Plato’s Apology is a narrative of the famous speech of Socrates that is made during his trial. Instead of apologizing, Socrates attempts to defend himself and his actions. He is put on trial due to his accusations of corrupting Athens, not acknowledging the same gods as the state, and creating new gods. During his dialogue, Socrates remains very calm and speaks with honesty. He focuses on what is said rather than his manner of speech. When he is first presented in from of the jury, Socrates asks them if they will hear him in the same dialect in which he is familiar with.
Being his first court appearance, he is not accustomed to the language of the jury. Socrates spent most of his lifetime in the marketplace. This caused him to use conversational tone rather than judicial. He asks the jury to listen to what is being said, rather than how. For Socrates believes that the excellence of a speaker lies in nothing but the truth. Socrates states that his purpose in life is to bring people to greater wisdom. His does this by questioning them. As the oracle stated, there is no man wiser than Socrates. This is because Socrates is aware of his own ignorance, unlike other men.
He believes that it is his job to question those who are said to be “wise”, in order to prove their false wisdom. In doing so he will encourage people to be more productive and virtuous. Although he will gain many enemies along the way, due to embarrassment, Socrates will bring the city of Athens more happiness in the end. When the jury sentences Socrates to death, he accepts it with poise. He explains to them that he is not afraid of death. “No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of all evils” (The Apology, 29a6).
This quote of Socrates is an example of why there is no man wiser than him. For he is intelligent enough to realize that no one knows what is to come after life. People live their lives fearing the next step when in reality, that next step could possibly something great. Socrates points out that “it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know” (The Apology, 29b1) Socrates tries to convince the jury that in sentencing him to death, they are in turn harming themselves.
He uses a strategy in his speech as his warns the court that it will be to their advantage if they listen to him. For Socrates “does not think it is permitted that a better man be harmed by a worse” (The Apology, 30d1). He states that they can execute him, or even kill him, but the main damage will be done onto themselves. For having a man banished unjustly will be a burden to the city of Athens. Also, they will never find another man like Socrates. Socrates explains that he was sent down as a gift from the god. Therefore, if the jury punishes him, they will be disgracing the god.
In order to enrich his argument, Socrates compares himself to a gadfly and the Athenian state to a noble, but lazy horse. A gadfly is constantly lingering around a horse, buzzing and stinging, just as Socrates is always moving throughout the city, striking up conversation. Although it may be irritating, a gadfly will keep a horse from falling asleep. Socrates claims that similarly to a gadfly, his presence may be agitating, but the state of Athens will benefit from it. His services keep the state from becoming sluggish and careless, and will eventually waken it into productive action.
This analogy shows that rather than viewing himself as a corruptor of the youth, as that state does, Socrates views himself as the god’s blessing to the city. Philosophy is one of Socrates’ main priorities in life. He warns the jury that if he is acquitted, he will continue his practice to serve the city with wisdom. Socrates explains that he will obey the god rather than the state. “As long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy to exhort you” (The Apology, 29d4). This quote reflects his strong sense of persistence.
If Socrates shall come across a man who values wealth and honor over wisdom and truth, he will question and examine him. He shall than criticize that man for not having his priorities straight. Socrates goes on to say that this is nothing more than what the god orders him to do and his main priority is serving the god. One can infer that Socrates is stubborn when he claims that, “I never cease to rouse each and every one of you, to persuade and reproach you all day long and everywhere I find myself in your company” (The Apology, 31a1). This overall account of Socrates’ defense brings up questions regarding human nature.
Do humans naturally tend to justice or injustice? Are human’s inherently virtuous? Socrates spends his whole life trying to improve human nature. One can learn from this passage that there is much more to life than wealth and power. “Wealth does not bring about excellence, but excellence makes wealth and everything else good for men, both individually and collectively” (The Apology, 30b2). This quote depicts Socrates’ belief that as a human, our main concern in life should be wisdom, truth, and the best possible state of our soul. With these, one can lead a virtuous life.
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