The Apology of Socrates

By Plato

This version is by William S. Jamison.

I don't know how you feel about all that has been said against me, but it was so convincing I forgot I was the one they were talking about. None of this is true. The most amazing lie was telling you that I was such a good speaker that I would fool you all with my words. Now you hear me speak and can tell right off how stupid that was for them to say. Unless they were afraid I would speak the truth. If that is what they were afraid of, they should worry. If speaking the truth makes you a good speaker, then I guess I am a good speaker, but that is very different from what they mean by a good speaker.

I will speak the truth and nothing but the truth. I have no great-prepared speech like they did but speak as it comes to me. I am much too old to be learning the formal way to address the court, so don't expect it. I am over 70 and am used to talking the way you heard me talk all around town so please don't get upset with me. This is my first time speaking in court and all of this formal stuff is beyond me. So I ask you to just judge me based on what is right or wrong and not how fancy my presentation is.

I have to answer the old charges first and then the new charges. You see, I've had people being critical of me for years and those are the things that are scariest. They are even scarier than Anytus and his associates. They are scary too, but you have heard the stuff the others have been saying about me since you were kids. "Socrates is the wise man that delves into things above and below the earth, and makes the crazy seem the sane." These are the things people said about me when you were kids and you know that people that are like that don't believe in the Gods. Practically everyone said those things and there was no one to tell you I was not really like that. I can't call on them as witnesses either, except maybe some comics. So I have to deal with the impression they have made without having any of them to face me with the crazy impressions they have given you about me. I am sure you agree with me though, that there are two sets of folks I have to plead against, the old and the new, and the old are the ones you heard first and most.

So here is my defense. I just have a short time to deal with what took a long time, but I hope you like what I say. I trust in God even though this will be tough to do, so let me satisfy the law.

So what started all this and got Meletus to proceed against me? What have they said about me? "Socrates is evil, and strange, who questions things about the earth and heaven, and makes things seem just the opposite of the way they are and then teaches this stuff to others." That's what they say. Just like in Aristophanes' comedy; there is a character named Socrates, that says he can fly, and talks a bunch of junk about things I don't know any better than a student of physics. It would really bother me if Meletus were right about that. But I don't have anything to do with studies of these things. Many of you know this and I ask you to tell the others if you ever heard me talk about this kind of stuff. ... You see what they say. Now if they lied about this, you can figure for yourself whether they lied about the rest.

I am not a teacher that gets paid for it. If somebody can teach and get paid for it I have to give him credit for it. Gorgias of Leontium, and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who travel to the different cities, get kids to listen to them for fees when they can go to their own people for free. Some are even glad to be able to pay them. I heard about a Parian philosopher that lives here in Athens from a man who spent tons of money for his sons on the Sophists, Callias the son of Hipponicus, and I asked: "Callias, if they were foals or calves, there'd be no problem finding a trainer. You'd get a horse trainer or farmer who could train them perfectly. But whom do you get to train your kids? Does anyone really understand how to raise perfect kids? Do you know of anyone?"

He said, "Yes". "Who?" I said, "and from where? What is the fee?" "Evenus the Parian," he answered; "he's the one. He charges five thousand dollars." I bet Evenus is happy about that, I thought, since he knows such things and his fees are so small. If I knew how to do that I would charge a fortune, but I'd have no idea how to do that.

I am sure you must be thinking, "Well, why have people said all this stuff about you if none of it was true? You must have been doing something. You wouldn't be so notorious if you'd been just like everyone else. Explain yourself."

This is a fair question, so let me try to say why they call me an evil know it all. I am not kidding! This is why: I do have a talent but nothing like the incredible skills I can't really explain because I don't have them myself. People who say I have those skills are wrong about me since what I do is very human. Now don't laugh, please! This isn't even my story but is from someone you can trust. The talent I have was described by the God of Delphi. You know Chaerephon; he's been a friend of yours and mine for a long time. He was with you in exile and back. Chaerephon was pretty outrageous and asked the Delphic oracle - now don't laugh, please, - he asked the oracle to say if anyone was wiser than I was. The Pythian priestess said, "No one was wiser." Chaerephon is dead but his brother, who is here, will verify this story.

Why say this? It explains why I have such a reputation. When I heard the answer, I thought, what could the God be talking about? What a riddle! I know I have no wisdom, not even a little, let alone the best. What can God be thinking by saying no one is wiser than I am? Apollo is a God and doesn't lie; that wouldn't be like him. So after a while, I figured a way to test this. I figured I would just have to find someone wiser than me and I could go to God and say, "So here is someone wiser than me even though you said no one was wiser!"

So I went to someone who everyone thought was wise, a politician, and look what happened: while we talked it dawned on me that he was no wiser than me, even though everyone thought he was so intelligent. He even thought of himself as incredibly wise. I tried to explain to him that he wasn't as smart as he thought and this made him mad at me. So I walked off thinking that neither of us were so smart, but I thought I was better off than he was because he doesn't really know anything, but thinks he does. I don't know anything, but don't think that I do. In this I am better off than he is.

So I checked with someone else who was even more reputable but the same thing happened. He ended up not liking me either, and he wasn't alone in feeling that way.

I realized this wasn't helping out my reputation, but I kept at this even though it was upsetting, because I had to. The word of God was most important. I thought I had to check everyone to find the solution to the oracle's statement. I swear Athenians, on the dog I swear - I have to say this - I ended up concluding that people with the best reputations were only the most foolish. Many with less reputation were better off. I will tell you about my travels and "Herculean" labors, as I call them, to finally realize the oracle was right. When I finished with politicians, I tried all the different poets. I figured they would show me just how unintelligent I was. So I asked them to tell me what they meant by some of their best stuff. I was sure to learn something from this. Well I am sorry, but anyone here could speak as well about their poems as they could. It wasn't intelligence that enabled them to be such good poets, but some kind of talent and inspiration.

Poets are like magicians and fortunetellers that say things about us but don't really know what they might mean to us. That's how they seemed to me. But since they wrote such great poetry they figured they knew a lot about everything else too. So I left them, thinking that I was just as better off compared to them, as I was the politicians.

Finally, I checked with craftsmen. I knew I knew nothing, so to speak, but was certain they knew all kinds of great things. I wasn't wrong. They knew a lot of things I didn't. However, I noticed again that they made the same mistake as the poets. Since they were so good at what they did, they figured they were great in other important things as well. This error ruined their wisdom.

So, I said to myself, which is better, being myself, or being like them, with all their skills but at the same time, suffering delusions of grandeur and I felt I was better off.

This whole thing ended up with me being hated by a lot of the worst people to have hate you. It also ended up with people saying things about me, and calling me wise, since they always figured I knew the wisdom I couldn't find in anyone else. The truth is my fellow Athenians, that only God is wise. What the oracle meant was that what we know is little or nothing. Apollo didn't just mean me; I am just an example. What God means is, "The wise know their own wisdom is worth no more than anyone's."

So, I continue, obeying God, and seek wisdom from anyone that seems wise, citizen or not. If they are not wise, I show them. This keeps me busy. It keeps me from getting involved in politics or even my own business. As a result, I am dirt poor because of my dedication to God.

Of course, rich kids with nothing to do, follow along. They get a kick out of the way I ask my questions and frequently do the same thing on their own. They figure out fast that there are lots of folks that think they know great things but really don't. When the kids test them, they get upset not only with the kids but also with me, as though I put them up to it. They should instead be angry with themselves for being so egotistical. Instead they blame me for it saying I am teaching the kids to insult their elders. When they have to explain what I did they can't figure out exactly what it was. But since they don't want to look foolish they say the same old things about me that they have heard from others. Things like all philosophers are up in the clouds and mucking in the earth; not believing in Gods, and making things seem the opposite of the way they are. They don't want to admit how foolish they have been, or that the truth is out because they have their ambitions and dreams of status. So they go on the offensive and yell their lies and get everyone's attention.

That is why Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, have charged me. Meletus is against me for the poets. Anytus fights on behalf of the craftsmen. Lycon is on the side of the teachers. So you see, I can't change all that has happened, and can't clear your minds of all this. But this is true Athenians, the whole truth. I have nothing to hide. I am not lying to you. Still, saying things like these outright makes them hate me. Isn't this even proof?

This is really why they say what they do about me.

That is all I have to say about the first set of charges. As for the second set, Meletus leads them, and considers himself honorable and a patriot. I will try to defend myself against them. Their charges read something like this: Socrates is evil and ruins kids. He doesn't believe the cities' Gods but makes up his own. That is the charge.

So let's look at this more closely. He says I am evil, and ruin kids. I say, Athenians, that Meletus is evil. He must be joking about something that is too serious to joke about. He lightly charges others for things he hasn't even given much thought. I will show you what I mean.

Meletus, let me ask you, do you concern yourself with training kids?

Yes, I do.

Tell us who trains them since you must know. You have made sure I was ruining them and are charging me with this. So who does train them?


What? No answer? Meletus, This is terrible. It is proof I am speaking the truth, you don't really care do you? Answer, who trains them?

The laws.

That is not really an answer to the question. Rather, who, for example, knows the law?

The judges here, Socrates.

You mean these judges can train kids?

Of course.

Everyone? Or are some of them no good at it?

All of them.

Thank God for that. We have a lot of good trainers then. What about the audience, can they do a good job training kids too?

Yes, they do.

And the senators?

Yes, the senators are good trainers too.

I guess then, that some citizen assembly members ruin kids then or are they good trainers too?

They train them too.

Then every Athenian trains and improves kids except me. Only I am ruining the kids. That is what you are saying?

That is the case.

How horrible I must be. But let me ask, is this the same with horses? Does one man ruin them while everyone else trains them well? Just the opposite. Only one trainer can do the job right, or not many anyway. Other than a qualified trainer, others teach them bad habits. Isn't that right Meletus, concerning either horses or any other animal? Yes, certainly. No matter if you or Anytus answer or not. Kids would be in good shape if only one of us ruined them and everyone else raised them right. But Meletus has proved he didn't even think about what he was charging me with.

Here is another question for Meletus: where would you rather live, in a good neighborhood or a bad one?

A good one, of course.

Do you know anyone that would like to be hurt?

Of course not.

But you say I deliberately teach kids to be rotten neighbors?


So you are saying that I deliberately teach kids to be rotten neighbors even though that means they would hurt me. How stupid! You have to be wrong either that I teach them to be rotten neighbors or that I do it deliberately. So your case fails. Either I am not teaching them to be rotten neighbors or I didn't do it on purpose. In fact, if I was teaching them to be rotten neighbors you should have talked with me and helped me learn what I was doing wrong, instead you took me to court to punish me for being stupid.

Proof, friends! Meletus doesn't really care about this. You also say I teach the kids to ignore the Gods. Instead, you say I teach them about other Gods.


So let me get this straight: I swear to the Gods, Meletus, I need you to explain this charge better. Are your trying to say I am an atheist - actually, you say I just believe in the wrong Gods. Do you mean I am an atheist?

You are an atheist.

Incredible. You mean I don't believe in the sun or moon as everyone does?


Judges! He doesn't believe in them! He says the Sun is a rock and the Moon is made of earth.

Meletus, you have me mixed up with Anaxagoras who wrote these ideas in his book as everyone knows. Kids learn this stuff at the theater, not from me. But you don't think I believe in any God?

By Zeus you do not.

What a liar! What a stupid test of my logical skill! This is a joke, not a serious charge! Let's take a look at this puzzle. Meletus, can you believe in man made stuff without believing there were men that made the stuff?

... good grief, no answer. Can there be horse ridding without horses? Music without instruments? Impossible.

So can a person believe in acts of God and spirits unless there are Gods and spirits?


Good answer. You say in the charge that I believe in acts of God and spirits, but Gods and the Gods' children are either Gods or Gods children, right?

Of course.

So this is the stupid puzzle. On the one hand you say I don't believe in Gods but then you say I believe in the children of the Gods. Whether we are talking about nymphs or demigods, everyone knows they can't exist without their parents existing first. It's like saying you can have mules without horses and donkeys. You really don't have any charge against me. No one could be convinced I would believe in Gods' things unless there are Gods they belong to.

That's enough to show Meletus' charge is frivolous. Even Anytus' too. But jealousy has resulted in the death of many and I am sure I won't be the last.

You say, "Socrates, aren't you ashamed of living a life that will just get you killed?"

I say you are wrong. It's not living or getting killed that is important, but how you live. Are you living a good life or a bad one? Achilles getting ready to avenge his dead friend, Patroclus by killing Hector was warned by his mother, the Goddess Thetis, that if he did this it would be his fate to die next. He said to her that he would rather get revenge for his friend and die than continue sitting on the beach by the ships. There was no way he wanted to continue to live in dishonor. "Death before dishonor." A man has got to do what a man has got to do. Would a soldier be right to run away from his post in a battle?

I stayed at my post during the battles I fought in at Potidaea, Amphipolis and Delium, just like the others, in the face of death. Now my general is God who orders me to be a philosopher and seek to understand myself and others. If I abandon my post because of the threat of death, it would be right for you to charge me with denying the Gods. I would be disobeying the oracle. I would be the one foolishly thinking myself wise thinking it wise to be afraid of death. Being afraid of death is not being wise.

No one knows what death is like for us. If that is your greatest fear then you are only fooling yourself to think you are wise. It might even be a good thing to die. This is where I think I am better off than most people. I might not understand much about the world, but I at least realize how ignorant I am. I do know that disobeying a superior, God or a person, is evil and dishonorable. I will not be afraid of doing what might be good instead of doing what is certainly wrong. Anytus says I should be put to death as an example. If you release me he says your kids will be worse than ever. If you say, "Socrates, we'll drop Anytus' charges, and release you on condition you quit this nonsense. Get caught again and you will be killed," then I would answer you: "I love and honor Athens, but I have to obey God first while I can. I shall never quit teaching philosophy, and arguing with people I meet, just as I have been. I will say, "Why would you be so concerned with accumulating wealth, and making a great name for yourself but ignore improving your soul and gaining wisdom? Aren't you embarrassed?" If the person says he doesn't ignore wisdom and virtue, I check them out. If I think they are full of it I give them grief. They are more interested in the less valuable things. I do this with everyone, regardless of age or where they are from. But those from Athens that do this especially bother me because we are in this together. God commands me to do this and this has been a great thing for the city. Nothing could be better. I think everyone should be persuaded to be concerned first with the improvement of their own soul. Worry about property and physical things second. I teach that a good person will be rich, not that a rich person will be good. All the things we really value in life come to those that are virtuous. Now if this view is what you think ruins your kids you should be ashamed. If you say I teach anything else, you are wrong. So I say, Athenians, let Anytus tell you what to do or not. Find me innocent or not. But don't expect me to change even if you were to kill me many times.

Part II (Not finished)


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