by Plato

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This etext was prepared by Sue Asscher


by Plato

Translated by Benjamin Jowett


In what relation the Apology of Plato stands to the real defence of
Socrates, there are no means of determining. It certainly agrees in tone
and character with the description of Xenophon, who says in the Memorabilia
that Socrates might have been acquitted 'if in any moderate degree he would
have conciliated the favour of the dicasts;' and who informs us in another
passage, on the testimony of Hermogenes, the friend of Socrates, that he
had no wish to live; and that the divine sign refused to allow him to
prepare a defence, and also that Socrates himself declared this to be
unnecessary, on the ground that all his life long he had been preparing
against that hour. For the speech breathes throughout a spirit of
defiance, (ut non supplex aut reus sed magister aut dominus videretur esse
judicum' (Cic. de Orat.); and the loose and desultory style is an imitation
of the 'accustomed manner' in which Socrates spoke in 'the agora and among
the tables of the money-changers.' The allusion in the Crito may, perhaps,
be adduced as a further evidence of the literal accuracy of some parts.
But in the main it must be regarded as the ideal of Socrates, according to
Plato's conception of him, appearing in the greatest and most public scene
of his life, and in the height of his triumph, when he is weakest, and yet
his mastery over mankind is greatest, and his habitual irony acquires a new
meaning and a sort of tragic pathos in the face of death. The facts of his
life are summed up, and the features of his character are brought out as if
by accident in the course of the defence. The conversational manner, the
seeming want of arrangement, the ironical simplicity, are found to result
in a perfect work of art, which is the portrait of Socrates.

Yet some of the topics may have been actually used by Socrates; and the
recollection of his very words may have rung in the ears of his disciple.
The Apology of Plato may be compared generally with those speeches of
Thucydides in which he has embodied his conception of the lofty character
and policy of the great Pericles, and which at the same time furnish a
commentary on the situation of affairs from the point of view of the
historian. So in the Apology there is an ideal rather than a literal
truth; much is said which was not said, and is only Plato's view of the
situation. Plato was not, like Xenophon, a chronicler of facts; he does
not appear in any of his writings to have aimed at literal accuracy. He is
not therefore to be supplemented from the Memorabilia and Symposium of
Xenophon, who belongs to an entirely different class of writers. The
Apology of Plato is not the report of what Socrates said, but an elaborate
composition, quite as much so in fact as one of the Dialogues. And we may
perhaps even indulge in the fancy that the actual defence of Socrates was
as much greater than the Platonic defence as the master was greater than
the disciple. But in any case, some of the words used by him must have
been remembered, and some of the facts recorded must have actually
occurred. It is significant that Plato is said to have been present at the
defence (Apol.), as he is also said to have been absent at the last scene
in the Phaedo. Is it fanciful to suppose that he meant to give the stamp
of authenticity to the one and not to the other?--especially when we
consider that these two passages are the only ones in which Plato makes
mention of himself. The circumstance that Plato was to be one of his
sureties for the payment of the fine which he proposed has the appearance
of truth. More suspicious is the statement that Socrates received the
first impulse to his favourite calling of cross-examining the world from
the Oracle of Delphi; for he must already have been famous before
Chaerephon went to consult the Oracle (Riddell), and the story is of a kind
which is very likely to have been invented. On the whole we arrive at the
conclusion that the Apology is true to the character of Socrates, but we
cannot show that any single sentence in it was actually spoken by him. It
breathes the spirit of Socrates, but has been cast anew in the mould of