The last days of Socrates
Plato - Apology
the second speech
Towards the end of the first speech of the Apology Plato
relates that 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:-
Although now an officially guilty man Socrates, true to his
own estimation of his past actions, suggested that he has
actually done great good to the state and that he deserved reward
rather than punishment!!!
The trial jury was asked to entertain the idea that he,
Socrates, should be maintained at public expense, such as was
awarded to famous Olympian charioteers, so that he would have
leisure to impart beneficial instruction.
Socrates then backtracked a little from this suggestion,
reminded the court that no one actually knew if death was a
disaster or a release, and said that he was reluctant to suggest
a real penalty in preference to death which might be a blessing.
He had no money to pay any fine, he did not feel he deserved
imprisonment, exile would bring great uncertainties for a man who
even in a foreign city was bound to continue to instuct towards
the "improvement of the soul".
Socrates openly suggested that he could himself pay a small
fine of one Mina but that his friends were prepared to pay, on
his behalf, a fine of thirty Minae.
In the event the trial jury thought that Socrates proposed
alternative - the fine of thirty minae - was significantly too
lenient and voted for the sentence of death rather than the fine
being imposed and voted that way by an increased majority.
Plato - Apology
the third speech
Socrates asked those who had voted in favour of his being
guilty to bear in mind that, even though he did not consider
himself to be wise, the rivals of Athens would say that the
Athenians had ordered the death of a wise man who lived among
them. He also reminded those who had condemned him that although
he was not to be around much longer as a Gadfly other, younger,
and possibly less considerate, people might well fulfil the same
role in the future.
To those who had voted in favour of his being declared innocent
Socrates gave assurances that he was not afraid of death, his
sure guide - the inner Oracle or sign, - had not made its
presence felt in ways that would have led him to believe he was
on a wrong path.
Whether death led to a state of utter unconciousness or else to
a transmigration of the soul Socrates foresaw something that
would be not completely unwelcome.
To go into an eternity of a single, quiet, night or else to
have the opportunity as a transmigrated soul to converse with,
and to question, the heroes in Hades.
Amongst his closing remarks Socrates asked his friends there
present to visit punishments and troubles on his three sons if
they seemed to care more about riches than about virtue, or if
they seemed to be pretentious.
Socrates' closing words in this third speech of Plato's
The hour of departure has arrived, and we
go our ways - I to die, and you to live. Which is better God only
In most circumstances Socrates would have been obliged to
submit to execution by drinking the deadly poison Hemlock within
twenty four hours of his sentence. It happened however that
executions were traditionally suspended whilst a certain sacred
ship made an annual voyage to the Island of Delos. This ship was
presently on the seas and this allowed a certain stay of
The ensuing events are related by Plato in his Euthyphro and
Crito. More details can be accessed by following this
Socrates trial, last days, and death