Plato: "The Apology of Socrates": An Extract |
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Ancient Greece

Plato: “The Apology of Socrates”: An Extract

Introduction – Plato.

Plato (427-347 B.C.) was the greatest of the Greek philosophers, and also one of the greatest Attic prose-writers. He was hugely influenced by the life, teaching, and death of Socrates, who himself wrote nothing. Plato wrote about twenty-four philosophical dialogues, in most of which Socrates is the principal figure. It is a matter of controversy how far Plato portrays the historical Socrates, and how far Socrates is made a mouthpiece for his own views. Central ideas (the importance of philosophical enquiry, the notion that virtue is a matter of knowledge) seem however to have been held by both.

The extract translated below, and the introductory summaries and the conclusion, are taken from ‘A Greek Anthology‘, JACT, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Socrates and the nature of death.

In Athens in 399 B.C. Socrates was put on trial, accused of not believing in the gods in which Athens believed but of introducing new gods, and of corrupting the youth of the city. Plato gives us a version of Socrates’ speech in his own defence (‘apologia’), in which he ridicules the arguments of the prosecutors and makes no attempt to be conciliatory. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Socrates was condemned to death, and, although his friends persuaded him to propose a large fine as an alternative to the death penalty, the jury rejected this and confirmed the death penalty by a majority vote. Socrates then warned those who voted for his condemnation that they would not make their lives easier by getting rid of him, and that they would themselves be condemned by posterity. Finally, he turns to those who voted to acquit him and speaks of his feelings as the approaches the prospect of death.

Sections 39e – 42a.

‘With those who voted for my acquittal I would gladly like to converse about this event which has happened, while the authorities keep busy and I am not yet having to go (to the place) where it is necessary for me to die. But wait with me please, my friends, for so long a time; for nothing prevents us chatting to one another while it is possible. For I wish to explain to you, as being my friends, what ever is the meaning of the thing that has now happened to me. For, O gentlemen of the jury – and in calling you jurymen, I am calling (you) correctly – something wonderful has happened. For my customary prophetic (voice) from the deity in all previous time was always opposing (me) even in very small matters, if I was about to do something inappropriately. But now even the very things which you yourselves see have happened to me, the very things which a person would think, and are in fact thought to be, the most extreme of evils; but the sign of the deity opposed me neither when I went out from my house at dawn, nor when I came up here to the law-court, nor at any point in my speech when I was about to say something. And yet in other speeches it has often chided me in the midst of speaking; but now, concerning this business, it is opposing me neither in any action nor in any word. So, what, do I suppose, is the cause (of this)? I shall tell you; for it is likely that this thing which has occurred to me has happened to be a good thing, and there is not any way in which we, all those of us who think that death is an evil, are thinking correctly. Convincing evidence of this has occurred to me; for it cannot be but that the accustomed sign would have opposed me, if I were not about to accomplish something good.

And let us also consider in this way how much hope there is that this is a good thing. For the state of death is one of two things; either it is nothing inasmuch as the dead man has no perception of anything, or in accordance with the things said it happens to be some change and migration of the soul from this place here to another place. And, if it is not consciousness but sleep of such a kind that whenever someone sleeping does not even see any dream, death would be a wonderful benefit – for I think, if it were necessary to pick out that night in which he slept in such a way that he did not even see a dream and comparing with that night the other nights and days of his life, it were necessary (for him), after due consideration (lit. having considered), to say how many days and nights he has lived in his life better and more pleasantly than that night, I believe that not (only) not any private person but (even) the great king ( of Persia) himself would find them easy to count in contrast with those other days and nights – and so, if death is such a thing, I for my part see (it as) a gain. For thus indeed all time seems to be nothing more than one night. But, if on the other hand death is such a kind of thing as migrating from here to another place, and what we are told, that indeed all the dead are there, is true, what greater blessing could there be than this, O men of the jury? For, if someone arriving at Hades, having been released from those claiming to be judges shall find those who are truly judges, and who are said to give judgment there, Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus and all those other demigods who happened to be just men in their lives, would the removal be bad? Or again, what price would one of you accept (for the chance) to associate with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer? For I am willing to die many times over (lit. often) if these things are true. Since for me myself spending time there would be wonderful, when I met Palamedes and Ajax, the (son) of Telamon, and, if there is anyone else of the men of old who has died on account of a wrongful judgment, by comparing my own suffering against theirs – as I think it would not be unpleasant – and indeed the greatest (pleasure) (would be for me) to examine and investigate men there, just as I spend time with men here (to see) who among them is wise, and who thinks (he is) but is not. What price, O gentlemen of the jury, would one accept to examine (the man) leading the great army against Troy (i.e. Agamemnon) or Odysseus or Sisyphus or countless others, both men and women, (whom) one might mention, with whom to converse and to associate and to engage in discussion there would be an inconceivable happiness? At all events, the men there surely do not kill because of it. For the men there are happier in other respects than the men here, and they are already immortal for the rest of time, if indeed what is told (to us is) true.

But it is necessary for you, O gentlemen of the jury, to be well-disposed towards death, and to bear in mind this one true thing, that nothing evil happens to a good man, whether living or dead, nor even are his affairs neglected by the gods; and the things that have happened to me now have not occurred by chance, but this is plain to me, that it was better for me to die now and to be set free from my troubles. For this reason the sign in no way checked me, and I am not at all angry with those who have condemned me and my accusers. And yet they did not condemn and accuse me for this reason, but because they thought (lit. thinking) that they might injure (me). I reproach them for that deservedly. This much, however, I beg of them: punish my sons when they reach adolescence, O gentlemen, causing them pain in the same way that I have caused you pain, if they seem to you to care for either money or anything else rather than virtue, and if, when they are (lit. being) nothing, they consider (themselves) to be something, reproach them just as (I have reproached) you, because they do not care (for the things) for which it is necessary to care, and they think (themselves) to be something when they are (lit. being) worthy of nothing. And if you do this I will have received from you just treatment myself, and my sons (too). But the fact is that (it is) now time (for us) to depart, for me to die and for you to live; but which of us goes to the better lot (is) unclear to everyone except God.’


The execution of Socrates was delayed for a month, since the state trireme was away on a sacred embassy to Delos, commemorating Theseus’ slaying of the Minotaur, and during this time no execution was allowed to pollute the city of Athens. In other dialogues – the ‘Crito’ and the ‘Phaedo’ – Plato records the conversations of Socrates with his friends during his time in prison. Escape would have been fairly easy, but Socrates refused to do so and died by drinking hemlock as required.

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