The Apology begins with Socrates
telling his 501 Athenian jurors that he will not be deceitful or use shady language. He only speaks
the truth and asks the jurors to pay attention to the truth of his words, not the manner in which they're
spoken. There were two different kinds of accusers of Socrates. The first and older accusers
were men who disliked Socrates even when he was younger, and he was guilty of their charges more by
association than the facts. They believed that he made the weaker argument the stronger and studied
physics-both of which were false accusations. The point of this part is a criticism of the Sophists
who were philosophers that Socrates and Plato disliked. They charged money for their conversations,
unlike Socrates, and they often pretended to be wiser than Socrates and Plato believed them to be.
The opponents of Socrates wrongly placed him in this category, and Socrates explains to the jurors that
he has never asked for money, nor claimed to have knowledge of things he truly doesn't understand.
Socrates says he is conscious that he isn't wise, although he is wiser than some men because he at least
knows this truth about himself.
The story of Chaerephon and his trip to the oracle is meant to show the jurors that he not only believes
in the city's gods (although there is some dispute that Socrates did not truly believe), but also was
commanded to lead the life of a philosopher and to accept the truth that he is the wisest man around.
Although Socrates tried to refute the oracle, whenever he encountered a man who seemed to be wiser,
he always found that he was indeed wiser than the other. This is part of the background that Socrates
is providing for the jurors to defend himself against the old charges. Socrates believes he has
neither wisdom nor ignorance. Furthermore, wisdom in one field does not mean wisdom in all or
other areas. The majority blamed Socrates for the actions of his followers and wrongly accused
him perhaps out of jealousy.
The recent charges (for which he was on trial) are harder to defend, and Socrates realizes this.
Meletus wrote out the official charges and reads them aloud:
1) Corruption of the young
2) Not believing in the city's gods but rather in spiritual things
Socrates strongly attacks Meletus for wasting the court's time on such absurd charges. He then
argues that if he corrupted the young he did so unknowingly since Socrates believes that one never deliberately
acts wrongly. If Socrates either did not corrupt the young or did so unknowingly, then in both
cases he should not be brought to trial.
The second charge is the charge of impiety. This is when Socrates finds an inconsistency in Meletus'
belief that Socrates is impious. If he didn't believe in any gods (as he gets Meletus to say)
then it would be inconsistent to say that he believed in spiritual things, as gods are a form of a spiritual
thing. Even the disarming of his own argument doesn't diminish Meletus' contemptuous thoughts
toward Socrates and he finishes testifying with the same attitude that he had when he began.
For a while, Socrates continues to argue
against the charges, often asking and answering his own questions as if he were speaking in a conversation
with one of his friends. He says that once a man has found his passion in life (as philosophy
would be to Socrates) it would be wrong of him to take into account the risk of life or death that such
a passion might involve. This is why Socrates remains true to his way of life even though he is
on trial for his life, and will probably be sentenced to death. We know nothing of death according
to Socrates, and therefore it is irrational to fear it. He also later says that his service to
the god is more important than having the support of Athenians, or money, or a nicer lifestyle.
He never meant to impose his thoughts on anyone, but instead to simply enjoy the company of interesting
people and the opportunity to learn from others' thoughts and conversation. Socrates claims to
be a law-abiding man, and in the case of Leon of Salamis from his past, he risked death by disobeying
the authorities and siding with the law. This is an important story because it provides insight
into the character of Socrates based on his actions. When he was forced to choose between pleasing
the majority and remaining true to the law, he chose the latter with a clear mind and clear conscience.
He believed (and still believes) that the laws of the city are wiser than the men who supposedly enforce
them. With that said, Socrates tells the jury that they are required to do justice with their
verdict as the law would see fit, not as they personally see fit.
The jury returns with a guilty verdict and Meletus asks for the penalty of death. Socrates is
not angry or upset with either the jurors or his fate. It was a custom in Athens for the guilty
to suggest an alternative sentence that the jurors could vote in favor of if it was acceptable.
So Socrates suggests that it would be fair for him to eat free meals in the Prytaneum, which was similar
to a public hall where celebrations and events were held. This seems a bit ridiculous of Socrates
to suggest but he goes on to explain why he arrived at this alternative sentence and not surprisingly,
the jurors vote for the original sentence of death, as suggested by Meletus.
When Socrates is informed of the final verdict he again
keeps his composure and closes his defense speech by saying that he would much rather have defended
himself in the way that he did, than by begging and pleading for the sympathy and mercy of the jurors.
Once again, Plato portrays his predecessor in a very noble way as Socrates remains true to his own ideals.
He tells the jurors that they should expect a vengeance to come upon them much worse than that of guilt,
because they have mistakenly condemned a great man to death. And he thanks those who voted in
his favor, even inviting them to engage in conversation with him after the trial, if they would like.
Finally, Socrates tells the jury
that there is hope in death and that he will enter into it with no fear. His final request is
for the jurymen to make sure that Socrates' sons grow up in the right way with an eye on their souls,
just as the jurymen should mind the state of their souls. If that can be done then Socrates feels
that he will have been treated justly, along with his sons.