© 1996, 1997, 2004 Bernard SUZANNE Last updated January 1st, 2006
Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.
Tetralogies : Apology of Socrates' home page - 3rd Tetralogy's home page - Text of dialogue in Greek or English at Perseus

Apology of Socrates
(3rd tetralogy : Socrates' Trial - 2nd dialogue of trilogy)

Plan of the Apology of Socrates

Technical note : to better show the parallelism in the two parts of the "dialogue" this plan is set up using the table extensions of HTML and requires a browser capable of handling these extensions. You should also ensure your browser's window is large enough for comfortable viewing.

Lies : Truth :
"scarcely a word of what they said was true" (17a) "from me you shall hear the whole truth" (17b)
Judges of appearance : Fighter for the laws :
"I must fight against shadows" (18d) "I must obey the law" (19a)

PART 1 : The city judges Socrates (19b-29b)
Judging on appearance leads to division

PART 2 : Socrates defends the city (30c-42a)
Listening to the god leads to unity

1. Eikasia : Athens accuses Socrates (19b-20c)  :
the supposed look of a pseudo-sophos

1. Eikasia : Socrates defends Athens (30c-31c)  :
the true image of a real philo-sophos
The city accuses Socrates to behave injustly against it The city is unjust to itself in trying Socrates
Socrates as seen by the city in Aristophanes' play and in real life Socrates as seen by himself : the gadfly appointed by god to awaken the city
The sign of faked sophia in the sophists : money and pride The sign of true sophia in Socrates : disinterest and poverty

2. Pistis : the delphic oracle (20c-23b)  :
behavior of the self-proclaimed sophoi

2. Pistis : Socrates "demonic sign" (31c-33a)  :
behavior of the true philo-sophos
The oracle, external principle of Socrates' behavior
The "demonic sign", internal principle of Socrates' behavior
The questioning of politicians, poets and craftsmen Socrates'answer in his public life at the service of the city
Conclusion : Socrates arouses hostility to himself as paradigm of a disturbing truth : Conclusion : Socrates would have made as many enemies as a politician,
"human wisdom has little or no value" (23a) "always upholding the cause of right, and seting this goal above all others" (32e)
The Athenians split between truth and opinion Socrates consistent in words and deeds, in public and in private

Imitators - leisure - imitation leading to division (23c-e)
Faked unity of Socrates' foes in

Disciples - duty - true friendship leading to unity (33a-c)
True unity of Socrates' friends before
THE ACT OF THE CITY : the trial (23e-24c) THE ACT OF SOCRATES : his defense (33d-34b)
"Meletos, friend of the city... is guilty of taking serious matters lightly" (24c) "What reason do they have for helping me, except right and justice" (34b)
A parody of justice in the accusation True justice in the defense

3. Dianoia : the dialogue with Meletos (24d-28a)  :
inconsistencies in the accusation

3. Dianoia : Socrates sticks to true logos (34b-38b)  :
neither lies nor silence
Socrates alone corrupting, while everybody else teaches good (24d-25c) Socrate alone won't disgrace the city, all other defendants do (34b-35d)
"You have never taken the slightest interest in what you are indicting me for" (25c) "Don't expect me to behave in a manner that is neither fine nor just nor pious" (35c)
Socrates would never willingly live with those he corrupted (25c-26a) (2nd speech) Socrates, as a public benefactor, should live in the Prytaneion (35e-37b)
"You are bringing me before a court appointed to punish, not to enlighten" (26a) "How could I dispose of so grave calomnies here in so short a time" (37b)
Socrates supposed disbelief corrupting youth (26a-27b) Any possible penalty would "corrupt" Socrates (37b-37e)
"Do you seriously suggest that it is from me the young get these ideas" (26d) "Wherever I go, young people would come listen to me" (37d)
To believe in god's children without believing in gods (27b-28a) Socrates won't disobey the god nor will his spiritual children, ready to pay for his freedom (37e-38b)
Meletos' accusation is groundless Socrates credentials are solid

4. Epistèmè  : the science of ends (28a-29b)
Life and death

4. Epistèmè  : last judgment (3rd speech) (38c-42a)
Life and death
"What will bring about my destruction, if anything does, is the slander and jealousy of the people" (28a) "What caused my condemnation is the fact that I have refused to address you in the way which would give you most pleasure" (38d)
Justice, and not fear of death, as a guide Socrates never behaved cowardly
Each one must stay at his post, whatever it is Socrates stayed at his post, whatever the cost
The example of Socrates in the battlefield Judgment of the judges by the convicted
Why fear death when you don't know what it is ? The demonic sign confirms Socrates in his faith in the good he expects
"It is bad and dishonest to disobey a better one, be it man or god" (29b) "Nothing can harm a good man either in life or after death" (41d)

At the heart of the speech : SOUL, where unity must be built (29c-30c)
"Are you not ashamed that you give no attention or thought to truth and understanding and the perfection of your SOUL ?" (29e)
"This is what the god commands" (30a)
"Make your first and chief concern not for your bodies nor for your possessions, but for the highest welfare of your SOULS" (30b)

The key to this structure is given by the soul ! I mean, by the use of the word "psuchè" in the "dialogue". The word occurs only three times in it : at 29e2 and 30b2, then at 40c8. Let's concentrate first on the first two occurrences :

29e2: "O ! best of men, you, an Athenian, citizen of the greatest city and the one best known for its wisdom and its strength, you are not ashamed to give your time to increasing your wealth, your reputation and fame as much as possible, while knowledge, truth and the way to better your SOUL, you don't care and don't give a damn about it !" (29d-e)

30b2: "I have no other business than walking along and persuade you, young and old alike, not so much to take care of your body and your wealth as to passionately look for the way to better your SOUL." (30a-b)

They are very close to one another, and happen to be almost at the exact middle of the dialogue (in number of Stephanus pages, that would be about 29c). And they come on either side of what may be seen as the summary of Socrates "mission" as he understands it :"and if one of you protests and states that he is taking care of it [his soul], I won't let him go right away and follow my own way, but I'll keep on asking questions, scrutinizing him thoroughly, torturing him, and, if I think he doesn't actually possess excellence (aretèn), but only appears to possess it, I'll reproach him to give so little value to what has most, and so much to what has least. That's the way I'll behave with anybody, young or old, who happens to be on my path, foreigner or fellow citizen, but above all, with you, my fellow citizens, as you are closest to me by birth. That's what the god orders me to do, be assured of it. And, as far as I am concerned, I think no better good ever came to this city than my submission to the god" (29e-30a). And the whole stuff is embedded between two mentions of Anytus, the true "soul" of the case, presented as trying to shut Socrates up, that is, to divert him from his god-inspired "mission" (29c-d and 30b).

Besides, the second mention comes as an "explanation" (indirect style, Socrates telling what he does) of what the first one displays "in action" (direct style, Socrates "enacting" what he would say to any Athenian). And in effect, the whole section 29c-30c divides the "dialogue" in two equal parts, the second one providing the "rationale", the logos, of what the first one only "displayed".

Each of these two parts is itself built around a central section which has to do with Socrates' "followers", but in very different ways :

Thus we see that the two parts of the dialogue oppose in the same manner the act of the city against Socrates, the trial, due to the misreading of Socrates "appearance" by his fellow citizens to the act of Socrates in favor of the city, his defense, grounded in the fair reading of god's will. And while the first part concentrates on Socrates' life as seen by the Athenians, and on their reaction to it, the second part brings us closer to Socrates' innermost motivations and understanding of this life of him.

Besides, each part in turn proceeds "physically" from past to present to future, and "logically" from the lowest layers of reality, mere images, to the highest spheres of reality, the good that is our "telos". And we may somehow relate this progression to the analogy of the line in the Republic, and the various kinds of "understanding" it introduces : eikasia (imagination), pistis (faith, trust), dianoia (discursive thought) and epistèmè (knowledge).

The first false image of Socrates given Athens is that of Aristophanes' Clouds, to which Socrates opposes, in the first section of the second part, the true image he gives of himself, that of a gadfly meant to awaken the city : not ascending toward the sky in some sort of basket, but descending towards the city and its citizen ; not theorizing the clouds but listening to the god. In that same area of external appearance, Socrates points at money as the test of true sophia, opposing the wealthy sophists asking huge salaries for their lessons (in the first part) to his own poverty and disinterest (stressed again in the second part).

Moving from images to facts, from imagination to "pistis", we find a parallel between the Delphic oracle and the "demonic sign". The Delphic oracle is a "material" word, traceable in space and time, heard by many, told Socrates by the "cheering voice" of Chærephon, which provides an "external" principle to Socrates behavior, primarily in his "private" behavior (private not in the sense of personal, "internal", but as opposed to public, that is, "political"  ; this "private" life includes most of Socrates' "social" life on the agora and in the streets of Athens, so long as he acts as a "private" citizen, and not in an official function). It induces Socrates inquiry into other men's sophia through all the layers of Athens' "soul" (the three classes of citizen successively mentioned, politicians, poiètai and craftsmen are to be related to the three classes of citizens in the Republic, which serve as an image of the soul, and, in so doing, one can see that a city which has replaced his guardians by poiètai , Homer the teacher, or Aristophanes for the case in point, is in bad shape ! But there is worse : when it comes to acting against Socrates, the "soul" of the accusation is now made up of a poiètès, Meletus, as the acting party taking over the place of the guardians-thumos ; the "logos" is reduced to a mere rhetorician turned wolf, Lycon, who doesn't say a single word ; and Anytus the craftsman has taken over his role, demiourgos turned politician, but not a demiourgos to be imitated like the one in the Timæus !). The "demonic sign" on the other hand, this "something divine and demonic (theion ti kai daimonion)" Socrates alludes to at 31c8-d1 and which has often been personified under the name "Socrates' daemon" (which would be daimôn in Greek, a word which is not the one used by Socrates to refer to what he is talking about here), is the "internal", the "spiritual" principle of Socrates' life, not heard by anybody else, invisible and immaterial, and he provides the "true" logos of his behavior, especially in his "public" life.

Moving along to the second half of each part, we reach the present, and the moment of "dialogos"  : in the first part, the dialogue with Meletus, paralleled in the second part by the "dialogue" with the judges about the sentencing. As I see it, in this scheme, the passage from the first to the second speech doesn't constitute a limit between parts : in other words, the verdict itself is at the heart of part three, the unheard answer of the judges to Socrates' defense. And what Socrates tells us here is that he is not ready for any kind of logos, but only for "true" logos, and also that he is not ready to give up logos either, whatever the cost to him, because logos is a gift from the gods.

The last section of each part has to do with death and what comes with it ; death is seen here as the "telos" of human life, the seal of its goodness or wickedness, the possible door to the ultimate "epistèmè", rather than the ultimate evil to be avoided at any cost. In the first part, we are told that a false image of death should not drive us in life, while, in the second part, we get a glimpse, from a "seer", a Socrates endowed with the gift of prophecy by his now imminent death, into what might await us in the "afterdeath".

And the last section of the second part, that is, the third speech, is itself kind of a summary of the whole work, built along the same plan, and affording us the third mention of the soul in its middle, in what may be viewed as a "definition" of death : "... or it must be, according to the saying, some sort of change and of migration of the SOUL from this place to another" (40c). This mention marks the turning point between the first part of the speech, which is still concerned with this world, and a second one, which has to do with the "other world", before a conclusion brings us back on earth and ends on the word "god"  :

This reading of the Apology shows that it is no longer possible to view it as a "circumstantial" work, a more or less "journalistic" report on Socrates' trial, written a few years after his death to answer other such reports that would be less faithful to the facts. As much as any other dialogue, it is a philosophical work, built on the same underlying principles as the Republic and all other dialogues, and, I would say, it doesn't try to be true to the letter of Socrates' words, but to their spirit, which is much more fruitful, and in which it is masterfully successful, as usual with Plato...

(Back to comment on the Apology in the introduction to 3rd tetralogy)

Plato and his dialogues : Home - Biography - Works and links to them - History of interpretation - New hypotheses - Map of dialogues : table version or non tabular version. Tools : Index of persons and locations - Detailed and synoptic chronologies - Maps of Ancient Greek World. Site information : About the author.
Tetralogies : Apology of Socrates' home page - 3rd Tetralogy's home page - Text of dialogue in Greek or English at Perseus

First published August 14, 1996 - Last updated January 1st, 2006
© 1996, 1997, 2004 Bernard SUZANNE (click on name to send your comments via e-mail)
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