Posted: November 25th, 2022


Plato,The Apology of Socrates

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Translated by Cathal Woods and Ryan Pack

(Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License)

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Excerpt 1

(19a – 24b)

Well then. I must make a defense, men of Athens, and in such a short time must try to banish this prejudice

from you that you have held for a long time. I would like it to turn out this way—that I will succeed in

defending myself—if that would be better for both you and me. But I think this is difficult, and just what it is

I’m attempting doesn’t escape me at all. Nevertheless, let the case proceed in whatever way the god favors; I

must obey the law and make my defense.

Let us consider, then, from the beginning, what the accusation is, from which the prejudice against me arose

that Meletos believed when he brought this charge against me. Well then. What precisely did the accusers say

when they accused me? Just as if they were charging me, it is necessary to read out their indictment: “Socrates

is guilty of meddling, of inquiring into things under the earth and in the heavens, of making the weaker speech

the stronger, and of teaching these very things” something like this. For even you yourselves have seen these

things in the comedy of Aristophanes, a certain Socrates being carried around up there, insisting that he walks

on air and spouting off a lot of other nonsense that I do not claim to know anything about, either great or


I don’t speak in order to dishonor such knowledge, if someone is wise about such things—I hope

I am not somehow prosecuted by Meletos on such great charges—but in fact I have nothing to do with them,

men of Athens, and I call on the majority of you as witnesses, and I expect you to teach and inform one

another, those of you who have ever heard me in conversation—and this includes many of you. Tell one

another if any of you heard me ever discussing such things, either a lot or a little. And from this you will

realize that the same is true of the other things that the many say about me.

But in fact none of them is the case. And indeed, if you have heard from anyone that I endeavor to teach

people and make money, this is not true. Though again, I think that it is a fine thing if an individual is able to

teach people, such as Gorgias of Leontini and Prodikos of Chios and Hippias of Elis. For each of these people,


Socrates must defend himself in

front of the Athenians against

the charges of impiety and

corruption of the young.

This is what he is accused of.

According to Socrates, what

people say against him is not


Socrates says that he does not

ask for money as a payment for

his teachings.

gentlemen, going into each of the cities, to the young—who could associate with whomever they want from

their own citizens for free—they convince them to leave their company and join them, paying them money,

and to feel grateful besides!

For that matter, there is currently another wise man, from Paros, whom I have discovered is in town because I

happened to meet a man who has paid more money to sophists than all the others combined, Kallias, son of

Hipponikos. So I asked him—because he has two sons— “Kallias,” I said, “If colts or calves had been born to

you as sons, we could find and hire a trainer who would make them well-bred with respect to the appropriate

virtue; he would be some horse-trainer or farmer. But as it is, since they are humans, whom do have in mind to

hire as a trainer for them? Who is knowledgeable about such virtue, of the human being and of the citizen?

Because I assume you have looked into it, since you have sons. Is there someone,” I said, “or not?”

“Certainly,” said he. “Who?” I said, “And where from? And for how much does he teach?” “Euenos, Socrates,”

he said, “from Paros, for five mina.” And I considered Euenos blessed, if he really has this skill and teaches for

such a sweet-sounding price. I at any rate would be pride of myself and be boastful, if I knew these things. But

in fact I don’t know them, men of Athens.

Perhaps some one of you might respond, “But Socrates, what is your profession? Where have these slanders

against you come from? For surely it’s not by busying yourself with the usual things that so much hearsay and

talk has arisen, but by doing something different from most people. Then tell us what it is, so that we don’t

judge your case rashly.”

The person who says this seems to me to speak justly, and I will try to show you what it is, precisely, that won

me this reputation and notoriety.

Listen, then. And while I will perhaps appear to some of you to be joking, rest assured that I will tell you the

whole truth. For I, men of Athens, have acquired this reputation due to nothing other than a certain


What sort of wisdom is this? Quite likely it is human wisdom.

There’s a good chance that I actually have this kind of wisdom, while those men I was speaking of just now

might perhaps be wise with a wisdom more than human—or I don’t know how I should put it, for I certainly

don’t have it, and whoever says so is lying and is saying it to slander against me. But don’t interrupt me, men

of Athens, not even if I strike you as talking big. The story I will tell you is not my own, but I will refer you to

a trustworthy source for what I say, because I will present to you as my witness as to whether it is wisdom of a

sort and of what sort it is the god in Delphi.

The sophists were professional

teachers who usually were paid

for teaching to the young.

Socrates says he would like to

possess the knowledge that the

sophists seem to have, but that

he does not.

Asked why he has the bad

reputation that led him to the

trial, Socrates says that this

reputation is due to the fact that

he has a sort of “human


In order to explain this claim,

Socrates tells the Athenians

what he heard from Chairephon.

Chairephon asked the Pythia, the

oracle of Delphi who spoke for

You know Chairephon, I presume. He was a companion of mine from youth and a comrade of yours in the

democracy and joined you in the recent exile and returned with you. And you know how Chairephon was, how

zealous he was about whatever he pursued, and so for example when he went to Delphi he was so bold as to

ask this—and, as I say, don’t interrupt, gentlemen—he asked if there was anyone wiser than me. The Pythia

then replied that no one was wiser. And his brother here will bear witness to you about these things, since he

himself has died.

Think about why I am bringing this up: it’s because I am going to teach you where the prejudice against me

came from. Because when I heard this I pondered in the following way: “Whatever does the god mean? And

what riddle is he posing? For I am not aware of being wise in anything great or small. What in the world does

he mean, then, when he says that I am wisest? For certainly he does not lie; he is not permitted to.”

And for a long time I puzzled over his meaning. Then, very reluctantly, I embarked on a sort of trial of him. I

went to one of the people who are thought to be wise, hoping to refute the oracle there if anywhere, and reply

to its pronouncement: “This man here is wiser than me, though you said I was.” So, scrutinizing this fellow—

there’s no need to refer to him by name; he was one of the politicians I had this sort of experience with when I

examined him, men of Athens—in talking with him it seemed to me that while this man was considered to be

wise both by many other people and especially by himself, he was not. And so I tried to show him that he took

himself to be wise, but was not. As a result I became hated by this man and by many of those present.

And so, as I was going away, I was thinking to myself, “I am at least wiser than this man. It’s likely that

neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but whereas he thinks he knows something when he doesn’t know it,

I, when I don’t know something, don’t think I know it either. It’s likely, then, that by this I am indeed wiser

than him in some small way, that I don’t think myself to know what I don’t know.”

Next, I went to another one of the people thought to be wiser than him and things seemed the same to me, and

so I made an enemy of that man as well as of many others. So, after this, I now went to one after another,

realizing with pain and fear that I was becoming hated. But nevertheless I thought it necessary to consider the

god’s oracle to be of the utmost importance, so I had to continue going to all of the people thought to know

something, investigating the meaning of the oracle. And by the dog, men of Athens, because I must tell you

the truth, my experience was really something like the following: in my divine search those held in highest

esteem seemed to me to be lacking just about the most, while others thought to be poorer were better men as

far as wisdom is concerned.

the god Apollo, whether there

was anyone wiser than Socrates

himself, and the oracle said no.

Socrates knows that he is not so

wise, and wonders why the

oracle said so. He decides to

refute the oracle by finding

someone wiser than himself.

The first person he examines

turns out not to be wise, and the

same for other people commonly

thought to possess knowledge.

I have to represent my wanderings to you as though I were undertaking various labors only to find that the

oracle was quite irrefutable. After the politicians I went to the poets, including those of tragedies and those of

dithyrambs and others, so that there I would catch myself being more ignorant than them. Reading the works

which I thought they had really labored over, I would ask them what they meant, so that at the same time I

might also learn something from them. I am ashamed to tell you the truth, gentlemen, but nevertheless it must

be told. Practically anybody present, so to speak, could have better explained what they had written. And so,

as before, I quickly realized the following about the poets: that they do not write what they write because of

their wisdom but because they have a certain nature and are possessed, like the seers and fortune-tellers, who

also say many fine things but know nothing about what they’re saying. It seemed clear to me that the poets had

had a similar experience. And at once I understood that, because of their writing, they thought themselves to

be the wisest of all men even about other things, but they weren’t. And so I departed from them thinking that I

was superior to them in the same way as I was to the politicians.

So finally I went to the crafters, because I was aware that while I knew practically nothing, I knew that I

would find that they knew many fine things. And in this I was not mistaken—they knew things I didn’t and in

this they were wiser than me. But, men of Athens, the noble crafters seemed to me to have the same flaw that

the poets also had. Because each of them performed his craft well, he considered himself to be most wise

about the greatest things—and this sour note of theirs overshadowed their wisdom. And so I asked myself on

behalf of the oracle whether I would prefer to be just as I am—neither being at all wise in the ways that they

are wise nor ignorant in the ways they are ignorant—or to be both, as they are. And I answered myself and the

oracle that it would be best for me to be as I am.

As a result of this quest, men of Athens, a lot of hatred developed against me, and of the most challenging and

oppressive kind, such that from it many slanders arose, and I gained this reputation for being wise. For on each

occasion the bystanders thought that I myself was wise about the subject on which I was examining the other

person. But in fact it’s likely, gentlemen, that in truth the god is wise, and by this pronouncement he means the

following: that human wisdom is worth little or nothing. And he appears to be using me as an example,

speaking of this man Socrates and even using my name, just as if he said, “Human beings, he among you is

wisest who knows like Socrates that he is actually worthless with respect to wisdom.”

That’s why, both then and now, I go around in accordance with the god, searching and making inquiries of

anyone, citizen or stranger, whom I think to be wise. And if I then learn that he isn’t, I assist the god and show

Socrates explains that he

examined politicians, poets and

craftsmen, but that no one

demonstrated to be wise.

The hatred against him, Socrates

adds, is due to his questioning

people and showing that they are

not wise.

The oracle then was right, but in

the sense that the only possible

human wisdom is the

acknowledgment of how little

one can know. Socrates knows

him that he is not wise. And because of this busyness I lack the time to participate in any public affairs worth

mentioning or any private business, but I am in great poverty because of my service to the god.

Furthermore, the young people follow me around of their own accord, those with the most leisure, the sons of

the very wealthy. They delight in hearing me examine people and they often imitate me, having a go at

examining others afterwards. And, I think, they discover a great number of people who think they know

something but know little or nothing. As a result the people who are examined by them then grow angry with

me, but not themselves, and they say that Socrates is a most vile person and corrupts the young. And whenever

anyone asks them, “By doing what and by teaching what?”, they have nothing to say and are ignorant, but, so

as to not appear at a loss, they say these things that are handy against all philosophers, about “the heavenly

things and the things under the earth” and “not acknowledging the gods” and “making the weaker speech the

stronger.” I believe it’s because they don’t want to tell the truth, that they are obviously pretending to know

something even though they know nothing. Since they are ambitious and impetuous, I think, and there are

many of them and they speak about me ruthlessly and persuasively, they have filled up your ears,

badmouthing me violently for a long time.

On the strength of this, Meletos attacked me along with Anutos and Lukon, Meletos complaining on behalf of

the writers, Anutos on behalf of the crafters and the politicians, and Lukon on behalf of the orators. And so, as

I said in the beginning, I would be amazed if I could rid you of this slander in such a short time, since it has

become so powerful.

This, I assure you, men of Athens, is the truth, and in speaking I conceal nothing, either big or small, nor hold

anything back. Indeed I am quite aware that I am hated on account of these very things, which is an indication

that I tell the truth, and that this is the slander against me and that these are the causes. And if you inquire into

these things, either now or later, this is what you’ll find.

Excerpt 2 (36a – 38b)

[The judges vote and Socrates is found guilty by 280 votes to 220. The next stage of the trial involves each

side proposing a penalty. The prosecution proposes death penalty. Socrates must respond with his proposal.]

Many other things contribute to my lack of anger, men of Athens, over what has just happened—that you

found me guilty. And I am not surprised that what happened happened. Indeed, I am much more amazed at the

that he knows nothing: this is his


The young who listen to

Socrates learn to question

people, and these people get

angry with Socrates because

their reputation is ruined. This is

why they accuse Socrates, but

they actually do not know what

they are talking about.

Socrates is neither angry nor

surprised for the results; he

final tally of each of the votes, since I, at least, did not think the difference would be so small, but larger. It

now appears that if only thirty votes had changed sides, I would have been acquitted. I myself think that I was

acquitted of Meletos’ charges, and not just acquitted, as it is clear to everyone that if Anutos and Lukon had

not joined him in accusing me, he would have owed a thousand drachmas for not receiving a fifth of the votes.

The man proposes death as my penalty. Well then. Shall I make a counterproposal to you, men of Athens? Or

is it clear what I deserve? What, then? What do I deserve to suffer or pay, knowing that I have not gone about

quietly throughout my life but, paying no attention to what the masses care about—money and estate and

generalships and political power and other offices and clubs and political parties present in the city— and

realizing that in reality I am too honorable a person to pursue these things and survive, I did not pursue the

affairs that it would likely have helped neither you nor myself for me to get into, but I set out to accomplish

the greatest good, as I declare, by going to each of you privately, trying to persuade each one of you not to put

concern for any of his own affairs ahead of concern for how he himself might be as good and wise as possible,

nor to put the affairs of the city ahead of the city itself, and to care for other things in the same way—what do I

deserve for being such a person?

Something good, men of Athens, if I must indeed make a proposal truly in accordance with merit. And more

than that, some good which is fitting for me. What then is fitting for a poor man, a benefactor who needs to be

at leisure to instruct you? There is nothing more fitting, men of Athens, than to feed such a man in the town

hall, even more so than when one of you has won a race at Olympia on a single horse or in a two- or four-

horse chariot. For while he makes you think that you are happy, I make you so, and while he does not need the

nourishment, I do. So if I must propose a penalty according to justice based on merit, I propose this: dinners in

the town hall.

Perhaps in saying this I seem to be speaking to you in much the same way as I spoke about pitying and

imploring—out of arrogance. But it is not that, men of Athens, but rather because of the following sort of

thing: I am convinced that I wrong no man willingly. But I cannot convince you of this, since we have been

talking it over with each other for only a short time, whereas, I think, if your practice was the same as other

people’s, to deliberate about death penalty cases not just for one day but for many, you would be convinced.

But, as it stands, it’s not easy to demolish great prejudices in a short time.

Since I am convinced that I never do wrong, I certainly won’t wrong myself and say against myself that I

deserve something bad and propose something of the sort for myself. Why should I? Because I’m afraid of

something? So that I can avoid what Meletos proposes for me, when I claim not to know whether it is good or

actually thought more jurors

would find him guilty.

Socrates says he does not

deserve a punishment, but free


bad? Should I choose something that I am sure is something bad instead of this, and propose it as a penalty?

What? Prison? And why must I live in the prison, enslaved to the Eleven who are appointed to the office at the

time? Then how about a fine, with imprisonment until I have paid? But in my case this is the same as what I

just said, since I don’t have any money to pay with.

Well then, shall I propose exile? You would probably accept this. But I would have an excessive love of life,

men of Athens, if I were so stupid that I was unable to see that when you, my fellow citizens, could not bear

my discussions and speeches, but they became so burdensome and so resented that you now seek to be free of

them—would others willingly put up with them? Far from it, men of Athens. It would be a fine life for me, a

man going into exile at my age, to spend my life being driven out and traipsing from one city to another. I’m

quite sure that wherever I might go, the young will listen to me speak, just like here. And if I drive them away,

they themselves will persuade their elders to drive me away; and if I don’t drive them away, their fathers and

relations will do so on their behalf.

Perhaps someone might say, “Can’t you live quietly and peacefully in exile, Socrates, for our sake?” This is the

hardest thing of all to make some of you believe. For if I say that this would be to disobey the god and so,

because of this, I cannot live peacefully, you would think I was being ironic and not believe me. If instead I

say that in fact this is the greatest good for a man, to talk every day about virtue and the other things you hear

me converse about when I examine both myself and others, and that the unexamined life is not worth living for

a man, you would believe this even less if I said it. As I say, this is how things are, gentlemen; but it is not

easy to persuade you.

And besides, I am not accustomed to thinking of myself as worthy of anything bad. If I had money, I would

have proposed as much money as I could pay, since it wouldn’t have harmed me at all. But as it is I can’t,

unless you are willing to demand of me as much as I can pay. And perhaps I could somehow pay you a mina

of silver. So I propose that amount. …

Plato here, men of Athens, and Crito and Critoboulos and Apollodoros, they order me to propose thirty minas,

and they guarantee it. So I propose that amount, and these men will be dependable guarantors of your silver.

[The jury votes in favor of the death penalty, 360 to 140.]

Socrates wonders whether he

should propose exile as a

punishment, but he knows that

he would lead the same kind of

life and have the same kind of

problems anywhere.

In fact, he would not be able to

live “quietly and peacefully” in

exile, because this would mean

for him to disobey his god.

Socrates prefers to face death

rather than living an

“unexamined life”.

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