by George Anastaplo
Just as others are pleased by a good horse or dog or bird, [Socrates said,] I myself am pleased to an even higher degree by good friends….And the treasures of the wise men of old which they left behind by writing them in books, I unfold and go through them together with my friends, and if we see something good, we pick it out and regard it as a great gain if we thus become useful to one another.
-Xenophon, Memorabilia I. vi. 14
Socrates himself indicates to us the care with which his three speeches are to be read: even the most casual use of names cannot be taken for granted.1 Names, which constitute at least an introduction to one’s thought, are selected by Socrates with care.2 Thus, we are meant to notice that nowhere in his principal speech of defense does he address the court as “judges,” but rather as “men of Athens,” or, on a few occasions, merely as “men” or as “Athenians.” Meletus, however, does address the court as “judges” when he is cross-examined (26d), but Socrates reserves this term for his final speech and uses it then only when he addresses that portion of the court which had voted against the death sentence.3 Indeed, he then observes that only that portion of the court deserved an appellation which implied just action. (40a) Only he who judges rightly is truly a judge. (18A)
It is evident that Socrates, even on trial for his life, assumes toward the city and his fellow-citizens the attitude of a judge, the attitude of one who can pass judgment on their legal procedures, their use of language, and their standards of justice.
Socrates conducts himself before the people of Athens as a teacher before his pupils and as a ruler before his subjects.
Another set of names catches our attention—those that are summed up in the accusations against Socrates.4 There is, first, what the old accusers said of him: that “there is one Socrates, a wise man [a wise guy], a ponderer upon things in the air and one who has investigated everything beneath the earth and who can make the weaker argument the stronger.” (18b) Socrates then puts these old accusers’ slanders in the form of an indictment, to the effect that Socrates is “a busybody, investigating the things beneath the earth and in the heaven and making the weaker argument the stronger and teaching others these same things.” (19c)
The substance of this “indictment” is similar to his earlier statement of the old accusers’ slanders.5 But the preface has been changed: “busybody” has been substituted for “wise man,” and the count of teaching has been added. Perhaps we are meant to deduce that, from the perspective of ordinary citizens, there is something of the busybody about the wise man: that is, his concern to know all things means that he will meddle with things many regard as none of his business. We suspect also that it is the activity of teaching which converts private pursuits into social offenses, especially when this teaching seems to challenge that of the poets or of the politicians.
It is this teaching that is reflected in the charge that Socrates corrupts the youth. Young men, imitating his examination of people who think they know something, manage to provoke those they examine into becoming angry with Socrates, whom they then charge with corrupting the youth. (23c-d) And when anyone asks in what way he corrupts the youth, they fall back on “the things that are at hand to say against all philosophers, ‘the things in the air and beneath the earth’ and ‘not acknowledging the gods,’ and ‘making the weaker argument the stronger.’” (23d) Thus, the usual charges against philosophers provide the transition between the old accusations against Socrates and the new ones upon which he must stand trial. The prejudice that philosophers generally have earned is central to the sequence of accusations made against Socrates.
The official indictment, as Socrates states it, charges him with being “guilty of corrupting the youth and of acknowledging not the gods that the city acknowledges but other new daemonic things.” (24b)6 The principal difference between the charges of the old accusers and the official charges of the new is that in the latter there is included an offense—with respect to the acknowledgment of the gods of the city—to which legal sanctions attach. But even in this respect the two sets are related, since the improper attitude toward the gods can be said to follow from unrestrained (that is, busybodyish) inquiry into all things. Socrates had earlier reported the popular opinion that those who investigate the things in the air and under the earth do not acknowledge the gods. (18c) This is (as we have seen) a longstanding prejudice about philosophers, a prejudice which some men have an interest in employing against Socrates when provoked by the young men who imitate him. (23c-d)
Socrates’ response to the old accusers’ charges (as distinguished from his subsequent account of the genesis of the hostility that led to such charges [20c]7) includes the observation that he had been mistaken for those interested in physical inquiries. As for the charge that he had been teaching “these same things” to others, he merely observes at this point that he does not teach for money (having first transformed the charge into one aimed at the man who does teach for money). (19c-e)8 His evident poverty is a sufficient refutation of this transformed charge. (31b-c) The remaining count, that he makes the weaker argument the stronger, he passes over in silence.
His response to the official set of charges begins with the question of whether one person (rather than many) can corrupt the youth. He suggests as an instructive parallel that horses are made better by horsetrainers and are harmed by the rest of mankind.
(25a-c)9 In addition, he doubts whether anyone would corrupt others willingly if he knew that he must associate with those who have been corrupted. (25c-26a) These points are made in the course of a colloquy in which Meletus unwillingly joins. This manner of response, which displays how Socrates can conduct an inquiry, may have seemed to much of his audience as indeed making the weaker argument the stronger.10 Socrates’ argument, insofar as it denies the possibility of any criminal corruption and, perhaps, even of any legitimate criminal law, seems to require the elevation in the city of persuasion and education over compulsion and punishment.11 The politician is set aside as the poet and the philosopher are left to contend for political rule.
The charge that Socrates does not acknowledge the gods acknowledged by the city is transformed, with the help of his poet-accuser, into one of not acknowledging any gods at all. (26e)12 Thereupon, Socrates can counter the charge of atheism by turning against it the concluding part of the official indictment, the charge that he introduces new daemonic things. (27a-e)13
It is evident that Meletus was eager to add the charge of atheism, that Socrates knew that he could be induced to do so. And yet the concluding charge of the official indictment could be turned against Meletus’ amendment of that indictment.14 One suspects that Meletus had wanted to include atheism in the official indictment but that he was persuaded not to do so by more politically astute colleagues who recognized that the popular opinion of Socrates’ daemonic thing fit in as poorly with the charge of atheism as the popular opinion of his poverty fit in with any suggestion that he taught for money.15 But during the cross-examination, Meletus is free from his colleagues’ restraint.
Meletus’ insistence on the charge of atheism prompts the following speculations. To question the gods of the city must seem to one fully dedicated to those gods to be a questioning of all gods that make a difference—thus, in effect, of all gods. In addition, Meletus seems to have been skeptical about the daemonic thing with which Socrates was supposed to be visited. Perhaps it seemed to him similar to the divine inspiration that poets are popularly said to enjoy—and he, as a professional poet, knew better. (22c) That is, he may have had no experience of the divine which confirmed for him the possibility of that which Socrates was supposed to have had. In both respects, then, Meletus could be charged with being a poor poet—that is, in Socratic terms, no poet at all: his imagination, conceiving no dedication other than to this city, is limited; and the true poetic inspiration is missing. In any event, his harshness seems to belong to the politician more than to the poet.16
It is appropriate that a Socrates prosecuted by an aggressively patriotic poet should ask, as he prepares to conclude his appearance before the Athenian people, “What would any of you give to meet [in Hades] with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer?” (41a)17 That is, he holds out to them the prospect of meeting real poets for a change.
Still another set of names deserves our attention, the names Socrates mentions in his second and third speeches. His second speech discusses the penalty appropriate upon conviction; the third speculates on the nature of death and on what awaits him after life on this earth. The reader notices that everyone Socrates refers to in the second speech is an Athenian and that all of the names (after his own is mentioned) in the third speech are of non-Athenians.18
This distribution of names—which is markedly different from that in the first speech, where Athenian and non-Athenian names are intermingled19—points up one of the underlying difficulties in Socrates’ situation. He speaks in the second speech as an Athenian, as a man of a particular city, when he addresses himself to the question of the disposition that is to be made of him as a citizen convicted of a serious crime. But he speaks in the third speech as a human being, as a man free to range among cities and even above cities, when he addresses himself to the question of the disposition that is to be made of him when life on this earth is finished. Put roughly, one can say that Athens has jurisdiction, ultimately, over his body only, whereas his soul (during life as well as in death) falls under another jurisdiction. (30a-b)
This distinction is reflected as well in a conversation Socrates reports with a wealthy Athenian whom he had asked about the training needed to secure for that man’s sons the virtue appropriate to them. Who, Socrates had asked, has knowledge of that kind of virtue, that of “a human being and a citizen”? (20a-c) Socrates opens his first speech before the court with the suggestion that the accusers had so conducted themselves as almost to make him forget who he really was. (17a) This observation should be taken as more than a playful comment on the rhetorical effectiveness of the accusers: the trial itself, if not the very life of Socrates as well, reveals the tension we see in him between the citizen and the human being and in Athens between the city and philosophy.20
We do not have in the Apology the explicit constitutional arguments to which we are accustomed today. Thus, Socrates does not direct a challenge against the law requiring the citizen to acknowledge the gods of the city. However self-defeating it may have been for him to level such a challenge during the defense proper, there was little to deter him from at least making suggestions of radical law reform once the sentence of death had been pronounced.21
He limits himself, however, to the suggestion that Athens could well imitate those peoples (human beings) who require a capital case to extend over several days. (37a-b) The effect of such a reform would be to bring to the realm of the political something of the philosophical mode. That is, action would give way before deliberation. (35c) The philosophical manner is reflected as well in Socrates’ defiance of the democracy when it “wished to judge as a body [rather than one by one] the ten generals who had failed to gather up [the slain] for burial after the naval battle [of Arginusae].” (32b)22 That is, deliberation requires the drawing of distinctions. The rule of philosophy in the city would have been acknowledged if Athens had, instead of condemning Socrates, accepted his recommendation that such a man as he “be maintained in the Prytaneum.” (37a)23
Socrates’ failure to challenge the principal law under which he was indicted suggests to us that he thought that law justifiable, perhaps even necessary, for the typical city, whatever might be said about its application in a particular case. Indeed, Socrates indicates the usefulness to the city of the acceptance by its citizens of its gods. He announces that he will not try to influence the court by bringing in his family as others have done: if he were to do that, he says, he would be exhibiting the very impiety for which he has been indicted, insofar as he induced members of the court to disregard the oaths (sworn in the name of the gods) they had taken to render a just verdict. (35c) He implies that it is partly because of his belief in the gods that the typical citizen does his civic duty, or at least does it more faithfully than he otherwise would. Socrates explains even his own career, with its dangers, as pursued in obedience to a god’s mandate. To strengthen further this influence of the gods and, perhaps, even to make the gods a better influence than the poets make them, he teaches that the gods do not desert good men and that they cannot lie. (41d, 21b)
Thus, civilization is not taken for granted: the gods are employed to reinforce what the city does to make men better than they would otherwise be. The city at its most primitive cares for the bodies of men, protecting them against the elements and against enemies and providing them with some comfort and leisure. The better city does something as well for the souls of men by inculcating the social virtues and affording at least the opportunity for that discourse and reflection which can lead to the full development of human reason. The claims of the city are acknowledged by Socrates in the duty he accepted to remain at the stations assigned by the generals at the battles of Potidaea, Amphipolis, and Delium, as well as in the duty he conceived he had to serve as a “gadfly” at the god’s command. (28d-e, 30e-31b)24
The Apology can even be read as a judicious tribute to Athens. Socrates explicitly recognizes the special claims of a city upon its citizens, but especially of this city. (29d-30a) It should be remembered that Socrates narrowly missed acquittal, despite the peculiar turbulence of the times in which he found himself on trial and despite his unconcealed superiority.25 It should also be remembered that the old accusers were a long time at work, that they had never resorted to an indictment, and that a full life had been permitted Socrates to do his work largely unimpeded. But even more significant is that democratic Athens was a city which produced, or permitted the production of, a Socrates– of a man who could make, and could be permitted to make, the kind of defense he did. There is no reason to believe that Socrates was any less fair than we can be in recognizing the merits of the city by which one is repudiated.26
The difficulties Socrates encountered were with the city as city, not simply with a particular city or regime. We are told that Socrates was obliged to stand firm against the demands of both democratic and oligarchic tyranny.27 True, it is under a democratic regime that he met his death. But we learn that his earlier defiance of the oligarchic regime of the Thirty Tyrants would probably have led to his death had not that regime been overthrown (whereas nothing is said of anything having happened to the democratic regime to forestall retribution for his earlier defiance of it). (32d-e)
Oligarchy is characterized by an undue respect for wealth—and we notice that it is moneymaking which Socrates sees as the principal distraction (at least in Athens) from the proper concern in citizens for virtue. (30a-b, 36b, 41e) But, on the other hand, wealth permits leisure—and it is the wealthy young men with leisure who can attend upon Socrates, finding pleasure in hearing him examine people and in imitating him themselves. (23c) Still, it is under a democratic regime that that leisure is more likely to be left free for philosophical (among other) pursuits.
The limits of the democratic regime, with its considerable reliance on public opinion, are suggested by the observation that the greater the reputation a man had for wisdom, the more deluded Socrates found him to be. (22a) It is the judgment, not the good intentions or even the moral rectitude, of the people that is called into question by Socrates. The humanity of the people is indicated by their repudiation of the illegal verdict against the generals of Arginusae, even though this repentance came too late to save the condemned. (32b) No such change of heart on the part of the Thirty is suggested: rather, Socrates saw their order (to him and others) to bring Leon of Salamis to his death as one of many deliberate attempts on their part to implicate as many citizens as they could in their crimes. (32c-e)
The moral rectitude of a people rests, in part, on their opinions about the gods, opinions for which the poets are principally responsible. But these old opinions remain inflexible, even when circumstances change—and an attempt to refine or qualify them is regarded with suspicion. Socrates hints that the principal offense of the Athenian generals at Arginusae was that of having failed to gather up the slain for burial after the battle. Nothing is said of the other offense, the failure by the fleet, intent on destroying the defeated enemy, to rescue the survivors on the disabled Athenian ships. He thereby reminds us (by his silence) of the religious implications of that prosecution, a prosecution which (among other results) helped cripple the military efficiency of the city and helped undermine its respect for the rule of law. Thus, religion can even undermine the city.28
But, on the other hand, religion itself is vulnerable. The doctrine attributed to Anaxagoras is that the sun and moon are stone and earth, not gods. Socrates assumes that the members of the court know that the books of Anaxagoras are full of such utterances. (26c-d) Athens is an open commercial city, enjoying abundant contact with the rest of the world. What is to become of the traditional popular opinions about the gods of the city if no refinement or qualification of them is permitted in the light of physical speculations and moral teachings that do not respect political boundaries?
The poets, who do not really understand their poems and the religious teachings they contain, have given men many “fine things.” (22c) But these, like all good things, depend on virtue for their proper use by mankind. (30a-b) They depend, that is, on an understanding of the best defense available for the gods of the city against the discoveries of both the natural philosophers and the sophists.29
The limits of political life in general are suggested not only by the fact that Socrates remained in an essentially private capacity whenever he could—he never volunteered for ordinary public service—but even more by the inability of even the most exalted politicians to defend themselves and perhaps even their city against searching inquiry. They do not really understand who they are or what they are doing. That is to say, such men are in danger of sacrificing to their political ambitions and pursuits the serious development of that reason which is distinctively human. They strive instead for another means of partaking in eternal things, and thereby securing immortality, by devoting themselves to the pursuit of reputation or glory.30
But, Socrates seems to suggest, glory or fame for its own sake is truly ephemeral.31 The men who can be regarded as the two greatest actors in Greek political history are the only two mortals of any note who are not mentioned by name in the Apology, but who are otherwise clearly indentified: the greatest warrior is recalled by reference to his immortal mother (Thetis) and to his vanquished enemy (Hector); the greatest leader, by reference to the army of equally anonymous men he led against a conquered city (Troy).32 Such men are remembered not in themselves, but because of others.
Even more critical than the question of their memory is that of their self-sufficiency: they do not stand apart from or above cities. It is they who, it turns out, are most dependent on others, perhaps even enslaved by the city or by public opinion, if not simply by the poets who sing their deeds. Among the few things Socrates admits he knows is that it is an evil to have to live “in prison a slave to those who may be in authority.” (37c) He is concerned, as few human beings and citizens are, lest he “do anything unworthy of a free man.” (38e)
Socrates seems to concede, if only by implication, the partial validity of the charges against him, at least those charges as they appear before they are transformed or corrected by him. Although he denies that he has done anything he should not have done, he would perhaps admit that there can be about the life of the mind something radically subversive of the ordinary city. Not only do questions about nature or the gods tend to undermine the accepted opinions about the gods and about the proper relations among men and between cities, but the life of inquiry stands as an independent alternative to the life of the men who take the city most seriously.
Although Socrates might on other occasions take issue with both the natural philosophers and the sophists, he does not openly do so here. (19c-20c) This may be not only because of an understandable reluctance one might have to save oneself by directing attention to the shortcomings of others but also because, in the view of the city, the life of a Socrates and the life of these “intellectuals” are quite similar.
It is not surprising, therefore, that Socrates’ accusers can mistake him for both a natural philosopher and a sophist. (18b-c, 19b-c) All of the sophists and natural philosophers whom he mentions are identified by him as foreigners. (19e, 20b, 26d) And like them, he talks with both citizens and strangers. (23b, 30a, 20b-c) It is no wonder, then, that Socrates can be regarded as somehow not of his city. This is his first time in court, that is, before the people on his own behalf: he appears, even in his manner of speaking before them, as a stranger. (17c-18a)
We notice that Socrates’ relation to a city—to eager youths and outraged parents and relatives, for example—does not depend primarily on his peculiar oracle-guided history in Athens (of which he had made so much in explaining how prejudice against him had arisen): even now, and in a short time, he would expect to be in trouble in any other city to which he might go. (37c-e)33 The city does not exist, except perhaps in thought, in which he would be fully at ease or truly safe.
The politicians, the poets and the craftsmen, on the other hand, live comfortably with the ways of the city. But, Socrates reports, these men are subject to the serious disability of being unable to explain and justify themselves under questioning.34 His superiority to all of them is maintained, except for the acknowledged skills of the craftsmen and the nature and divine inspiration of the poets. (22c-d) But Socrates, too, has his craft—we, to some extent, are among his products—and he can match as well the poet, for he has that daemonic thing which turns him from that which would harm him. (31d, 40a-b)35
The life that Socrates regards as preferable includes the constant examination of one’s life. Without such examination, life is not human. (38a) The life he extols is characterized by an awareness of one’s ignorance. (17a, 35d, 42a) But it is ignorance of which he, in any event, is aware. We again notice how his life differs from that of the ordinary citizen: the citizen, and the city, must act as if certain things are known, even matters that are subject to the most decisive fluctuations. The slain enemy of the city today, for example, may have been its ally yesterday. The man executed today be exonerated tomorrow on further examination of the evidence.
It is the fully human life—that life characterized by both an awareness of ignorance and a love of wisdom—with which the city and citizenship must ultimately come to terms.
Does the examination of one’s life require the examination of the lives of others? We are moved to examine, with this question, how Socrates shifts from an explanation of his determination to learn whether anyone was wiser than he to a justification of his insistence upon exhorting others to virtue. This account, which serves as the public story of his life, displays in its legal rhetoric both skill and integrity. Socrates considers himself to have lived the life of a human being: we see here the model of how the human being should address himself to citizens.
Socrates begins with a report of the Delphic pronouncement, in answer to Chaerephon’s question, that no man was wiser than Socrates. (21a) After being at a loss for a long time as to the meaning of the oracle of Delphi, he proceeds with great reluctance to investigate what the god meant. (21b) This investigation, which he seems determined to interpret to be at the god’s behest, permits him to conclude (after exposing the professions of those thought to be wise) that the god was merely using his name, as if he had said, “This one of you, human beings, is wisest who, like Socrates, knows that he is in truth of no account in respect to wisdom.” (23b)
Socrates’ assignment does not conclude with this discovery, however, for he reports that he has continued to make inquiries both of citizens and of strangers. This extended investigation is also said to be according to the god. (23b) He even adds that he helps the god by showing men reputed to be wise that they are not. (23c) Indeed, he can say (when he returns, after the colloquy with Meletus, to the account of his life) that the god had given him a station, with orders to spend his life in philosophy and in examining himself and others. (28d-29a)
The emphasis at this point could still be said to be on an examination that was concerned primarily with the pursuit of wisdom. But, in response to a hypothetical offer from the city to spare his life if he should stop investigating or philosophizing, he announces he must obey god rather than the city: he would not give up philosophizing, nor would he stop exhorting others to care for wisdom and truth and their souls more than for wealth and reputation and honor. (29c-e) If anyone denies that he does care more for wealth, reputation, and honor, Socrates will examine him to see if he has virtue, and rebuke him if he does not. (29e-30a) This, he says, the god commands him to do. No greater good ever came to pass in the city than this service to the god, this service of persuading everyone not to care for anything more than for the perfection of his soul. This persuasion includes the percept that from virtue all good things come to men. (30a-b)
Thus, the city’s intervention—whether in the form of an “offer” or in the form of an indictment—obliged Socrates to justify his life in terms that the city respects. That is, he was prompted to portray himself as of service not only to the god but to the city as well. Indeed, Socrates can now describe himself as god’s gift, as a gadfly assigned to the city. (30d-e) He is so much a gift from the god that he neglects his own affairs as he urges them to care for virtue. (31b)36 Thus, the emphasis has shifted by this stage of the argument to the promotion of virtue, away from the concern for wisdom that marked the beginning of his career. He now describes incidents that reveal how he acted and how he can be expected to act (the trial of the generals, the condemnation of Leon of Salamis). (31c-32e) This is the public story of his life: we are not explicitly told, except as it bears on the prejudice that has arisen against him, the private story of his mind, what he has thought and learned over the years.
Socrates does return, after emphasizing both his efforts to promote virtue and the god’s mandate for such efforts, to the obligation to examine those who think themselves wise—but the source of that obligation is no longer simply Delphi. Rather, he says he has been commanded to do so by the god through oracles and dreams and in every way in which any man has been commanded by a divine power to do anything. (33c) Indeed, he can speak (in his second speech) of his effort to persuade men to care more for goodness and wisdom than for other things without mentioning any divine agency. (36c) In his final comment on his own efforts, before he is sentenced to death, the emphasis on virtue (insofar as it can be distinguished from wisdom) remains explicit: he says that the greatest good for man is to talk every day about virtue and about the other things they hear him talking about and examining himself and others about. He does comment that to be quiet would be disobedience to the god—but he anticipates that his listeners will regard this comment as ironical on his part. (37e-38a) It is in this context that Socrates observes that the unexamined life is not human. (38a)
Why does the examination of one’s life require the examination of the lives of others? Since all men in the city partake of one life—one life as a community—a man must, in order to examine his own life, examine the life of the whole, the lives of other men. That is, an understanding of one’s life presupposes an understanding of its setting. Life would not be worth living among a people whose life is entirely unexamined: such a people would be little better than brutes. In the examination of others, furthermore, one learns what men are like, in what they differ from and in what they resemble one another—and this, too, permits the inquirer better to see and, if need be, to defend himself and to help them. He may even learn what other men know.
Socrates urges upon others that they do for themselves what he has discovered divine sanction for in his own life, the examination of one’s own life. But the exhortation to virtue, as distinguished from the pursuit of wisdom, seems to be independent of any reasonable interpretation of the oracular mandate. Perhaps it is not that mandate, with its endorsement of the Socratic effort to secure wisdom, that dictates Socrates’ concern for the moral virtues of others, but rather his duty as a citizen and his benevolence toward his fellow man.
It is, then, his concern for the virtue of citizens, not his love of wisdom, that can permit Socrates to justify himself in the eyes of the ordinary citizen. The god is useful in seeming to endorse such a dedicated concern on the part of a private man. The legitimate concern of the city for prosperity and self-defense and good government can lead to the glorification of wealth and life and honor, and even to the substitution of these for human virtue. Philosophy can help the city and its citizens distinguish between what is and what merely seems to be good.
Beyond the life of the citizen is that of the human being, the perfected human being, which the city must somehow divine as its ultimate goal and which may even be discernible in the gods that the city acknowledges. Mortal men need cities in which to carry out at leisure their inquiries—and some cities are better than others in this respect. There can be circumstances, then, in which the human being and the citizen, philosophy and the city, the philosopher and the gentleman, can become allies.
The speech of man testifies to the alliance in him of reason and natural sociability. Men are characteristically human, then, when engaged in conversation, in rational discourse, with one another. Socrates can lament upon finding himself estranged from his fellow citizens. (21e)
The life of the human being, rather than of the citizen, would be continued by Socrates (he tells us) even in Hades—if there is a life after death (about which he does not claim to know). (40c-41c) Thirteen figures are particularly mentioned by him as being in some manner encountered in Hades. He reports an increasingly intimate relation with these men as he moves through Hades.
There are, first, the four just men. (41a) Nothing is said of their judging Socrates: perhaps they stand for his affirmation, even in the face of the injustice done him, of the principle of justice.37 He speaks next of four poets, whom his hearers (he implies, not necessarily he) would very much like to meet: these may be poets liberated somewhat from the demands of particular cities, since they are honored by all the Greeks. (41a) The poets are, moreover, the means by which Hades (as a particular place) as well as the other nine characters in Socrates’ enumeration are known to men.38 There are then mentioned two men who were unjustly treated on earth, with whom he would compare his own experience. (41a-b) Three rulers are mentioned, men whom he would examine for their wisdom. (41b-c) We wonder whether he indicates the beginning even in Hades of that very cycle of inquiry we were told of in his first speech—political men, poets, and craftsmen.39
We wonder also whether we can determine the considerations that led to the selection by Socrates of the names he uses in this list and of the order in which he places them.40 We are encouraged to speculate about these matters when we notice that the order of the four poets is that employed elsewhere by the comic poet whom Socrates refers to in his first speech, an order that probably reflects either the traditional sequence of the four or a deliberate borrowing from the comic poet.41 Aristophanes, in a play produced with great popular success only a few years before the trial of Socrates, had put these words in the mouth of Aeschylus (The Frogs 1030-1036):
Aye, such are the poet’s appropriate works: and just
consider how all along
From the very first they have wrought you good,
the noble bards, the masters of song.
First, Orpheus taught you religious rites, and from
bloody murder to stay your hands;
Musaeus healing and oracle lore; and Hesiod all the
culture of lands,
The time to gather, the time to plough. And got not
Homer his glory divine
By singing of valor, and honor, and right, and the
sheen of the battle-extended line,
The ranging of troops and the arming of men?
We can again see the role of the poets, and of the gods of whom the poets sing, in the civilization and cities of men.
But we see also in this passage the movement from the suppression of early savagery, through the development of civilization, the glorification and refinement of killing by civilized men. This reminds us of the question of whether the poets really know or control what they are doing. (20b-c) Socrates so places the names of the four poets that the name of Hesiod is central in the list of the thirteen figures in Hades: the activity around which he sees everything else revolving is the prosaic and most civilized art of agriculture, an activity that does not have the obvious attraction of Homeric adventures.42
Since the poet and the philosopher contend as to the best way of life, it is appropriate that the initiator of the prosecution of Socrates should represent the poets. An insignificant Meletus is made more of in the dialogue than the very influential Anytus. But it is evident that this representative of the poets is inadequate to his formidable task: we are tempted to suspect that he is merely the image of Socrates’ much more serious critic, Aristophanes. The comic poet knew, however, that the poet’s way to defend the gods was to make poems, not indictments.
Socrates had found that the poets had made many “fine things” which they could not explain. The poets he had examined were “those of tragedies, and those of dithyrambs, and the others.” (22a-c) Although he had mentioned Aristophanes earlier, he does not refer explicitly to comic poets as among those who could not explain what they had made. (18d, 19c) This is not the occasion for an open confrontation between Socrates and Aristophanes. But we do remember that the comic poet, unlike Socrates, is equipped, or at least willing, to move the people. (Cf. 36a) Perhaps this prompts the comic poet to believe that this is because he understands better than the philosopher what the people need and what constitutes a threat to the city and its gods. Perhaps the poet also believes that he is better equipped than the philosopher to grasp these gods and all other things really vital to men. But we remember as well that Socrates perceived that the poets “thought themselves, on account of their poetry, the wisest of men in other things as well, in which they were not.” (22c)
The list of names in Hades suggest further speculations. We notice that there can be said to be an intimate relation among the thirteen figures Socrates mentions. The four poets are, as has been noted, the principal source of what men know of the other nine and of such men (demi-gods and heroes). Two of the men are said to have been unjustly treated, with a consequent loss of life. But included among the parade are the very men who were instrumental in that unjust treatment.43 Socrates, we can anticipate, will investigate both sides of these famous controversies: he will not settle for what the poets have labeled as the just and unjust parties.
Even Sisyphus, the wicked king who is reputedly consigned to eternal punishment, will be questioned. Perhaps it is his proverbial cunning that interests Socrates. But perhaps, also, Socrates refuses to accept without question the judgment of even the gods against Sisyphus: both Sisyphus and the four just men (three of whom, sons of Zeus, are the traditional judges of Hades) are available for Socrates’ questions. He can pass judgment on the justice of the gods. Thus, we suggest, Socrates’ inquiries can be of the most radical nature—and it is this that the more perceptive supporters of his accusers can be said to have detected.44 The termination of the list with Sisyphus’ name suggests as well the nature of the philosophical life: we remember that Sisyphus’ punishment was one that required of him the endless repetition of a difficult task. Philosophy, too, especially if characterized by knowledge of one’s ignorance, may seem Sisyphean in quality.45
Socrates had justified his supposedly onerous and allegedly impious career of questioning as one ordered by the god. Much is made of this divine mandate in the principal speech in defense, a speech whose manifest character is determined in large part by the nature of its audience. We, of course, must wonder whether the affirmative answer of the oracle to Chaerephon’s question necessarily implied the mandate that Socrates took it to include. Indeed, some would even interpret the task Socrates undertook to be a test of the god’s wisdom, rather than mere pious obedience to the god’s command. We wonder, moreover, what it was that moved Chaerephon to go to the trouble and expense of an expedition to Delphi, what it was about Socrates that aroused such partisanship. We suspect that Chaerephon had already observed him as confounding others, as a man evidently without a match in Athens.46 Just as the doings of his daemonic thing are analyzed by Socrates (40a-c, 41d-e), so the oracle of the god is examined. Nothing is taken for granted as the human being strives to understand. Even divine judgments are open to examination.
We learn from Socrates’ projected adventures in Hades that he continues the life he led on earth. It is not there a “life” designed to make either men or cities better, or even to test a god’s saying. Rather, he explicitly explains his inquiries in Hades (that is, beneath the earth) as pleasurable. (41c) His pursuit is one that he finds satisfying for its own sake. This satisfaction seems to resemble the pleasure the young men derive from imitating him. (23c, 33c) It is the pleasure of the human being, of the human being necessarily formed in the city but whose essential activity does not depend on the city but rather on that which is somehow his own, his reason.
The comparison of experiences with Palamedes and Ajax is anticipated as “not unpleasant”; the discussions with men reputed to be wise, as “the greatest pleasure” and as “immeasurable happiness.” (41b-c) Socrates’ concern in Hades, and thus eternally, remains more with wisdom than with moral virtue, more with words than with deeds. The people of Athens, on the other hand, honor deeds more than words. (32a)
The earthbound philosopher acknowledges an obligation to the city that permits him the truest pleasure of the human being. He does more than is required of him, and even more than is likely to be appreciated from him, to contribute to the well-being of his fellow citizens. He is not merely a just man: he is, despite his poverty, the greatest philanthropist.
Nothing is said of any gods in Hades. Socrates does not anticipate meeting there any god, but at most the sons of gods. Whatever role the gods may have played in initiating or spurring on his inquiries or his way of life on earth, they seem to play no part now.47 He had spoken of the god giving him an assignment to which he was obliged to stand faithful despite all dangers, just as he had been given assignments by the generals at Potidaea, Amphipolis and Delium. But the thoughtful Athenian remembers that those three battles had one striking feature in common, the death on each occasion of the Athenian commander. Can the god or gods, then, who had set or confirmed Socrates on the road he followed, also be said to have died? Was there something about the very activity of Socrates that led to the end, if only for him, of the gods of the city?
And yet he remained at his post, just as the soldier remains at his despite the death of his commander. In both instances, the dedication is to something greater than the commander: it is to that to which both the commander and his followers are dedicated. If Socrates can no longer acknowledge the gods of the city, it is through no voluntary misdeed, but is rather the almost inevitable result of the kind of life to which godlike humanity can lead man. Others, too, are led to disbelief: but it is the merit of Socrates that his disbelief is restrained, as he remembers the value to the city of religious belief. He discerns as well, in his effort to understand the world in which the human being finds himself, that to which such belief points, that which in the nature of things makes the poets’ accounts plausible and which the poets somehow grasp.
We have seen that there are attributed to Socrates among “those things at hand to say against all philosophers,” “the things in the air and beneath the earth.” (23c-d, 18b) The inquiries implied here are such as those Anaxagoras carried on, which led him to call the sun stone and the moon earth. But we notice that Socrates assigns to himself in the Apology a version of this charge which is unique to him, that he investigates “the things beneath the earth and in the heaven.” (19c) Only with reference to Socrates’ inquiries is the word “heaven,” rather than “air,” used.
The words “earth” and “heaven” recall (in the Greek) Gaea and Ouranos—the parents and grandparents of the gods of the city—and this suggests, in turn, Socrates’ concern with the origins, and hence the nature, of the gods. A refined parallel to this couple can be seen in Zeus and Hera, the only Greek gods Socrates invokes by name in this dialogue.48 Zeus and Hera represent complete divinity, from which all other aspects can be generated. A blending of these two gods into one can be anticipated as the next stage of the development. But the many, it seems, require many gods—and poetry ministers to this need and may have thereby even prepared the way for philosophy. Were not the poets “the wise men of old”?
The tendency of Socrates’ thought about the gods is further suggested by the manner in which he speaks of the Delphic oracle. Although he refers to the god of Delphi and his shrine, he does not use his name but speaks of him simply as “the god.” And as the dialogue proceeds, this god becomes more and more general and impersonal. Indeed, there is seen here a refinement, even an elevation, of the gods of the city, until they can be represented as divine intellect, as that being which is truly wise—as that being which is to be apprehended not by inspiration or revelation but by the reason of the free man. Was it not in this sense that Socrates could be said to have investigated the things in heaven?
It is with a reference to the unique wisdom of a god, a god who may be understood as that perfection to which the philosopher aspires, that the dialogue ends.49 Socrates has just declared that no evil can come to a good man, either in life or after death, and that the gods do not neglect him. (41c-d) The gods of the city care for good men; the god of Socrates knows the truth.
Socrates’ case was entrusted to men who were not equipped to understand either the life they had come to review or what their city really needed.50 One of the two men referred to by Socrates as unjustly treated is Palamedes: he was the victim of deliberate misrepresentations on the part of rivals jealous of his wisdom. The other man, Ajax, although he could be said to have been ruled against in a fair “trial,” considered himself unjustly treated and committed suicide. Just as there is about Socrates something of Palamedes, so there is something of Ajax as well, since his conviction and condemnation could be said to have been permitted (if not, to some degree, courted) by him. He would not resort to the measures, such as a proposal of exile, that could have saved his life.
The measures that would have been necessary to win an acquittal are shunned by him as dishonorable. His sense of nobility is reflected in the urbanity, and even the irony, with which he faced his accusers and, as it turns out, his executioners. But, we are told, he is at an age when men’s powers often begin to fail. (38c) He seems determined to be useful, not only to philosophy (and hence to himself, if only in the form of those like himself who will follow) but also to the city, in death as he had been in life. He does not seek this prosecution—but neither is it an unwelcome or chance event. (41d) He literally makes the best of it.
Unlike the sophists and natural philosophers, Socrates realizes that he is “not born of an oak or a rock,” but of humans—once again we see the significance of origins—and this basis, in the nature of things, contruibutes to his benevolence toward a particular city. (34d, 30a) He seems determine, that is, to leave behind an example, in word as well as in deed, of a lofty disdain of death that can only enrich and ennoble the life on earth of those who follow him. And he succeeds thereby in assuring the city, which tends to be dominated by the concern for mere survival, that those citizens are most useful to it who do not care the most for the sanctions with which it threatens or for the prizes with which it beckons. Socrates takes the opportunity to converse with his judges “while the archons are busy and before [he goes] to the place where [he] must die.” (39e) It was thus with Socrates’ lifework: he conversed while citizens were occupied with their affairs.
The success of Socrates’ lifework is reflected in the respect he inspires from generation to generation even among those who would have been among his condemners. This is in part a tribute to the effect of poetry upon the many, poetry consecrated to the tasks to which a Plato happened to be able to turn it. Socrates modeled himself, he tells the court, on the son of Thetis as that warrior faced death. (28c-d) That young man remains the hero of the battlefield; an old man becomes the hero of life in the city.
Such heroism, which first appears to men in the accounts of poets, becomes even more significant when one considers what Socrates suggests about the goodness of life. The immortality of the soul remains an open question: to the extent it is acknowledged in this dialogue, it is on the basis of what is generally said, on the basis of unexamined sayings of the poets. (40c, 40e, 41a, 41c) The good things of which Socrates speaks are certain, to the extent that they are certain at all, only in life. For him, it had been a good life: he had had the “greatest good” that men can enjoy, conversing daily and examining himself and others about virtue and the other things he talked about. (38a) The efforts of his daemonic thing seem to have been directed, according to Socrates’ report, to preserve an honorable life for him so long as that life could be effectively dedicated to philosophy. (31d-32a, 38c, 40a, 41d) There is no philosophy, nothing distinctively human, in that dreamless sleep that death may resemble. (40c-d) Indeed, such sleep depends for its appreciation on the awakened sleeper. The urbanity of Socrates cannot conceal the melancholy cast of his situation: his parting words reveal that he does not know whether it is better to die or to live, despite the encouraging inferences he has drawn from the failure of his daemonic thing to intervene. (42a) Since men are mortal, there are merely better and worse ways to die.
There is about the pursuit dictated by the divinity of one’s humanity—by that reason which can be said to lie under a divine mandate to inquire into all things—something that is dangerous to human life itself. The Socrates who survived seventy years was endowed with that daemonic thing, that inarticulate, perhaps instinctive, thing with its respect for life that imposed a sense of moderation upon a radically immoderate pursuit.51 What the daemonic thing did for Socrates he has to do for those who follow him, for the impulsive Chaerephons, for the young men who delight in questioning their elders, perhaps most of all for the philosophers and the sophists whose predecessors helped sow the crop of prejudice that Socrates harvested. (21a-b, 23c-d, 23d-e) Such men have to be restrained lest they bring on the destruction of others, if not of themselves. (39d) Self-restraint is necessary for the protection both of the city and of philosophy.
The Apology provides for the prospective philosopher a substitute for the daemonic thing Socrates happened to have. Indeed, the daemonic thing is transformed into the Apology: we should not expect to hear of it again.
Thus, the surface meaning and effect of the dialogue are intended for the city and its citizens, that they may be relieved of their fears and tempered in their envy. The decent, law-abiding citizen is provided sufficient grounds for siding with Socrates. In fact, the description of philosophy as service to the god may even conform to the citizen’s conception of piety. (23b)
The more guarded meaning of the dialogue, which we have only begun to explore, is intended for the careful reader who may be prepared to succumb to the immoderate attractions of philosophy. Such a reader, tempted by the appeals of freedom, truth, or even a gesture of heroic self-sacrifice, must be reminded of the demands of mere existence, of the legitimate concerns and inevitable limitations of the city, and of the role of the philosophically-minded in the city. The state of our education today requires that this reminder be made more explicit than ever before.
The first long step in Socrates’ political contribution (and his principal political contribution, considering the regimes of his and most cities)—the step to which he dedicated his public life—is necessarily cast in restraining, even negative, terms. He refused to desert the military posts assigned him; he questioned the men reputed to be wise; he rejected or refined many ancient opinions about the gods; he refused to acquiesce in the unjust actions demanded of him by democracy and oligarchy alike. Even his daemonic thing, as reported here, was limited to inhibitory commands.
This emphasis on negativity may strike some as perverse, even as irresponsible. (It can be said to be reflected in the charge that Socrates does not acknowledge the gods of the city.) But negativity is essential when the human being confronts the city with its perhaps inevitable reliance on received opinion, especially when changes in circumstances make fetters out of what have long been treasured as the people’s staff and rod. For, as it has been observed, “What at first glance seems to be merely negative is negative only in the sense in which every liberation, being a liberation not only to something but also from something, contains a negative ingredient.”52
Socrates liberates men from ignorance and vice, releasing them for that pursuit of wisdom and of virtue proclaimed by his words and sanctified by his example. To the extent that he repudiates the old, it is not in the name of the new, but of the eternal. His fellow citizens condemned as dangerous innovations what were essentially efforts to discover the unchanging.
Each of Socrates’ three speeches invokes in its opening sentence the “men of Athens,” as do the final passages of the first and second speeches. (17a, 35e, 38c, 35d, 38d) The absence of such a limitation at the conclusion of the third speech, and hence of the Apology as a whole, encourages us to consider him to have addressed the world at large, and especially those peoples engaged in self-government.
Socrates, insofar as he makes a place for the philosophical man in the city, suggests a constitution to which thoughtful men, both in public life and out, can aspire.
1. The reader’s familiarity with Plato’s Apology of Socrates is presupposed. (Section VIII of this essay can serve as a reminder of Socrates’ argument.) None of the other works of Plato is referred to, but neither are they forgotten. See George Anastaplo, The Constitutionalist : Notes on the First Amendment (Dallas: Southern Methodist University Press, 1971), e.g., c. 9, sec 4, c. 2, nn. 1, 39, c. 6, n. 54, c. 7, nn. 30, 34, c. 8, nn. 70, 74, 135, 140, c. 9, nn. 7, 21, 23, 28, 30, 38, 39. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen: Essays on Virtue, Freedom and the Common Good (Chicago: Swallow Press/Ohio University Press, 1975), Essays VI, XV, XVI. Many of the notes to this essay submit to the reader’s consideration frankly speculative and, it is hoped, moderately provocative commentaries upon a number of passages in the dialogue which have suffered from having been either long ignored or long settled by scholars. Cross-references are liberally employed to make the notes less disconnected and hence more useful than they would otherwise be. Many of the notes include a series of comments on a series of points in the related text.
2. Compare Plato, Apology 17c. The god is careful in using Socrates’ name; but men are careless in naming one another (e.g., Meletus: “care-taker”). (23b, 25c) Not to know the names of others (such as one’s accusers) seems to be a handicap; in fact, it is “unreasonable.” (18c-d) See notes 30, 41, below. (Unless otherwise indicated, the citations in parentheses in these notes, as in the text, are to Plato’s Apology of Socrates.)
Plato, we know, used Socrates’ name many times in dialogues, but only once in the title of a dialogue. Is that single dialogue more about Socrates or about his way of life in the city than the others?
3. There may have been some who voted for conviction and against the death sentence (as well as vice versa). See notes 16, 50, below. Are those who sit in judgment in Hades the only true judges? (41a) See note 46, below.
4. We derive “category” from the Greek word for “accusation.”
5. What is the status of the old in the Apology? The old accusers are the worst. (18b) Socrates says he had no old defenders. (18c) Compare Plato, Apology 34d and Homer, Odyssey, XIX, 163. See notes 9, 22, 25, 40, below.
6. Socrates does not quote the official indictment precisely, but rather “about like this.” (24b) Xenophon reports this as the official indictment: “Socrates is guilty of not acknowledging the gods the city acknowledges, and of bringing in other new daemonic things; he is also guilty of corrupting the youth.” Memorabilia, I, 1. Diogenes Laertius (II, 40) reports, evidently from Athenian archives, a version which is virtually the same as that in Xenophon. See notes 9, 13, below. Socrates attributes to Meletus an enigmatic version of the official indictment: “Socrates is guilty of not acknowledging the gods, but he does acknowledge the gods.” (27a) See notes 9, 12, 13, below. Thus, the sequence of accusations by the city or the many is: (1) the old accusations (18b), (2) the old accusations in the form of an indictment (19c), (3) “the things which are at hand to say against all philosophers” (23d), (4) the official indictment (24b), (5) the enigmatic version of the official indictment attributed to Meletus (27a). “Acknowledge” is used throughout this essay as perhaps more appropriate in the legal context than either “believe in” or “recognize.” That which is rendered as “god” (as distinguished from “gods”) might sometimes be better understood as “the divine.” See note 49, below.
7. The role of prejudice directed primarily against Socrates is suggested by the fact that there is a stranger in Athens safely teaching for money at the very time of Socrates’ prosecution. (20a-c) Is not an account of the genesis of something essentially an account of its nature? See notes 17, 21, 48, below.
8. Socrates’ defense here may seem merely sophistical. But when he speaks of not teaching for money, he is making a popularly understandable distinction between himself and the sophists (whom he had described earlier as teaching for money). (20a) He does not attempt to make here the more important distinctions, such as between his and the sophists’ opinions about the possibility of knowledge. This would require a greater understanding of the sophists, and even of philosophy, than his listeners are likely to have. See note 46, below. This is not to suggest, however, that the matter of payment is irrelevant. The man who teaches for money is more likely to be directed by what the student, rather than what the teacher, thinks should be taught. (Of course, Socrates insists that he does not teach—but he does influence others, he does have imitators.) See Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay IV, note 50. If Socrates had accepted exile and wandered about, he would have been even harder to distinguish from the sophists. His death, which can be said to show his respect for the laws of the city, assures the city that he is an Athenian. Deeds mean much more than words to his fellow-citizens. See notes 26, 33, below. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVI.
9. The impression is given that corruption of the youth derives from Socrates’ attitude toward the gods of the city. The sequence of counts in the official indictment, as it is known from other sources, would have made such a derivation more difficult to suggest. Does not Socrates expect that the thoughtful student of his speech will remember the original sequence of counts and that he will notice and reflect upon Socrates’ rearrangement? See note 6, above, note 13, below. There is implied in the discussion of the horse-training example a fundamental question as to what makes men good, the city (with its laws and customs) or teaching and exhortation. See note 5, above, note 22, below.
10. Socrates’ argument here presupposes the existence of cities: one is not free to move about altogether at will; or, at least, there are good reasons for preferring to stay in one place. The indictment also presupposes the existence of cities: it is the corruption of the youth of this city which is criminal. Exile would have meant that the Athenians were willing to let Socrates corrupt youth elsewhere. The “weaker” can refer not only to the less just but also to the more vulnerable. The vulnerable (that is, unpopular) truth can be made stronger by so stating it that careful reading is required to perceive it. Socrates insisted that he taught the same to all, that he had no private teaching. (19d, 30b, 33b) This is not to say, however, that everyone understood him the same. We detect even in this dialogue both a surface meaning and a more guarded one. See notes 13, 39, below.
11. But he does consider his condemners and accusers blameworthy for having intended to injure him. (41d-e) He twice speaks in this context of condemnation and accusation in that order, suggesting even as he closes the observation with which he started, that he had been convicted long before the indictment was filed. (18b) Does he not virtually charge the city, or at least his old accusers, with having corrupted the youth? (18c, 24c, 25a-c) All do seem agreed that the young have been corrupted? Or would the city (or the many) say that if the young have not been corrupted by Socrates, then they have not really been corrupted? See note 7, above.
12. Implicit in each of Socrates’ transformations of charges seems to be the suggestion that his version in each case is the only one the city should be concerned about. Thus, the public avowal of atheism, of which Socrates is not guilty, may be a legitimate concern of the city. See note 49, below. That is, even if he should not acknowledge the gods of the city, he does not consider himself to have done anything calling for rebuke or punishment. (38a) Do his evident moral character and wisdom induce the reader to accept this self-appraisal? Socrates mentions another charge, not by the city but by the sophisticated: “Are you then not ashamed, Socrates, of having followed such a pursuit, that you are now in danger of being put to death as a result?” (28b) He meets this reproach with an account of his life. The heroic cast of that account is designed to shame such critics. (28c) Compare Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVI, note 9.
13. The rearrangement by Socrates of the counts of the indictment (see notes 6, 9,
above) makes central the count respecting the gods of the city and thereby makes it easier
for him to play the ends off against the middle. Thus, the first count is virtually reduced
to the second; and the second is said to be contradicted by the third. See note 10, above.
(This comment, like many others in this essay [e.g. , note 40, below], presupposes that
Plato devoted at least as much care and imagination to the arrangement of details in his
dialogue as we can devote to their interpretation. See notes 39, 41, 45, below. See, also,
Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay VI, notes 19, 20, 52.)
Whatever the daemonic thing is, it seems to be regarded by the authors of the
indictment as the Socratic alternative to the recognized religious opinions of the
city. Socrates himself calls it “divine and daemonic”. (31d) See note 51, below.
14. Does this suggest that faulty reasoning underlies the accusations against philosophers? That is, the city cannot understand what Socrates is doing. Does, then, the weaker argument prevail in this trial? See note 10, above.
15. Socrates mentions later that they had heard him speak of this daemonic thing many times and that he had had it since childhood. (31c-d) See note 51, below. Why had the accusers added the charge about the daemonic thing? The failure to acknowledge the gods of the city could be overlooked as an instance of not uncommon neglect of civic duties, whereas the deliberate introduction of new divinities suggests treason or revolution. (At the very least, this charge reflects Socrates’ intellectual discoveries.)
16. “And so the man proposes the penalty of death.” (36b) Socrates had indicated during his first speech, partly in order to make clear to those who might vote for conviction what was implied by such a vote, that Anytus (the politician) was advocating the death penalty. (29c, 30b, 31a) See note 3, above, note 50, below. Thus, the poet adopts the manner of the politician. It does not seem that the laughter-provoking Aristophanes, although a great patriotic poet, had either called for Socrates’ death or suggested he was an atheist. (18d, 19b-c)
17. Meletus had evidently described himself as “good and patriotic.” (24b) See note 16, above. One danger of untutored patriotism is that it will be, as Socrates says of Meletus, “violent and unrestrained.” (26e) This may come from caring too much about the wrong things. Does not Socrates suggest that it is likely that bad-natured men will rise to power both in an unrestrained oligarchy and in an unrestrained democracy? (See, on nature, note 7, above, note 21, below.)
18. The third speech does mention Triptolemus (of Eleusis) and Ajax (of Salamis), both of which places were under Athenian rule during Socrates’ lifetime. But is it indicated by this dialogue, in spite of the imperialistic claims by patriotic Athenians, that neither Eleusis nor Salamis was yet subject to Athens during the lives of the two men mentioned? Compare Homer, Iliad, II, 557-558 (an Athenian interpolation?); Sophocles, Ajax 202-203, 860-861, 1211-1221; Aristotle, Rhetoric 1375b29; Ovid, Metamorphoses, V, 645 sq., VII, 469 sq.; Plutarch, Theseus, Aristides, Alcibiades. However that might have been, Leon of Salamis, who is mentioned in the first speech, would have been considered an Athenian subject. (41a-b, 32c) It is appropriate that the second speech—the Athenian or familiar speech—should be the only one of the three in which no new names are introduced. It is also appropriate that Socrates should be the only Athenian mentioned in the third speech: he had just been condemned to death (cast out?) by the city. See notes 25, 37, below.
19. About one-third of those referred to by name in the first speech are strangers. But many fewer than one-third of the references there are to strangers. This is the defense of a philosopher who was an Athenian. Socrates’ attachment to Athens is proverbial. His interpretation of the god’s mandate (that he should seek out and examine all men reputed to be wise) evidently did not place him under the compulsion to travel. Perhaps he had heard enough of other places, which could have been confirmed by his military service abroad, and seen enough in cosmopolitan Athens of citizens of other cities, to regard his city as providing sufficient scope for his inquiries. In any event, Socrates regarded banishment or imprisonment, but neither death nor a fine, as a certain evil. (37c-d) No doubt his age affected his appraisal of both banishment and death. See note 39, below. Compare Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVI, note 14.
20. The city, especially under a democratic regime, is virtually the many. The many are pictured as inferior to the few with respect to knowing how to do everything except create disturbances (which disturbances impede discussion and, hence, understanding). See notes 23, 34, below. The “human being” referred to here is that being who is fully human, for whom the life of philosophy is vital. The perfect citizen, on the other hand, is the gentleman, the political man who is responsive to the guidance of philosophy. See notes 26, 39, 52, below. Is the human being linked by Socrates with horses and the citizen with cattle, each with his distinctive virtue? (20a-b)
21. Does a philosopher prefer not to meddle with particular laws when he cannot refashion the constitution? Compare note 12, above, note 39, below. See J. Duncan M. Derrett, “The Trial of Sir Thomas More,” 79 English Historical Review (July 1964), pp. 449, 467-474 (the section, “Verdict, Motion in Arrest, and Sentence”). A comprehensive reform would presuppose a greater respect for nature than a democratic people is likely to have. There is, I believe, only one reference to “nature” in the dialogue, and that is when the poetic art is accounted for. (22c) See note 30, below. Perhaps the role that nature plays in the lives of men and of the cities is suggested in this dialogue (and especially for a democratic audience) by the use of the divine. See notes 46, 48, 49, below. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay VI, section VII.
22. See note 28, below. Socrates’ position on that occasion (when six generals were tried in a body and condemned to death) was ostensibly grounded upon his insistence on the law, rather than upon what was otherwise right or just. (32b) He seems to have thought that the people should not be encouraged to question the principle of law-abidingness. They cannot be expected, in ordinary circumstances, to respect any other form of justice (although Socrates, when he restates his reasons, adds “justice” to “law” [32c]). See notes 27, 46, below. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVI, section vii. Is not reliance simply on the law likely to be reliance on the old? See notes 5, 9, above. It can be argued that Socrates, too, was judged as one of “a body,” rather than on his own merits: he is identified with many others, past and present, who inquired about the things in the air and beneath the earth. (18c, 23c-d)
23. There is implied here a serious reservation about the principle of majority rule. See note 20, above, note 34, below. Among the things Socrates does know is that it is evil and shameful to disobey one’s better, whether he be a god or human being. (29b) Is one reason for overnight consideration of a capital case that the people can be talked to privately and quietly, as human beings rather than as citizens, one by one rather than in a body? “The morrow brought repentance with it, and reflexion on the horrid cruelty of a decree [by the Athenians] which condemned a whole city [Mitylene] to the fate merited only by the guilty.” Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, III, 36.
24. The chronological sequence of the battles was Potidaea, Delium, and Amphipolis. We suspect that something is being indicated by this rearrangement, perhaps about the battle of Amphipolis which is placed in the central position. See note 13, above, note 41, below. It is thought by scholars that Socrates participated in more than three battles. We wonder why he chose to mention these particular three. See note 27, below. We notice that Delium and Amphipolis were Athenian defeats and Potidaea a costly victory. See note 39, below. We also notice that the Athenian commander at the battle of Potidaea was Callias; at Delium, Hippocrates; at Amphipolis, Cleon. See Thucydides, ibid., I, 63: IV, 101; V, 10. The city, with which the family seems to be allied in this trial, has made Socrates’ “body” what it is and can call upon it for the use of the city. Thus, Socrates the citizen serves in war as a soldier, in peace as a member of the assembly (evidently when chosen by lot); he also produces sons and thereby contributes to the perpetuation of the city. (To what extent are his services on behalf of the city for the benefit of philosophy as well?) See notes 34, 40, below. The intimate relation between the city and its gods may be indicated in the fact that both gods and the city are likened to horses. (27d-e, 25b) One or a few trainers of a horse are said to be better than many. (25b) See note 23, above, notes 44, 48, 49, below. But to win a horse race is of little value. (36d)
25. See, on Socrates’ hubristic self-esteem, Apology 20c, 30a, 36d, 38a. See, also, note 26, below. If a Pericles had continued to rule in Athens, or even an Alcibiades, the result of the prosecution (if there had been one) would likely have been different. Socrates mentions that the democratic partisans had recently returned to the city after the exile imposed by the Thirty Tyrants. (21a) Democratic Athens had been shaken to its foundations. Socrates says he is surprised by the closeness of the vote. (36a) Socrates’ surprise suggests that he underestimated the power of his words, underestimated the good will or the good sense of the ordinary citizen, or overestimated the prejudice excited by the old accusers. Perhaps there had been old defenders as well, after all—that is, the wisdom and strength for which imperial Athens was widely celebrated. (29d) See note 5, above. Athens is likened to “a horse, which, though large and well-bred, is sluggish on account of his size.” (30e) There are reasons, that is, why this “gift of god” should have happened to appear in Athens. (31a-b) Socrates’ second speech is so Athenian in its character as to be the only one in which there are no oaths invoking the names of gods. See note 18, above. Socrates does refer there to “the god” whom he will not disobey. (37e) But this god is neither Athenian nor non-Athenian, but rather essentially “human” in that he is characterized by that perfection which would be found in the perfectly wise man. Indeed, insofar as philosophy finds its home in Athens, the Socratic god is the god of that city. In any event, the legally acknowledged gods of the city are strangers to Athens—and their ascendancy there is understandably precarious. See notes 29, 49, below. But, on the other hand, cities do control “their” gods somewhat—whereas Socrates’ god imposes tasks which he must prefer to the city’s command and to his own interests. (29d)
26. See, e.g., 30 University of Chicago Law Review 704, 717-719 (1963); 2 Loyola Law Times 8 (1962); 54 Cornell Law Review 920 (1969); 60 California Law Review 1476 (1972); 20 University of Chicago Law School Record 3 (1973). See, on the citizen-gentleman, 19 Lawyers Guild Review 143, 145, 159-160 (1959). Consider notes 39, 46, 52, below; also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay IX. By showing men how to conduct themselves in adversity, Socrates provides for Athenians a lesson particularly apt in a democracy, thereby moderating the influences which make for sentimentality, shamelessness and sensuality. (Compare 39b1.) Although the adversity was not as dreadful as his fellow citizens conceived it to be, it was not as slight as his serenity leads some scholars to believe. See note 51, below. There is something sobering about a judicial repudiation by one’s fellow citizens, by the very men of all the world whom one has been taught to care most about and for whom one has even gone to war. (30a) The circumstances of a judicial encounter move a man to be as persuasive as possible consistent with duty and self-respect. (38d, 39a) A genuine effort to persuade, as is seen in Socrates’ first speech, is demanded, not only to lend significance to the failure which may result but perhaps even more as a guarantee tat one has not carelessly permitted fellow citizens to perpetrate an injustice. (19a, 30d) Such an effort, surviving as a continual exhortation, provides the basis for eventual vindication and reconciliation. (39c-d, 41e-42a) It can be an effort which one is free to design for the most enduring effect, however, only if one is not primarily governed by a desire for immediate success. See note 33, below.
27. Democracy and oligarchy are considered in this essay to be the two principal contenders among the regimes which are likely to prevail in a city. See note 33, below. In this, as in the practical distinction between wisdom and virtue, we follow the greatest of Platonists, Aristotle. See notes 39, 46, below. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay IV, note 14. Socrates makes more of his civil courage, and hence justice, than of his bravery on the battlefield. The trial marks the third instance of resistance to the city, and more is made by him of such resistance than of his service in three battles on behalf of the city. See note 24, above. This emphasis recognizes that a city is not an armed camp, primarily organized for war: it is more concerned with justice than with bravery. (Justice is referred to many more times than bravery in the dialogue.) See note 42, below. The three instances of resistance to the city suggest that Socrates denied that the just and the legal are identical. See note 22, above.
28. The verb used by Socrates (32a) has, in this form and context, the meaning of “take up for burial.” But even if the word is rendered to include the rescue of living survivors, reference to the trial would remind of the intense religious passion which had led to the summary trial and execution of the victorious generals. See note 32, below.
Many of the Athenians present must have been familiar as well with the role played by the religious opinions, both of the people and of Nicias, in the disastrous Sicilian expedition a dozen or so years before. See note 37, below. Much could then have been salvaged for Athens even in defeat had Nicias accepted the doctrines of Anaxagoras alluded to earlier about the sun and the moon. (26c-d) Meletus is induced by Socrates to introduce the doctrines to any Athenian unfamiliar with them. See Thucydides, Peloponnesian War, VII, 50. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay X, note 7.
29. The Athenians are requested by Socrates to rebuke his sons, just as he had rebuked the Athenians. (41e) That is, they are to do on the basis of his request what he said he had done on the basis of an oracle. Thus, Socrates is to be for the Athenians what the god had been for him. See notes 36, 47, below. Perhaps Socrates saw a need for something to replace the gods whom natural philosophy and sophistry were undermining. See note 24, above, notes 36, 40, 49, below. (Had this need grown more acute because money and moneymaking had become more important for Athenians during his lifetime, thereby undermining even more the good old way?) Socrates does not say he believes the sun and moon to be other than stone and earth.
30. That is, they seek a name for themselves. See notes 34, 38, below. Still another means of securing immortality is through one’s children. But Socrates’ neglect of his family, as a result of his way of life, implies a disparagement of the very ties that many men take most seriously. Thus, unlike Odysseus, Socrates does not anticipate meeting his parents in Hades. See note 37, below. Compare note 40, below. His first reference to his three sons does concede something to the sensibilities of the members of the court. (34d-e) But the final reference to his children indicates that they require what the people generally require, that there is nothing special about them. (41d-e) He is more concerned about his true sons, the young men who are most like him. See note 21, above. If, on the other hand, one accepts the more commonplace view of the end of political life as that of securing pleasure, one must consider the significance of the reference to “the great king [of Persia].” This most exalted of public men is said rarely to enjoy any finer pleasure than the dreamless sleep which is available as well to the private man. (40d-e) Earlier Socrates had observed, “The unexamined life is not livable for a human being.” (38a)
31. Does he anticipate, however, that the name he will win can benefit the causes he serves? Plato, we should notice, is mentioned as present and is even set off from the other three sureties. (34a, 38b) It is Plato who presents the life and even the thought of Socrates in a dramatic form, in a form which is most likely to attract popular sympathy. See Plutarc, Nicias 538-539 (XXIII, 1-6) See, also, Note 46, below. Socrates, on the other hand, is too old to make up speeches like a youngster. (17c)
32. It is out of the opposition between these two men, with one championing constituted authority and the other personal merit, that the story of the Iliad develops. Socrates takes the second man as his model, at least in his attitude toward the prospect of death. (28c-d) Three other members of the largely anonymous army which conquered Troy are mentioned by name: two of them, Palamedes and Ajax, are destroyed during the campaign; the third, Odysseus, is much more than a warrior (he even has occasion, in the Odyssey, to be nameless [IX, 366, 408; compare IX, 504]). Socrates mentions the defeated Hector three times by name within a few sentences. (28c) The most illustrious heroic demigod is barely hinted at by a reference to his many labors. (22a) A great naval victory is recalled not by name but by reference to its shameful aftermath. (32b) See notes 28, 31, above, note 49, below.
33. In a sense, there are “old accusers” everywhere (for they are the many [19d]). No doubt the conviction in Athens would arouse suspicions against Socrates in many cities. See note 8, above. Thus, he seems to expect trouble from relatives of youths in all cities, even in those cities hostile to Athens and its institutions. (Do these relatives tend to be oligarchic in sympathy, since they are likely to be wealthy? [23c]) Nor is it decisive that no relative testified against Socrates in court: one may be as reluctant to admit publicly the corruption of a son or brother as of oneself. (33d) (Was Anytus a parent who overcame such reluctance?) Why, on the other hand, did not Socrates call any of these relatives to testify for him? Not only does he consider himself essentially self-sufficient, but a reliance primarily upon himself (except with respect to money [38b]) helps him to shape the proceedings into what he wants to make of them. See note 26, above. Socrates refers to seven young associates whose relatives are present at the trial, relatives who are (he says) all ready to aid him, “the man who corrupts and injures their relatives.” (34a) But with the exception of Crito, who had been singled out as of the same age and deme as Socrates, no relative of the young men volunteers to stand surety for the proposed thirty minas fine. (38b, 33e) Three of the four young men mentioned as present do volunteer. The omission of Aeschines from the list of volunteers, although he was present, invites an explanation. Perhaps he had no money. See note 41, below. Thus, of the seven families of Socratic associates, only three volunteered to contribute to the fine. The same proportion of the court voted for acquittal. There are more of the “many” than one suspects. (When death threatens upon disobedience to the oligarchy, Socrates stands entirely alone: five men had been ordered to fetch Leon from Salamis. [32c-d])
34. Socrates mentions only inquiries made of classes of men represented among the accusers. (Each of the accusers is angry with him on behalf of his class, not on behalf of the city as a whole. [23e] That is, each of them confuses the city’s interest with his own.) Socrates’ coupling of politicians and craftsmen in the person of Anytus (himself a tanner as well as a politican) reflects the democratic character of the regime. We are told about both the poets and the craftsmen that they make many fine things, but that they mistakenly think themselves wise in other matters as well. The poets, in addition, are unable to explain the meanings of the things they make. (22b-e) But we are not told of anything made by the politicans; nor are we told what form their pretensions to wisdom took. We suspect that the politicians were exposed as essentially dependent on mere rhetoric, that they did not posess any art or science of their own. This conjucture is induced by the fact that the presence of the rhetoricians among Socrates’ accusers is obviously not accounted for by him. We can imagine the terms of an attack upon rhetoric which would explain why rhetoricians were among the accusers of Socrates. (Hints of Socrates’ opinion about them are given in his opening comments about clever speakers. [17a-18a]) Can the celebrated city of Athens be considered “the fine things” made, or at least preserved, by the politicians? Thus, the politicians, despite their limitations, are useful—and this Socrates implicitly recognizes by not making public the precise nature of their deficiencies. See note 24, above. These deficiencies had been recently brought home to the Athenian people as a result of military disaster, civil strife and exile. A critique of the politicians implies a critique of the people as well: we recall that the greater the reputation a man had for wisdom, the more deluded Socrates found him to be. (22a) Only in the course of the examination of the politicians is hatred said to have been provoked among both the men questioned and the bystanders. (21d) This suggests the intimate relation between the politicians and public opinion, providing still another reasons why Socrates should not make more explicit here the peculiar deficiencies of the politicians.
35. Priests and oracles are likened to poets. The criticism leveled against the poets could be directed against oracles and priests as well. (22c) Socrates’ daemonic thing can also be regarded as a kind of divination—but it is something he is moved to reflect upon and thus to explain the meaning of. See note 51, below.
36. Socrates counsels the people not to destroy this gift of god: “another such is not likely to come to you.” (31a) We notice that the list of seven young associates which Socrates submits has Theodotus (“gift of god”) as the central name: it is observed of Theodotus, alone of the seven, that he is dead. (33e) See note 33, above, note 41, below. Socrates is so much a gift of the god that he neglects his own affairs. This neglect, he observes, is not human. (31b) Is it not divine? See note 29, above, See for the shift in emphasis from wisdom to virtue, note 27, above, note 46, below.
37. The four just men are “truly judges;” they “are said to sit in judgment” in Hades. (41a) Nothing is said of any punishments they impose. The attractions, not the terrors, of life beyond the grave are emphasized by Socrates here: he is more inclined to comfort his friends (to whom he addresses his remarks) than to confound his enemies. (39a-40e) These friends are concerned about what is to happen to Socrates very soon. The opponents, on the other hand, are told (by means of a prophecy) of retribution which will be visited upon them very soon. (39c-d) Justice delayed is justice denied, especially when dealing with men whose hopes and fears look to the immediate. Socrates’ account of his excursion through Hades (which reminds of the earlier account of his adventures in Athens) is truly poetic. He adds to the traditional set of just men established by the poets a man claimed by Attica—Triptolemus of Eleusis. See note 18, above. He is, in this respect, a subtly patriotic Athenian: perhaps this addition should be regarded as a tribute to, and reflection of, those members of the court who voted for him. The inclusion of Triptolemus could also be regarded as an affirmation of the institution of the Eleusinian mysteries, so critical to the life of Athens, which Alcibiades (a former associate of Socrates) was thought by many to have profaned. See note 42, below, note 28, above. See, on Socrates’ disreputable “students,” Apology 33a-b. Another poetic account of an excursion through Hades is the one which Homer has Odysseus describe. Odyssey, XI. Odysseus, too, could be said to have encountered four groups and to have conversed with five persons in Hades. There are mentioned in the Homeric account, if one includes Odysseus and Homer himself, six of the thirteen men whom Socrates mentions in Hades. Odysseus mentions about twice as many people by name as does Socrates, half of them women (some of whom tell him their stories, and one, his mother, with whom he converses). (His father is still alive.) See note 30, above, note 42, below. The impression of Hades which Odysseus conveys is not the serene one indicated by Socrates’ account, and not merely because he includes descriptions of the punishments exacted of Tantalus and Sisyphus. See note 39, below. A thorough study of the Apology would require a detailed comparison of Socrates’ account of Hades with the accounts of the poets, at least of the poets mentioned by Socrates. See note 41, below.
38. Only the poets are referred to entirely by name (that is, without reference to unnamed “others” as well). This suggest that one can speak of a fixed, known number of poets of this caliber. Thus, the poets, not the “countless others” (41c), are most likely to have the glory or fame of which men speak. Nothing is said about talking with the poets: the poets have already had their say. (Part of “their say” is about the men with whom Socrates does want to talk.) Nor is anything said about talking with the just men: they are characterized by their actions, not by their words.
39. Conspicuously absent from the names in Hades is that of the son of Thetis, the warrior king whose noble disregard of death Socrates had made so much of. (28c-d) See note 40, below. Odysseus, of whom Socrates reminds us both in this and in other respects (see note 37, above), had brought back from Hades a report which could be said to be a repudiation of the noble sentiments Thetis had heard from her son on earth. See Iliad, XVIII, 96-104. For the proud son of Thetis, who had while living (according to Socrates) made “light of death or danger” (28c, 28d), voiced a lament to Odysseus which it does not serve Socrates’ immediate purpose to encounter in Hades: “Nay, seek not to speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should chose, so that I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, of some portionless man whose livelihood was but small, rather than to be lord over all the dead who have perished.” Odyssey, XI, 488-91. Only the careful reader (the kind of reader who, for example, works his way through intricate footnotes) is expected to remember and to reflect upon the second thoughts about death reported elsewhere of Socrates’ noble model. The practical distinction we suggest (e.g, note 27, above, note 46, below) between virtue and wisdom may be reflected here in the distinction we suggest (e.g. note 27, above, note 46, below) between virtue and wisdom may be reflected here in the distinction between what the usual reader will see and what the careful reader will discern. Socrates contributes to the moral betterment of one and to the political instruction of the other. See notes 10, 13, above. He urges citizens (note 26, above) to be more humane (that is, more responsive to the guidance of philosophy); he urges the human being (that is, the seeker for wisdom) (note 52, below) to be more civic-minded. See note 20, above, on gentlemen and philosophers. We return to our illustration. The decisive quotation by Socrates from the song of Thetis (who explains to his mother why he must kill Hector) had been, “Straightway may I die, after exacting justice of the wrongdoer, that I may not stay here, a laughing-stock beside the curved ships, a burden upon the earth.” (28d) Two of the changes made by Socrates in the Homeric text (Iliad, XVIII, 96-104) should be noted: “a laughing-stock” is added and “useless” (before “burden”) is omitted. Each of these changes suggests questions. To what extent is the son of Thetis (or anyone else who is moved by glory) considered by Socrates to be unduly influenced by the opinion of the many? Would a younger Socrates, able to be of extended use by living either in Athens or in another city, have pursued another course in defending himself? See Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVI. In addition, the Homeric version emphasizes the terrible thing which had come to Patroclus (that is, death). Socrates mutes this feature of that version even as he has his model in nobility emphasize that Hector is to have justice exacted of him. These changes suggest that Socrates cannot endorse this hero simply as Homer persents him. We are further induced to wonder what Socrates thought of the justice of Athens in the three battles in which his own participation is recalled. Did not Athens lose more than it gained in those battles, thereby making less critical for him the problem of justice? See note 24, above. See, on death, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVII.
40. Although Socrates observes that all who have died are said to be in Hades, he does not anticipate meeting any philosophers there. (40e) Had he had sufficient contract with them in Athens? The inhabitants of Hades are from olden times, whereas philosophy seems to be recent. Athens, then, is superior to Hades in this respect. The poets who had peopled Hades in ancient times seem no longer to have the power to do so. Perhaps we see even in this change the challenge posed to the poets by the philosophers and the sophists. See note 5, above. Socrates is silent as well about oracles. Odysseus, on the other hand, talked with Teiresias, the man whom Circle described as the only one in Hades having understanding. Odyssey, X, 493-495. Is an oracle useful only to living men? (see note 51, below, on Socrates’ daemonic thing.) Had Socrates moved beyond any reliance on oracles? Or does his disregard of Teiresias in Hades suggest that Socrates never really relied upon oracles? Nor are any warriors to be sought out in Hades, except as they are either men unjustly treated or men reputed to be wise. Warriors, as warriors, are obsolete: they know nothing any longer of use, since men cannot be killed in Hades. (41c) See note 39, above. Are craftsmen equally useless in Hades? (Do not both warriors and craftsmen “minister” primarily to the body, that body in which mortality resides?)
41. We must reserve for another occasion our speculations about the other names in the Apology, as well as about a number of other problems which we can only touch upon here. See, e.g., note 37, above, note 51, below. Some patterns in the use of names may be impossible to work out satisfactorily today, even if one had perfect command of the Greek language, if only because several of the men mentioned are no longer well enough known. See note 33, above. We suggest for the reader’s consideration that appropriately central among the characters named in the first speech seem to be the son of Thetis, Thetis herself, Hector and Patroclus; in the second speech, “the god;” in the first speech, Musaeus and Hesiod. See note 13, above. (Is the decisive “combat” of the day in the first speech? In a sense, the central character of the central speech can be considered the central one for the three speeches.)
42. It is unlikely that we can improve at this time upon Aristophanes’ characterization of the distinctive contribution to mankind of each of the four poets, except to add that the agriculturally-minded Hesiod was also known for his account of the origin of the world and of the gods. This would reinforce Socrates’ interest in him. Triptolemus, Socrates’ nominee to the panel of judges, was revered as the founder of agriculture (and hence of civilization?). (The Eleusinian mysteries are thought to have been connected with this founding.) Socrates seems to share the civilized tendencies of both Hesiod and Triptolemus, to be more drawn to the human being than to the citizen. (The extreme version of the human being is the philosopher praised by Socrates; of the citizen, the warrior celebrated by Homer.) The political tendency of Socrates’ thought and character is moderate and pacific with respect to matters both of peace and of war. See notes 26, 27, 40, above. The less belligerent half of mankind is represented in this dialogue by three women (mortal and immortal) who speak truly: the Pythia at Delphi, Thetis, and Penelope. (21a, 28c-d, 34d; compare 35b) Socrates says he will speak to both men and women in Hades, although only men are named. (41c) See note 37, above, note 48, below.
43. Palamades was opposed by Odysseus and perhaps also by the leader of the army against Troy; Ajax considered both Odysseus and that leader his enemies after the arms of the song of Thetis had been awarded to Odysseus rather than to himself. Each of the four groups encountered by Socrates in Hades, aside from the just men (who are the judges there), include a man who had returned to earth after having been in Hades: Orpheus, Palamedes, and Odysseus.
44. One of the more prolonged uproars during the course of the trial comes when
Socrates likens the gods and his daemonic thing to horses and a mule. (27a-e) He is
obliged, at this point, to caution his listeners twice against interrupting him. (27b) See
note 24, above, note 47, below.
Mules, it should be noticed, cannot reproduce themselves; Socrates daemonic thing cannot be reproduced in others—it can only be replaced by something else. See note 51, below. (In any event, it should not be confused with what we now cater to as the conscience. See Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay VI, note 39.)
45. Is there not implied in the Socratic use of questions the assumption that an understanding of the whole is both necessary and virtually impossible for men to secure? That is, is it not true of all inquiries that the status of the answer one has depends on where one rests? Must we say that no matter what a man discovers, or how certain his conclusions appear, the next inquiry (so long as he does not know “all”) may undermine or radically affect those conclusions? Is this why Socrates insists he does not know anything? What he does seem to know is the elusive quality of the truth as well as the superiority of wisdom to folly. (22e) The elusiveness is conveyed to the reader who attempts an interpretation of a Platonic dialogue. (See notes 1, 13, above. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay XVI.) But does Socrates agree with the statement he attributes to the god, that human wisdom is of little or no value? (23a) See note 25, above. (Consider Democritus, Fr. 169: “Do not try to understand everything, lest you thereby become ignorant of everything.”)
Socrates’ approaches each problem as if it were entirely new, as if it had never been considered before (as in the exchange with Callias [20a]). Socrates always asks questions—this indicates that he does not know; he is very good at asking questions—this indicates what he does know. See Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, pp. 477-78. See, also, ibid., Essay IV, note 13, Essay VI, note 42. We should notice that the traditional accounts of the reasons for Sisyphus’ punishment (having to roll uphill a huge stone which, just as soon as it reaches the top, always rolls down again) include his betrayal of the designs of the gods and his revelation to a father that Zeus had carried off his daughter. We are reminded of the charges against Socrates. (We should also notice that Sisyphus is considered in some accounts the father of Odysseus. Some say his punishment followed his apprehension after having practiced a deception which permitted him to escape from Hades. Would Socrates need to talk to anyone else in Hades once he has talked with Sisyphus? See notes 37, 43, above.)
46. This is Socrates’ only conversation (recorded by Plato) with the Athenian people, a dialogue in which the interlocutor responds with disturbances and votes. See notes 22, 44, above. The democratic attitudes of his audience no doubt influenced Socrates to make as much as he does on this occasion both of Chaerephon and of the oracle. See notes 20, 21, above. Chaerephon is the ground on which Socrates and the democracy can meet. (21a) See note 26, above, note 52, below. Had Chaerephon, despite his impulsiveness, by the very fact of friendship, served to protect Socrates against the harsher democrats? But Chaerephon is dead. (See, for an oligarchic “prosecution,” Xenophon, Memorabilia, I, ii, 31-38. See, also, Essay XVI, note 9, below.) The occasion may also explain why Socrates stresses his exhortations about virtue (insofar as these can be distinguished from inquiries about wisdom). He thereby displays himself as useful in terms the city can appreciate (for the city prefers deeds to words [32a]). How much time Socrates spent in the market place, or as a gadfly, remains a problem. His concern for virtue is reflected in both his conversations (exhortations) and his actions (resistance to the city’s demands). But we recall that he happened to meet Callias (20a) and to be a member of the Prytaneum at the time of the trial of the generals (32b). (And one’s native city, too, is likely to be the result of chance.) On the other hand, Socrates seeks out, in order to examine them, those reputed to be wise, both contemporary and ancient. (We assume here a practical distinction between wisdom and virtue, even though ultimately the truly virtuous must be wise: that is, he must know what he is doing, which means that he must know what is. See notes 27, 39, above.)
47. The Hades referred to is a place, not the god. But since Minos, Rhadamanthus and Aeacus are sons of Zeus, the existence of gods is implied (just as are the parents of mules [27b-e])? See note 44, above. Had priests of Delphi somehow divined that Socrates was the most restrained of the “philosophers” arising in their world? (Compare 23a-b.) The refusal of the people of Athens to credit the oracle of Delphi with respect to Socrates suggests one difficulty in preserving the gods of the city. Did the ancient poets remain the only reliable authority about these gods? See note 29, above.
48. “Earth” (Ge, Gaea) comes first only in the coupling with “heaven” (Ouranos). (19c; compare 18b, 23d.) This can be taken to suggest that Mother Earth is older than Ouranos, perhaps even that men and their cities may be older than all the gods except Gaea. See note 7, above. But would not the male element take precedence in the later Zeus-Hera coupling? (And is not maleness more evident in the life of the city and in war, in the citizen rather than in the human being?) Hera is invoked in a context where “helpers” abound. (25a) See note 42, above. There is no mention of Poseidon, Athena or Hephaestus, the gods most intimately associated with Athens. (Compare 28c: Thetis) The invocation of “the dog” (21e)—of an animal which is both intelligent and man-loving—suggests a principle of authority, perhaps even of divinity, beyond the sometimes aloof, and even harsh, “gods of the city.” (This invocation is resorted to when Socrates ventures to report the unpopular fact that the greater the reputation a man had in the city for wisdom, the more deluded Socrates found him to be.) Almost all of Socrates’ oaths piously invoke the accredited gods of the city. (26b) But he allows himself to be carried away into invoking as well the dog-faced god of Egypt, a god evidently not prescribed by his city. That is, Socrates is incorrigible.
49. Should the concluding passage be read with a skeptical “unless” rather than an assertive “except”? “But now the time has come to go away, I to die and you to live; which of us goes to the better lot is known to none except [unless?] to the god.” In any event, the god which emerges in Socrates’ account, the unnamed god, does not depend on the poets. Socrates abstracts this god from what he knows of the world. A named god, on the other hand, brings with him his peculiar history, a history which may even include lying and the harming of good men (and amorous adventures [27d]). Thus, the reason for not naming this figure may be different from the reason for not naming the two great political figures. See note 32, above. Are the gods of the city “many,” with the shortcomings of the many? But it may be impossible, except among the most favored people shaped by unusual circumstances, for the poets to make any other gods, and particularly a single god, steadily attractive to the many. Thus, these gods, as gods of the city, may be irreplaceable, whatever names they are given from time to time. Any people who dispense with “the gods of the city” may be driven to deify some other image of themselves—rulers or forefathers or the laws of nature or even “the laws of history.” See notes 6, 21, 25, 29, above. See, also, Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, Essay IV, note 47, Essay VI, note 51, below.
50. The city, if it could have risen above its prejudices, would have shown there was no need for Socrates’ sacrifice. Perhaps it would not have been unjust to find him guilty of not acknowledging the gods of the city and then to fine him thirty minas. Since most men are fond of money, including (presumably) those who teach for money, this punishment would have restrained many of those whom one might want to restrain without in any way harming Socrates. Those who voted for conviction could have done so consistently with some such respectable opinion of their civic duty; but to vote for the death sentence in these circumstances reveals inhumanity or ignobility. See Anastaplo, Human Being and Citizen, notes 3, 16, 39, above. See, also, ibid., Essay IV, note 47. Are we not, on the other hand, the beneficiaries of this injustice, an injustice which led to the decisive dramatic formulation of the proper relation between philosophy and the city? See note 31, above.
51. One feature of the negative character of the daemonic thing is that Socrates may, at any time and unknown to him, be left alone in great crisis. That is, he cannot be certain from moment to moment that his monitor is still active. Is this one reason why he must examine and explain what it does and does not do? The daemonic thing is referred to as a voice (or cry), not as speech. It does not give reasons: it seems to concern itself not with justice (which implies reasons) but with the unforeseeable effects of what Socrates is about to do or say. It is more like the muse than like reason. Perhaps this, or an equivalent, is necessary for someone such as Socrates, who has no great instinctive “love of life.” (37c) See note 40, above. See, also, note 44, above. Had others before Socrates, similar to him in all respects but this endowment, been destroyed early in their careers, either in trying to right injustices beyond their power to affect or in pursuing the truth in a manner which is dangerous? The difficulty scholars have had in explaining Socrates’ daemonic thing may confirm that it is something unique to him: others have no experience of it. In any event, Socrates’ uniqueness is testified to even by his enemies: only he, of all the Athenians, “corrupts the youth.” (25a)
52. Leo Strauss, “How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed,” Introductory Essay, in Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, tr. S. Pines (Chicago: University of Chicago Press 1963), p. lvi. See, also, Leo Strauss, (1) On Tyranny, An Interpretation of Xenophon’s “Hiero” (New York: Political Science Classics, 1948; reissued, Glencoe: The Free Press, 1950); (2) Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1972), pp. 16-17, 24-25, 36-37, 105-107; (3) “Plato,” in Leo Strauss and Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1963), pp. 7, 17, 22, 29, 30-31, 33, 37, 39-40, 60-61; (4) Socrates and Aristophanes (New York: Basic Books, 1966); (5) “The Liberalism of Classical Political Philosophy,” The Review of Metaphysics (March 1959), pp. 393, 401-406, 425-426; (6) What Is Political Philosophy? (Glencoe: The Free Press, 1959), pp. 38-40, 91-94, 112-113, 119-122, 126-133; (7) The City and Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964), pp. 37-38, 50-62, 77-78. See, also, Anastaplo, “On Leo Strauss: A Yahrzeit Remembrance,” 67 University of Chicago Magazine 30 (Winter 1974). Compare 17 Modern Age 93 (Winter 1973). But see 16 Revue Francaise de Science Politique 115 (Feb. 1966); 61 American Political Science Review 683 (Sept. 1967). [A 2010 Recollection: Leo Strauss, upon reading my Apology essay in his 1964 Festschrift, telephoned me at once (it was well after midnight) to commend it, but not without observing that some of the points made in my notes may have been better in the text. When I suggested that I had, in my use of notes, followed a worthy model, he immediately replied that what he did was quite different.]
* This essay was originally published in Ancients and Moderns: Essays on the Tradition of Political Philosophy, in Honor of Leo Strauss, Joseph Cropsey, editor (New York: Basic Books, 1964), p.16. Changes have been made in it since then. The citations in the text are to Plato’s Apology of Socrates.