no one ever heard him say, or saw him do anything impious or irreverent. . . He himself never wearied of discussing human topics. What is piety? what is impiety? What is the beautiful? what the ugly? What the noble? what the base? What are meant by just and unjust? what by sobriety and madness? what by courage and cowardice? What is a state? what is a statesman? what is a ruler over men? what is a ruling character? and other like problems, the knowledge of which, as he put it, conferred a patent of nobility on the possessor,[16] whereas those who lacked the knowledge might deservedly be stigmatised as slaves.

                  Xenophon, Memorabilia


If I had got any enjoyment from it, or if I had been paid for my good advice, there would have been some explanation for my conduct, but as it is you can see for yourselves that although my accusers unblushingly charge me with all sorts of other crimes, there is one thing that they have not had the impudence to pretend on any testimony, and that is that I have ever exacted or asked a fee from anyone. The witness that I can offer to prove the truth of my statement is, I think, a convincing one--my poverty. It may seem curious that I should go round giving advice like this and busying myself in people's private affairs, and yet never venture publicly to address you as a whole and advise on matters of state. The reason for this is what you have often heard me say before on many other occasions--that I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience, which Meletus saw fit to travesty in his indictment. It began in my early childhood--a sort of voice which comes to me, and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposing to do, and never urges me on.

Socrates suited his language to his conviction. "The divinity," said he, "gives me a sign." Further, he would constantly advise his associates to do this, or beware of doing that, upon the authority of this same divine voice; and, as a matter of fact, those who listened to his warnings prospered, whilst he who turned a deaf ear to them repented afterwards.[4] Yet, it will be readily conceded, he would hardly desire to present himself to his everyday companions in the character of either knave or fool. Whereas he would have appeared to be both, supposing[5] the God-given revelations had but revealed his own proneness to deception. It is plain he would not have ventured on forecast at all, but for his belief that the words he spoke would in fact be verified. Then on whom, or what, was the assurance rooted, if not upon God? And if he had faith in the gods, how could he fail to recognise them?

                                    -Xenophon, The Memorabilia of Socrates


"I have a divine or spiritual sign... It is a voice, turns me away from something I am about to do..." What Socrates actually says is "some divine (theîon) and spiritual (daimónion) [thing] comes to me..." The word "sign" is not there, but, just as in Meletus' indictment, we have neuter adjectives with no nouns. But we are then told that it is a voice (phôné). So Socrates hears voices. This doesn't sound good. Today the men in white coats might hustle him off -- "Now, Mr. Socrates, we have drugs that will make those nasty voices go away." Or, since people can no longer be committed just for hearing voices, he might end up wandering around on the streets annoying passersby with strange questions... Actually, that is what he did! But, as these things go, Socrates' voice is pretty unusual. It doesn't really tell him anything. He never quotes it. We never hear of him having conversations with it. All it does is stop him. Why it stops him, he has to explain for himself, as he does here. We know from Xenophon that this is why Socrates did not really prepare a defense:  Whenever he would start thinking about it, his voice would stop him.


    History would be a lot poorer if anyone who ever heard voices were simply dismissed as insane. The Prophet Muh.ammad, for instance, at first simply heard a voice say, "Recite!" Later, he believed this was the angel Gabriel (Jibrâ'îl in Arabic), and what he was then given to recite was the Qur'ân, which means "Recitation." Now, some might think that the world would actually be better off without such religious revelations, but sometimes the voices have a more immediate and practical application. France might never have defeated England in the Hundred Years War if Joan of Arc, the "Maid of Orléans," had not briefly led and inspired the resistance. Nobody necessarily believed that angels were telling her things -- such messages could just as easily be deceptions of Satan -- but they did think it was possible. The test of having her pick the king, Charles VII, out of a crowd was thought to be effective because, if Joan had been touched by the divine, she should be able to recognize the monarch, by divine right, of France -- the kings of France always claimed their throne directly from God, and never acknowledged the suzereinty of the Emperors or Popes. It is not hard to imagine what would happen today if a teenage girl showed up at the Pentagon or White House claiming that God had sent her to l ead the armies of America. This is no longer comprehensible.

Ross at


It is this that debars me from entering public life, and a very good thing too, in my opinion, because you may be quite sure, gentlemen, that if I had tried long ago to engage in politics, I should long ago have lost my life, without doing any good either to you or to myself. Please do not be offended if I tell you the truth. No man on earth who conscientiously opposes either you or any other organized democracy, and flatly prevents a great many wrongs and illegalities from taking place in the state to which he belongs, can possibly escape with his life. The true champion of justice, if he intends to survive even for a short time, must necessarily confine himself to private life and leave politics alone.

What are the two reasons why Socrates does not enter public life?

I will offer you substantial proofs of what I have said--not theories, but what you can appreciate better, facts. Listen while I describe my actual experiences, so that you may know that I would never submit wrongly to any authority through fear of death, but would refuse even at the cost of my life. It will be a commonplace story, such as you often hear in the courts, but it is true.

The only office which I have ever held in our city, gentlemen, was when I was elected to the Council. It so happened that our group was acting as the executive when you decided that the ten commanders who had failed to rescue the men who were lost in the naval engagement should be tried en bloc, which was illegal, as you all recognized later. On this occasion I was the only member of the executive who insisted that you should not act unconstitutionally, and voted against the proposal; and although your leaders were all ready to denounce and arrest me, and you were all urging them on at the top of your voices, I thought that it was my duty to face it out on the side of law and justice rather than support you, through fear of pr ison or death, in your wrong decision.

..try as a body the ten generals (stratêgoí) who had failed to pick up the survivors of the naval battle." The "naval battle" was the battle of Arguinusae in 406. This was the second to the last battle of the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians won, but it was a hard fought battle, with many ships sunk and men in the water, and a storm was blowing up as night fell. The stratêgoí had to decide whether to risk the fleet, upon which the fate of Athens rested, to try picking up the survivors and the dead, or to leave the men and bodies in the water and beach the ships to protect them. They decided to save the ships. When word of this got back to Athens, the Assembly was furious, not just because the survivors had been abandoned, as Socrates says, but because the dead had been abandoned also.

Ross at


At one time Socrates was a member of the Council,[17] he had taken the senatorial oath, and sworn "as a member of that house to act in conformity with the laws." It was thus he chanced to be President of the Popular Assembly,[18] when that body was seized with a desire to put the nine[19] generals, Thrasyllus, Erasinides, and the rest, to death by a single inclusive vote. Whereupon, in spite of the bitter resentment of the people, and the menaces of several influential citizens, he refused to put the question, esteeming it of greater importance faithfully to abide by the oath which he had taken, than to gratify the people wrongfully, or to screen himself from the menaces of the mighty.

                           Xenophon, Memorabilia

This happened while we were still under a democracy. When the oligarchy came into power, the Thirty Commissioners in their turn summoned me and four others to the Round Chamber and instructed us to go and fetch Leon of Salamis from his home for execution. This was of course only one of many instances in which they issued such instructions, their object being to implicate as many people as possible in their wickedness. On this occasion, however, I again made it clear not by my words but by my actions that death did not matter to me at all--if that is not too strong an expression--but that it mattered all the world to me that I should do nothing wrong or wicked. Powerful as it was, that government did not terrify me into doing a wrong action. When we came out of the Round Chamber, the other four went off to Salamis and arrested Leon, and I went home. I should probably have been put to death for this, if the government had not fallen soon afterward. There are plenty of people who will testify to these statements.

Socrates went home. Should he have done more? He could have warned Leon, he could have tried to stop his arrest. Is simply keeping one’s own hands clean of injustice morally sufficient?


In 404 B.C.E.  Athens was compelled to surrender unconditionally to Sparta. Part of the peace settlement required Athens to open the city to those who had been exiled in the years after the first restoration of the democracy in 410. By and large, these individuals were bitter enemies of the democracy and they returned with schemes to replace the democracy with rule by a few (oligarchy).


Operating with the support of Lysander (Sparta's military leader who had ordered the formation of a group of thirty to "codify the ancestral laws") these few were placed in positions of power and soon became abusive and extreme. They secured Spartan troops to impose their will, confiscated property to support themselves, and began executing people at will. The supporters of democracy, who had forced the oligarchs out of the city, were forced themselves now into exile (included among them were Anytus and Chairephon).


One of the thirty, Critias, was particularly harsh in carrying out a policy of terror, murder, and confiscation. As part of a general campaign against foreigners, Socrates and four others were ordered to arrest Leon of Salamis. Socrates refused on principle that this was a violation of the law of Athens . Again, Socrates was the only dissenter. He probably would have been executed except that the Rule of the Thirty was overthrown (after ruling less than a year) and democracy restored.


A point to bear in mind is that, at the time of Socrates' trial there was division in Athens between those who preferred democracy and those who preferred a more aristocratic form of government. Socrates attempts to diffuse this point by providing personal examples of courage in defense of the law against both forms of rule.

                                    --Anderson & Freund

What do these two stories show about Socrates’ character?

Do you suppose that I should have lived as long as I have if I had moved in the sphere of public life, and conducting myself in that sphere like an honorable man, had always upheld the cause of right, and conscientiously set this end above all other things? Not by a very long way, gentlemen; neither would any other man. You will find that throughout my life I have been consistent in any public duties that I have performed, and the same also in my personal dealings. I have never countenanced any action that was incompatible with justice on the part of any person, including those whom some people maliciously call my pupils. I have never set up as any man's teacher, but if anyone, young or old, is eager to hear me conversing and carrying out my private mission, I never grudge him the opportunity; nor do I charge a fee for talking to him, and refuse to talk without one. I am ready to answer questions for rich and poor alike, and I am equally ready if anyone prefers to listen to me and answer my questions. If any given one of these people becomes a good citizen or a bad one, I cannot fairly be held responsible, since I have never promised or imparted any teaching to anybody, and if anyone asserts that he has ever learned or heard from me privately anything which was not open to everyone else, you may be quite sure that he is not telling the truth.

What does Socrates say he never allows?

What does Socrates mean by saying that he has never imparted any teaching to anyone?

But how is it that some people enjoy spending a great deal of time in my company? You have heard the reason, gentlemen; I told you quite frankly. It is because they enjoy hearing me examine those who think that they are wise when they are not--an experience which has its amusing side. This duty I have accepted, as I said, in obedience to God's commands given in oracles and dreams and in every other way that any other divine dispensation has ever impressed a duty upon man. This is a true statement, gentlemen, and easy to verify. If it is a fact that I am in process of corrupting some of the young, and have succeeded already in corrupting others, and if it were a fact that some of the latter, being now grown up, had discovered that I had ever given them bad advice when they were young, surely they ought now to be coming forward to denounce and punish me. And if they did not like to do it themselves, you would expect some of their families--their fathers and brothers and other near relations--to remember it now, if their own flesh and blood had suffered any harm from me. Certainly a great many of them have found their way into this court, as I can see for myself--first Crito over there, my contemporary and near neighbor, the father of this young man Critobulus, and then Lysanias of Sphettus, the father of Aeschines here, and next Antiphon of Cephisus, over there, the father of Epigenes. Then besides there are all those whose brothers have been members of our circle--Nicostratus, the son of Theozotides, the brother of Theodotus, but Theodotus is dead, so he cannot appeal to his brother, and Paralus here, the son of Demodocus, whose brother was Theages. And here is Adimantus, the son of Ariston, whose brother Plato is over there,

Plato (427-347 BCE) is the author of the Apology. He came from a wealthy Athenian family. His mother, Perictione, was a descendent of Solon, and his father, Ariston, was from a long lineage of the old kings of Athens (which was said to have originated with the Poseidon, the god of the seas). His two uncles, Critias and Charmenides, were leaders in the Rule of Thirty uprising against the Athenian democracy.


As a young man, Plato was very much influenced by Socrates, who was about 40 years his senior. In all likelihood, he was present during Socrates' trial. The Apology was probably written within a few years after the actual trial and was intended to be read by those who admired Socrates as well as the jurors who convicted him. It was common at that time to edit and publish celebrated speeches. Plato's early writings show his admiration for Socrates. His most famous philosophical work is the Republic where he discusses the nature of justice, the theory of innate ideas, and the ideal state. There is much controversy among scholars when distinguishing the views the historical Socrates had, Plato's own view of Socrates, and Plato's own views.


After the trial Plato traveled to Italy and Sicily. In 387 BCE he returned to Athens and founded the Academy. Although he spent most of his years in Athens, he did journey to Syracuse in an unsuccessful attempt to implement some of his political views. Plato died in Athens in 347 BCE.




the ruins of Plato’s Academy


and Aeantodorus, whose brother Apollodorus is here on this side. I can name many more besides, some of whom Meletus most certainly ought to have produced as witnesses in the course of his speech. If he forgot to do so then, let him do it now--I am willing to make way for him. Let him state whether he has any such evidence to offer. On the contrary, gentlemen, you will find that they are all prepared to help me--the corrupter and evil genius of their nearest and dearest relatives, as Meletus and Anytus say. The actual victims of my corrupting influence might perhaps be excused for helping me; but as for the uncorrupted, their relations of mature age, what other reason can they have for helping me except the right and proper one, that they know Meletus is lying and I am telling the truth?

No less surprising to my mind is the belief that Socrates corrupted the young. This man, who, beyond what has been already stated, kept his appetites and passions under strict control, who was pre-eminently capable of enduring winter's cold and summer's heat and every kind of toil, who was so schooled to curtail his needs that with the scantiest of means he never lacked sufficiency--is it credible that such a man could have made others irreverent or lawless, or licentious, or effeminate in face of toil? Was he not rather the saving of many through the passion for virtue which he roused in them, and the hope he infused that through careful management of themselves they might grow to be truly beautiful and good--not indeed that he ever 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.

                           Xenophon, Memorabilia

What reason does Socrates give here to back his claim that he is innocent of the charges Meletus brought against him?

What were those charges again?

There, gentlemen, that, and perhaps a little more to the same effect, is the substance of what I can say in my defense. It may be that some one of you, remembering his own case, will be annoyed that whereas he, in standing his trial upon a less serious charge than this, made pitiful appeals to the jury with floods of tears, and had his infant children produced in court to excite the maximum of sympathy, and many of his relatives and friends as well, I on the contrary intend to do nothing of the sort, and that, although I am facing, as it might appear, the utmost danger.

“Speeches [to the jury] tended to consist of indirect defense: “Look at all the services I have done the state! How could you think that such an upright person could have committed the heinous crimes with which I am charged? Besides, do you want to deprive my children of their father? Now look at the corrupt characters of my accusers.” Slander and innuendo were as effective as evidence, and the jurors might boo or cheer to express their approval or disapproval. What worked was appealing to the conditioned prejudices of the audience, however vague and undefined they may have been.” [Waterfield, p. 84]

This is one of Socrates’ greatest legacies: the commitment to deciding important issues by an objective rational appeal to the facts of the case. After all his greatest opponents were the Sophists whose methods—at least as portrayed by Plato—were to teach people to use any means whatsoever to win their case. Appeals to authority, tugging at the heartstrings, guilt by association, loaded language, attacking overly-simplified versions of an opponent’s case, all were fair means if they were persuasive. The Communications Studies Dept. and any good class in methods of advertising can give you an idea of the range of persuasive methods used. But to Socrates all of these were illicit and he refused to use them even when doing so could have saved his life. A case must be made on the facts and on unbiased reasoning on those facts, and nothing more. Philosophers have been devoted to this ideal ever since.

 Do the ends justify the means? The Sophists thought so, but Socrates did not. Even to save his life, he would not use means that he thought were wrong. Do you think Socrates should have used every persuasive device at his disposal? After all, in his view, the charges were bogus and his accusers motivated by malice, not by a concern for justice. Why should he play fairly with a trial that is not going to play fairly with him?

It may be that one of you, reflecting on these facts, will be prejudiced against me, and being irritated by his reflections, will give his vote in anger. If one of you is so disposed--I do not expect it, but there is the possibility--I think that I should be quite justified in saying to him, My dear sir, of course I have some relatives. To quote the very words of Homer, even I am not sprung 'from an oak or from a rock,'  but from human parents, and consequently I have relatives-- yes, and sons too, gentlemen, three of them, one almost grown up and the other two only children--but all the same I am not going to produce them here and beseech you to acquit me.

Why do I not intend to do anything of this kind? Not out of perversity, gentlemen, nor out of contempt for you; whether I am brave or not in the face of death has nothing to do with it. The point is that for my own credit and yours and for the credit of the state as a whole, I do not think that it is right for me to use any of these methods at my age and with my reputation--which may be true or it may be false, but at any rate the view is held that Socrates is different from the common run of mankind. Now if those of you who are supposed to be distinguished for wisdom or courage or any other virtue are to behave in this way, it would be a disgrace. I have often noticed that some people of this type, for all their high standing, go to extraordinary lengths when they come up for trial, which shows that they think it will be a dreadful thing to lose their lives--as though they would be immortal if you did not put them to death! In my opinion these people bring disgrace upon our city. Any of our visitors might be excused for thinking that the finest specimens of Athenian manhood, whom their fellow citizens select on their merits to rule over them and hold other high positions, are no better than women.

In the event that you haven't gathered so by now, there was profound social, political, and sexual inequality between men and women in the ancient world.  Socrates' close friends and interlocutors were all men, whose positive references to women were few and far between (such as the Pythian priestess mentioned earlier and Diotima in the Symposium). It is not until  Plato asserts in his great dialogue The Republic that the ideal ruler is a philosopher-king or queen that the personal, political and intellectual equality of women is affirmed. Until the 20th century, this belief will remain the exception rather than the rule. In the Apology,  Socrates affirms the stereotype that men are (or, at least, should be) strong and rational in the face of death while women are filled with emotion.

         --Anderson & Freund


 If you have even the smallest reputation, gentlemen, you ought not to descend to these methods; and if we do so, you must not give us license. On the contrary, you must make it clear that anyone who stages these pathetic scenes and so brings ridicule upon our city is far more likely to be condemned than if he kept perfectly quiet.

See this link for more about respect and self-respect

What methods does Socrates think are disgraceful and why?

Do you think Socrates has slyly done what he said he would not do by mentioning, in passing as it were, his three children?

But apart from all question of appearances, gentlemen, I do not think that it is right for a man to appeal to the jury or to get himself acquitted by doing so; he ought to inform them of the facts and convince them by argument. The jury does not sit to dispense justice as a favor, but to decide where justice lies, and the oath which they have sworn is not to show favor at their own discretion, but to return a just and lawful verdict.

See this link for more on justice

It follows that we must not develop in you, nor you allow to grow in yourselves, the habit of perjury; that would be sinful for us both. Therefore you must not expect me, gentlemen, to behave toward you in a way which I consider neither reputable nor moral nor consistent with my religious duty, and above all you must not expect it when I stand charged with impiety by Meletus here. Surely it is obvious that if I tried to persuade you and prevail upon you by my entreaties to go against your solemn oath, I should be teaching you contempt for religion, and by my very defense I should be accusing myself of having no religious belief. But that is very far from the truth. I have a more sincere belief, gentlemen, than any of my accusers, and I leave it to you and to God to judge me as it shall be best for me and for yourselves.

What does Socrates think is the proper way to defend oneself in court?

Why does he think that if he did otherwise he would be condemning himself of the charges against him?

Socrates believes in intellectual honesty and integrity. Explain what these mean to him and how he exemplifies them in his own life.


There are a great many reasons, gentlemen, why I am not distressed by this result--I mean your condemnation of me--but the chief reason is that the result was not unexpected.

Read this link for more: A sense of justice

What does surprise me is the number of votes cast on the two sides. I should never have believed that it would be such a close thing, but now it seems that if a mere thirty votes had gone the other way, I should have been acquitted. Even as it is, I feel that so far as Meletus' part is concerned I have been acquitted, and not only that, but anyone can see that if Anytus and Lycon had not come forward to accuse me, Meletus would actually have forfeited his one thousand drachmas for not having obtained one fifth of the votes.

ballots: guilty, top; innocent, bottom


[Socrates Discusses His Penalty]

However, we must face the fact that he demands the death penalty. Very good. What alternative penalty shall I propose to you, gentlemen? Obviously it must be adequate. Well, what penalty do I deserve to pay or suffer, in view of what I have done?

People convicted by the Athenian court were allowed to propose an alternative punishment to the standard one for their offense. Socrates’ only concern is that he get the punishment he deserves.

I have never lived an ordinary quiet life. I did not care for the things that most people care about-- making money, having a comfortable home, high military or civil rank, and all the other activities, political appointments, secret societies, party organizations, which go on in our city. I thought that I was really too strict in my principles to survive if I went in for this sort of thing. So instead of taking a course which would have done no good either to you or to me, I set myself to do you individually in private what I hold to be the greatest possible service. I tried to persuade each one of you not to think more of practical advantages than of his mental and moral well-being,

 See this link for more on Socrates' refusal to conform and on integrity

What is Socrates view about how one should not live one’s life?

 or in general to think more of advantage than of well- being in the case of the state or of anything else. What do I deserve for behaving in this way? Some reward, gentlemen, if I am bound to suggest what I really deserve, and what is more, a reward which would be appropriate for myself. Well, what is appropriate for a poor man who is a public benefactor and who requires leisure for giving you moral encouragement? Nothing could be more appropriate for such a person than free maintenance at the state's expense. He deserves it much more than any victor in the races at Olympia, whether he wins with a single horse or a pair or a team of four. These people give you the semblance of success, but I give you the reality; they do not need maintenance, but I do. So if I am to suggest an appropriate penalty which is strictly in accordance with justice, I suggest free maintenance by the state.

Xenophon agreed with Socrates’ self-estimate. In the Memorabilia, he says:

To the state he was never the cause of any evil--neither disaster in war, nor faction, nor treason, nor any other mischief whatsoever. And if his public life was free from all offence, so was his private. He never hurt a single soul either by deprivation of good or infliction of evil, nor did he ever lie under the imputation of any of those misdoings. WHere then is his liability to the indictment to be found? Who, so far from disbelieving in the gods, as set forth in the indictment, was conspicuous beyond all men for service to heaven; so far from corrupting the young--a charge alleged with insistence by the prosecutor--was notorious for the zeal with which he strove not only to stay his associates from evil desires, but to foster in them a passionate desire for that loveliest and queenliest of virtues without which states and families crumble to decay.[38] Such being his conduct, was he not worthy of high honour from the state of Athens?

The meals here were an interesting institution. At Sparta, all the male citizens were expected to eat at the common mess. At Athens, a representative group of citizens were invited by lot to something that was then rather like the family meal of the city. Others, like Olympic victors, might be honored with a permanent seat at the meals. Someone so honored became a parásitos -- our word "parasite." So Socrates is proposing that he be made a "parasite" on the city.  Since the jury that has just convicted him of a serious offense against the state cannot possibly agree to give Socrates a reward like this, he has in effect forced the court to sentence him to death.

Ross at




Perhaps when I say this I may give you the impression, as I did in my remarks about exciting sympathy and making passionate appeals, that I am showing a deliberate perversity. That is not so, gentlemen. The real position is this. I am convinced that I never wrong anyone intentionally, but I cannot convince you of this, because we have had so little time for discussion. If it was your practice, as it is with other nations, to give not one day but several to the hearing of capital trials, I believe that you might have been convinced, but under present conditions it is not easy to dispose of grave allegations in a short space of time. So, being convinced that I do no wrong to anybody, I can hardly be expected to wrong myself by asserting that I deserve something bad, or by proposing a corresponding penalty


How is this proposal by Socrates consistent with his earlier assertion that he never countenances injustice?

. Why should I? For fear of suffering this penalty proposed by Meletus, when, as I said, I do not know whether it is a good thing or a bad? Do you expect me to choose something which I know very well is bad by making my counterproposal? Imprisonment? Why should I spend my days in prison, in subjection to the periodically appointed officers of the law? A fine, with imprisonment until it is paid? In my case the effect would be just the same, because I have no money to pay a fine. Or shall I suggest banishment? You would very likely accept the suggestion.

I should have to be desperately in love with life to do that, gentlemen. I am not so blind that I cannot see that you, my fellow citizens, have come to the end of your patience with my discussions and conversations. You have found them too irksome and irritating, and now you are trying to get rid of them. Will any other people find them easy to put up with? That is most unlikely, gentlemen. A fine life I should have if I left this country at my age and spent the rest of my days trying one city after another and being turned out every time! I know very well that wherever I go the young people will listen to my conversation just as they do here, and if I try to keep them off, they will make their elders drive me out, while if I do not, the fathers and other relatives will drive me out of their own accord for the sake of the young.

Perhaps someone may say, But surely, Socrates, after you have left us you can spend the rest of your life in quietly minding your own business.

This is the hardest thing of all to make some of you understand. If I say that this would be disobedience to God, and that is why I cannot 'mind my own business,' you will not believe that I am serious. If on the other hand I tell you that to let no day pass without discussing goodness and all the other subjects about which you hear me talking and examining both myself and others is really the very best thing that a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living, you will be even less inclined to believe me. Nevertheless that is how it is, gentlemen

If it appeared to him that a sign from heaven had been given him, nothing would have induced him to go against heavenly warning: he would as soon have been persuaded to accept the guidance of a blind man ignorant of the path to lead him on a journey in place of one who knew the road and could see; and so he denounced the folly of others who do things contrary to the warnings of God in order to avoid some disrepute among men. For himself he despised all human aids by comparison with counsel from above.

         Xenophon, Memorabilia

Why will Socrates not agree to mind his own business as an alternative to death?

, as I maintain, though it is not easy to convince you of it. Besides, I am not accustomed to think of myself as deserving punishment. If I had money, I would have suggested a fine that I could afford, because that would not have done me any harm. As it is, I cannot, because I have none, unless of course you like to fix the penalty at what I could pay. I suppose I could probably afford a mina. I suggest a fine of that amount.

One moment, gentlemen. Plato here, and Crito and Critobulus and Apollodorus, want me to propose thirty minas, on their security. Very well, I agree to this sum, and you can rely upon these gentlemen for its payment.

As best as we can tell 30 minas = approximately  $45,000 in 1990 dollars. Protagoras' fee reportedly was 100 minas, or the truly astronomical $150,000 -- no wonder Plato mentions (Meno 91d) that Protagoras died rich. He was the Ivy League education of Greece, while a Sophist like Evenus was merely the typical State University education.

Ross at


5th century Athenian coins, popularly referred to as “owls.” One one side is Athena, the goddess of wisdom and the patron goddess of Athens, and on the other, an owl, which is her sacred animal. Owls are still popularly thought to be wise.


Well, gentlemen, for the sake of a very small gain in time you are going to earn the reputation-- and the blame from those who wish to disparage our city--of having put Socrates to death, 'that wise man'-- because they will say I am wise even if I am not, these people who want to find fault with you. If you had waited just a little while, you would have had your way in the course of nature. You can see that I am well on in life and near to death. I am saying this not to all of you but to those who voted for my execution, and I have something else to say to them as well.

No doubt you think, gentlemen, that I have been condemned for lack of the arguments which I could have used if I had thought it right to leave nothing unsaid or undone to secure my acquittal. But that is very far from the truth. It is not a lack of arguments that has caused my condemnation, but a lack of effrontery and impudence, and the fact that I have refused to address you in the way which would give you most pleasure. You would have liked to hear me weep and wail, doing and saying all sorts of things which I regard as unworthy of myself, but which you are used to hearing from other people. But I did not think then that I ought to stoop to servility because I was in danger, and I do not regret now the way in which I pleaded my case. I would much rather die as the result of this defense than live as the result of the other sort.

What does this say about Socrates’ self-respect? See this link for more

In a court of law, just as in warfare, neither I nor any other ought to use his wits to escape death by any means. In battle it is often obvious that you could escape being killed by giving up your arms and throwing yourself upon the mercy of your pursuers, and in every kind of danger there are plenty of devices for avoiding death if you are unscrupulous enough to stick at nothing. But I suggest, gentlemen, that the difficulty is not so much to escape death; the real difficulty is to escape from doing wrong, which is far more fleet of foot. In this present instance I, the slow old man, have been overtaken by the slower of the two, but my accusers, who are clever and quick, have been overtaken by the faster--by iniquity. When I leave this court I shall go away condemned by you to death, but they will go away convicted by truth herself of depravity and wickedness. And they accept their sentence even as I accept mine. No doubt it was bound to be so, and I think that the result is fair enough.

Socrates clearly thinks that he is better off than his accusers. Why does he think so?

Having said so much, I feel moved to prophesy to you who have given your vote against me, for I am now at that point where the gift of prophecy comes most readily to men--at the point of death. I tell you, my executioners, that as soon as I am dead, vengeance shall fall upon you with a punishment far more painful than your killing of me. You have brought about my death in the belief that through it you will be delivered from submitting your conduct to criticism, but I say that the result will be just the opposite. You will have more critics, whom up till now I have restrained without your knowing it, and being younger they will be harsher to you and will cause you more annoyance. If you expect to stop denunciation of your wrong way of life by putting people to death, there is something amiss with your reasoning. This way of escape is neither possible nor creditable. The best and easiest way is not to stop the mouths of others, but to make yourselves as good men as you can. This is my last message to you who voted for my condemnation.

As for you who voted for my acquittal, I should very much like to say a few words to reconcile you to the result, while the officials are busy and I am not yet on my way to the place where I must die. I ask you, gentlemen, to spare me these few moments. There is no reason why we should not exchange fancies while the law permits. I look upon you as my friends, and I want you to understand the right way of regarding my present position.

Gentlemen of the jury--for you deserve to be so called--I have had a remarkable experience. In the past the prophetic voice to which I have become accustomed has always been my constant companion, opposing me even in quite trivial things if I was going to take the wrong course. Now something has happened to me, as you can see, which might be thought and is commonly considered to be a supreme calamity; yet neither when I left home this morning, nor when I was taking my place here in the court, nor at any point in any part of my speech did the divine sign oppose me. In other discussions it has often checked me in the middle of a sentence, but this time it has never opposed me in any part of this business in anything that I have said or done. What do I suppose to be the explanation? I will tell you. I suspect that this thing that has happened to me is a blessing, and we are quite mistaken in supposing death to be an evil. I have good grounds for thinking this, because my accustomed sign could not have failed to oppose me if what I was doing had not been sure to bring some good result.

Why does Socrates say he chooses to die rather change his way of life? Why, even though he served with distinction as a soldier, did he never engage in politics? Why does he believe that it is of such great importance to attempt to never do injustice?


[Socrates's Argument that Death is not a Bad Thing]

We should reflect that there is much reason to hope for a good result on other grounds as well. Death is one of two things. Either it is annihilation, and the dead have no consciousness of anything, or, as we are told, it is really a change--a migration of the soul from this place to another. Now if there is no consciousness but only a dreamless sleep, death must be a marvelous gain. I suppose that if anyone were told to pick out the night on which he slept so soundly as not even to dream, and then to compare it with all the other nights and days of his life, and then were told to say, after due consideration, how many better and happier days and nights than this he had spent in the course of his life--well, I think that the Great King himself, to say nothing of any private person, would find these days and nights easy to count in comparison with the rest. If death is like this, then, I call it gain, because the whole of time, if you look at it in this way, can be regarded as no more than one single night. If on the other hand death is a removal from here to some other place, and if what we are told is true, that all the dead are there, what greater blessing could there be than this, gentlemen? If on arrival in the other world, beyond the reach of our so-called justice, one will find there the true judges who are said to preside in those courts, Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus and all those other half-divinities who were upright in their earthly life, would that be an unrewarding journey?


About to suffer death at the hands of his ignorant worldly judges, Socrates longs for better judges in the next life. He mentions three.

Minos is said to have been the son of Zeus and Europa. He ruled as a king of the island of Crete before the onset of the Trojan War. He is reported to have been the first to civilize the residents of his island and to rule over them with justice. Both he and his brother sat in judgment over the souls of the dead in the Underworld.


Rhadamanthus is the brother of Minos. He was well known for his wisdom and justice. For example, he organized the Cretin Code which later served as a model for Greek cities. He was so skilled that he was awarded the role of judge, along with his brother, in the afterlife.


Aeacus, son of Zeus and the Nymph Aegina, was known for his piety and integrity. He was said to have judged between the gods. According to later legends, upon his death, he assisted Minos and Rhadamanthus in the judgments made in the Underworld.



Put it in this way. How much would one of you give to meet Orpheus and Musaeus, Hesiod and Homer? I am willing to die ten times over if this account is true. It would be a specially interesting experience for me to join them there, to meet Palamedes and Ajax, the son of Telamon, and any other heroes of the old days who met their death through an unfair trial, and to compare my fortunes with theirs--it would be rather amusing, I think. And above all I should like to spend my time there, as here, in examining and searching people's minds, to find out who is really wise among them, and who only thinks that he is. What would one not give, gentlemen, to be able to question the leader of that great host against Troy, or Odysseus, or Sisyphus, or the thousands of other men and women whom one could mention, to talk and mix and argue with whom would be unimaginable happiness? At any rate I presume that they do not put one to death there for such conduct, because apart from the other happiness in which their world surpasses ours, they are now immortal for the rest of time, if what we are told is true.

The Thracian, Orpheus, lived in a region bordering on Olympus. He was famous for his poetry, music (according to one legend he invented the lyre), and singing. So delightful was his voice that it was said he could calm the wildest men and cause animals to follow him with his singing. One legend even says that with the music of his lyre he was able to charm the gods and monsters of the Underworld.


Musaeus was a contemporary of Orpheus who is variously reported as his son, student, or master. He has been viewed as the archetype of musicians. So great were his musical talents that he was said to have had the power to cure the sick through his music. A series of mystical poems also have been attributed to him.


Among ancient Greek poets, Hesiod is second only to Homer in influence and importance. Like the others mentioned here, he was one of the earliest "civilizers" of Greek culture. He is famous for his burning sense of justice and moral precepts. His writings include Works and Days and The Theogony. The latter is an attempt to make religious conceptions of the gods consistent with each other as well as with Hesiod's own philosophy.

Hesiod                                                                                                                                         Homer


 Homer, author of the Iliad and the Odyssey, stands as the greatest and most influential of the Greek poets. His writings contain the heart of Greek mythic beliefs about the gods. In the Iliad Homer covers the Trojan War and in the Odyssey, which may have been a sequel, he focuses on peace.


The legend of Odysseus is the subject of Homer's Odyssey. He was Agamemnon's intermediary and was in command of twelve ships on the voyage to  Troy. He was well known for both the wisdom of his council and the courage with which he fought throughout the war. Finally, it was his idea to construct the wooden horse which successfully fooled the Trojans. He commanded the unit inside the horse and was said to have been the first one out of the horse. He then reportedly saved Helen from her husband Menelaus.



Germane to Socrates' situation is the belief that Zeus had acknowledged Odysseus as the wisest of men just as the oracle of Apollo had said to Socrates generations later.



Sisyphus was the father of  Odysseus and the founder of the city of Corinth. He was considered the most cunning of men. Perhaps the most noteworthy example of this was the trick he played on  Hades after arriving in the Underworld. He asked Hades for permission to leave temporarily the  Underworld in order to convince his wife to honor properly his burial. However, it was Sisyphus himself who had ordered his wife before dying not to honor him so that he would have this excuse to escape from  Hades and live again.



In another legend Sisyphus truthfully informed Asopus that Zeus was the god who had kidnapped Asopus' daughter, Aegina. Zeus was so angry at Sisyphus that he threw him into the Underworld. He condemned Sisyphus to the eternal task of having to roll a stone up a hill only to have it roll to the bottom just before it reached the top. Socrates, like Sisyphus, also received a cruel punishment for the outlandish offense of having told the truth!




--Anderson & Freund



    In Homer, the dead are miserable, and even "without sense or feeling." In the Odyssey, Odysseus makes a blood sacrifice to call up the dead and give them enough rationality that he can talk to them. One of the spirits he talks to is that of Achilles, whom he assumes is as honored among the dead as he was among the living. But Achilles disabuses him:  he would rather be farming a small plot among the living than be king of the dead. The irony of this is bitter indeed, since the entire Iliad was about how Achilles gained fame at the cost of his life. Now he says it wasn't worth it. Most other ancient peoples shared this idea, as we see in the Epic of Gilgamesh, or even in the Bible, where Sheol doesn't sound too promising. Only the Egyptians held out a hope that the afterlife could be as good or better than this one.


    Socrates says that the dead are "happier" (eudaimonésteros) and "deathless" (athánatos). In Homer, these are more like attributes of the gods, not of humans, whether dead or alive. Where does Socrates get this stuff? Well, there was a source. Perhaps from Egyptian influence, there was a movement in Greek religion that did promise a happier afterlife -- real life, not just the miserable shadow existence of Homer. These were the "mystery" cults or "mystery religions." Initiation into the "mysteries" conveyed immorality. Later, they would be proper independent religions -- Isis, Mithraism, and Christianity itself. In Socrates' day, the Greek cults were integrated into Greek religion. The most famous was in Athenian territory at the temple of Demeter at Eleusis:  the Eleusian Mysteries. We do not know if Socrates was an initiate or not. If he was, he certainly would not say much about it. At Athens, riots sometimes started when theater goers thought that some play was divulging Secrets from the Mysteries. The Secrets, indeed, were kept so well, that no full account of them survives, not even from Christian writers who would have had no scruples about exposing pagan blasphemies.


    So when Socrates says, "what we are told," he may actually have been told something of the sort. He certainly would not consider the Homeric possibility, since death then would be bad rather than good. And he did decide that death was good. But what about the gods? To be happy and deathless is about all that distinguished the Homeric gods from humans. But Socrates has already introduced something else. His gods are good and wise, unlike Homer's often mean and foolish deities. So now the dead may be happy and deathless, but they still can only have "human wisdom" and remain distinct from the gods themselves.

Ross at


Why does Socrates not fear death?

You too, gentlemen of the jury, must look forward to death with confidence, and fix your minds on this one belief, which is certain--that nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death, and his fortunes are not a matter of indifference to the gods.

Why does Socrates think that nothing can harm a good man?

This present experience of mine has not come about mechanically. I am quite clear that the time had come when it was better for me to die and be released from my distractions. That is why my sign never turned me back. For my own part I bear no grudge at all against those who condemned me and accused me, although it was not with this kind intention that they did so, but because they thought that they were hurting me; and that is culpable of them.

However, I ask them to grant me one favor. When my sons grow up, gentlemen, if you think that they are putting money or anything else before goodness, take your revenge by plaguing them as I plagued you; and if they fancy themselves for no reason, you must scold them just as I scolded you, for neglecting the important things and thinking that they are good for something when they are good for nothing. If you do this, I shall have had justice at your hands, both I myself and my children.

The seventy-year-old Socrates has two sons who are still children. His three sons, oldest to youngest, were Lamprocles, Sophroniscus (named for Socrates' father), and Menexenus. Gender roles of the time were so defined that the husband was responsible for providing financially for the family while the wife was in charge of the household. Socrates unnamed wife was Xanthippe who had a reputation for complaining. We don't know how old she was, when Socrates married her, or anything. About all we hear is of her complaints. But, with a husband who didn't work, never brought home any money, and kept getting her pregnant in his sixties, I think it would be astonishing if she didn't have some complaints.

Ross at

Anderson & Freund

But in his biography of Socrates in Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, Diogenes Laertius (approx. 3rd century b.c.e.) says:

Aristotle says that he married two wives; his first wife was Xanthippe, by whom he had a son, Lamprocles; his second wife was Myrto, the daughter of Aristides the Just, whom he took without a dowry.  By her he had Sophroniscus and Menexenus.  Others make Myrto his first wife; while some writers, including Satyrus and Hieronymus of Rhodes, affirm that they were both his wives at the same time.  For they say that the Athenians were short of men and, wishing to increase the population, passed a decree permitting a citizen to marry one Athenian woman and have children by another; and that Socrates accordingly did so.

Diogenes also reports Socrates as saying when  someone asked him whether he should marry, or not,  “Whichever you do you will repent it.”

Now it is time that we were going, I to die and you to live, but which of us has the happier prospect is unknown to anyone but God.

 Socrates would say that we should never take even our religious beliefs on faith. Do you agree with Socrates that we should question all our moral beliefs or are there some beliefs that we should never question? Explain your answer.

Socrates has been held up as one of the great moral figures in our history, along with Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, Confucius, Buddha and Gandhi. Why do you think this is so? What is the single most striking difference between him and all the rest as far as his beliefs are concerned?