Apology of Socrates by Plato presents the conversation that took place during Socrates’ trial. Plato was Socrates’ student and friend who was present during the hearing and followed the proceedings closely. The dialogue was written shortly after Socrates conviction. Apology in this context means justification given in defense. Making Socrates’ reputation known to the people was the core objective of Plato’s works (Kondo 81). Socrates was charged with having faith in different gods from what the city believed and corruption of young persons.
Socrates starts by addressing the Athenians in saying that he nearly forgets his identity. His commencement sets the mood for the whole dialogue. He says that there are a lot of untruths said against him and that the men of Athens must be on the lookout not be misled by him. Socrates displays ignorance in saying that he is the wisest since he knows that he knows not. He expounds on this by saying that he felt compelled to interrogate the so called ‘wise men’ so as to expose their falsehood. In so doing, the Athenian youths admired him while people who felt humiliated by him felt anger and contempt. He mentions that this hatred is the reason he is being prosecuted (The Apology of Socrates 1)
He starts of his defense by stating that there has been widespread prejudice against him over the years that have poisoned the jury’s minds. He is accused of being a sophist who investigates things underneath the earth and in the sky (Fowler 23). He says this allegations are from his rivals who are evil and jealous of him. Socrates’ false reputation surfaced from his real activities being misunderstood by the people. To describe this, Socrates relates to a story concerning the Delphic oracle. That, his friend, Chaerophon, visited the oracle and enquired who the wisest human was. The reply was that no one was wiser than Socrates. Socrates was astonished by this finding since he considers himself as arrogant (Fowler 26).
Consequently, Socrates wanted to prove the finding wrong. He therefore, went around interrogating people he thought were wiser than him to establish the truth. From every encounter, the person in question asserted that Socrates had much wisdom. These findings makes Socrates wonder whether he should be like the so called ‘wise men’ or be himself. Socrates then tells the jury that he prefers to be himself (The Apology of Socrates 7). In the quest of proving the oracle at Delphi, many people had their faiths and values in doubt. As it followed, misconception and fury was the response he got from the majority of the people. As years went by, this fury grew into a common resentment.
Socrates then carries on to cross-examine Meletus, his accuser and asks what would be of good effect to the Athenian youths if he is such a bad influence. Meletus then responds by saying that the rule of law makes people noble. Socrates then beseeches Meletus to elaborate by telling the court which people of Athens have this positive influence on the youth. From Meletus’ answer, it is clear that only Socrates has a negative influence on them. Socrates respond by saying that only horse trainers are skillful enough to handle horses and thus, will influence them positively, whereas the majority of the people will influence them badly. The analogy, therefore, suggests that just like the horse, it requires a skilful person to improve an individual and these skilful persons are few (Fowler 29).
As the interrogation continues, Meletus claims that Socrates causes harm to whoever comes close to him and that this disadvantages the society. Socrates maintains that he cannot be as unwise as to want to harm himself because in doing so, he does harm himself. Socrates then says, whether he corrupted the youth or not, he did it involuntarily and he should have been educated and reprimanded privately but not judged and penalized publicly (The Apology of Socrates 13).
Socrates then goes ahead to take on his second allegation of impiety. Meletus claims that Socrates does not believe in the same gods as the city and maintains that Socrates does not believe in deities at all. Socrates says that Meletus is mistaking him for Anaxagoras, a famous pre-Socratic philosopher whose ideas are being attributed to Socrates. To show that Meletus is incorrect, Socrates challenges him by asking if there is a person believing in human actions but does not believe in human beings, or equine with no faith in horses, or in music with no faith in musicians, and thus, it is not possible to believe in divinity without believing in divine beings (Fowler 31). Socrates claims that Meletus is contradicting himself by saying that Socrates is atheistic and again says he believes in some sort of demigods. It follows then, that Socrates has faith in gods contradicting Meletus’ initial allegation (Fowler 32).
Socrates sees himself as of great help to the city by equating himself to a gadfly. He says that as the gadfly continuously disturbs the horse from being slow and keeps it alert, so does he move around the city asking people provocative questions that make them prudent and tolerant. He also adds that he is a gift to the city sent by the gods. He goes further to say that he will solely be hurt by the anger and resentment from his foes but not the allegations made against him (Fowler 35). Socrates urges the jury to judge him in line with his account and should not consider his age or children. He requests to be judged and not pardoned for he believes that, in so doing, justice is served.
Judgment is made and Socrates is found guilty by a slight margin. He is asked to propose his own punishment. He says that he is certain he never aggrieved anybody and will not do injustice to himself by proposing a penalty that would hurt him. He suggests being offered free meals for he considers himself to be of good use to the city. He declines imprisonment and banishment by saying that going to prison will make him a slave to people in authority and that going away will be defying the gods. He finally offers to pay a fine (The Apology of Socrates 26). His suggestions are turned down and he is sentenced to death. He stoically consents to the ruling and comments that it is solely the gods that know what transpires after death. He adds that people scared by death exhibit ignorance since they take it as a bad thing. Socrates remarks that he is cared for by the gods and that death might turn out to be a noble thing after all (Kondo 181).
Socrates was more concerned with telling the truth than pleasing the jury. His accusers could not bring forth any witness to testify against him. Socrates calls to the stand any witness he has ‘allegedly’ corrupted over the years, but, no one turns up. Even though no strong evidence is presented against him, he is condemned to death. Socrates is not scared by this for he knows that whether he lives or not, the truth will still prevail. He sees death as a blessing in disguise for he will continue to learn and familiarize with more people. He chooses to die rather than stop practicing philosophy something that will please the Athenians. He is not subdued by the jurors. In addition, it is by a narrow margin of 30 votes that Socrates is found guilty. This means that nearly half of the jury believed in his innocence. This way, he still emerges victorious whether dead or alive.
Cooper, M. John, ed. Plato: Five Dialogues. Translated by Grube G. M. A. 2nd ed. 2002. www.sas.upenn.edu/~cavitch/pdf-library/Plato_Apology.pdf. Accessed 5 December 2017
Fowler, H. N. Plato: The Apology of Socrates. Ed. Garvin E. E. 2013. https://sites.ualberta.ca/~egarvin/assets/plato-apology.pdf. Accessed 5 December 2017.
Kondo, Kazutaka. Socrates’ Understanding of his Trial: The Political Presentation of Philosophy. 2011. Boston College, PhD dissertation. www.dlib.bc.edu/islandora/object/bc-ir:102010/datastream/PDF/download/citation.pdf. Accessed 6 December 2017