The trial of Socrates occurred in spring of the year 399 BC. He was judged by a jury of 501 Athenian men. In voting on the penalty they had to choose between the two punishments offered by the prosecution and the defendant. Little is known of his three accusers except that Anytus had been a general and recently active in overthrowing the oligarchy of the Thirty. Plato was a witness at the trial, though his account may have been written some time later by memory.
This has been published in the WISDOM BIBLE as a book. For ordering information, please click here.
1. Manner of Speaking
18. Socrates a Gadfly
How you, Athenian men, have been affected by my accusers,
I do not know;
but even I myself have almost forgotten myself,
so persuasively did they speak;
and yet they have spoken hardly anything of the truth.
But of the many lies they told
I was especially surprised by this one
in which they said you need to be on guard
so that you will not be deceived by me,
because I am a clever speaker.
For they ought to be ashamed
because this will be immediately refuted by me in fact,
when I do not show myself to be a clever speaker at all;
this seemed to me to be their most shameless statement,
unless they call those speakers clever who speak the truth;
for if they mean this, then I would agree,
not in their way, that I am an orator.
Thus they, as I say, have spoken little or no truth;
but you shall hear from me the whole truth.
Yet not by Zeus, Athenian men,
embellished meanings like theirs,
nor carefully arranged phrases and words,
but you will hear random meanings as the words occur;
for I believe that my plea is just,
and none of you should expect anything else.
For surely it is not fitting, men, for me at my age
to come before you like a youth making up words.
Yes, and sincerely, Athenian men,
I ask and request of you this:
if you hear me defending myself with the same words
that I am accustomed to saying
both in the marketplace and at the tables,
where many of you have heard me, and elsewhere,
do not be surprised nor interrupt on this account.
For the fact is, being seventy years old,
now is the first time I have come up before the court;
thus I am completely a stranger to the speech here.
Therefore as if I happened actually to be a stranger,
you would surely excuse me
if I spoke in that dialect and manner
in which I had been brought up,
and so now I ask you this,
a fair request as it seems to me,
that you disregard the manner of my speech--
for perhaps it might be worse, perhaps better--
but observe only this and consider this:
whether I say what is just or not;
for that is the virtue of the judge,
and the orator's is to say the truth.
First then it is right that I defend myself, Athenian men,
against the first false accusations against me
and the first accusers,
and then against those of the later ones.
For many accusers have come against me before you,
and long ago, for many years now, and saying nothing true;
I fear them more than those around Anytus,
although these also are dangerous;
but those are more dangerous, men,
who, educating many of you from childhood,
were persuading you and accusing me with no truth,
"There is a certain Socrates, a wise man,
who thinks about heavenly things
and examines everything under the earth
and makes the worse argument better."
These, Athenian men, who spread about this report
are my dangerous accusers.
For those hearing them believe
that such seekers do not acknowledge the gods.
Next these accusers are many
and have been making accusations for a long time already,
and furthermore saying them to you
at an age in which you would especially believe
(being children and some of you youths),
completely defaulted accusations, with no one defending.
Most unreasonable of all,
no one can know and speak their names,
unless he happens to be a comic poet.
So many persuaded you using envy and slander---
also the same persuaded persuaded others---
all these are difficult;
for it is not possible to call them up here
nor to cross-examine any of them,
but of complete necessity
it is like fighting shadows in defense
and cross-examining with no one answering.
You will consider then also, as I say,
that my accusers are of two kinds---
some who are just now accusing,
and others I say that are long ago,
and consider that I must first defend myself against those;
for you heard them accusing first,
and much more than these later ones.
Well, now the defense, Athenian men,
and the attempt to remove from you the prejudice,
which you acquired over a long time,
I must do this in a short time.
Thus I wish that this would happen so,
if it is better for both you and me,
and that I might accomplish something more in my defense;
I know this is difficult,
and I am not at all deluded about its nature.
Yet may this go as it is pleasing to God,
and obeying the law I make my defense.
Therefore let us take up from the beginning,
what the accusation is from which the prejudice has come,
in which Meletus also believed
in writing this indictment against me.
Well, what prejudice are the slanderers saying?
Therefore just as the charge of the accusers was,
theirs must be read:
"Socrates wrongs and meddles
by seeking the things under the earth and in the heavens
and making the worse argument better
and teaching others these things."
Such is what it is.
For you saw these also yourselves
in the comedy of Aristophanes,
a certain Socrates being carried about there,
claiming to walk on air and babbling much other nonsense,
about which I understand nothing, neither much nor little.
And not as one dishonoring such knowledge do I say this,
if anyone is wise about these things;
may I never have to flee from Meletus on these charges!
But the fact is, Athenian men,
I have nothing to do with these things.
I offer as witnesses most of yourselves,
and I ask you to teach and point out to each other,
those who have ever heard me discussing,
and there are many of you,
then point out to each other,
if ever, whether little or much,
some of you heard me discussing these things;
and from this you will understand
that such are also the other things that many say about me.
However, there is nothing in any of this,
nor if someone has heard that I attempt to teach people
and make money, neither is this true.
Even though this seems to me to be fine,
if someone could teach people
as do Gorgias of Leontini and Prodicus of Ceos
and Hippias of Elis.
For each of these, men, is able to go into each of the cities
to the young, who may for free
associate with whomever they wish among their citizens,--
these they persuade to abandon those associations
to associate with themselves, paying money and giving thanks.
Also another wise man is the Parian here,
whom I perceived to be in town;
for I happened to meet a man, Callias, the son of Hipponicus,
who has spent more money on sophists than all others,
So I asked him---for he has two sons---
"Callias," I said, "if your two sons were colts or calves,
we should be able to find and hire an overseer for them,
who would make them fine and good in the appropriate virtue;
and this would be a horse-trainer or farmer.
But now since they are human,
who do you have in mind to find for them as overseer?
Who is skilled in this human and political virtue?
For I think you have looked, because you have two sons.
Is there someone?" I asked, "or not?"
"Certainly," he said.
"Who?" I asked, "and from where?
and for how much does he teach?"
"Evenus," he said, "Socrates,
the Parian, for five minae."
And I blessed Evenus,
if truly he has this art and teaches so reasonably.
Thus I myself too would be proud and conceited
if I had this skill;
however, I am not skilled, Athenian men.
Therefore some of you perhaps might wonder,
"But Socrates, what is the matter with you?
From where have these slanders against you arisen?
For clearly not from your not doing anything unusual
does this fame and rumor arise,
if you do not do something other than the many?
Therefore tell us what it is,
so that we may not judge you hastily."
Those saying this seem right to me,
and I shall try to prove to you
what this is that has given me this name and slander.
And probably I will seem to some of you to be playing,
yet know well, I will tell you the whole truth.
For I, Athenian men, have acquired this name
on account of nothing other than a kind of wisdom.
What then is this wisdom?
Just that which is perhaps human wisdom.
For in reality I may be wise in this;
and these about whom I spoke just now
possibly may be wise in something greater than human wisdom,
or I don't know what to say;
for I do not understand it,
and whoever says so lies and tells a slander against me.
And, Athenian men, do not interrupt me,
even if I seem to you to be boasting;
for the word I will speak is not mine,
but I refer you to the words of someone trustworthy.
For my wisdom and its nature, if it is wisdom,
I offer to you as a witness the god at Delphi.
For you surely know Chaerephon.
He was my friend from youth and a friend of your people,
and he fled with the exile and returned with you.
Also you know how Chaerephon was,
how impetuous in whatever he undertook.
And once he went to Delphi and dared to ask the oracle this:
(and, I say again, don't interrupt, men;)
for he asked if anyone was wiser than I.
Then the Pythian priestess answered that no one was wiser.
And since he has died,
his brother will testify about this to you,
Consider why I say these things;
for I intend to teach you how the slander against me arose.
For when I heard these things, I thought to myself:
"Whatever is the god saying, and what is the riddle?
For I myself am not aware of having any wisdom,
neither great nor little;
so whatever does it mean declaring me to be the wisest?
for clearly it does not lie, not this divine oracle."
And for a long time I was uncertain as to what it meant;
then very reluctantly I began to search somewhat as follows.
I went to one of those seeming to be wise,
because there, if anywhere, I should refute the divination
and show to the oracle, "This one is wiser than I,
but you said it was me."
So examining this one,---for I should not tell his name,
but he was one of the politicians in whose presence
I had this kind of experience, Athenian men,---
and discussing with him this man seemed to be wise
to many other people and especially to himself,
but it seemed to me not to be so;
and then I tried to show him
that he thought he was wise, but he was not.
So as a result I was hated by him
and by many of those present;
and so going away I said to myself,
"I am wiser than this person;
for it is likely that neither of us
knows anything good and beautiful,
but he thinks he knows something not knowing,
while I, as one who does not know, do not think that I do.
Therefore I went away from him
being a little wiser in just this respect,
that what I do not know I do not think that I know."
From there I went to another of those
who seemed to be wiser than he,
and to me these things seemed the same;
and there I was hated by that one and by many others.
After this then I went to one after another
perceiving that I was hated and grieving and fearful,
yet it seemed to be necessary
to make the divine most important.
Thus I had to go, considering what the oracle means,
to all who seem to know.
And by the dog, Athenian men---
for it is necessary to tell you the truth---
amen, I experienced something like this:
the ones the most esteemed
seemed to me to be almost the most deficient,
in searching according to the god,
but others less esteemed
were more reasonable men in being sensible.
I must describe to you
my wandering as some laboring labors
so that to me also the oracle might be proven irrefutable.
For after the politicians
I went to the poets of tragedies and songs and other things,
since I would find myself detected
as being less learned than they are.
So taking up their poems
which seemed to me especially perfected by them,
I asked them what they mean,
so that at the same time I might learn something from them.
Thus I am ashamed to tell you, men, the truth;
but nevertheless it must be said.
For there was hardly anyone of all those present
who did not speak better on their very own compositions.
So again concerning the poets I soon became aware of this,
that what they wrote they wrote not by wisdom,
but by nature and being inspired
as are the seers and diviners;
for these also say many beautiful things,
but understand nothing of what they are saying;
such experience it appeared to me
the poets had also experienced.
At the same time I observed
that on account of their poetry they too
thought themselves in other things to be the wisest people,
which they were not.
Thus I went away also from there in the same way
thinking I surpassed them as well as the politicians.
So finally I went to the artisans.
For I was aware of knowing nothing myself, so to speak,
but I knew that I might find them knowing many fine things.
And in this I was not deceived,
because they did know what I did not,
and in this they were wiser than I.
However, Athenian men, it seemed to me
that the workers also have the same fault as the poets;
on account of performing the skill well
each claimed also to be wise in other important matters,
and this false note of theirs obscured that wisdom,
so that I asked myself on behalf of the oracle,
whether I should choose to be just as I am,
neither wise in their wisdom nor ignorant in their ignorance,
or to have both of what they have.
Thus I replied to myself and the oracle
that it is better for me to be as I am.
Out of this examination, Athenian men,
arose against me many enmities which are harsh and severe,
so that many slanders came from them,
and this reputation of being wise is spoken.
For each time those present think I am wise
in these things in which I refute others;
but the fact is, men, in reality God is wise,
and in this oracle it is saying,
"Human wisdom is worth little or nothing."
Also this appears to say Socrates,
to use my name, making an example of me,
as if it were saying,
"This one of you, humans, is the wisest, who like Socrates
is aware that in truth his wisdom is worth nothing."
Therefore I am still even now going around
searching and inquiring according to the god,
of both citizens and strangers, who I think are wise;
and when one seems to me not so,
aiding the god I point out that they are not wise.
And because of this occupation
there is no leisure worth mentioning for me
to attend to the business of the city nor of the household,
but I am in extensive poverty on account of serving the god.
In addition to these things, the youth accompanying me,
who have much leisure, sons of the wealthiest,
delight in hearing people examined,
and they often imitate me, and proceed to examine others;
and then, I think, they find a great many people
who think they know something, but know little or nothing.
So then those examined by them become angry at me,
instead of themselves, and they say,
"This is that damned Socrates who corrupts the youth."
And when someone asks them what he is doing and teaching,
they have nothing to say, but don't know,
but so that they may not seem to be confused,
they say things that are handy against all the philosophers,
"the things heavenly and below the earth"
and "not believing in gods"
and "making the worse argument better."
For the truth, I think, which they don't want to say,
is that it is being made clear
that they are claiming to know, but they know nothing.
So, I think, being ambitious and stubborn and many
and speaking vehemently and persuasively about me,
they have filled your ears both formerly and now
with violent slanders.
Out of these Meletus attacked me, also Anytus and Lycon,
Meletus annoyed on behalf of the poets,
Anytus on behalf of the artisans and politicians,
and Lycon on behalf of the orators;
so that, as I said at first, I should be surprised
if I were able to remove this prejudice from you
in so short a time that has become so great.
There you have the truth, Athenian men,
and concealing nothing large nor small,
I tell you without holding anything back.
And yet I know pretty well
that I am making myself hated by these same things;
and this is a sign that I say the truth
and this is the prejudice against me
and these are its causes.
And if you investigate this now or later,
you will find it so.
So concerning the accusations of my first accusers
against me, this is enough defense for you;
but against Meletus the good and patriotic, as he says,
and the later ones, I shall try to defend myself next.
Once more, as these are other accusers,
let us take up their affidavit.
It goes something like this:
It says that Socrates does wrong by corrupting the youth
and by not believing in the gods the state believes in,
but in other new gods.
Such is the charge,
but let us examine each one of the charges.
He says that I do wrong by corrupting the youth.
But I, Athenian men, say that Meletus does wrong,
because in a serious matter he jokes
by frivolously bringing lawsuits against people,
claiming to be serious and concerned about these things
which he has never cared about.
That this is so I will also try to make clear to you.
And tell me here, Meletus, is it not so
that you consider it important
how the youth are to be most improved?
Come now, tell them who makes them better,
for clearly you know, since you care.
For you have found out who corrupts them, as you said,
you bring me before this court and accuse me;
now come tell who makes them better,
and inform these who it is.
Do you see, Meletus, that you are silent
and have nothing to say?
Yet does it not seem to you to be shameful
and a sufficient indication of what I say,
that you don't care at all?
But speak, good one, who makes them better?
But this is not what I asked, excellent one,
but what person, who first knows even this thing, the laws.
"These, Socrates, the judges."
What are you saying, Meletus?
Are they able to educate the youth and make them better?
Which, all? Or some of them and not others?
Well said, by Hera,
and you speak of a great abundance of helpers.
What about these?
Do the listeners make them better or not?
And what about the senators?
"Also the senators."
do the members of the assembly corrupt the youth?
Or do they also all make them better?
So all Athenians, as it seems, make them fine and good,
except me, but I alone corrupt them.
Is this what you mean?
"I mean it very seriously."
You condemn me to great misfortune.
And answer me:
does it also seem to you to be thus concerning horses?
Are all people making them better,
but a certain one is corrupting them?
Or is it the opposite of this all,
a certain one who makes them better,
or very few, the horse-trainers;
but most if they deal with and use horses,
do they not injure them?
Is this not so, Meletus,
both concerning horses and all other animals?
Surely it is, whether you and Anytus say yes or no.
For what a great blessing it would be for the youth
if one alone corrupts them, while the others help them.
But Meletus, you demonstrate well enough
that you never consider the youth,
and you show clearly your carelessness,
that you have not cared at all about the things
on which you bring me into court.
Furthermore tell us, in the name of Zeus, Meletus,
which is better, to live among good citizens or bad ones?
My friend, answer; for I am not asking anything difficult.
Do not the bad work some evil always to those nearest them,
but the good some good?
Then is there anyone who wishes to be harmed by associates
rather than be helped?
Answer, good one; for the law requires you to answer.
Is there anyone who wishes to be harmed?
"Of course not."
Then do you bring me here into court
for corrupting the youth and making them worse
intentionally or unintentionally?
"Intentionally, I say."
What then, Meletus?
Are you so much wiser at your age than I at my age,
that you have recognized that the evil work some evil
always to those nearest them, and the good some good;
while I have become so unlearned that I am ignorant of this,
that, if I make any of my associates wicked,
I am in danger of receiving something evil from one,
so that I do evil such as this intentionally, as you say?
I am not persuaded of these things by you, Meletus,
and I don't think any other person is either;
but either I do not corrupt,
or if I do corrupt, then unintentionally,
so that either way you are lying.
But if I corrupt unintentionally,
for such involuntary errors
the law is not to bring one into court here,
but to take one privately to teach and admonish him;
for clearly if I learn I will stop what I do unintentionally.
but you avoided associating with me and would not teach me,
and brought me here,
where the law is to bring those needing punishment,
But now, Athenian men, this is clear what I said,
that Meletus never cared much nor little about these things.
Nevertheless tell us now how it is
you say I corrupt the youth, Meletus?
Or is it evident that,
according to the indictment which was written,
it is by teaching them not to believe in the gods
which the state believes in, but in other new divinities?
Do you not say that by teaching these things I corrupt them?
"Yes, I definitely say these things."
Well then, before these very gods, Meletus,
of whom we are now speaking,
explain even more clearly both to me and these men.
For I am unable to learn whether you mean
that I teach them to believe there are some gods,
and I myself then believe that there are some gods,
and I am not a complete atheist nor wronging in that way--
not those however of the state, but different,
and this is what you accuse me of, that they are different;
or whether you say I myself do not believe in the gods at all
and teach these things to others.
"I mean the latter,
that you do not believe in the gods at all."
You surprise me, Meletus; why do you say this?
Then do I not believe that the sun and moon are gods,
like other people do?
"No, by Zeus, he does not, judges,
since he says that the sun is a stone, and the moon earth."
Do you think you are accusing Anaxagoras, dear Meletus,
and do you so despise them and think they are unlettered,
that they do not know
that the books of Anaxagoras of Clazomenae
are full of these ideas?
And what is more, the youth learn these things from me,
which it is possible at times, if too much,
to buy for a drachma from the theatre, laughing at Socrates,
even if he claims they are his own,
especially since they are so absurd.
But before Zeus, does this seem to you
that I am not believing in any god?
"No, by Zeus, none, not in the least."
You are unbelievable, Meletus,
and even, as you seem to me, to yourself.
For he seems to me, Athenian men,
to be very insolent and reckless,
and actually to have written this indictment
out of some youthful insolence and recklessness.
For it is like composing a riddle for a test:
Will the wise Socrates understand my game
and my contradictory meaning,
or will I deceive him and the other listeners?
For this he says appears to me to be the opposite
of what is in his indictment,
as if he were saying,
Socrates is wrong not believing in gods,
but believing in gods.
And yet this is jesting.
Consider then, men, what it appears to me he is saying,
and you answer us, Meletus;
and you people, as I asked you at the beginning,
remember not to interrupt me
if I make the argument in my accustomed manner.
Is there a person, Meletus,
who believes there are human things,
but does not believe there are people?
Let him answer, men,
and do not let him interrupt in one way or another.
Is there anyone who does not believe in horses,
but believes in the business of horsemen?
Or who does not believe there are flute-players,
but believes in the business of flute-players?
There is not, excellent man;
if you do not wish to answer,
I say it for you and these others.
But answer at least this:
Is there anyone who believes there are divine things,
but does not believe in divinities?
"There is not."
Thanks for answering reluctantly by compulsion of these.
Then you say I both believe in and teach divinities,
whether new or old;
but then I believe in divinities according to your meaning,
and you also swore this in your indictment.
But if I believe in divinities,
surely I must also believe in the divine.
Is this not so?
It is; for I assume you agree, since you do not answer.
But do we not think that
divinities are either gods or children of gods?
Do you say yes or no?
Then if I believe in divinities, as you say,
if divinities are gods,
this would be the riddle and game I mention,
you are saying that not believing in gods
I believe in gods again, since I believe in divinities.
If on the other hand, divinities are bastard children
from nymphs or from any others, whoever they are said to be,
what person would think there are children of gods,
but not gods?
For it would be just as absurd
as if one thought there are children of horses and asses,
namely mules, but did not think there are horses and asses.
But Meletus, surely you are testing us writing this charge
or else you doubt you could blame me with a real crime.
You cannot persuade any person having even small intelligence
that it is possible for the same person
to believe in both divinities and deities
and at the same time not the divine nor gods nor heroes;
there is no way.
But really, Athenian men,
as I am not wrong according to Meletus' charge,
it does not seem to me to be much defense,
but even these things are enough.
And what I said before,
how much hatred there is against me and from many people,
you well know what is the truth.
And this is what will convict me, if I am convicted,
not Meletus nor Anytus, but the prejudice and envy of many.
What has also convicted many other good men,
I know will convict again;
and there is no danger of it stopping with me.
Then perhaps someone might say,
"Then are you not ashamed, Socrates,
of following such a pursuit
from which you are now in danger of being executed?"
But to this I should make a just argument,
"You do not speak well, sir, if you think a man,
in whom there is even small merit,
must consider danger of life or death,
rather than looking at this alone,
whenever he acts, whether he does right or wrong
and the works of a good or evil man.
"For in your argument
the demigods who died at Troy would be mean,
and especially the son of Thetis,
who so despised danger compared to undergoing disgrace,
that when his mother, being a goddess,
spoke to his eagerness to kill Hector,
something like this, I think,
'Child, if you avenge the death of your friend Patroclus
and kill Hector, you yourself shall die;
for at once,' she said, 'after Hector your fate is ready.'
"But having heard this, he made little of death and danger,
but feared much more a cowardly life
which would not avenge his friends,
'At once,' he said, 'may I die,
after putting justice on the wrongdoer,
so that I may not remain here laughed at
by the curved ships, a burden on the land.'
Do you think he thought of death and danger?"
For there you have the truth, Athenian men;
wherever someone stations himself, believing it is best,
or stationed by his leader, he must be there,
as it seems to me, remaining without considering
either danger or death or anything else before disgrace.
Therefore I should have done a terrible thing,
Athenian men, if---
when the commanders stationed me,
whom you chose to command me,
both at Potidaea and at Amphipolis and also Delium,
I remained where they stationed me like anyone else,
even in danger of death,
and being stationed by the god, as I thought and understood,
I must live loving wisdom
and examining myself and others,---
I were to leave the station at this point
out of fear of either death or any other business whatsoever.
It would be terrible,
and truly then someone might justly bring me into court,
because I do not believe there are gods,
disobeying the oracle and afraid of death
and thinking myself wise when I am not.
For to be afraid of death, men,
is nothing other than seeming to be wise when one is not;
for it is seeming to know what one does not know.
For no one knows whether death
happens to be the greatest good of all for a person,
but it is feared as if one knows well
that it is the greatest of all evils.
And is this ignorance not the most reprehensible
which thinks one knows what one does not?
But I, men, on this point also perhaps
differ from most people in that,
even if I were to say that I am wiser, it would be in this,
that not knowing enough about Hades,
so also I do not think I know.
But to wrong and disobey the best, both divine and human,
that I know is evil and shameful.
Thus before the evils which I know are evil
I shall never fear nor flee what I don't know
since it may happen to be good.
So if you acquit me now, unconvinced by Anytus,
who said either I should not have been brought here at all
or, since I was brought, it was necessary to execute me,
saying before you that, if I were acquitted
your sons will all be completely corrupted
by pursuing what Socrates teaches---
if you were to say to me in addition,
"Socrates, now we are not convinced by Anytus,
but acquit you, on this condition however that you no longer
in this way seek to discuss nor philosophize;
and if you are caught doing this again, you shall die."
Then if, as I said,
you were to acquit me on this condition,
I should say to you, "Athenian men, I respect and love you,
but I shall obey the god rather than you,
and while I breathe and am able, I shall not stop
philosophizing and urging you and demonstrating
whenever I happen to meet you, saying as I am accustomed,
'Best of men, being an Athenian of the greatest city
and famous for wisdom and power,
are you not ashamed caring for money,
how it is for you the most important,
and reputation and honor,
but you do not care and think about intelligence and truth
and the soul, how it is the best?'
"And if any of you objects and says he does care,
I shall not let him go at once, nor shall I go away,
but I shall question and examine and test him,
and if it seems to me that he does not possess virtue,
but only appears to, I shall reproach him
for making the things most worthy of importance least,
and the worst things most important.
"I shall do these things to both the young and old,
whenever I happen to meet them,
and to stranger and citizen, but especially the citizens,
as you are more nearly related to me.
For know well God commands these things,
and I think that no greater good has ever come to the city
than my service to the god.
For I go around doing nothing else than persuading you
both young and old not to care about the body nor money
more seriously than for the soul, how it is most virtuous,
saying, 'Virtue does not come from money,
but from virtue money and every other good thing
for people both individually and collectively.'
"Thus if saying these things I corrupt the youth,
these things would be harmful;
but if someone says that I mean anything other than this,
it has no meaning.
In reference to this, I would say, Athenians,
either be convinced by Anytus or not,
and acquit or not acquit,
but I will not do anything else,
not even if I have to die many times."
Do not interrupt, Athenian men,
but hold to what I requested of you,
not to interrupt what I say, but listen;
for surely I think you will benefit by listening.
For I intend now to say some other things to you,
at which you will perhaps cry out;
but by no means do this.
For know well, if you kill me, I being what I say,
you will not do greater harm to me than to yourselves;
for neither Meletus nor Anytus will harm me; they cannot;
for I do not think that it is divine will
for a better man to be harmed by a worse.
He might kill however or perhaps banish or disenfranchise;
but by these things perhaps he and some others
might think somehow this is a great evil,
but I don't think so,
rather a much greater one is what he is doing now,
attempting to put a man to death unjustly.
So now, Athenian men, more than on my own behalf
must I defend myself, as some may think, but on your behalf,
so that you may not make a mistake
concerning the gift of god by condemning me.
For if you kill me,
you will not easily find another such person at all,
even if to say in a ludicrous way,
attached on the city by the god,
like on a large and well-bred horse, by its size and laziness
both needing arousing by some gadfly;
in this way the god seems to have fastened me on the city,
some such one who arousing and persuading
and reproaching each one of you
I do not stop the whole day settling down all over.
Thus such another will not easily come to you, men,
but if you believe me, you will spare me;
but perhaps you might possibly be offended,
like the sleeping who are awakened,
striking me, believing Anytus, you might easily kill,
then the rest of your lives you might continue sleeping,
unless the god caring for you should send you another.
That I happen to be such
who is given by the god to the city,
you may understand from this:
for it does not seem human
that I have neglected all my own affairs
and enduring this neglect of family for years,
but always attending to yours,
coming privately to each one like a father or older brother,
persuading you to care about virtue.
And if I enjoyed something from these things
and received pay for urging them,
it might make some sense;
but now you surely see that even these, the accusers,
though accusing everything so shamelessly,
have not become so shameless as to produce a witness
that I ever either required or requested pay of anyone.
For I think I present an adequate witness,
as to the truth I say, my poverty.
Perhaps then it may seem absurd that
I privately go around advising these things and meddling,
but publicly do not dare
to stand up in your assembly to advise the state.
But the reason for this
which you have heard me say many times and in many places
is that some godly and spiritual thing comes to me, a voice,
which also Meletus ridiculed in the indictment he wrote;
and this is some voice that began coming to me in childhood,
which when it comes always turns me away
from what I am intending to do, but never leads me on;
this is what opposes my practicing politics.
And it seems to me to oppose quite beautifully;
for know well, Athenian men,
if I had undertaken to practice political business,
I should have perished long ago
and would not have benefited you nor myself.
And don't be offended at the truth I am saying;
for the fact is that any person whatsoever to be safe
can neither honestly oppose you nor another assembly
nor prevent many injustices and illegalities in the state,
but it is necessary in really fighting for justice,
if one intends to be safe for even a short time,
to be private, rather than public.
I will present for you important evidence of this,
not words, but what you honor, actions.
Listen to what has happened to me,
so that you may know that I would not yield to anyone
contrary to justice from fear of death,
but not yielding I would rather perish.
I will tell you things commonplace and legalistic, but true.
For I, Athenians,
never held any other office in the state, but senator;
and it occurred that my Antiochis tribe presided
when you wished to try together the ten generals
who had not taken up the slain from the naval battle,
illegally as it seemed to you all afterwards.
At that time I alone of those presiding opposed
doing anything contrary to the laws and voted against it,
and the speakers being ready to indict and arrest me,
and you demanding it and shouting,
with the law and justice I thought I must run the risk
rather than follow after you in not considering justice,
fearing imprisonment or death.
And that was when the state was still democratic;
but when it became an oligarchy, the Thirty in turn
sending for me among five in the rotunda
directed us to bring from Salamis Leon the Salaminian
so that he could be executed.
And they directed many others often so
wishing to implicate as many as possible in their guilt;
however at that time I again not by word but by action
demonstrated that I do not care about death,
if it is not too crude to say, none whatsoever,
but all my care was to do neither the unjust nor the unholy.
For that government did not intimidate me,
as powerful as it was, into doing something unjust,
but when I went out of the rotunda,
the four went to Salamis and brought Leon,
but I went quietly home.
And perhaps I should have died for this,
if the government had not been quickly overthrown;
and many will be witnesses of these things for you.
Then do you think that I would still be alive,
if I had done public business
and acting worthy of a good man aided what was just
and, as one should, made this most important?
Far from it, Athenian men; neither could any other person.
But during all my life even in public, if I did something,
such will appear also the same in private,
never did I yield anything contrary to justice
neither to another nor to any of those
whom the ones slandering me say are my students.
I never became anyone's teacher;
but if someone wants to hear me talking
and practicing my own things,
whether young or old, I have never objected to anyone,
nor do I converse for receiving money, but not receiving it,
and to rich and poor alike I offer my inquiry,
and if someone wishes to answer he may hear what I say.
and whether some of these become good or not,
I should not rightly bear the blame,
since I neither promised anything
nor ever gave anyone any instruction;
but if someone says that he ever learned or heard something
from me in private which all the others also did not,
know well that he is not telling the truth.
But why then do some like spending much time with me?
You have heard it, Athenian men;
I told you the whole truth,
that they like hearing the examination
of those who think they are wise, but are not;
for this is not unamusing.
But as I say, I have been directed to do this
by the god and from oracles and from dreams
and every way in which divine will ever directed
any person to do anything whatsoever.
This, Athenians, is both true and easily tested.
For if I do corrupt the young and have corrupted them,
certainly some of those grown older
if they are aware that I ever advised them badly,
now they ought to stand up to accuse me and be avenged;
or if they are not willing, then let some of their families,
fathers and brothers and other relatives,
now let the families of those remember and avenge
if they suffered any evil from me.
Surely many of them are present here whom I see,
first Crito here who is of my age and district
and father of Critobulus there;
then there is Lysanias the Sphettian,
father of Aeschines there;
still here is Antiphon of Cephisus, father of Epigenes;
now here are others whose brothers were involved in this,
Nicostratus, son of Theozotides, brother of Theodotus,--
though Theodotus has died,
so that he at least could not dissuade him,--
and Paralus, son of Demodocus, whose brother was Theages;
and Adeimantus, son of Aristo, whose brother Plato is here,
and Aeantodorus whose brother Apollodorus is present.
And I have many others to mention to you,
some of whom it would have been especially fitting
for Meletus to produce as witnesses in his argument;
and if he forgot then, let him call them now;
I yield, and let him speak, if he has anything to offer.
But you will find the complete opposite of this, men,---
all are ready to help me the corrupter,
who works evil against their families,
as Meletus and Anytus say.
Yet these corrupted may possibly have reason for helping;
but the uncorrupted, already older men, their relatives,
what other reason do they have for helping me
other than right and justice,
unless they are aware that Meletus is lying,
while I am telling the truth?
Well then, men, this and perhaps other such things
is nearly all that I would have to say in my defense.
Possibly some of you may be irritated
when he recalls his own,
if he even in a lesser case contesting a trial
asked and entreated the judges with many tears,
bringing up his children especially to arouse pity,
and other relatives and many friends,
but I will do none of this,
even though I seem to be in the ultimate danger of dangers.
So possibly some of the more self-willed
considering these things might hold them against me,
and upset about this might cast his vote in anger.
Now if this applies to any of you,---
though I don't claim it does; but if so,---
I think it would be reasonable for me to say to him,
"I too, excellent sir, have relatives,
for it is even the same as in Homer,
I am not 'born of oak nor of stone,' but from humans,
so that I also have relatives and, Athenian men,
three sons, one already a youth and two children;
but nevertheless I shall not bring any of them up here
to beg you to acquit me."
Why should I not do so?
Not out of self-will, Athenian men,
nor out of disrespect for you,
but whether I have confidence in facing death or not
is another matter,
but I think both in regard to me and you and the whole state
it does not seem to me to be beautiful
for me to do any of these things at my age
and having this reputation, whether it is true or false;
nevertheless it is believed
Socrates is somehow different from most people.
So if those of you who are supposed to be different,
whether in wisdom or courage or any other virtue,
did this it would be disgraceful;
I have often seen some of these when on trial,
who are thought to be someone,
acting strangely, as though they were thinking
they would suffer something terrible if they died,
as if they would be immortal if you did not kill them;
it seems to me they wrap the state in shame,
so that even any stranger might suppose
that those of the Athenians excelling in virtue,
whom they themselves prefer in government and other honors,
are no different than women.
For these things, Athenian men, should not be done
by those thought to be anything,
and if we do them, you should not permit it,
but make it clear that you will much more likely condemn
the one who brings in these pitiful dramas
and makes the city ridiculous
than the one who keeps quiet.
But apart from appearance, men,
it does not seem right to me
to implore the judge nor to be acquitted by begging,
but to teach and persuade.
For the judge is not appointed for this purpose,
to grant favors of justice,
but to decide these things;
and he takes an oath not to favor those who appeal to this,
but to judge according to the laws.
Therefore we should not become accustomed
nor should you get into the habit of perjuring yourselves;
for neither of us would be acting piously.
So do not require me, Athenian men,
to do such things before you,
which I consider are neither beautiful nor just nor holy,
especially by Zeus
since impiety is the charge brought by Meletus.
For clearly, if I could persuade you
and by pleading get you to break your oaths,
I would be teaching you not to consider the gods,
and in my very defense I would be accusing myself
of not believing in the gods.
But this is far from so;
for I believe in them, Athenian men,
more than any of my accusers,
and I commit to you and to God
to decide my case however it will be best for me and for you.
I am not upset, Athenian men,
at this vote that you have cast against me,
but many things contributed to it,
and it is not unexpected that this happened to me,
but I am much more surprised
by the number of votes on each side.
I did not think it would be by so little, but by much more;
but now it seems if thirty of the votes were changed,
I would have been acquitted.
So as I suppose my case, I have even now escaped Meletus,
and not only been acquitted, but it is clear to everyone,
that if Anytus and Lycon had not come forward to accuse me,
he would have been fined a thousand drachmas
for not receiving a fifth part of the votes.
So the man proposes my death.
Well, what alternative shall I propose to you, Athenian men?
Clearly should it not be what is deserved?
What then? What do I deserve to suffer or pay,
because having learned in life I did not keep quiet,
but did not care about what most do,
money-making and property and the military
and public speaking and various offices and associations
and factions that occur in the state,
believing myself to be too reasonable
to be involved in these and be safe,
I did not go into those which would not have been a help,
neither to you nor to me,
but to each individual where the greatest good could be done,
as I say, I went into that,
trying to persuade each of you
not to care for anything of your own
before you care about yourself so as to be best and wisest,
nor of the state's interests before the state itself,
and so of others to care about them in the same way.
What then is such a one as I deserving of suffering?
Some good, Athenian men,
if it must be proposed in truth according to deserving;
and this good thing should be what is appropriate for me.
What then is fitting for a poor man who is your benefactor,
in need of having leisure so that he can advise you?
There is nothing, Athenian men, so fitting
as providing food for such a man in the presidents' hall,
much more than if any of you
with a horse or pair of horses or a chariot won the Olympics.
For he makes you seem happy, but I to be so;
and he has no need of support, but I need it.
Thus if it must be proposed according to my just deserving,
I propose this, food in the presidents' hall.
Perhaps then to you saying this also in the same way
I seem to be, as with the pity and the pleading, self-willed.
But it is not so, Athenians, but rather the following:
I am convinced I never willingly wronged any person,
but I did not convince you of this;
for we have conversed with each other for a short time;
yet, as I believe, if you had a law, even as other people do,
not to judge about death in only one day, but in many,
you would be convinced;
but now in a short time
it is not easy to be released from great prejudices.
Really convinced that I never wronged anyone
I certainly will not wrong myself and say of my very self,
that I am deserving of bad,
and propose any such thing for myself.
What should I fear?
Is it this experience which Meletus proposes for me,
which I admit not knowing whether it is good or bad?
Instead of this should I choose what I know well is bad,
proposing that? imprisonment?
And why should I live in prison,
always a slave to the appointed officers of the eleven?
Or a fine, and to be imprisoned until I can pay?
but to me that means the same as what I just said;
for I do not have money from which I will be able to pay.
But then shall I propose exile?
Perhaps you will propose this for me.
However I would have much attachment to life,
if I am so irrational as not to be able to reason
that while you my fellow citizens
who could not bear my pursuits and arguments,
but they were too heavy and envy-arousing for you,
so that now you are seeking to be relieved from them;
but then would others bear the same easily?
Far from it, Athenians.
So a fine life that would be for me
going out at my age of life
exchanging cities and being driven out from one to another!
For know well that wherever I go,
the young will listen to my talking, as they do here;
even if I drive them away,
they themselves persuading the older ones will drive me out;
but if I do not drive them away,
their fathers and relatives will for their sakes.
Perhaps then someone might say,
"Socrates, are you not able to go out from us
being silent and keeping quiet?"
This is really the hardest thing for some of you to believe.
For if I say that this is disobeying the god
and because of this I am unable to keep quiet,
you will not believe me as one jesting;
and if I say that this also happens to be
the greatest good for humanity
to make arguments every day about virtue
and examine myself and others,
the unexamined life not being livable for a person,---
saying these things you would believe me even less.
Thus it is as I say, men, but to persuade you is not easy.
Besides I am not used to myself deserving anything bad.
If I had money,
I would propose to pay as much money as I could;
for that would be no harm;
but now---for I have none,
unless you wish to propose such as I am able to pay.
Perhaps I might be able to pay you a mina of silver;
so I propose that.
But Plato here, Athenian men, and Crito and Critobulus
and Apollodorus bid me propose thirty minae,
and they will be security;
so I propose that,
and security for your silver will be those trustworthy men.
On account of not much time, Athenian men,
have you gained a name and blame
by those wishing to revile the city
saying, "You killed Socrates, a wise man;"
for those wishing to reproach you will say I am really wise,
even if I am not.
So if you had waited a short time,
this would have occurred for you by itself;
for you see my age
that is already far along in life and near death.
But I say this not to all of you,
but to those who voted for my death.
And to those I say something else also.
Perhaps you think, men,
that I am convicted for lack of such arguments,
which would have convinced you,
if I had thought it was necessary
to do and say anything in order to be acquitted.
Far from it.
Yet I was convicted through a lack, but not of arguments,
but of impudence and shamelessness
and unwillingness to say such things to you,
which you would have liked to hear,
my wailing and moaning and doing and saying many other things
that are also unworthy of me, as I say;
and such things you are in the habit of hearing from others.
But I did not think at the time that it was necessary
on account of the danger to do anything illiberal,
nor do I now regret the defense that was made,
but I much more prefer to die after making this defense
than to live after the other kind;
for neither in justice nor in war should I nor anyone else
contrive how to escape death by every means.
For truly in battles often it is clear
that one could escape from dying by both abandoning weapons
and turning in supplication of the pursuers;
and there are many other contrivances
in each of these dangers in order to escape death,
if one has audacity to do and say anything.
However, this is not what is hard, men, escaping death,
but it is much harder to escape cowardice;
for it runs faster than death.
And now since I am slow and old I am caught by the slower,
but my accusers since they are clever and quick
by the faster, the bad.
And now I go away sentenced by you to death,
and they convicted by truth of wickedness and injustice.
And I abide by the penalty, even as they do.
Perhaps things had to be this way,
and I think it is fair.
So now after this I want to prophesy to you,
the ones who voted against me.
For I am now at the place in which people often prophesy,
when about to die.
For I say to you, men who are killing me,
punishment will come to you immediately after my death
harder by Zeus than your killing of me;
for now you did this thinking
to be relieved of giving an account of your life,
but the result will be quite contrary for you, as I say.
There will be more examining you, whom now I restrained,
though you did not realize it;
and they will be harder since they are younger,
and you will be more irritated.
For if you think killing people
will prevent someone from reproaching you
because you do not search correctly,
you do not reason correctly.
For this relief is not very effective nor beautiful,
but that both most beautiful and easiest,
is not to suppress others,
but to prepare yourself so as to be the best possible.
Thus prophesying these things to you who voted against,
I take my leave.
But to those voting for
I would like to talk about this event which has occurred,
while the officials are busy
and before I go where it is necessary for me to die.
But remain with me, men, for so long;
for nothing prevents us from discussing with each other
as long as it is possible;
for to you who are friends I wish to make clear
what is the meaning of what has now happened to me.
For to me, judges,---
for calling you judges is calling you correctly,---
a wonderful thing has occurred.
For the accustomed prophecy, the divinity,
which formerly came to me very frequently,
even about small things,
was always opposing, if I intended to do something incorrect;
but now has come upon me, as you yourselves see,
what some might think and believe to be the extreme evil,
but when I left home the sign of the god did not oppose,
nor when I came up here to court,
nor ever in my speech when I was about to say something;
and yet in other speeches
it often checked me in the middle of talking;
but now concerning this event
it has never opposed me neither in any action nor in speech.
What then do I suppose to be the reason?
I will tell you;
for this occurrence may very likely be good for me,
and it is that we who think death is evil
do not understand it correctly.
A great proof of this has come to me;
for surely the usual sign would have opposed me,
unless what I intended to do was good.
Let us also consider the following:
how much hope there is that it is good.
For death is one of two things;
either the dead have no being nor perception nor anything,
or according to what is said some change of being happens
and a transmigration of the soul from here to another place.
And if it is no perception,
but a sleep when one sleeps without seeing any dreams,
then death would be a wonderful gain.
For I think if one had to pick out that night
in which one slept without seeing any dream,
and comparing this night
to the other nights and days of one's life
and considering it had to say
how many days and nights one had lived in one's life
better and more pleasantly than that night,
I think that not only a private person,
but even the great king would find these nights few
in comparison to the other days and nights.
So if death is such, I say it is a gain;
for then all of time thus appears to be
really no more than one night.
But if death is to leave here for another place,
and what is said is true that all the dead are there,
what greater good could there be, judges?
For if one arriving in Hades,
having left those claiming to be judges,
will find the true judges, who are said to judge there,
Minos and Rhadamanthus and Aeacus and Triptolemus
and others of the demigods who were just in their lives,
would the departure then be lousy?
What would any of you give to associate with Orpheus
and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer?
For I am willing to die many times if these things are true;
since to me this life there would be wonderful,
when I might meet Palamedes and Ajax the son of Telamon,
or any other of the ancients who died
on account of an unjust judgment.
Comparing my experiences with theirs,
I think, would not be unpleasant.
And really the greatest would be in examining those there,
as I spend my time here,
and discovering who is wise and who thinks he is, but is not.
How much would one give, judges, to examine those
who led the great army against Troy or Odysseus or Sisyphus,
or countless others both men and women whom I might mention?
To discuss and associate with and examine those there
would be infinite happiness!
At any event certainly they do not kill there for this;
For besides they are happier there than here,
and they are already immortal for the rest of time,
if what is said is true.
But you too, judges, must be hopeful facing death,
and consider this one truth,
that there is no evil for a good man
neither in living nor dying,
and his affairs are not neglected by the gods;
nor are mine now occurring automatically,
but this is clear to me, that it is better
for me to die now and be released from troubles.
Because of this also the sign never turned me away,
and I am not at all angry at my condemners and accusers.
Yet this was not the reason they accused and condemned me,
but thinking to harm; in this they deserve to be blamed.
However, I ask this of them:
when my sons grow up punish them, men,
by bothering them on these things as I bothered you,
if it seems to you they care about money or anything else
more than about virtue,
or if they seem to be something they are not,
reproach them as I have you,
because they do not care about what they should,
and think they are something when they are worth nothing.
And if you do these things,
I will have experienced justice from you,
both myself and my sons.
But now it is already time to go away,
I to die, and you to live;
but which of us goes to a better situation,
is unclear to all except to God.
3: Aristophanes in 423 BC had satirized Socrates and his philosophizing
in the comedy The Clouds, which is extant.
4: Gorgias, Prodicus, Hippias, and Evenus were professional teachers or "sophists" who accepted money from students and claimed that they could make them wiser. Callias was a wealthy man who liked to spend money entertaining sophists from abroad; however, he eventually exhausted his resources and died in poverty.
5: Chaerephon was well known to Athenians, having been satirized by Aristophanes as a bat and one of Socrates' barefoot brotherhood.
7: Socrates sometimes swore "by the dog" of Egypt, perhaps referring to Egyptian worship of the dog-star, Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
14: A drachma was a silver coin worth about a quarter.
16: In Homer's Iliad XVIII Achilles, the son of Thetis, prepared to kill Hector in order to avenge his friend Patroclus.
17: Socrates fought for Athens in the Pelopennesian War at Potidaea, Amphipolis and Delium.
25: The number of votes condemning Socrates must have been 280 or less. If this is divided by three, the number of votes would have been less than one-fifth, causing the accuser to have to pay a fine of 1000 drachmas.
28: One mina was about one pound of silver and equal to one hundred drachmas.
This has been published in the WISDOM BIBLE as a book. For ordering information, please click here. This text is also available as spoken by Sanderson Beck on CD.
Prudence and Courage
Prison and Death