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Speech I: Socrates' Defense

(5) Impiety

  Socrates. It will be very clear to you, Athenians, as I was the

Jowett's Notes

  saying, that Meletus has no care at all, great or small, about  
  matter. But still I should like to know, Meletus, in what I am  


affirmed to corrupt the young. I suppose you mean, as I infer  
  from your indictment, that I teach them not to acknowledge  
  the gods which the state acknowledges, but some other new  
  divinities or spiritual agencies in their stead. These are the  
  lessons by which I corrupt the youth, as you say.  
The Acropolis was the center of religious activity in Athens
Photo: Steven S. Tigner
  Meletus. Yes, that I say emphatically.  
  Soc. Then, by the gods, Meletus, of whom we are speaking, Socrates is declared by Meletus to be an atheist and to corrupt the religion of the young.


tell me and the court, in somewhat plainer terms, what you
  mean! For I do not as yet understand whether you affirm that I
  teach other men to acknowledge some gods, and therefore that  
  I do believe in gods, and am not an entire atheist - this you do  
  not lay to my charge, - but only you say that they are not the  
  same gods which the city recognizes - the charge is that they  
  are different gods. Or, do you mean that I am an atheist  
  simply, and a teacher of atheism?  
  Mel. I mean the latter - that you are a complete atheist.  
  Soc. What an extraordinary statement! Why do you think so,  


Meletus? Do you mean that I do not believe in the godhead of  
  the sun or moon, like other men?  
  Mel. I assure you, judges, that he does not: for he says that  
  the sun is stone, and the moon earth.  
  Soc. Friend Meletus, you think that you are accusing  
  Anaxagoras: and you have but a bad opinion of the judges, if  

Anaxagoras Depicted on a Coin
Photo: Runes, A Pictorial History of Philosophy
  you fancy them illiterate to such a degree as not to know that Meletus has confounded Socrates with Anaxagoras ...
  these doctrines are found in the books of Anaxagoras the
  Clazomenian, which are full of them. And so, forsooth, the  
  youth are said to be taught them by Socrates, when there are  
  not infrequently exhibitions of them at the theater (price of  
  admission one drachma at the most); and they might pay their  
  money, and laugh at Socrates if he pretends to father these  
  extraordinary views. And so, Meletus, you really think that I  
  do not believe in any god?  


Mel. I swear by Zeus that you believe absolutely in none at  
  Soc. Nobody will believe you, Meletus, and I am pretty sure ... and he (Meletus) has contradicted himself in the indictment.
  that you do not believe yourself. I cannot help thinking, men
  of Athens, that Meletus is reckless and impudent, and that he  
  has written this indictment in a spirit of mere wantonness and  
  youthful bravado. Has he not compounded a riddle, thinking  


to try me? He said to himself: - I shall see whether the wise  
  Socrates will discover my facetious contradiction, or whether  
  I shall be able to deceive him and the rest of them. For he  
  certainly does appear to me to contradict himself in the  
  indictment as much as if he said that Socrates is guilty of not  
  believing in the gods, and yet of believing in them - but this is  
  not like a person who is in earnest.  
  I should like you, O men of Athens, to join me in examining  
  what I conceive to be his inconsistency; and do you, Meletus,  
  answer. And I must remind the audience of my request that  
  they would not make a disturbance if I speak in my  
  accustomed manner:  
  Did ever man, Meletus, believe in the existence of human How can Socrates believe in divine agencies and not believe in gods?


things, and not of human beings? . . . I wish, men of Athens,
  that he would answer, and not be always trying to get up an
  interruption. Did ever any man believe in horsemanship, and  
  not in horses? or in flute-playing, and not in flute-players? No,  
  my friend; I will answer to you and to the court, as you refuse  
  to answer for yourself. There is no man who ever did. But  


now please to answer the next question: Can a man believe in  
  spiritual and divine agencies, and not in spirits or demigods?  
Hercules was one of the most famous Demigods
Photo: The Labors of Heracles
Australian National University
  Mel. He cannot.  
  Soc. How lucky I am to have extracted that answer, by the  
  assistance of the court! But then you swear in the indictment  
  that I teach and believe in divine or spiritual agencies new or  
  old, no matter for that); at any rate, I believe in spiritual  
  agencies, - so you say and swear in the affidavit; and yet if I  
  believe in divine beings, how can I help believing in spirits or  
  demigods; - must I not? To be sure I must; and therefore I may  
  assume that your silence gives consent. Now what are spirits  


or demigods? are they not either gods or the sons of gods.  
  Mel. Certainly they are.  
  Soc. But this is what I call the facetious riddle invented by you:  
  the demigods or spirits are gods, and you say first that I do not  
  believe in gods, and then again that I do believe in gods; that  
  is, if I believe in demigods. For if the demigods are the other  
  illegitimate sons of gods, whether by the nymphs or by any  
  mothers, of whom they are said to be the sons - what human  
  being will ever believe that there are no gods if they are the  
  sons of gods? You might as well affirm the existence of mules,  


and deny that of horses and asses. Such nonsense, Meletus,  
  could only have been intended by you to make trial of me.  
  You have put this into the indictment because you had nothing  
  real of which to accuse me. But no one who has a particle of  
  understanding will ever be convinced by you that the same  
  man can believe in divine and superhuman things, and yet not  


believe that there are gods and demigods and heroes.