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Speech I: Socrates' Defense

(4) Corruption of the Youth

  I have said enough in my defence against the first class of my

Jowett's Notes

  accusers; I turn to the second class. They are headed by The second class of accusers.
  Meletus, that good man and true lover of his country as he
  calls himself. Against these, too, I must try to make my
Ruins of the Ancient City of Athens
Photo: Kevin T. Glowacki and Nancy Klein
The Ancient City of Athens
  defence: - Let their affidavit be read: it contains something of  
  this kind: It says that Socrates is a doer of evil, who corrupts  
  the youth; and who does not believe in the gods of the state,  


but has other new divinities of his own. Such is the charge;  
  and now let us examine the particular counts. He says that I  
  am a doer of evil, and corrupt the youth; but I say, O men of  
  Athens that Meletus is a doer of evil, in that he pretends to be  
  earnest when he is only in jest, and is so eager to bring men to  
  trial from a pretended zeal and interest about matters in which  
  he really never had the smallest interest. And the truth of this I  
  endeavor to prove to you.  
  Come hither, Meletus, and let me ask a question of you. You  


think a great deal about the improvement of youth?  
  Meletus: Yes, I do.  
  Socrates: Tell the judges, then, who is their improver; for you All men are discovered to be improvers of youth with the single exception of Socrates.
  must know, as you have taken the pains to discover their
  corrupter, and are citing and accusing me before them. Speak
  then and tell the judges who their improver is. - Observe,  
  Meletus that you are silent, and have nothing to say. But is  
  not this rather disgraceful, and a very considerable proof of  
  what I was saying, that you have no interest in the matter?  


Speak up, friend, and tell us who their improver is.  
  Mel: The laws.  
  Soc: But that, my good sir, is not my meaning. I want to know  
  who the person is, who, in the first place, knows the laws.  
  Mel: The judges ,Socrates, who are present in court.  


Soc: What, do you mean to say, Meletus, that they are able  
  to instruct and improve youth?  
  Mel: Certainly they are.  
  Soc: What, all of them, or some only and not others?  
  Mel: All of them.  
  Soc: By the goddess, Hera, that is good news! There are  
  plenty of improvers, then. And what do you say of the  
  audience, do they improve them?  
  Mel: Yes, they do.  
  Soc: And the senators?  
  Mel: Yes, the senators improve them.  
  Soc: But perhaps the members of the assembly corrupt them?  
  - or do they too improve them?  
  Mel: They improve them. you a question: How about horses?  
  Soc: Then every Athenian improves and elevates them; all  
  with the exception of myself, and I alone am their corrupter?  
  Is that what you affirm?  
  Mel: That is what I stoutly affirm.  
  Soc: I am very unfortunate if you are right. But suppose I ask But this rather unfortunate fact does not accord with the analogy of the animals.
  you a question: How about horses? Does one man do them
  harm and  all the world good? Is not the exact opposite the
  truth? One man is able to do them good, or at least not many;  


- the trainer of horses, that is to say, does them good, and  
  others who have to do with them rather injure them? Is not  
  that true, Meletus, of horses, or of any other animals? Most  
  assuredly it is; whether you and Anytus say yes or no. Happy  
  indeed would be the condition of youth if  they had one  


corrupter only, and all the rest of the world were their  
  improvers. But you, Meletus, have sufficiently shown that you  
  never had a thought about the young: your carelessness is  
  seen in your not caring about the very things which you bring  
  against me.  
  And now, Meletus, I will ask you another question - by Zeus  
  I will: Which is better, to live among bad citizens, or among  
  good ones? Answer, friend. I say, the question is one which  
  may be easily answered. Do not the good do their neighbours  
  good, and the bad do them evil?  
  Mel: Certainly.  
  Soc: And is there any one who would rather be injured than  


benefitted by those who live with him? Answer, my good  
  friend, the law requires you to answer - does any one like to  
  be injured?  
  Mel: Certainly not.  
  Soc: And when you accuse me of corrupting and deteriorating When I do harm to my neighbour I must do harm to myself: and therefore I cannot be supposed to injure them intentionally.
  the youth, do you allege that I corrupt them intentionally or
  Mel: Intentionally, I say.  
  Soc: But you have just admitted that the good do their  
  neighbours good and evil do them evil. Now, is that a truth  


which your superior wisdom has recognized this early in life,   
  and am I, at my age, in such darkness and ignorance as not to  
  know that if a man with whom I have to live is corrupted by  
  me, I am very likely to be harmed by him; and yet I corrupt  
  him, and intentionally, too - so you say, although neither I nor   
  any other human being is ever likely to be convinced by you.  
  But either I do not corrupt them, or I corrupt them  
  unintentionally; and on either view of the case you lie. If my  
  offence is unintentional, the law has no cognizance of  
  unintentional offenses: you ought to have taken me privately,  
  and warned and admonished me, for if I had been better  
  advised, I should have left off doing what I only did  
  unintentionally - no doubt I should; but you would have  
  nothing to say to me and refused to teach me. And now you  
  bring me up in this court, which is a place not of instruction,   
  but of punishment.