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Speech I: Socrates' Defense

(6) Socrates' Mission
28b-30d


  I have said enough in answer to the charge of Meletus: any

Jowett's Notes

  elaborate defence is unnecessary; but I know only too well  
  how many are the enmity which I have incurred, and this is  
  what will be my destruction if I am destroyed; - not Meletus,  
  nor yet Anytus, but the envy and detraction of the world,  
  which has been the death of many good men, and will probably  
  be the death of many more; there is no danger of my being the  
  last of them.  
 
The Trojan Horse
Artist: Ru Dien-Jen
 

28b

Some one will say: And are you not ashamed, Socrates, of a Let no man fear death or fear anything but d disgrace.
  course of life which is likely to bring you to an untimely end?
  To him I may fairly answer: There you are mistaken: a man  
  who is good for anything ought not to calculate the chance of  
  living or dying; he ought only to consider whether in doing  
  anything he is doing right or wrong - acting the part of a good  
  man or of a bad. Whereas, upon your view, the heroes who  

28c

fell at Troy were not good for much, and the son of Thetis  
  above all, who altogether despised danger in comparison with  
  disgrace; and when he was so eager to slay Hector, his  
  goddess mother said to him, that if he avenged his companion  
  Patroclus, and slew Hector, he would die himself - "Fate," she  
  said, in these or the like words, "waits for you next after  
  Hector;" he, receiving this warning, utterly despised danger  
  and death, and instead of fearing them, feared rather to live in  

28d

dishonor, and not to avenge his friend. "Let me die  
  forthwith," he replies, "and be avenged of my enemy, rather  
  than abide here by the beaked ships, a laughing-stock and a  
  burden of the earth." Had Achilles any thought of death and  
  danger? For wherever a man's place is, whether the place  
  which he has chosen or that in which he has been placed by a  
  commander, there he ought to remain in the hour of danger; he  
  should not think of death or of anything but of disgrace. And  
  this, O men of Athens, is a true saying.  
 
The Battle of Amphipolis
Photo: Steven S. Tigner
 

28e

Strange, indeed, would be my conduct, O men of Athens, if I Socrates, who has often faced death in battle, will not make any condition in order to save his own life; for he does not know whether death is a good or an evil.
  who, when I was ordered by the generals whom you chose to
  command me at Potidaea and Amphipolis and Delium,
  remained where they placed me, like any other man, facing
  death - if now, when, as I conceive and imagine, God orders
  me to fulfil the philosopher's mission of searching into myself  
  and other men, I were to desert my post through fear of death,  
  or any other fear; that would indeed be strange, and I might  
  justly be arraigned in court for denying the existence of the  

29a

gods, if I disobeyed the oracle because I was afraid of death,  
  fancying that I was wise when I was not wise. For the fear of  
  death is indeed the pretence of wisdom, and not real wisdom,  
  being a pretence of knowing the unknown; and no one knows  
  whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the  

29b

greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is not this  
  ignorance of a disgraceful sort, the ignorance which is the  
  conceit that man knows what he does not know? And in this  
  respect only I believe myself to differ from men in general, and  
  may perhaps claim to be wiser than they are: - that whereas I  
  know but little of the world below, I do not suppose that I  
  know: but I do know that injustice and disobedience to a  
  better, whether God or man, is evil and dishonorable, and I  
  will never fear or avoid a possible good rather than a certain  
  evil. And therefore if you let me go now, and are not  

29c

convinced by Anytus, who said that since I had been  
  prosecuted I must be put to death (or if not that I ought never  
  to have been prosecuted at all); and that if I escape now, your  
  sons will all be utterly ruined by listening to my words - if you  
  say to me, Socrates, this time we will not mind Anytus, and  
  you shall be let off, but upon one condition, that you are not to  
  enquire and speculate in this way any more, and that if you are  

29d

caught doing so again you shall die; - if this was the condition  
on which you let me go, I should reply: Athenians, I He must always be a preacher of philosophy.
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, exhorting any one whom  
  I meet and saying to him after my manner: You, my friend, - a  
  citizen of the great and mighty and wise city of Athens, - are  
  you not ashamed of heaping up the greatest amount of money  

29e

and honor and reputation, and caring so little about wisdom  
  and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul, which you  
  never regard or heed at all? And if the person with whom I am  
  arguing, says: Yes, but I do care; then I do not leave him or let  
  him go at once; but I proceed to interrogate and examine and  
  cross-examine him, and if I think that he has no virtue in him,  
  but only says that he has, I reproach him with undervaluing  

30a

the greater, and overvaluing the less. And I shall repeat the  
  same words to every one whom I meet, young and old, citizen  
  and alien, but especially to the citizens, inasmuch as they are  
  my brethren. For know that this is the command of God; and I `Necessity" is laid upon me:'`I must obey God rather than man.'
  believe that no greater good has ever happened in the state
  than my service to the God. For I do nothing but go about  
  persuading you all, old and young alike, not to take thought  
  for your persons or your properties, but first and chiefly to  

30b

care about the greatest improvement of the soul. I tell you that  
  virtue is not given by money, but that from virtue comes  
  money and every other good of man, public as well as private.  
  This is my teaching, and if this is the doctrine which corrupts  
  the youth, I am a mischievous person. But if any one says that  
  this is not my teaching, he is speaking an untruth. Wherefore,  
  O men of Athens, I say to you, do as Anytus bids or not as  
  Anytus bids, and either acquit me or not; but whichever you  
  do, understand that I shall never alter my ways, not even if I  

30c

have to die many times.  
 
 
  Men of Athens, do not interrupt, but hear me; there was an  
  understanding between us that you should hear me to the end:  
  I have something more to say, at which you may be inclined to  
  cry out; but I believe that to hear me will be good for you, and  
  therefore I beg that you will not cry out. I would have you  
  know, that if you kill such an one as I am, you will injure  
  yourselves more than you will injure me. Nothing will injure Neither you nor Meletus can ever injure me.
  me, not Meletus nor yet Anytus - they cannot, for a bad man

30d

is not permitted to injure a better than himself. I do not deny  
  that Anytus may, perhaps, kill him, or drive him into exile, or  
  deprive him of civil rights; and he may imagine, and others may  
  imagine, that he is inflicting a great injury upon him: but there I  
  do not agree. For the evil of doing as he is doing - the evil of  
  unjustly taking away the life of another - is greater far.