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Plato’s Apology of Socrates

It is true that in Plato’s apology we come across two distinct and widely apart images of Socrates. The first is the image of a humble and self-effacing man, polite and soft-spoken, wise albeit sad who stands in the court grimly facing his prosecutors and a mammoth battery of five hundred Athenians who constitute the Jury in the case. Here a bit of clarification about the use and meaning of the word ‘apology’ becomes necessary. The Greek meaning of the word ‘apologia’ is a defence speech not an appeal for forgiveness as the term is normally used in the modern context.

Thus the “Apology” contains the points and arguments Socrates puts forward in the speech that he made in the court not only in three different parts but also in three different tones and moods. The same self effacing man grows into gigantic proportions inside the court itself and his voice becomes the voice of a prophecy that thunders across the barriers of life and death and touches the eternity. But that need not surprise anyone . After all the man in question is Socrates who was a wise man of all times.

Starting from a soft matter-of-fact speech, his speech rises into a crescendo reflecting the innermost thoughts and feelings of this great man of wisdom his convictions and beliefs . It is the same thin as happens whenever we listen to a great symphony which always begins with softer notes and then rises to overwhelm the minds and souls of the listeners the Apology has a singular honour and importance of being the oldest extant document of Greek philosophy. At the onset it is important to understand the system of justice in the times of Socrates i. e. some 2500 years ago Those were the days when the prose were private individuals .

There were no public prosecutors, no District attorney and in the whole trial process, there id no mention of a judge. It was so because though there was a judge, the judge had no powers . All power lay with the jury, the 501jurers A member of the jury could be anyone, any free adult male citizen who chose to show up. Socrates had to worry about one thing only i. e. how to appeal to the jury and prove that all the charges against him were baseless and devoid of the truth. Ironically. Socrates made his defence in such a way as to antagonize the jury…..

Addressing the Jury as ‘Men of Athens’ he tells them that they ( the prosecutors ) had hardly anything to say that was true. Socrates says he is accused of being an unaccomplished speaker and a sophist. Socrates is concerned with only justice. He tells the jury that since he has never been in the court before, he will speak in his usual manner. Socrates was 70 years of age at the time of the trial. In those days 35years was the average age of man. It means that Socrates had already lived two or three life times and had outlived men of his generation. Also it was the time when jury trials were just a means of entertainment.

All the authority was vested in the in the irresponsible authority of the jury and there was no system of checks and balances between the judges and the jury. The charge against Socrates was that he corrupted the youth, did not believe in gods and created new deities. He is also charged with, ‘studying things in the sky and below the earth. ’ In his defence Socrates begins in all humility and requests the jury not to judge him on oratorical skills but on the truth. Though the speech he made has stood the tests of time for more than two thousand years and is still considered a masterpiece of fine logic and oratory.

No doubt his speech does not succeed in winning him his acquittal, yet it reflects the calm conviction of the speaker . Whatever nervousness is seen in the proceedings, it is all on the part of his accusers and prosecutors. That justifies the comment of one of the critics, ‘Plato’s Apology is in the widest sense an example of forensic oratory, a speech delivered by Socrates in his own defence The speech itself can and ought to be divided into three parts The first and the most famous is Socrates’ defene of himself.

The second part of the speech is the one in which Socrates speaks after the Jury vote has been taken and the verdict 280: 221. , has pronounced Socrates guilty and thereafter, Socrates chooses to antagonize the court even further. The third part of the speech is what is popularly known as the ,’Punishment speech. ’ We shall examine all the parts of the speech one by one to trace how the meek, mild, sober and somber words of

a septuagenarian turned into a prophetic thunder the reverberations of which are heard clearly even to this day by all those who care to undergo the experience As we proceed to analyse Socrates’ speech, we must bear in mind that the Apology is not a historical work but a philosophical work. In the first part of the speech, Socrates proves himself to be a master rhetorician who plays to the jury like a impresario. What a pity that the speech won over the hearts of the readers for over two millennia, did not succeed in winning Socrates his acquittal.

It was charged that Socrates was a criminal, a busy body making enquiries into sky and earth, corrupting the youth and believing in superstitions. About most charges Socrates says they stemmed from years of gossip and prejudice against him, hence they were unanswerable. Answering to the charge of sophistry Socrates said that the reputation fore sophistry came from his enemies who were all malicious people and highly envious of him. On thew charge of corrupting the youth Socrates said that deliberate corruption is an incoherent idea….

He narrates his experience associated with the Oracle of Delphi. The Oracle had the reputation for ALWAYS TELLING THE TRUTH. Socrates could not challenge the Oracle’s words. At the same time he could not be convinced that he was the Wisest man in Athens . This is how Socrates’ mission of finding a wiser person than himself began He went to the Politicians since directly as well as indirectly these were the politicians who held all the power in their hand Much to his chagrin and disappointment, he found that all politicians were Impostors.

Next his search took him to the poets because poets are considered prophets and seers. Once more he had to be disappointed because the poets seemed nowhere near the reputation they had gained in people’s minds. Finally Socrates visited the craftsmen expecting them to possess extraordinary wisdom because the craftsmen were able to produce such beautiful things. Socrates was highly disappointed to find that even the craftsmen were Pretentious people. According to Socrates it were experiences such as these that compelled him to decide that he would rather be himself than somebody else.

It was the above-mentioned tour of the country, his meeting the people and questioning them that gave Socrates the reputation of a busybody and an annoying presence, a pest. ‘ True wisdom,” tells Socrates to the court,” belongs to gods and that human wisdom and achievements have little or no value. ” What greater proof of Socrates’ humility could be found than in these words? … Corruption of the Young and Atheism were the formal charges Socrates was facing in the court. Regarding the charge of corrupting the youth He cross-examined Meletus, the man who had pressed the charge against him.

,The cross- examination, a revelation of Socrates’ sharp and agile mental reflexes so befuddled Meletus’ mind that he contradicted himself in the court by making a statement that Socrates is an atheist who believes in spiritual agencies . Thus these are not the formal charges that would provew to be the undoing of Socrates but the gossip and the slander…… It is from this stage that we find the hero , the champion of righteousness, Godf and truth in Socrates taking precedence over his humble and docile self.

Addressing the jury he says,”Gentlemen I am your grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to God than to you and as long as I have life, I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practising philosophy. The charge of misleading the youth or corrupting them he rejected altogether by claiming that he had never been a teacher in the sense of imparting knowledge to others. Therefore he could not be held responsible if any citizen turns bad. He calls himself a stinging gadfly and the state a lazy horse.

He declares that ‘rousing,persuading and reproving every one of you ( the men of Athens ) was his job. From the speech we learn that the accused facing extreme punishment would often resort to histrionics hoping to tilt the scales of justice. They resorted to emotive tricks they broke down in the court or present their children in the court to touch the hearts of the jury Socrates relied solidly on sound judgment and truth to present his case In itself that was a heroic gesture of a brave soul.

His total surrender to God’s will becomes amply clear through his assertion,”Let the events be as God wills, in obedience to law I make my defence. ” Part three of his speech, the Punishment speech brings out Socrates’ soul in its most radiant colors. “ Prospect of death does not absolve one from following the path of goodness and truth. ”. He finds the prospect of death much more attractive and rewarding. “ death must be a blessing. Annihilation either brings eternal peace from worries or migration to another place where so many other famous souls dwell e. g. Heriod, Homer. Odysseus etc.

In a place like that one can continue the task of questioning and pursuit of knowledge. Whatever be the dangerous designs of Meletus, Socrates feels sure that he shall not be harmed,’For it is not in the nature of things things that a good man should injure someone better than himself. ” In this third part of the speech we find. that the heroic soul of Socrates has already risen far above the earthly and the mundane and is more concerned about the welfare of other souls: Now Athenians, I am not going to argue for my own sake as you may think but for you that you may not sin against God by condemning me.

If you kill me , you will not easily find another like me. Socrates spoke these words in an inspired moment when he could feel his soul in communion with God. Under other circumstances it could have easily passed for a boastful remark but here it is a prophecy rising from deep within an enlightened soul. He himself says so in very clear words: You have often heard me speak of an oracle or sign that comes to me and always forbids me to do something and is Divinity. The sign I have had ever since childhood. In statements like this we hear the proclamations of a truly heroic soul.

It is this nobility of expression and the sublime era of spirituality that it creates that makes the Apology, the best introduction to Western Philosophy. A courtroom is hardly the place where one expects visions of spirituality but the presence of Socrates brings about this transformation. He speaks with utmost conviction like a man possessed or a Prophet addressing a congregation: For this is the command of God as I would have you know that to this day no greater good has ever happened in the state than my service to God

Socrates does not seem in the least bothered about his own life because to him as an alternative even death was in no way less welcome. If he is bothered, he is bothered about the souls of those who were about to commit an act of calumny by condemning him. He knew that the Athenians loved to hear him because they like the cross examination of Pretenders of Wisdom. : This is a duty which the God has imposed upon me as I am assured by oracles ad visions in every sort of way in which the will of the Divine Power was ever signified to every one.

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