Plato, Apology, Euthyphro, Crito, Phaedo
[Apology, first speech]
last days, trial, death

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The last days of Socrates

  The Apology (defence speech) consists of three speeches made by Socrates at his trial before a jury of five hundred or so Athenians who had gathered to hear him answer the charges. He had not prepared any defence but, being sure in his own mind that he was innocent, was hoping that his words of truth would secure an acquittal. He at this time was more than seventy years of age and he asked the jury to make allowances if he spoke in the sort of language he might use in discussions in the market-place as he was unfamiliar with law courts and the stylised language used in formal trials.

Plato - Apology
the first speech

  Socrates told the jury that he thought that he had two sets of accusers, old and new, and that the old accusers he feared moreso and wished to present a defence against first of all.
  Socrates saw these old accusers as being influenced by prejudiced opinions that he had indulged in natural philosophy physical speculations or took money as a teacher.
  Those who indulged in physical speculations were routinely assumed to recognise no Gods. In earlier days a play by Aristophanes had featured a character named Socrates who seemed to be such a person but Socrates called on those assembled at his trial to produce evidence that he, the real Socrates, had ever taught along those lines
  In response to the idea that he took money as a teacher Socrates insisted that the life he led had brought him utter poverty rather than monetary reward. He lived that life in response to what the Pythian prophetess at Delphi had told his friend Chaerephon:- that no one was wiser than Socrates.
  Socrates suggested that he had made many abiding enemies by personally approaching people who had reputions for wisdom only to reveal through questionings that their wisdom was specious. Others had been alienated by young persons who had witnessed Socrates' methods of questioning similarly revealing yet other people's pretensions to wisdom to be baseless.
  Socrates made the case that his questions had tended to vindicate the utterance of the Oracle at Delphi by showing that he, Socrates, did indeed have a particular claim to Wisdom in that he at least fully recognised his own ignorance.

  Socrates then addressed his new accusers in the form of Meletus the prosecutor. These new accusers accused Socrates of Impiety, of neglecting the Gods approved by the state, and, of introducing new divinities. 
  Meletus, who was obliged to answer Socrates' questions delivered before the jury eventually commited himself to a straight assertion that Socrates was a complete atheist. Socrates then showed the fatal contradiction in Meletus accusation - how does someone whom the prosecution holds to be a complete atheist come to be accused of introducing new divinities or religious novelties.
  Having exposed the contradictions in the "new accusations" Socrates again mentioned that he feared his old accusers - those who had their pretensions exposed in the past - moreso than the new.

  As the trial continued Socrates insisted that he had lived his life the way he had in response to God calling him to fulfill a philosophic mission. Even were he faced with death as an alternative, (death might for all we can know be a great relase into good), Socrates insisted that he would not give any undertaking to cease from moral teachings designed to encourage people to pay great attention to the "improvement of the soul". Socrates went so far as to suggest that if the Athenians sentenced him to death that it would be a sin against God. God had made him into a sort of Gadfly that was intended to stir the Athenian state into moral improvement. Socrates response to this call from God was to live a life of an unpaid teacher and he was in a state of utter poverty through neglect of private affairs.

  Socrates maintained that he has long lived with an inner "oracle or sign" that occasionally forbade him from following certain actions and reminded the jury of the real danger that he put himself at the time of the unconstitutional trial of the generals and again when he refused to obey the Thirty Tyrants over the arrest of an innocent man. Socrates' great concern was not to avoid danger that might arise by alienating the powerful but rather to avoid committing any unrighteous or unholy act. 
  Socrates then spoke of his followers stating that they enjoyed hearing his cross-questioning of those with pretensions to wisdom and that Meletus was making no effort to call any of them as witnesses for the prosecution.
  As to his family Socrates said that whilst it is far from unknown for accused persons to bring their tearful families to the attention of the court as an argument for leniency he, Socrates, could only regard such behaviours as being discreditable. Socrates hopes that his arguments alone will convince the court of his innocence and will not resort to such devices.
  In the event the five hundred or so strong jury before which Socrates was standing trial found him guilty by a narrow majority of sixty. Meletus moved that the sentence should be death, in reply Socrates had the right to propose a sentence that the court might select as an alternative.

   This is the subject of the second speech in Plato's Apology. To access this second speech please follow this link:-

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Socrates trial, last days, and death

Ancient Greece
The last days
of Socrates


Start of
The Apology - first speech