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[Modernized] Plato’s Apology

The Apology, otherwise known as The Apology of Socrates, is Plato’s account of Socrates’ legal defense against the charges of impiety and corrupting the youth before a jury of Athenian citizens in 399 BCE.

Believed to have been written in the early 4th century BCE, The Apology was translated by Benjamin Jowett into English in the late 19th century, and is hereby modernized for readability in the contemporary era.

This text, faithful to the original in its completeness and in its entirety, retains its meaning and omits nothing. Its sole distinguishing characteristic is that the words and phrases used better align with the modern lexicon, and are thus easily read; it is a faster, lighter and more enjoyable read.

This is the modernized version of Plato’s Apology or, as I like to think of it, Plato’s Apology Light.

Socrates’ Opening Speech

I cannot say how you, the citizens of Athens, felt upon listening to the speeches of those who accuse me, but I can confess that their persuasive words nearly made me forget who I am. Their impact was so profound, and yet their words were far from truthful. Amidst their many falsehoods, one truly astonished me. They cautioned you to beware of my eloquence, urging you not to be deceived by it. This statement should have brought them shame, as it would soon become apparent that I lack the eloquence they feared. Unless, of course, by eloquence, they meant the power of truth. In that case, I do acknowledge that I possess eloquence, though it is quite different from theirs. As I was saying, their words hardly contained any truth, or at best, a mere fragment of it. However, I shall now present you with the unadulterated truth, not in the manner they employ, in well-prepared speeches adorned with fancy words and phrases. No, not at all. I will speak using the words and arguments that occur to me at the moment, as I believe this is the right approach. At my age, I should not appear before you, the people of Athens, as a young and polished orator. I hope you will grant me one favor. If you hear me employing the same words in my defense that you may have heard me use in the marketplace, or in conversations with money-changers, or anywhere else, do not be surprised, and please refrain from interrupting me. I am well over seventy years old, and this is my first time in a court of law. I am entirely unfamiliar with the customs of this place, so I ask that you think of me as you would a foreigner, who should be excused if he speaks in his native tongue and according to the customs of his homeland. I believe this request is not unreasonable. Do not concern yourselves with the manner of my speech, which may or may not be refined. Focus solely on the justice of my cause, and give heed to that. Let the judge render a just verdict, and let the speaker speak the truth.

Now, I shall begin by addressing the older charges and my initial accusers, and then I will address the more recent ones. Over the years, I have had many accusers who have leveled false charges against me. I confess that I fear them more than Anytus and his associates, who pose their own threat. However, the most perilous are those who began their accusations when you were but children, and have long filled your minds with their falsehoods. They spoke of a certain Socrates, a wise man who pondered the heavens above and delved into the earth below, making the worse argument seem better. These are the accusers who trouble me the most, for they have been spreading this rumor, and their listeners often assume that such speculators do not believe in the gods. There are many of them, and they have been making these accusations against me for quite some time, going back to when you were easily influenced – in your childhood or perhaps your youth. Sadly, no one contested their claims at the time, and the charges went unanswered. To make matters worse, I do not even know their names, and I cannot identify them unless by some chance they appear in a comic poem. The bulk of these slanderers, driven by envy and malice, have shaped your perception, and some of them are genuinely convinced of their own accusations and spread those convictions to others. I must admit that it is extremely challenging to deal with all of them. I cannot summon them here to question and examine them. Instead, I find myself combating mere shadows in my defense, scrutinizing their arguments when there is no one present to answer. Therefore, I must request that you join me in making this assumption: there are two types of accusers – one, more recent, and the other, ancient. I trust you can appreciate the wisdom of addressing the older accusations first, as you heard them long before the newer ones and on more occasions.

Well, then, I will present my defense and try, within the limited time allowed, to dispel the negative opinions many of you have held about me for quite a while. I hope I may succeed if it’s beneficial for both you and me, and that my words may find favor with you. However, I understand that accomplishing this won’t be easy – I understand the challenge. Let the outcome be as God wills. In accordance with the law, I will make my defense.

The Long Standing Accusations Against Socrates

I will begin at the outset and question what accusation has given rise to this slander against me, prompting Meletus to bring charges against me. What do my accusers claim? They shall act as my prosecutors, and I will summarize their words in an affidavit. “Socrates is a wrongdoer and an curious person who investigates things both under the earth and in heaven. He distorts the truth and teaches these doctrines to others.” That is the essence of the accusation, and you may have seen it dramatized in the comedy of Aristophanes. He introduced a character named Socrates, claiming that he could walk in the air and spouting nonsense about subjects I do not profess to know much or little about. I don’t intend to belittle anyone who studies natural philosophy, and I would be quite sorry if Meletus could lay that to my charge. However, the simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have no involvement in these studies. Many of you here can attest to the truth of this, and to them, I appeal. Speak up, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors whether any of you have ever known me to expound on matters of this sort, be it briefly or at length. … You hear their answer, and from it, you can judge the veracity of the rest.

There is equally no basis for the claim that I am a teacher and accept payment, no more than the previous accusation. Although, if a person can teach, I respect them for receiving payment. There are individuals like Gorgias of Leontium, Prodicus of Ceos and Hippias of Elis, who travel from city to city and persuade young men to leave their hometowns, where they could receive education for free, and instead come to them, not only paying them but being grateful for the opportunity. I have also heard of a Parian philosopher living in Athens. I learned of him when I asked Callias, the son of Hipponicus, who had spent a considerable amount on Sophists, about who he would hire to educate his sons. “Evenus the Parian,” he replied, “is the man, and his fee is five minae.” I thought to myself, “Lucky Evenus if he possesses such wisdom and charges such a reasonable fee. If I were in his place, I’d be very proud and conceited.” However, the reality is that I have no such knowledge.

Athenians, it’s quite possible that one among you may ask, “Why is this, Socrates? What is the cause of these accusations against you? There must have been something unusual you’ve been up to. All this fame and talk about you wouldn’t have arisen if you were like everyone else. So please, tell us why this is, as we don’t want to rush to judgment.” I consider this a fair challenge, and I’ll do my best to clarify the origin of this “wise” reputation and the negative rumors. Please, pay attention. While some of you might think I’m joking, I assure you I’ll reveal the complete truth. Men of Athens, this reputation of mine is tied to a specific kind of wisdom that I possess. If you ask what kind of wisdom, I’ll say it’s the wisdom attainable by humans. To that extent, I am inclined to believe that I am wise. In contrast, the individuals I mentioned earlier possess a form of wisdom that seems beyond human reach, and I may struggle to describe it because I do not possess it myself. Anyone who claims that I have this wisdom is speaking falsely and tarnishing my character. I urge you, O Athenians, not to interrupt me, even if what I say might sound far-fetched. The words I’m about to speak are not my own. I will point to a credible witness who will testify about my wisdom, whether I have any, and what kind. That witness is the god of Delphi. You probably knew Chaerephon, who was a friend of mine and also a friend of yours, having shared in the exile of the people and returned with you. Chaerephon, as you know, was quite impulsive in his actions. He visited Delphi and boldly asked the oracle if there was anyone wiser than I. The Pythian prophetess replied that no one was wiser. Chaerephon has passed away, but his brother, present in this court, can confirm this story’s truth.

Now, why do I bring this up? I’m going to explain why I have garnered such a negative reputation. When I heard the oracle’s response, I pondered, “What does the god mean, and how should I interpret this riddle? I know that I have no wisdom, big or small. What does he mean when he says I am the wisest of men? But he is a god, and gods cannot lie; it goes against their nature. After careful consideration, I devised a plan to resolve this question. I thought that if I could find a person wiser than myself, I could present this refutation to the god. I would say to him, ‘Here is a man wiser than I am, yet you declared that I was the wisest.’ Consequently, I sought out a person with a reputation for wisdom – I won’t mention his name, but he was a politician I selected for this inquiry. The outcome was as follows: When I engaged in conversation with him, I couldn’t help but think he wasn’t truly wise, despite being considered wise by many, including himself. I attempted to explain that he only believed himself to be wise, not genuinely wise. The result was that he detested me, and his animosity was shared by several others present who heard me. So I left, thinking, ‘Well, although I don’t believe either of us truly knows anything beautiful or good, I’m in a better position than he is. He knows nothing and falsely believes that he does, while I neither know nor think that I know. In this regard, I appear to have a slight advantage.’ Then I turned to another individual with even loftier philosophical pretensions, and my conclusion was the same. I made another enemy of him and several others as well.”

After this, I went from one person to another, fully aware of the animosity I was stirring, and I lamented and feared this. But I felt compelled by a sense of necessity; I believed I must prioritize the word of God. I told myself, I must consult with all those who seem to have knowledge and understand the meaning of the oracle. I swear to you, Athenians, I swear! I must tell you the truth. The outcome of my mission was this: I discovered that those most esteemed were often the most foolish, while some less reputable individuals were genuinely wiser and better. Let me recount my journeys and the labor, almost “Herculean” in nature, which I endured to confirm the oracle’s message. After my discussions with politicians, I turned to the poets, including the tragic, dithyrambic, and others. I said to myself, “Now, you’ll be exposed. You’ll find that you are more ignorant than they are.” So I presented to them some of the most complex passages from their own works and asked for their interpretation, thinking that they would enlighten me. Would you believe me? I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but I must. There is hardly anyone present who could not have spoken more eloquently about their own poetry than the poets themselves. This immediately revealed that poets don’t write poetry with wisdom but with a kind of innate talent and inspiration. They are like diviners or soothsayers who utter many profound things but don’t truly grasp their meaning. The poets, I observed, had a tendency to believe that their poetic prowess made them the wisest of men in other areas where they lacked wisdom. So I departed, considering myself superior to them for the same reason I thought myself superior to the politicians.

Eventually, I turned to the artisans, as I recognized that I knew practically nothing while they possessed much knowledge. In this regard, I was not mistaken; they indeed knew many things I didn’t. They were wiser than I in various aspects. However, I noticed that even the skilled artisans made the same mistake as the poets. Their proficiency in their craft led them to think they were knowledgeable in all kinds of matters, and this overconfidence overshadowed their wisdom. So, on behalf of the oracle, I pondered whether I would prefer to remain as I was – lacking both their knowledge and ignorance – or to be like them, possessing both. I concluded, for myself and on the oracle’s counsel, that I was better off as I was.

This investigation led to me accumulating numerous enemies, some of the most hostile and dangerous kind. It also sparked many accusations and has earned me the reputation of being wise, as my listeners often assume that I possess the wisdom I find lacking in others. However, the truth, O Athenians, is that only God is truly wise. In this oracle, He conveys that human wisdom is, in essence, little or nothing. He isn’t speaking about Socrates specifically; He uses my name as an example, as if to say, “The wisest among you, O men, is the one who, like Socrates, understands that his wisdom is, in reality, of no real value.” So I continue my journey, obedient to the god, and examine the wisdom of anyone, be they a citizen or a stranger, who appears to be wise. If they are not truly wise, I demonstrate, in the name of the oracle, that they are not wise. This pursuit consumes me entirely, leaving me with no time to devote to any public affairs or personal matters. As a result, I live in utter poverty due to my commitment to the god.

There’s another matter to address. Young men from well-off backgrounds often come to see me on their own accord because they like hearing the self-proclaimed experts being questioned. They sometimes even mimic me and question others themselves. They soon find that many people believe they know something, but, in reality, they know very little or nothing at all. When these young men examine these individuals, instead of being upset with themselves, they get angry with me. They say things like, “This troublesome Socrates, this corruptor of the youth!” If someone asks them, “What evil does he practice or teach?” they don’t know and can’t explain. But, in order not to appear ignorant, they repeat the familiar accusations leveled at all philosophers: that we teach about things in the heavens and under the earth, deny the gods, and make the worse argument seem better. They don’t want to admit that their pretense of knowledge has been uncovered, which is the truth. These individuals are numerous, ambitious, energetic, and equipped with persuasive tongues. They’ve filled your ears with their persistent and slanderous allegations. This is why my three accusers, Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, have accused me. Meletus represents the poets, Anytus the craftsmen, and Lycon the rhetoricians. As I mentioned at the outset, I can’t expect to clear my name of this mountain of slander in an instant. This, O Athenians, is the truth and the whole truth. I’ve hidden nothing, I’ve concealed nothing. But I’m aware that my straightforwardness has made them dislike me. Yet, isn’t their hatred proof that I’m speaking the truth? This is the reason for their slander against me, as you’ll discover in this or any future investigation.

The Current Accusations, Led by Meletus

I’ve presented my defense against the first group of accusers. Now, let’s turn to the second group led by Meletus, who portrays himself as a good and patriotic man. I’ll attempt to defend myself against them. We need to read their affidavit. What do they claim? Something along these lines: “Socrates is a wrongdoer, a corrupter of the youth, a disbeliever in the state’s gods, and he promotes his own new divinities.” These are the charges. Let’s examine the specific accusations. Meletus says that I am a wrongdoer who corrupts the youth, but I say, O Athenians, that Meletus is the wrongdoer. His wrongdoing lies in making a mockery of serious matters, and he is too eager to bring others to trial under the pretense of zeal and concern for matters in which he has never shown the slightest interest. I will now attempt to demonstrate the truth of this.

Come here, Meletus, and let me ask you a question. You seem to care a lot about the well-being of the youth, correct?

Yes, I do.

Then, please, tell the judges who the person responsible for improving them is. You must know this since you’ve gone through the trouble of identifying their corrupter and bringing accusations against me. So, speak up and tell the judges who the one responsible for their improvement is. Notice, Meletus, that you’re silent and have nothing to say. Isn’t this rather shameful and substantial evidence of what I’ve been saying, that you’re not truly interested in this matter? Speak up, my friend, and tell us who the person responsible for their improvement is.

The laws.

But, my good sir, that’s not what I mean. I want to know who is the person that, in the first place, knows the laws.

The judges, Socrates, who are present in court.

What do you mean to say, Meletus, that they are capable of instructing and improving the youth?

Indeed, they are.

What about the audience – do they improve them?

Yes, they do.

And the senators?

Yes, the senators improve them.

But maybe the members of the citizen assembly corrupt them? Or do they also improve them?

They improve them.

So, every Athenian improves and elevates the youth, all except for me. I alone am their corrupter, is that what you’re claiming?

That’s what I assert.

I’m very unfortunate if that’s true. But let me ask you a question. Would you say the same applies to horses? Does one person harm them and the whole world benefit them? Or is it the opposite? One person can benefit them, or at least not many harm them. The horse trainer, for example, benefits them, while others who deal with them may harm them. Isn’t that the case, Meletus, for horses or any other animals?

Yes, certainly. Whether you and Anytus say yes or no, it doesn’t matter. It would indeed be a happy state for the youth if they had only one corrupter, and everyone else in the world improved them. And, Meletus, you have clearly shown that you’ve never really thought about the youth – your lack of care is evident in your indifference to the matters mentioned in this indictment.

Now, Meletus, I must ask you another question. Which is better, to live among bad citizens or good ones? Answer, my friend, for that’s a question with a straightforward answer. Don’t the good citizens benefit their neighbors, while the bad ones harm them?


And is there anyone who would rather be harmed than benefited by those they live with? Answer, my good friend. The law requires you to answer. Does anyone like to be harmed?

Certainly not.

So, when you accuse me of corrupting and harming the youth, are you claiming that I do it intentionally or unintentionally?

Intentionally, I say.

But you’ve just acknowledged that good people benefit their neighbors, and bad people harm them. Is this a truth that your superior wisdom has recognized so early in life, while I, at my age, remain in such darkness and ignorance that I don’t know that if a person I live with is corrupted by me, I’m likely to be harmed by them? Yet, you’re claiming that I corrupt them intentionally. I don’t agree with this. Either I don’t corrupt them at all, or I do it unintentionally, and on either account, your accusation is false. If my offense is unintentional, the law doesn’t deal with unintentional offenses. You should have approached me privately, warned and advised me. If I had been better informed, I would have stopped doing what I did unintentionally – undoubtedly I would have. Instead, you avoided talking to me or teaching me and brought me to this court, a place not for instruction but for punishment.

As I was saying, Athenians, Meletus has shown no concern about this matter, whether big or small. But I’d still like to understand, Meletus, what you claim I corrupt the youth with. I assume from your indictment that you mean I teach them not to believe in the gods recognized by the city, but in some new divinities or spiritual entities instead. These are the teachings you accuse me of.

Yes, that’s what I emphatically claim.

Then, by the gods, Meletus, explain in plainer terms what you mean, both to me and to the court. Because I’m not yet clear whether you’re accusing me of teaching others to believe in some gods, not the city’s recognized ones, or whether you’re saying that I’m an atheist and a teacher of atheism.

I mean the latter, that you’re an atheist.

That’s quite an extraordinary statement, Meletus. Why do you say that? Are you suggesting that I don’t believe in the godhood of the sun or the moon, beliefs held by all people?

I assure you, judges, that he doesn’t believe in them, as he claims the sun is a stone and the moon is earth.

My friend Meletus, you seem to think that you’re accusing Anaxagoras, and you must have a low opinion of the judges if you think they are so ignorant as not to know that these ideas come from the writings of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae, who is full of them. These are the doctrines that the youth are said to learn from Socrates. You can often see these teachings at the theater (for the modest price of one drachma at the most), and the audience can readily acquire them and mock Socrates if he pretends to be the source of such eccentric beliefs. So, Meletus, you really believe that I don’t believe in any god?

I swear by Zeus that you believe in none at all.

You are a liar, Meletus, and you don’t even believe yourself. I cannot help but think, men of Athens, that Meletus is reckless and impudent. He drafted this indictment with a spirit of mere wantonness and youthful bravado. Has he not concocted a riddle, attempting to test me? He must have thought: “I will see whether this wise Socrates will recognize my clever contradiction, or if I can deceive him and the rest of them.” He certainly appears to contradict himself in the indictment as much as if he said that Socrates is guilty of not believing in the gods and yet of believing in them. This seems like a mockery.

I invite you, men of Athens, to help me examine what I believe to be his inconsistency, and Meletus, I ask that you answer. And I must remind you that you are not to interrupt me if I speak in my usual manner.

Did anyone ever believe in the existence of human things and not in human beings? I wish, men of Athens, that he would answer and not always try to interrupt. Did anyone ever believe in horsemanship and not in horses, or in flute-playing and not in flute-players? No, my friend, I will answer for you and the court, as you refuse to answer for yourself. There is no one who ever did. But please, answer the next question: Can a person believe in spiritual and divine entities and not in spirits or demigods?

He cannot.

I’m pleased to have extracted that answer with the help of the court. Nevertheless, in the indictment, you swear that I teach and believe in divine or spiritual agencies, whether new or old – that is, I believe in spiritual agencies as you say and swear in the affidavit. But if I believe in divine beings, I must also believe in spirits or demigods, isn’t that right? Yes, that’s true, and I’ll assume your silence signifies agreement. Now, what are spirits or demigods? Aren’t they either gods or the sons of gods? Is that true?

Yes, that’s true.

But this is just the clever riddle I was talking about. The demigods or spirits are gods, and you first claim that I don’t believe in gods, and then again that I do believe in gods if I believe in demigods. Because if the demigods are the offspring of gods, whether by the Nymphs or any other mothers, as is commonly thought, that necessarily implies the existence of their divine parents. It’s as if you were to affirm the existence of mules and deny that of horses and donkeys. Such nonsense, Meletus, can only have been included in your indictment as a test for me. You added this because you had no real accusation to make. But no one with a shred of understanding would ever be convinced by you that a person can believe in divine and superhuman things and yet deny the existence of gods, demigods, and heroes.

I’ve provided a sufficient response to Meletus’s charge; a detailed defense is not needed. As I mentioned earlier, I certainly have many enemies, and this is what might lead to my downfall if I am destroyed, which I am convinced will happen, but not due to Meletus or Anytus. It will be due to the envy and malice of the world, which has been the ruin of many good people and will likely ruin many more. I won’t be the last to suffer this fate.

Socrates’ Warning, for the Sake of Athens

Someone might say, “Aren’t you ashamed, Socrates, of a way of life that might lead to an untimely death?” To them, I can reply: “You are mistaken. A person of worth should not calculate the chance of living or dying but should only consider whether their actions are right or wrong – whether they are acting as a good person or a bad one. Contrary to your view, the heroes who fell at Troy, and Achilles in particular, were men of great worth. Achilles, in his eagerness to avenge his friend Patroclus and slay Hector, wasn’t concerned about death, but rather feared living in disgrace. He said, ‘Let me die next and be avenged of my enemy rather than remain here by the ships, a burden and a disgrace to the earth.’ Did Achilles ever think about death and danger? For a person’s place, whether chosen or appointed by a commander, should be where they stay during times of danger. They shouldn’t think about death or anything else, but only about disgrace. O men of Athens, this is a true saying.”

Indeed, it would be strange, O men of Athens, if I, who, when commanded by the generals you selected to lead at Potidaea, Amphipolis, and Delium, stayed at my post like any other soldier and faced death, were now to abandon my duty because, as I believe and understand, God has tasked me with the mission of a philosopher — to examine myself and my fellow men. If I were to desert my post out of fear of death or any other fear, it would indeed be a peculiar act, and I could rightly be charged in court with denying the existence of the gods if I disobeyed the oracle out of fear of death. It would be as if I were claiming to be wise when I am not wise. This fear of death is the pretense of wisdom, not real wisdom, for it is the appearance of understanding what is unknown, since no one knows whether death, which they fear as the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is there not a conceit of knowledge here, which is a shameful kind of ignorance? This is the point, in my opinion, where I excel most men, and where I might, perhaps, fancy myself wiser than others — in that, while I know little of the world below, I don’t suppose that I know; but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a superior, whether God or man, are wrong and dishonorable, and I will never fear nor avoid a possible good to a certain evil. So, if you were to release me now, disregarding Anytus’s counsel who claimed that I should not be prosecuted least I be put to death, and that if I escape now, your sons will be ruined by listening to my words, and you say to me, Socrates, this time we will not heed Anytus, and will spare you, but on one condition — that you no longer engage in such inquiries or speculations, and if you are caught doing so again, you shall die. If this were the condition of my release, I would reply: Men of Athens, I respect and love you, but I must obey God rather than you, and as long as I have life and strength, I will never stop practicing and teaching philosophy, urging anyone I meet in my own way and convincing them, saying: “My friend, why do you, a citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, care so much about accumulating wealth, honor, and reputation, and so little about wisdom, truth, and the improvement of your soul, which you never seem to consider or prioritize? Shouldn’t you be ashamed of this?” If the person I’m speaking to responds, “Yes, I do care,” I won’t let them go without further questioning and examination. I will cross-examine them, and if I believe they lack virtue and merely claim to possess it, I will admonish them for undervaluing the greater good while overvaluing the lesser. This is what I would say to everyone I encounter, young and old, citizens and foreigners, but especially to fellow citizens, as they are my brothers. For this is the command of God, as I want you to know, and I believe that to this day, no greater benefit has come to the state than my service to God. I do nothing but go about persuading all of you, old and young alike, to prioritize not your bodies and possessions, but first and foremost, the improvement of your souls. I tell you that virtue isn’t acquired through wealth; rather, it is virtue that leads to wealth and all other human goods, both public and private. This is my teaching, and if this is what corrupts the youth, then my influence is indeed destructive. However, if someone claims that this isn’t my teaching, they are speaking falsely. So, O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus advises, or not as Anytus advises, and either acquit me or don’t; but whatever you decide, know that I will never change my ways, even if it means facing death many times.

Men of Athens, please do not interrupt, but hear me out, as we had an agreement that you should. I believe what I’m about to say will benefit you. You may be inclined to react strongly, but I ask that you refrain from doing so. I want to make it clear that if you were to kill someone like me, you would harm yourselves more than you would harm me. Meletus and Anytus will not harm me, for it is not in the nature of things for a bad man to harm someone better than himself. I don’t deny that they may kill me or drive me into exile, or strip me of my civil rights. They and others may think that they are causing me great harm, but I don’t agree with them. Unjustly taking another person’s life, as Anytus is attempting, is a far greater evil. Now, Athenians, I’m not here to argue for my sake, but for yours, so that you do not sin against God or lightly reject His gift by condemning me. Killing me would not be an easy thing to replace. I might use a somewhat humorous figure of speech and say I am like a gadfly given to the state by God. The state is like a large noble steed that moves slowly due to its size and requires some prodding to come to life. I am that gadfly, which God has given to the state, and all day long and in all places, I am always buzzing around you, rousing, persuading, and reproaching you. As you won’t easily find another like me, I would advise you to spare me. You might feel irritated at being suddenly awakened when you were napping, and you might think that if you were to kill me, as Anytus suggests and you easily could, then you would sleep on for the rest of your lives unless God, in His care for you, gives you another gadfly. That I am given to you by God is evident by the fact that if I were like other men, I would not have neglected my own concerns and patiently watched them being neglected for all these years while I’ve been attending to yours. I’ve been coming to you individually, like a father or elder brother, urging you to pursue virtue. If I were like other men, I would have gained something, or if my exhortations were compensated, there would be some sense in that. But as you will notice, not even the audacity of my accusers dares to claim that I’ve ever demanded or sought payment from anyone, and there’s no witness for that. My poverty is my proof.

Some may wonder why I privately advise and help others but don’t step forward publicly to advise the state. I’ll explain the reason. You have often heard me mention an oracle or sign that comes to me, which Meletus ridicules in the indictment. This sign has been with me since I was a child. It is a voice that always forbids me from doing something I intend to do, but it never commands me to do anything. This is why I don’t participate in politics, and I believe that’s for the best. For I am sure, men of Athens, that had I become involved in politics, I would have perished long ago and not benefited either you or myself. Please don’t be offended by my honesty. The truth is that no one who goes to war with a multitude, like you or any other, while honestly fighting against unrighteousness and wrongdoing in the state, will survive. He who truly fights for what is right, if he wants to live even for a short time, must occupy a private rather than a public position.

I can offer you not just words, but actions as proof of my convictions. I will share a personal story that demonstrates that I would never have yielded to injustice out of fear of death. If I had not yielded, I would have died right away. This is a simple and perhaps ordinary story, but it is undeniably true. The only public office I ever held, men of Athens, was that of senator. My tribe, Antiochis, held the presidency during the trial of the generals who had not retrieved the bodies of the fallen after the battle of Arginusae. You proposed to try them all together, which was later considered illegal. But at the time, I was the only one among the Prytanes who opposed this illegality and cast my vote against it. The orators threatened to impeach and arrest me, and you shouted and called for my removal. I made up my mind to take the risk, trusting in the support of the law and justice, rather than participating in your injustice because I feared imprisonment and death. This occurred during the days of democracy. When the oligarchy of the Thirty was in power, they summoned me and four others to the rotunda and ordered us to bring Leon the Salaminian from Salamis because they wanted to execute him. This was a typical example of their commands, given with the intention of implicating as many as possible in their crimes. I showed, not just in words but in my actions, that I did not care at all about death; my only fear was doing something unjust or unholy. The oppressive power of the Thirty did not intimidate me into wrongdoing. While the other four went to Salamis to fetch Leon, I went home quietly. I might have lost my life for this, had it not been for the fact that the power of the Thirty came to an end soon afterward, and many can bear witness to this.

Now, do you truly believe that I could have survived all these years if I had been actively involved in politics, assuming I had always supported what was right and made justice my priority, as a good man should? Neither I nor anyone else could have done so. However, I have always been consistent in my actions, whether in public or private life. I have never compromised my principles for those who are falsely labeled my disciples or anyone else. The truth is, I have no formal disciples. If anyone wishes to come and listen to me while I pursue my mission, whether they are young or old, they are welcome. I do not engage only with those who pay; anyone, whether rich or poor, can ask me questions, provide answers, and listen to my words. Whether someone turns out to be a good or bad person cannot be fairly attributed to me, as I never explicitly taught anyone. If someone claims that they have learned or heard something from me privately that the whole world has not, I assure you they are not telling the truth.

But I know you may ask, why do people take pleasure in constantly engaging in conversations with me? I’ve already revealed the whole truth about this, Athenians. They enjoy witnessing the cross-examination of those who claim to possess wisdom; there is entertainment in this. This is a duty that the God has placed upon me, as I am assured through oracles, visions, and various means by which divine will has been communicated to others. This is the truth, Athenians, or, if it’s not true, it will be easily disproven. If I am indeed corrupting the youth and have already led some astray, those who have grown up and realized that I offered them bad advice when they were young should come forward as accusers and seek retribution. If they are reluctant to come themselves, some of their relatives — fathers, brothers, or other family members — should speak about the harm their families have endured because of me. Now is their chance. I see many of them in this courtroom. There is Crito, who is my contemporary and from the same township as I am. I also see his son Critobulus. Furthermore, there is Lysanias from Sphettus, who is Aeschines’ father — Lysanias is here. Antiphon from Cephisus, Epignes’ father, is present. Brothers of those who associated with me are also here. Nicostratus, Theosdotides’ son, is here, as well as Theodotus’ brother Theodotus, who is deceased and therefore won’t interfere. Paralus, Demodocus’ son, who had a brother Theages, is here. Adeimantus, Ariston’s son, whose brother Plato is here. Aeantodorus, Apollodorus’ brother, is here as well. I could list many others, any of whom Meletus could have brought as witnesses during his speech. He can still present them, and I’ll make way for him. He can share if he has any such testimony. But, Athenians, the opposite is actually true. All of these people are willing to testify in favor of the so-called corrupter, the destroyer of their own family members, as Meletus and Anytus describe me. They aren’t just testifying for the young people who may have been influenced; they have their uncorrupted, older family members supporting me. Why would they support me with their testimony? Why, indeed, unless it’s for the sake of truth and justice and because they know I’m telling the truth and Meletus is lying.

Socrates’ Perspective on Death

Well, Athenians, this is nearly the entirety of my defense. Nevertheless, I have a few more words to add. There might be someone among you who is upset with me, thinking about how he, on a similar or even less serious occasion, turned to prayers, supplications, and shed many tears. He may remember how he brought his children to court, which was indeed a moving sight, along with a host of his family and friends. Then, when he thinks about me, someone who is probably facing a life-threatening situation, not resorting to any of these actions, he might be angered by my behavior. If there is such a person among you, which I don’t claim to be true, I can respond reasonably: My friend, I am a man, like other men, a creature made of flesh and blood, not of wood or stone, as Homer says. I have a family, indeed, and sons – three of them, O Athenians. One of them is growing up, and the other two are still young. Yet, I won’t bring any of them here to appeal to you for an acquittal. Why not? It’s not because I’m self-willed or indifferent to your concerns. Whether I fear death or not is a different matter, one that I won’t discuss now. My decision is simple – I consider such behavior to be shameful for me, for you, and for the entire state. A person who has reached my age and has a reputation for wisdom, whether deserved or not, should not degrade himself. The world, at least, has determined that Socrates is in some way superior to other men. If those among you who are recognized for their wisdom, courage, and other virtues behave this way, their actions are highly disgraceful. I’ve seen reputable individuals, when condemned, act quite strangely: they seemed to believe they would face something dreadful upon death and that they could achieve immortality if you allowed them to live. I consider this conduct a dishonor to the state, and I believe that any outsider would say that the most distinguished men in Athens, those whom Athenians themselves honor and admire, are no better than women. I assert that individuals of repute should not engage in such behavior, and if they do, you should not permit it. Instead, you should demonstrate that you are more inclined to condemn the person who stirs up a mournful spectacle and makes the city a laughingstock, rather than the one who behaves with dignity.

However, putting aside the matter of dishonor, there appears to be an issue with petitioning a judge and securing an acquittal through persuasion, rather than providing information and sound arguments to convince him. A judge’s duty is not to bestow justice as a favor but to render judgment, swearing to do so in accordance with the laws and not based on personal whims. Neither he nor we should develop a habit of committing perjury; there is no piety in that. Therefore, do not ask me to engage in what I view as dishonorable, impious, and wrong, especially now, when I am on trial for impiety as per Meletus’s accusation. If, O Athenians, through the power of persuasion and entreaty, I could make you break your oaths, then I would be instructing you to believe that there are no gods, and in defending myself, I would convict myself of not believing in them. However, that is not the case; for I indeed believe in the existence of gods, and in a much more profound way than any of my accusers. I entrust my case to you and to God, to be decided as is best for both you and me.

[The jury has found Socrates guilty.]

There are numerous reasons why I am not saddened, O men of Athens, by the verdict of guilty. I anticipated it, and I’m only surprised that the votes are so evenly divided. I thought that the majority against me would be much larger. Now, if just thirty votes had shifted to the other side, I would have been acquitted. I can say that I’ve managed to escape Meletus. Moreover, I can add that, without the support of Anytus and Lycon, he would not have secured even a fifth of the votes, as the law requires. In that case, he would have faced a fine of a thousand drachmae, which is clear.

So, he proposes death as the penalty. Now, what do I propose, O men of Athens? Clearly, what I deserve. And what should that be? What is fair for a man who has never had the wisdom to lead an idle life but has been unconcerned with what most people care about – wealth, family, military honors, speaking in the assembly, holding public office, plots, and political parties? Recognizing that I was genuinely too upright to follow the common path and live as others do, I refrained from actions that would be of no benefit to either you or myself. Instead, I went where I believed I could privately do the most good for each of you. I sought to persuade every one of you to prioritize virtue and wisdom over personal interests, to put the state before their own private concerns, and to maintain this order in all their actions. So, what should be done with someone like me? Surely something good, O men of Athens, if he is to receive a reward. The reward should be suitable for him. What is a fitting reward for a poor man who has been a benefactor to you, desiring only leisure to instruct you? There is no more fitting reward than maintenance in the Prytaneum, O men of Athens – a reward he deserves far more than a citizen who has won a prize at the Olympic Games in a horse or chariot race, regardless of whether it involved two horses or many. For I am in need, while he has plenty. He merely offers you the appearance of happiness, whereas I provide you with real benefit. Therefore, if I were to evaluate the penalty fairly, I would say that maintenance in the Prytaneum is the just recompense.

Perhaps you might consider my words as a challenge, just like my earlier remarks about tears and prayers. However, that’s not my intention. I’m speaking because I genuinely believe I have never intentionally harmed anyone, though I can’t convince you of this in our short conversation. If there were a law in Athens, like in other cities, that prevented a death penalty from being decided in a single day, I believe I could have convinced you. But time is too short now. I can’t quickly refute substantial accusations. Since I’m convinced I’ve never wronged anyone, I won’t wrong myself either. I won’t suggest that I deserve any punishment. Why should I? Am I afraid of the death penalty Meletus proposes? When I don’t know whether death is good or bad, why would I suggest a punishment that is certainly bad? Should I say imprisonment? But why should I live in prison, subject to the authorities of the year, under the rule of the Eleven? Or maybe a fine and imprisonment until I pay it? I face the same problem. I’d have to stay in prison since I have no money, and I can’t pay. And if I suggest exile, which might be the punishment you decide, I’d be foolishly clinging to life to think that others in foreign cities would tolerate me when my fellow citizens here can’t stand my words and have found them so troublesome and unpleasant that they want to be rid of them.

Someone might suggest, “Socrates, can’t you just keep quiet, go to a foreign city, and nobody will bother you?” I have a hard time making you understand my response. If I say that keeping quiet would be disobedience to a divine command, and therefore I can’t do it, you won’t believe I’m serious. And if I say that conversing daily about virtue and all the matters you hear me discussing with myself and others is the highest good for a person and that an unexamined life is not worth living, you’re even less likely to believe me. Yet what I say is true, though it’s difficult for me to persuade you. Furthermore, I don’t think I deserve any punishment. If I had money, I might offer to give you what I could afford without suffering harm. But as you can see, I have none, so I can only ask you to set a fine according to my means. However, I think I could afford a mina, so I suggest that as the penalty. My friends Plato, Crito, Critobulus, and Apollodorus here vouch that I can provide thirty minae if necessary. Well, let’s say thirty minae then, and consider them as a sufficient guarantee.

[The jury condemns Socrates to death.]

Not much time will be gained, Athenians, in return for the bad reputation you’ll get from the city’s critics, who will say that you killed Socrates, a wise man. They will call me wise even though I am not when they want to criticize you. If you had waited a bit longer, your wish would have been fulfilled naturally. As you can see, I am old and not far from death. I’m addressing those of you who have sentenced me to death. I have something to say to you: You think I was convicted because I didn’t speak enough, meaning that if I had used every possible means, I could have been acquitted. But no, my deficiency was not in words. The reason for my conviction was not a lack of words. I simply did not have the audacity, boldness, or inclination to address you as you might have preferred, with weeping, wailing, lamenting, and doing all the things you’re accustomed to hearing from others. This, I say, is beneath me. I believed that I should not resort to anything commonplace or demeaning in a moment of danger. I do not regret the way I defended myself, and I’d rather die speaking in my own way than speak in a way that pleases you and live.

In both war and in legal matters, one should not use every possible means to avoid death. In battle, there’s no doubt that if a man throws down his arms and falls on his knees before his pursuers, he may escape death. Similarly, in other dangers, there are ways to escape death if a person is willing to say or do anything. The challenge, my friends, is not in avoiding death but in avoiding unrighteousness, for it comes faster than death. I am old and move slowly, and unrighteousness, which is the faster runner, has overtaken my accusers. I now depart, sentenced to death by you, but they also depart condemned by the truth to suffer the penalty for their wickedness and wrongdoing. I must accept my fate, and they must accept theirs. These things, I believe, are fated, and that is well.

Now, to you who have condemned me, I wish to make a prediction. As I am about to die, it is the hour when men have prophetic power. I predict that immediately after my death, a punishment far heavier than what you imposed on me will surely befall you. You killed me to escape being held accountable, not to answer for your own lives. But it will not happen as you think; quite the opposite. There will be more accusers coming forth than there are now, and as they are younger, they will be more severe. You will find them even more bothersome. If you believe that by killing people you can avoid being censured by your accusers, you are mistaken. It’s neither a possible nor honorable way to avoid it. The easiest and noblest path is not to suppress others but to improve yourselves. This is the prophecy I make before I depart to the judges who have sentenced me.

Socrates’ Final Address to His Friends

My friends, those who would have acquitted me, I would like to discuss the recent events while the magistrates are occupied, and before I go to the place where I must die. Please stay a while, for we might as well converse while we have the time. You are my friends, and I would like to share with you the meaning of what has happened to me. O my judges – I can truly call you judges – I want to tell you of a remarkable occurrence. Up until now, the familiar inner voice in me has always opposed me, even over trivial matters, whenever I was about to make a mistake. However, you may have noticed that this time, which may be considered the worst calamity, the oracle did not oppose me in any way, whether it was as I left my home in the morning, ascended to this courtroom, or spoke about the matter at hand. This is quite unusual since the customary sign would have surely opposed me if I were doing something bad, rather than good. What is the explanation for this? I will tell you. I believe that this is a proof that what has happened to me is a good thing. Those of us who think that death is an evil are mistaken. This is strong evidence for what I’m saying because the customary sign would have opposed me if I were doing something wrong, not good.

Let us think about it in another way, and you’ll see why there’s good reason to hope that death is a good thing. There are two possibilities: either death is a state of nothingness and complete unconsciousness, like the sleep of someone who isn’t even disturbed by dreams, or, as people say, it is a transition of the soul from this world to another. Now, if you assume that there’s no consciousness, but it’s like an undisturbed night’s sleep, death is an immeasurable gain. If someone were to choose the night when their sleep was most restful, free from dreams, and then compare it to all the other days and nights of their life, and tell us how many days and nights were better and more pleasant than that one, I believe that no one, not even a great king, would find many such days or nights. If death is like this, I say that to die is a gain, for eternity is then only a single night. But if death is a journey to another place, where, as people say, all the dead reside, what greater good could there be, my friends and judges? If when we arrive in the world below, we are freed from the judges here, and find true judges who are known to give fair judgments, such as Minos, Rhadamanthus, Aeacus, Triptolemus, and other sons of God who lived righteously, then the journey will be worth it. What would a person not give to be able to talk to Orpheus, Musaeus, Hesiod, and Homer? If this is true, I would die again and again. I would have an extraordinary time conversing with Palamedes, Ajax the son of Telamon, and other ancient heroes who were unjustly judged. I would take immense pleasure in comparing my own sufferings with theirs. Above all, I could continue my quest for true and false knowledge, in that world as I do in this one. I would be able to distinguish who is genuinely wise and who only pretends to be wise. What a man would give, O judges, to be able to examine the leader of the great Trojan expedition, Odysseus, Sisyphus, or countless other heroes, both men and women. What immeasurable joy it would be to converse with them and ask them questions! In that world, they would not put a man to death for such inquiries. For apart from being happier there than in this world, they would be immortal if what is said is true.

So, my judges, take comfort in the face of death, and know this to be true: nothing bad can befall a good person, whether in life or after death. The gods do not neglect the well-being of such a person, and my impending end is not a random occurrence. I clearly see that for me, to die and be freed is the better option, and that’s why the oracle gave no sign. Therefore, I am not angry with my accusers or those who sentenced me. They have not harmed me, even though their intentions were not benevolent. For this, I hold no grudge against them.

Nevertheless, I have a request for them. When my sons come of age, I ask you, my friends, to guide and chastise them. Just as I have troubled you, I want you to challenge them if they show more concern for wealth or other worldly things than for virtue. If they pretend to be something they’re not, reprove them, just as I have corrected you, for not valuing the things they ought to value and for thinking they are something when they are not. If you do this, I, and my sons, will have received fair treatment from you.

The time for departure has arrived, and we each go our separate ways – I to die, and you to live. Which is better, only God truly knows.

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