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Speech I: Socrates' Defense

(2) The Old Accusers
18b - 20c

And first, I have to reply to the older charges and to my first

Jowett's Notes


accusers, and then I will go on to the later ones. For of old I  
have had many accusers, who have accused me falsely to you  
during many years; and I am more afraid of them than of  
Anytus and his associates, who are dangerous, too, in their  
own way. But far more dangerous are the others, who began  

Theatre Dionysus where The Clouds by Aristophanes was staged
Photo: Steven S. Tigner
when you were children, and took possession of your minds  
with their falsehoods, telling of one Socrates, a wise man,  
who speculated about the heaven above, and searched into  
the earth beneath, and made the worse appear the better  


cause. The disseminators of this tale are the accusers whom I  
dread; for their hearers are apt to fancy that such enquirers do  
not believe in the existence of the gods. And they are many,  
and their charges against me are of ancient date, and they were  
made by them in the days when you were more impressible  
than you are now - in childhood, or it may have been in youth -  
and the cause when heard went by default, for there was none  
to answer. And hardest of all, I do not know and cannot tell  


the names of my accusers; unless in the chance case of a  
Comic poet. All who from envy and malice have persuaded  
you - some of them having first convinced themselves - all this  
class of men are most difficult to deal with; for I cannot have  
them up here, and cross-examine them, and therefore I must  
simply fight with shadows in my own defence, and argue when  
there is no one who answers. I will ask you then to assume He has to meet two sorts of accusers.


with me, as I was saying, that my opponents are of two kinds;
one recent, the other ancient: and I hope that you will see the
propriety of my answering the latter first, for these  
accusations you heard long before the others, and much  



Well, then, I must make my defence, and endeavor to clear  
away in a short time, a slander which has lasted a long time.  
May I succeed, if to succeed be for my good and yours, or  
likely to avail me in my cause! The task is not an easy one: I  
quite understand the nature of it. And so leaving the event  
with God, in obedience to the law I will now make my defence.  

I will begin at the beginning, and ask what is the accusation I There is the accusation of the theatres; which   declares that he is a  student of natural philosophy.
which has given rise to the slander of me, and in fact has


encouraged Meletus to prefer this charge against me. Well,
what do the slanderers say? They shall be my prosecutors, and
will sum up their words in an affidavit: " Socrates is an
evildoer, and a curious person, who searches into things under  
the earth and in heaven, and he makes the worse appear the  
better cause; and he teaches the aforesaid doctrines to others."  


Such is the nature of the accusation: it is just what you have  
yourselves seen in the comedy of Aristophanes, who has  

Socrates (in the basket) being ridiculed in Aristophanes' The Clouds
Photo: Steven S. Tigner
introduced a man whom he calls Socrates, going about and  
saying that he walks in air, and talking a deal of nonsense  
concerning matters of which I do not pretend to know either  
much or little - not that I mean to speak disparaging of any one  
who is a student of natural philosophy. I should be very sorry if  
Meletus could bring so grave a charge against me. But the  
simple truth is, O Athenians, that I have nothing to do with  
physical speculations. Very many of those here present are  


witnesses to the truth of this, and to them I appeal. Speak  
then, you who have heard me, and tell your neighbors whether  
any of you have ever known me hold forth in few words or in  
many upon such matters . . . You hear their answer. And  
from what they say of this part of the charge you will be able  
to judge of the truth of the rest.  

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, There is the report that he is a Sophist who receives money.
and take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than

5th Century Athenian Money
the other. Although, if a man were really able to instruct  


mankind, to receive money for giving instruction would, in my  
opinion, be an honor to him. There is Gorgias of Leontium,  
and Prodicus of Ceos, and Hippias of Elis, who go the round  
of the cities and are able to persuade the young men to leave  


their own citizens by whom they might be taught for nothing,  
and come to them whom they not only pay, but are thankful if  
they may be allowed to pay them. There is at this time Parian  
philosopher residing in Athens, of whom I have heard; and I  
came to hear of him in this way: - I came across a man who has The ironical question which Socrates put to Callias.
spent a world of money on the Sophists, Callias, the son of
Hipponicus, and knowing that he had sons, I asked him:
"Callias," I said, "if your two sons were foals or calves, there  
would be no difficulty in finding some one to put over them;  
we should hire a trainer of horses, or a farmer probably, who  
would improve and perfect them in their own proper virtue  


and excellence; but as they are human beings, whom are you  
thinking of placing over them? Is there any one who understands  
human and political virtue? You must have thought about  
the matter, for you have sons; is there any one?"  
"There is," he said. "Who is he?" said I; "and of what country?  
and what does he charge?" "Evenus the Parian," he replied, "he is  


the man, and his charge is five minae." Happy is Evenus, I said  
to myself, if he really has this wisdom, and teaches at such a  
moderate charge. Had I the same, I should have been very  
proud and conceited; but the truth is that I have no knowledge  
of the kind.