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The Apology of Socrates

Socrates' apology was written by Plato in order to address some allegations made against him as a judicial defense which Socrates had to bring. Socrates faced three major accusations: to manipulate young people's minds, not to accept the gods known and endorsed by the state, and to create new deities.
Notice that apology in its contemporary use should not be perceived (regretful acknowledgment due to an offence or a failure). Rather, the word apology used in Socrates' apology stems from a Greek word apologia which refers to security. Having stated that, Socrates was making a spirited defense against the various accusations that were facing him. This paper will explore one aspect of the Apology- the meaning, significance, and irony of corruption as discussed in The Apology.

One of the reasons why this text is significant in the philosophy realm is the fact that it is the most ancient Greek text available. The other Greek works prior to this were either destroyed or lost, advertently or inadvertently. Again, Plato’s Apology forms a cardinal foundation of Western Philosophy.

Corruption: Meaning, Significance

According to Miller and Platter (1), the Peloponnesian war that pitted Greece against the Spartans made a lot of changes to the way of governance in Ancient Greece. Spartans, having won the war, appointed thirty judges to steer the polis (city state) away from democracy in favor of what they called ancestral laws. However, some resisted the move. Whereas it was a time that prominent people fled to exile, Socrates chose to remain in Athens.

For one to understand the legal defense, it is worth appreciating the role of the Oracle at Delphi. The Oracle had stated that Socrates was the wisest of all men. Now that the Oracle at Delphi made pronouncements that came from a higher source, it goes without saying that its verdict was a well-accepted tradition and had a considerable level of legitimacy.

Socrates had the privilege of having human wisdom (or philosophical wisdom). The Oracle further stated that they were three main groups of wise men: the politicians, the poets, and the artisans (experts). The fact that Socrates was regarded as a very wise man made some leaders in Athens, more so those who favored the status quo, interact with him with suspicions.

Socrates’ Apology: Irony and Commentary on Corruption

Readers of the works of Socrates should understand that prior to this event; Socrates was previously accused of corruption (Thomas and Platon 23). However, he did not bother responding to those accusations. It is ironical that Socrates, despite being the light of Greece, was being persecuted.

Again, it is ironical that Socrates was being accused of challenging the status quo when he was not teaching anybody anything; all Socrates did was ask questions. Ontology is founded on the ability to ask questions (and educated questions for that matter). Socrates was neither a paid teacher nor did he pursue the art of persuasion. It was therefore ill-conceived and ironical that the jury was bringing him to the scales of justice when he was not corrupting the minds of other people.

Socrates was accused of not recognizing the gods of the state (atheism). It was unjust for him to be treated that way when he had stated "As the god may wish." (19 a). He was not attacking the Greek gods, but he did not think much of them either. By the contemporary and ancient studies, Greece was a well-developed democracy. After all, most of the arguments of modern democracy start with an Ancient Greece principle (Socrates, Plato/Aristotle), albeit in a farfetched way. It would therefore be overly unfair that Athens would deny Socrates an opportunity to seek new inventions.

In the heart of the text, Socrates is asked, “But Socrates, what is your occupation? (20c). There are different meanings to these text, and the meaning of each word has a strong correlation to the translation. The Grubes makes a translation of this to the word occupation. The Loeb Classical Library translates this question as “what is the trouble about you”. In the Greek language, the word pragma means doing or busying. The jury further warns Socrates and says, “Do not create a disturbance.”

Philosophy can reliably conclude that he would have been any artisan at the age of 35. But he realizes that he has a great potential. Even if he was accused of corruption and other accusations, there is sufficient evidence to show that others had realized that he has extraordinary wisdom. The Pythia confirmed that no person was wiser than Socrates.

Ironically, from Plato’s Apology, "Those who had the highest reputation were nearly the most deficient, while those who were thought to be inferior were more knowledgeable." (22a). According to Socrates, poets may not understand what they write after all. A look at the poem Wasteland may leave the reader confused. Similarly, an actor assumes the role of another person. Socrates was an artisan himself. It is therefore not surprising that he held a favorable view of artisans saying that they are assumed to be less knowledgeable while in practice they are more knowledgeable.

Misunderstandings on Socrates

For Socrates’ to be summoned to the jury, a keen reader of the Apology will note that they were some misunderstandings. It should be noted that Socrates was looking at the behavior of others and identifying the incoherence in patterns thereof. In other words, he was challenging the status quo. Again, Socrates did not claim to have the answers to questions. Even in modern science, it is not uncommon to find scientists challenging what is otherwise referred to as common knowledge- and therein they are able to discover new knowledge. Like any other person, he had the right to his own opinion.

One of the reasons why the jury was ill at ease with Socrates was that he used to draw crowds, and hence the accusation of corruption was an easy one to make. The reason why Socrates used to draw crowds was the fact that he was asking questions but not answering them. Socrates was unconventional and did not care about the perceptions on him. Another misunderstanding between him and the jury was that it was assumed that he used to offer private teaching to the people- an allegation that did not hold any truth.

Socrates finds the jury and spectators fool hardy for engaging in the things that they believed in. He wanted the Ancient Greece to act as if stung by a gadfly. The biblical prophet Jeremiah writes thus:

Egypt is a beautiful heifer, but a gadfly is coming against her from the north.

Similarly, like a gadfly that stings a horse into action, Socrates wanted to sting Ancient Greece to seek more knowledge, challenge the status quo, and swing into action. The struggle to have a better way of life and governance made the then philosophers put to question the various issues that were assumed as normal. In addition to that, those who challenged the state were not spared from possible punishment.

It was a common phenomenon for young people in Ancient Greece to behave in a corrupt manner- and the blame fell on Socrates. Socrates responded that he did not give answers to the behavior (as expected of him anyway). However, he did acknowledge that he would not drive anyone away, anyone who needed to learn from him. In other words, the consumers of his knowledge were the general public, irrespective of such variables such as age and political affiliations.

Socrates was also sarcastic when responding to his three main accusers: Meletus, Lycon and Anytus. He says that Meletus was not only a good man, but patriotic too. Of course, Meletus was not a good and patriotic man. It would be right to draw the conclusion that Socrates was taking part in a game of wit.

Athens robbed the world of a great statesman, philosopher, and thinker. This is because the jury found him guilty, notwithstanding his spirited defense. It gave him the option of choosing a punishment on which he proposed free dinners and a government wage. The jury sentenced him to death by the way of taking Hemlock poison.

Conclusion

Socrates chose the road not taken, and he paid a heavy price for doing so. The text confirms (twice) that Plato was present at the trial and he is credited in philosophy for giving an accurate account of the trial. However, some meaning is lost due to the years gone by as well as the effect of translation. Overall, The Apology of Socrates is an ideal text of philosophy that helps readers understand the classical events and align them to contemporary phenomena.

Works Cited

Miller, Paul A, Charles Platter, and Plato. Plato's Apology of Socrates: A Commentary. Norman:

University of Oklahoma Press, 2010. Internet resource.

West, Thomas G., and Platon. Plato's Apology of Socrates: an interpretation, with a new

translation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979.

West, Thomas G., and Platon. Plato's Apology of Socrates: an interpretation, with a new

translation. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1979.

September 11, 2021

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