There is not much in the other Dialogues which can be compared with the
Apology. The same recollection of his master may have been present to the
mind of Plato when depicting the sufferings of the Just in the Republic.
The Crito may also be regarded as a sort of appendage to the Apology, in
which Socrates, who has defied the judges, is nevertheless represented as
scrupulously obedient to the laws. The idealization of the sufferer is
carried still further in the Gorgias, in which the thesis is maintained,
that 'to suffer is better than to do evil;' and the art of rhetoric is
described as only useful for the purpose of self-accusation. The
parallelisms which occur in the so-called Apology of Xenophon are not worth
noticing, because the writing in which they are contained is manifestly
spurious. The statements of the Memorabilia respecting the trial and death
of Socrates agree generally with Plato; but they have lost the flavour of
Socratic irony in the narrative of Xenophon.
The Apology or Platonic defence of Socrates is divided into three parts:
1st. The defence properly so called; 2nd. The shorter address in mitigation
of the penalty; 3rd. The last words of prophetic rebuke and exhortation.
The first part commences with an apology for his colloquial style; he is,
as he has always been, the enemy of rhetoric, and knows of no rhetoric but
truth; he will not falsify his character by making a speech. Then he
proceeds to divide his accusers into two classes; first, there is the
nameless accuser--public opinion. All the world from their earliest years
had heard that he was a corrupter of youth, and had seen him caricatured in
the Clouds of Aristophanes. Secondly, there are the professed accusers,
who are but the mouth-piece of the others. The accusations of both might
be summed up in a formula. The first say, 'Socrates is an evil-doer and a
curious person, searching into things under the earth and above the heaven;
and making the worse appear the better cause, and teaching all this to
others.' The second, 'Socrates is an evil-doer and corrupter of the youth,
who does not receive the gods whom the state receives, but introduces other
new divinities.' These last words appear to have been the actual
indictment (compare Xen. Mem.); and the previous formula, which is a
summary of public opinion, assumes the same legal style.
The answer begins by clearing up a confusion. In the representations of
the Comic poets, and in the opinion of the multitude, he had been
identified with the teachers of physical science and with the Sophists.
But this was an error. For both of them he professes a respect in the open
court, which contrasts with his manner of speaking about them in other
places. (Compare for Anaxagoras, Phaedo, Laws; for the Sophists, Meno,
Republic, Tim., Theaet., Soph., etc.) But at the same time he shows that
he is not one of them. Of natural philosophy he knows nothing; not that he
despises such pursuits, but the fact is that he is ignorant of them, and
never says a word about them. Nor is he paid for giving instruction--that
is another mistaken notion:--he has nothing to teach. But he commends
Evenus for teaching virtue at such a 'moderate' rate as five minae.
Something of the 'accustomed irony,' which may perhaps be expected to sleep
in the ear of the multitude, is lurking here.
He then goes on to explain the reason why he is in such an evil name. That
had arisen out of a peculiar mission which he had taken upon himself. The
enthusiastic Chaerephon (probably in anticipation of the answer which he
received) had gone to Delphi and asked the oracle if there was any man
wiser than Socrates; and the answer was, that there was no man wiser. What
could be the meaning of this--that he who knew nothing, and knew that he
knew nothing, should be declared by the oracle to be the wisest of men?
Reflecting upon the answer, he determined to refute it by finding 'a
wiser;' and first he went to the politicians, and then to the poets, and
then to the craftsmen, but always with the same result--he found that they
knew nothing, or hardly anything more than himself; and that the little
advantage which in some cases they possessed was more than counter-balanced
by their conceit of knowledge. He knew nothing, and knew that he knew
nothing: they knew little or nothing, and imagined that they knew all
things. Thus he had passed his life as a sort of missionary in detecting
the pretended wisdom of mankind; and this occupation had quite absorbed him
and taken him away both from public and private affairs. Young men of the
richer sort had made a pastime of the same pursuit, 'which was not
unamusing.' And hence bitter enmities had arisen; the professors of
knowledge had revenged themselves by calling him a villainous corrupter of
youth, and by repeating the commonplaces about atheism and materialism and
sophistry, which are the stock-accusations against all philosophers when
there is nothing else to be said of them.
The second accusation he meets by interrogating Meletus, who is present and
can be interrogated. 'If he is the corrupter, who is the improver of the
citizens?' (Compare Meno.) 'All men everywhere.' But how absurd, how
contrary to analogy is this! How inconceivable too, that he should make
the citizens worse when he has to live with them. This surely cannot be
intentional; and if unintentional, he ought to have been instructed by
Meletus, and not accused in the court.