Plato: Apology

Thoughts

This book is my third in the Great Books of the Western World. I continue to be surprised at how accessible these readings are. Initially, reading Plato seemed intimidating; however, the Apology was an excellent read with many thought-provoking ideas presented.  

Plato’s Apology is a defense against a formal indictment made against him in court. The main violations stated in the charge are that Socrates:

  • He is an evil-doer who corrupts the youth.
  • He does not believe in the gods of the state.
  • He has other divinities of his own.

Socrates begins by downplaying his rhetorical abilities and apologizes profusely to the court. Socrates’s initial claim seems like a tactic because Socrates can hold his own during the following discussion in an argument. I found many interesting points. Socrates is focused on living a virtuous life, including believing in God or gods. Everything else is secondary to him. I found humor when Socrates described his tactics of randomly interrogating experts and sharing their flaws, making these experts hate Socrates. Socrates’ only claim was that he did not know anything.  

My two favorite ideas from this book were:


-A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate his chance of living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing anything his is right or wrong, acting the part of a good man or bad.  

-The difficulty is to avoid unrighteousness, not death.  


Socrates’s Apology (defense) is a real example of “speaking truth to power” and remaining uncompromising in core beliefs. Socrates faced the challenge of state-imposed ideology, yet he remained true to himself and God.  

Persons:

Anytus –  son of Anthemion, was an ancient Athenian politician. He served as a general in the Peloponnesian War, and was later a leading supporter of the democratic movements in Athens opposed to the oligarchic forces behind the Thirty Tyrants.  He is best remembered as one of the prosecutors of the philosopher Socrates, and is depicted as an interlocutor in Plato’s Meno.

Aristophanes – son of Philippus, of the deme Kydathenaion (Latin: Cydathenaeum), was a comic playwright or comedy-writer of ancient Athens and a poet of Old Attic Comedy. Eleven of his forty plays survive virtually complete. These provide the most valuable examples of a genre of comic drama known as Old Comedy and are used to define it, along with fragments from dozens of lost plays by Aristophanes and his contemporaries.

Callias son of Hipponicus – was an ancient Athenian aristocrat and political figure. He was the son of Hipponicus and an unnamed woman (she later married Pericles), an Alcmaeonid and the third member of one of the most distinguished Athenian families to bear the name of Callias. He was regarded as infamous for his extravagance and profligacy.

Meletus – was an ancient Athenian Greek from the Pithus deme known for his prosecuting role in the trial and eventual execution of the philosopher Socrates.

Oligarchy of the Thirty – Thirty Tyrants, (404–403 bc) Spartan-imposed oligarchy that ruled Athens after the Peloponnesian War. Thirty commissioners were appointed to the oligarchy, which had an extremist conservative core, led by Critias. Their oppressive regime fostered a bloody purge, in which perhaps 1,500 residents were killed.

Minos – In Greek mythology, Minos was a King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to Daedalus’s creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in the underworld. 

Rhadamanthus – In Greek mythology, Rhadamanthus or Rhadamanthys was a wise king of Crete. As the son of Zeus and Europa he was considered a demigod. His name means “showing stern and inflexible judgement”. He later became one of the judges of the dead and an important figure in Greek mythology.

Aeacus – was a mythological king of the island of Aegina in the Saronic Gulf. He was a son of Zeus and the nymph Aegina, and the father of the heroes Peleus and Telamon. According to legend, he was famous for his justice, and after he died he became one of the three judges in Hades alongside Minos and Rhadamanthos. 

Triptolemus – was a demi-god of the Eleusinian mysteries who presided over the sowing of grain-seed and the milling of wheat. He was one of the Eleusinian princes who hospitably received the goddess Demeter when she was mourning the loss of her daughter.

 

Places:

Potidaea

Amphipolis

Delium

Delphi

Athens

Antiochis – tribe where Socrates was a senator

Arginusae

Notes:

[17] – Socrates begins by questioning the affect of his indictment on the Athenians he is addressing.  Socrates states the accusations against him are false and even exaggerated.  Whereas the arguments against him are false yet believable because of good argument technique, he will only tell the truth which should stand on its own merit.  He asks for forgiveness because he is old, and unfamiliar with court proceedings, and does not speak well.

[18] Socrates wished to rebut both old and new arguments against him, and desired to defend himself against the old arguments first because they have had a longer effect on people.  

[19] While Socrates accusers have been around for awhile, he acknowledges he only has a limited time to defend himself.  Socrates summarizes the complaint against him:

1. He is an evil-doer

2. He is a curious person

  a. who searches into things under the earth and heaven (doesn’t believe in the gods, searches for physical explanations)

3. He makes the worse appear the better cause

4. He teaches said doctrine to others

Whereas Socrates did not accept money, and if he did he would consider it a compliment on the good job he was doing, Athenians were in the habit of paying Sophists for the very things he was being accused of (using rhetoric to overcome sound reasoning, or speaking convincingly but falsely).  

[20] Socrates brings up an idea that some may thing that “there is something here” otherwise no accusations would be brought about.  Socrates acknowledges he possesses wisdom.  

[21] Socrates vs politician “I tried to explain to him that he thought himself wise, but was not really wise; and the consequence was that he hated me.”

[22] Socrates vs poets and artesans – “This inquisition has led to my having many enemies of the worst and most dangerous kind.”

[23] God only is wise.  Wisdom of men is worth little or nothing.  Young men attempted to expose similar classes by using words similar to Socrates. 

[24] Further complaints against Socrates:

1.  Doer of evil

2.  Corrupts the youth

3.  Does not believe in the gods of the state

4.  Has other divinities of his own

[27] Socrates points out that “men cannot believe in horsemanship but not horses” and points out that by virtue of his teaching and believing in divine and spiritual agencies, he must believe in God.  

[28] A man who is good for anything ought not to calculate his chance of living or dying; he ought only consider whether in doing anything he is right or wrong – acting the part of a good man or bad.  Consider the heroes of Troy or Achilles.

[29] Fear of death is a pretense of wisdom – death, although viewed as the greatest evil may in fact be the greatest good.  Socrates admitted he did not know or suppose to know anything about life after death (the world below).

Even if Socrates was set free upon condition of not practicing philosophy, his response was that “men of Athens, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you, and while I have life and strength I shall never cease from the practice and teaching of philosophy.”  

[30] Socrates desire was to convince people to “first and chiefly to care about the greatest improvement of the soul.”  As such, Socrates states that if the court decides to kill him, they are injuring the state more than him – in part because they won’t find a successor.  A comparison is made that Socrates is a gadfly on the state which is a steed. 

[36] Socrates is convicted, with a near equal vote of guilt by the court.  He recommends his punishment (reward) for conviction should be maintenance in the Prytaneum.  And he maintains his intent was never harm.  Socrates then states while he could only realistically pay one Mina, his friends were ready to provide a “bond” (surity) of 30 minae.

[38] Socrates is sentenced to death.  He responds by saying although he could have responded the way the court would have liked (weeping, wailing, and lamenting) he purposefully chose not to.  Even after sentencing, Socrates expressed that he was not remorseful for his defense – “I would rather die having spoken after my manner, than speak in your manner and live.”

“Daily discourse of virtue […] is the greatest good of man.  The unexamined life is not worth living.”

[39] In battle some may throw away their weapons and fall to their knees to escape death; however, the difficulty is to avoid unrighteousness not death.  While Socrates departs the court with a death sentence the court departs suffering condemned by the penalty of villainy and wrong.

[40] If death leads to nothingness and utter unconsciousness: it is a gain, think of the nights you slept with unbroken sleep.  If death leads to the migration of soul from this world to another: would be nothing better, you will meet the true judges and have conversations with great people and gods.

[41] Know of a certainty that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life or after death.  He and his are not neglected by the gods.

 

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