Socrates’ Apology

20 May

Typically, when one stands trial, one fears the outcome. The suspect may have a large involved and important life that he or she thinks about and reviews during trial in deep fear of having to put everything on hold for a very long time or maybe even ending that great involved life forever. Socrates had many different more complex things on his mind. He thought about his life as a philosopher but more important things happened before the trial that put more at stake for him. Being accused by Meletus, Antyus and Lycon of all these crimes he was put on trial by jury and was given a chance to defend himself. His defense speech is what presents everything that he has been thinking and contemplating prior to the trial concerning his innocence or guilt along with what happens in the event of his guilt.  The Apology being not the way we think of an apology today, Socrates gives an elaborate speech along with some cross examination to prove his innocence, he reveals concepts some of which that had not been widely known.

Socrates’ charges include studying subjects above and below the earth, worshipping either no god at all or other gods besides the ones the rest of Athens worshipped, using the concepts of rhetoric and corrupting the youth. Philosophy involves studying things beyond the average person’s normal span of thought. Apparently back then, physical affairs below and beyond the earth were not a part of their average span of thought and it must have scared them enough to falsely indict Socrates. One would suggest that those who indicted Socrates are ignorant for not accepting possible expansion of their thought span. Greece back then does not seem like the United States today because today democracy includes freedom to expand one’s own mind and to expand other’s minds even if some do not want any part of it. Most would argue that indictment for studying unusual phenomena is tyrannical. The indictment of Socrates for being either atheist or worshipping other entities is also a very false and tyrannical charge. All should have freedom of religion. His indictment for corrupting youth should not be something that one can be indicted for. Socrates had his own principles and ideas that he should have had the freedom to teach to others. One might think that Meletus, Antyus and Lycon’s fear of Socrates’ new principles caused them to charge him for corrupting youth that creates a whole large generation of these big thinkers that creates more for Meletus, Antyus and Lycon to be scared of. These indicters are clearly unaware of the real truth about Socrates. With his wisdom he points out these lies presented by the indicters and explains why they are charging the wisest man in Athens.

When Socrates consulted the Oracle at Delphi, he was told that he was the wisest man in the area. Today most would automatically discard that idea because no one has that large of an ego. Even if one heard this from a god today they would question it more than Socrates did. This statement puzzled Socrates because he could not grasp the fact that he was the wisest so he did some research to prove this fact for himself because it is not possible for the oracle to lie because the oracle is the way Apollo speaks to the people. Socrates consulted three groups of people. He talked to politicians, poets and craftsmen. The text explains how he explains to each of them how the oracle said that he is smarter than them. Every time he did this, their response would be that their work was so spectacular and that Socrates needed to think before he claimed himself wisest in the area. The poets persisted to claim that their work was fantastic as did the craftsmen about their work. Everyone began to strongly dislike Socrates when he spread what the oracle said. Most would get very angry if someone randomly stated that they were smarter than you just because God said it when you never heard such a thing. Socrates’ knew that all of these people were not aware that they really knew very little. Socrates knew that small wisdom on earth such as skill in poetry or art meant absolutely nothing to the gods or beyond this world. Their ignorance was a result of them not knowing that they did not know anything. They were wrapped up in the knowledge and skill they had on earth that they were unable to realize that they knew little. Socrates’ principle of   “know thyself” is what came from his investigation of these people. His quote “the unexamined life is not worth living” applies here as well in other places in the speech in that one can only achieve wisdom. One must examine his or herself to “know thyself”. This concept that he contemplated greatly influenced his decision in the content of his defense speech.  He knew that the message from Apollo was to not use his opportunity for defense to defend himself but to send a message to all who thought they were wise. His speech clearly explained all he had done after consulting the oracle and did what Apollo wanted even though he was convicted and sentenced. Most would think Socrates as a very selfless and noble person to do something to service the population for the sake of their wisdom in place of using his opportunity to defend himself. His skills in rhetoric was what he used to possibly defend himself while servicing Apollo, but it did not work out as well with the jury as he had hoped.

Socrates did not surrender his case while servicing Apollo but he made statements to the jury to hopefully sway them. Not only did he claim his prosecutors to be liars but he used cross examination on them. Socrates begins an elaborate examination of Meletus. He questioned him based upon his charges to Socrates. Explained in the dialogue are Meletus’ feelings that all laws and population nurtures the youth while Socrates corrupts the youth. Other topics were covered in the dialogue but it allowed Socrates to explain to the jury how prepared Meletus was. If one has strong opinions that one holds to be significant, one does not need as much preparation as Meletus had. Socrates’ point was that if Meletus needed so much preparation, his opinions were not true enough for Meletus to feel them significant enough. With that point Socrates states that Meletus’ is slandering the judge, the jury and everyone in the courtroom. Most today would agree with Socrates’ point. Usually when one has had something on their mind constantly that they cannot think of anything else and that they must pursue what they find important, preparation is not necessary. Obviously, the indictment of Socrates is not the most important thing in Meletus’ life and he may be slandering everyone. Socrates also explains that Meletus slanders everyone because Meletus knows that he believes in remnants of gods. Meletus is charging Socrates of not believing in gods but how can Socrates not believe in God while believing in children of gods as is stated in the text. Socrates explains in the text that one cannot believe in human affairs while not believing in humans. Even though Socrates attempted to defend himself in his speech, his main goal was to do what Apollo said. The verdict yielded bad results.

With his conviction, Socrates had other opinions that influenced the unwise. He states that he is not angry at the jury and that he would prefer to pay a small fee for his crime that he did not commit. He asks to be sentenced to be charged thirty minae even though he has very little money, he states in the text that he could borrow from others to meet that fee. He does not get that sentence but he is faced with a couple of options. He could take prison and the death penalty or be exiled from Athens. He chose to take prison and death and not exile because of what got him in court in the first place.  Regular people disliked Socrates for the unusual topics he researched and his odd ways of doing things. Philosophers contemplate about and research things that most people do not concern themselves with (which is where his charge of studying processes above and beneath the earth came from). Socrates will absolutely not give up his life’s work of philosophy because as he states in the text,” the unexamined life is not worth living”. If he is put on trial for practicing the work he desires to practice in Athens and moves elsewhere and practices the same work he usually does, people will get uneasy and someone like Meletus will charge him of the same charges. He also gives an example that if the court proposes to him that he can be acquitted but can no longer practice his work, Socrates would not agree to it because again,” the unexamined life is not worth living”. Most today would agree to the previous ultimatum because most would rather live without something than die. Socrates however states that he would rather die than not examine life. As Socrates readies himself to be transported to prison for execution, he questions the jury if they think they are doing a disservice to Socrates. He explains that whether death is sleep or if it is just transport to another location, death is an advantage to a good man. He also prophesizes that “ I am at the point where men prophesy most, when they are about to die, I say gentlemen, to those who voted to kill me, that vengeance will come upon you immediately after death, a vengeance much harder to bear than which you took in killing me”. Socrates says that the jury is not doing harm to Socrates. Most would not be so confident after being convicted. His explanation of how the jury has done wrong is a little egotistical. Socrates says that the society will suffer without the wisest man. Socrates was the pushing force behind a society unwilling to take action on anything. He was described as a gadfly that pushes the rear of the horse that represents Athens. Socrates says that Athens will suffer for killing him. What most would find puzzling is that Socrates told the jurors and accusers to cause the same grief to his children as he caused the jurors and accusers. Doing this would be doing a service to Socrates’ children and that is what he wanted.  Most would have to think about that concept to grasp it. Socrates went into death and prison fearlessly and without regret.

Socrates must have been a great example for his Greek religion because he sacrificed his opportunity for defense in trial to obey the god that talked to him through the oracle at Delphi. In the process of being charged of false crimes and defending himself, he defined what wisdom really means and advised those who were not wise by the new definition of wisdom. His defense most likely influence many people to carry on his work and to examine the life to make it worth living. He explained the concept of knowing thyself in order to become wise and examine life. The next wisest man as defined by oracle may have been a man influenced by Socrates’ defense. Given his wisdom, Socrates did not want to live life if he could not examine it. He was willing to give his life for that reason. Most people would not do that but then those people were most likely not wise and did not know themselves. After the trial and death of Socrates most likely many others adopted the principles outlined in the apology to become wise and justify his death.


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