Plato: The Apology

APPEARING some years after the trial of Socrates, the Apology is ostensibly an account of that trial and the philosopher's defense on the charge of corrupting the Athenian youth. Actually it is an exposition of all that was best in the doctrines of Socrates, who was as misunderstood by most of his followers as by his enemies. To the bourgeoisie of Athens the master's aim was to turn his pupils into caustic critics and somewhat arrogant and self-satisfied revolutionaries. Socrates had spent himself largely in destructive criticism, but he had something constructive to put in its place. His death prevented him from disseminating his theories. The Apology set Socrates right with the world.


WHAT my accusers have said, Athenians, has been most specious, but none of it is true. The falsehood which most astonished me was that you must beware of being beguiled by my consummate eloquence; for I am not eloquent at all, unless speaking pure truth be eloquence. You will hear me speak without adornments and without premeditation, in my everyday language. I am seventy years old, yet this is my first appearance in the courts and I have no experience of forensic arts. All I ask is that you will take heed whether what I say be just.

It is just that I should begin by defending myself against my accusers from of old, in priority to Anytus and these other latter-day accusers. For, skilful as these are, I fear those more-those who from your youth have been untruthfully warning you against one Socrates, a wise man, who speculates about everything in heaven and under the earth, and tries to make the worse cause better. Their charge is the craftier, because you think that a man who does as they say has no thought for the gods. I cannot name these gentlemen precisely, beyond indicating that one is a writer of comedies; I cannot meet and refute them individually. However, I must try to enter a brief defence. I think I know where my difficulty will lie; but the issue will be as the gods choose.

Now, what is the basis of this charge, on which Meletus also relies? 'Socrates is an evil-doer, a busybody, who pries into things in heaven and under the earth, and teaches the same things to others.' You all saw the Socrates in the comedy of Aristophanes engaged in these pursuits. I have nothing to say against such inquiries; but do not let Meletus charge me with them, for I have no part in them. Many of you have heard me talk, but never one on these subjects. From this you should be able to gauge the other things that are said against me.

Equally untrue is the charge that I make a paid business of teaching my neighbours. It is a fine thing to be able to impart knowledge like Gorgias and Prodicus and Hippias, who can go from city to city and draw to converse with them young men who pay for the privilege instead of enjoying their companions' society for nothing. I am told there is one Evenus, a Parian, practising now, whose fee is five minae. It must be delightful to possess such valuable knowledge and to impart it--if they do possess it. I should like to do it myself. but I do not possess the knowledge.

"Whence, then, comes the trouble, Socrates?" you will say; "if you have been doing nothing unusual, how have these rumours and slanders arisen?"

I will tell you what I take to be the explanation. It is due to a certain wisdom with which I seem to be endowed--not superhuman at all like that of these gentlemen. I speak not arrogantly, but on the evidence of the Oracle of Delphi, who told Chaerephon, a man known to you, that there was no wiser man than Socrates. Now, I am not conscious of possessing wisdom; but the god cannot lie. What did he mean?

Well, I tried to find out, by going to a man reputed wise, thinking to prove that there were wiser men. But I found him not wise at all, though he fancied himself so. I sought to show him this, but he was only very much annoyed. I concluded that, after all, I was wiser than he in one particular, because I was under no delusion that I possessed knowledge, as he was. I tried all the men reputed wise, one after the other, and made myself very unpopular, for the result was always the same. It was the same with the poets as with the politicians, and with the craftsmen as with the poets. The last did know something about their own particular art, and therefore imagined that they knew all about everything.

I went on, taking every opportunity of finding out whether people reputed wise, and thinking themselves so, were wise in reality, and pointing out that they were not. And because of my exposing the ignorance of others, I have got this groundless reputation of having knowledge myself, and have been made the object of many other calumnies. And young gentlemen of position who have heard me follow my example, and annoy people by exposing their ignorance; and this is all visited on me; and I am called an ill-conditioned person who corrupts youth. To prove which my calumniators have to fall back on charging me with prying into all things in heaven and under the earth, and the rest of it.

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