Apology (Plato)

For the article on Xenophon's work on the same subject, see the Apology of Socrates to the Jury. For other uses, see Apology (disambiguation)

The Apology of Socrates (Greek: Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους, Apologia Sokratous, Latin: Apologia Socratis), by Plato, is the Socratic dialogue that presents the speech of legal self-defence, which Socrates presented at his trial for impiety and corruption, in 399 BC.[1]

Specifically the Apology of Socrates is a defence against the charges of “corrupting the young” and “not believing in the gods in whom the city believes, but in other daimonia that are novel” to Athens (24b).[2]

Among the primary sources about the trial and death of the philosopher Socrates (469–399 BC), the Apology of Socrates is the dialogue that depicts the trial, and is one of four Socratic dialogues, along with Euthyphro, Phaedo, and Crito, through which Plato details the final days of the philosopher Socrates.

The text of apology

The Apology of Socrates, by the philosopher Plato (429–347 BC), was one of many explanatory apologia about Socrates’s legal defence against accusations of corruption and impiety; most apologia were published in the decade after the Trial of Socrates (399 BC).[3] As such, Plato’s Apology of Socrates is an early philosophic defence of Socrates, presented in the form of a Socratic dialogue; which Aristotle later classed as a genre of fiction;[4] and is an historical source about Socrates (469–399 BC) the philosopher.[5]

Except for Socrates’s two dialogues with Meletus, about the nature and logic of his accusations of impiety, the text of the Apology of Socrates is in the first-person perspective and voice of the philosopher Socrates (24d–25d and 26b–27d). Moreover, during the trial, in his speech of self-defence, Socrates twice mentions that Plato is present at the trial (34a and 38b).


The Apology of Socrates begins with Socrates addressing the jury to ask if the men of Athens (the jury) have been persuaded by his accusers, Lycon, Anytus, and Meletus, the Orators formally accusing him (Socrates) of corrupting the young people of the city and of impiety against the pantheon of Athens. The first sentence of his speech establishes the theme of the dialogue — that philosophy begins with an admission of ignorance. Socrates later clarifies that point of philosophy when he says that whatever wisdom he possesses comes from knowing that he knows nothing (23b, 29b).

In the course of the trial, Socrates imitates, parodies, and corrects the Orators, his accusers, and asks the jury to judge him by the truth of his statements, not by his oratorical skill (cf. Lysias XIX 1,2,3; Isaeus X 1; Isocrates XV 79; Aeschines II 24). Socrates says he will not use sophistic language — carefully arranged ornate words and phrases — but will speak using the common idiom of the Greek language. He affirms that he will speak in the manner he is heard using in the agora and at the money tables. Despite his claim of ignorance, Socrates speaks masterfully, correcting the Orators and showing them what they should have done — speak the truth persuasively and with wisdom. Although offered the opportunity to appease the prejudices of the jury, with a minimal concession to the charges of corruption and impiety, Socrates does not yield his integrity to avoid the penalty of death. Accordingly, the jury condemns Socrates to death.

Accusers of Socrates

In the society of fifth-century Athens, the three men who formally accused the philosopher Socrates of impiety and corruption against the people and the city, represented the interests of the politicians and the craftsmen, of the scholars, poets, and rhetoricians. The accusers of Socrates were:

The accusations

In his defence at trial, Socrates must refute two sets of accusations: (i) asebeia (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens, by introducing new gods; and (ii) corruption of Athenian youth, by teaching them to doubt the status quo. Socrates says to the court that these old accusations arise from years of gossip and prejudice against him; hence, are matters difficult to address. He then embarrasses the accusing Orators, by reformulating their diffuse accusations against him into proper, legal form, that: “Socrates is committing an injustice, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky; and makes the weaker argument the stronger; and teaches others to follow his example” (19b-c).

Socrates also says that the accusations for which he is answering in court already had been spoken and published by the comic poet Aristophanes; therefore, are beyond the legal scope of a trial for corruption and impiety. Years earlier, in the play The Clouds (423 BC), Aristophanes lampooned Socrates as a charlatan; as the paradigm philosopher of atheist and scientific sophistry — carefully arranged arguments constructed of ornate words and phrases — misrepresented as wisdom. In light of that definition, Socrates defensively argues that he cannot be mistaken for a Sophist philosopher, because sophists are wise men, and are thought to be wise by the people of Athens, and thus are highly paid for their teaching; whereas he (Socrates) lives in ten-thousand-fold poverty, and knows nothing noble and good (23c).

Supernatural intercession

For his self-defence, Socrates first eliminates any claim that he is a wise man. He says that Chaerephon, reputed to be impetuous, went to the Oracle of Delphi and asked her, the Pythia, to tell him of anyone who was wiser than Socrates. The Pythia answered to Chaerephon that there was no man wiser. On learning of that oracular pronouncement, Socrates says he was astounded, because, on the one hand, it is against the nature of the Oracle to lie, but, on the other hand, he knew he was not wise. Therefore, Socrates sought to find someone wiser than himself, so that he could take that person as evidence to the Oracle at Delphi. Hence why Socrates minutely queried everyone who appeared to be a wise person. In that vein, he tested the minds of politicians, poets, and scholars, for wisdom; although he occasionally found genius, Socrates found no one who possessed wisdom; yet, each man was thought wise by the people, and each man thought himself wise; therefore, he (Socrates) was the better man, because was aware that he was not wise.

Moral corruption

About corrupting Athenian youth, Socrates explained that the young, rich men of the city of Athens have little to do with their time of day. and so follow him about the city, observing his questioning of intellectual arguments in dialogue with other intellectual men. In turn, the young men imitate the method of Socrates. Moreover, the embarrassed men, whose arguments Socrates examined and found wanting, do not know how to avoid the ridicule of exposure as pretenders to wisdom. To not lose face, the beardless lads re-state the prejudicial, stock accusations against Socrates, that he is a morally abominable man who corrupts the youth of Athens with sophistry and atheism. In his defence, Socrates said, “For those who are examined, instead of being angry with themselves, are angry with me!” Hence is Socrates considered a wise man, yet acquired a bad reputation among the politically powerful personages of Athens.

The dialogue

The Apology of Socrates, by Plato, is a Socratic dialogue in three parts that cover the Trial of Socrates (399 BC): (i) the legal self-defence of Socrates, (ii) the verdict of the jury, and (iii) the sentence of the court.

Part one: The defence of Socrates

Socrates begins his legal defence by telling the jury that their minds were poisoned by his enemies, when they (the jury) were young and impressionable. That his false reputation as a sophistical philosopher comes from his enemies, all of whom are malicious and envious of him, yet must remain nameless — except for the playwright Aristophanes, who lampooned him (Socrates) as a charlatan-philosopher in the comedy play The Clouds (423 BC). About corrupting the rich, young men of Athens, Socrates argues that deliberate corruption is an illogical action. That the false accusations of his being a corrupter of youth began at the time of his obedience to the Oracle at Delphi, and tells how Chaerephon went to the Oracle, to ask her (the priestess) if there was a man wiser than Socrates. That when Chaerephon reported to him that the Oracle said there is no wiser man, he (Socrates) interpreted that divine report as a riddle — because he was aware of possessing no wisdom “great or small”, and that lying is not in the nature of the gods.

The wisest man

Socrates then sought to solve the divine paradox — that an ignorant man also could be the wisest of all men — in effort to illuminate the meaning of the Oracles' categorical statement: that he is the wisest man in the land. After systematically interrogating the politicians, the poets, and the craftsmen, Socrates determined that the politicians were imposters; that the poets did not understand their own poetry; and that the craftsmen, like prophets and seers, did not understand the things they spoke. In that light, Socrates saw himself as spokesman for the Oracle at Delphi (22e). He asked himself if he would rather be an impostor, like the “wise people” he interrogated, or if he would rather be himself, Socrates of Athens. As the defendant under trial, Socrates tells the jury that he would rather be himself than be anyone else. That in searching for a man wiser than himself, his questioning earned him the dubious reputation of social gadfly to the city of Athens.

Corrupter of youth

Having addressed the social prejudices against him, Socrates addresses the first accusation — the moral corruption of Athenian youth — by accusing his accuser, Meletus, of being indifferent to the persons and things about which he professes to care. Whilst interrogating Meletus, Socrates says that no one would intentionally corrupt another person — because the corrupter later stands to be harmed in vengeance by the corrupted person. The matter of moral corruption is important for two reasons: (i) corruption is the accusation that he (Socrates) corrupted the rich, young men of Athens by teaching atheism; (ii) that if he is convicted of corruption, it will be because the playwright Aristophanes already had corrupted the minds of his audience, when they were young, by lampooning Socrates as the “Sophistical philosopher” in The Clouds, a comic play produced about twenty-four years earlier.


Socrates then addresses the second accusation — asebeia (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens — by which Meletus says that Socrates is an atheist. In cross-examination, Socrates leads Meletus to contradict himself: That Socrates is an atheist who also believes in spiritual agencies and demigods. Socrates tells the judges that Meletus has contradicted himself, and then asks if Meletus has designed a test of intelligence for identifying logical contradictions.

Socrates repeats his claim that formal accusations of corruption and impiety shall not destroy him, but that he shall be harmed by the prejudiced gossip and slanders of his enemies. He tells the court of being unafraid of death, because his true concern is in acting ethically. That people who fear death are showing their ignorance, because death might be a good thing, but that most people fear death as an evil thing, when they cannot possibly know death to be either good or evil. Socrates says that his wisdom is in being aware that he is ignorant: “I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something, when he does not.”[10]

Precedence of authority

Regarding a citizen’s obedience to authority, Socrates says that a lawful authority, either human or divine, should always be obeyed. That in a conflict of obedience to such authorities, obeying divine authority supersedes obeying human authority: “Gentlemen, I am your grateful and devoted servant, but I owe a greater obedience to the [Delphic] god than to you; and, as long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practicing philosophy”. That, as spokesman for the Oracle at Delphi, he is to spur the Athenians to greater awareness of ethics and moral conduct, and always shall question and argue, even if his accusers — Lycon, Anytus, and Meletus — withdraw their accusations against him. Therefore, the philosopher Socrates of Athens asks his fellow citizens: “Are you not ashamed that you give your attention to acquiring as much money as possible, and similarly with reputation and honour, and give no attention or thought to truth and understanding, and the perfection of your soul?”


Granting no concession to his precarious legal situation, Socrates speaks emotionally and provocatively to the court, and says that the greatest good to occur upon Athens is his moral concern for them as fellow citizens. That material wealth is a consequence of goodness; that the god does not permit a better man to be harmed by a lesser man; and that he is the social gadfly required by Athens: “All day long, I will never cease to settle here, there, and everywhere — rousing, persuading, and reproving every one of you.” In support of the moral mission assigned him by the Oracle at Delphi, Socrates tells the court that his daimonion continually forbids him to act unethically. That statement implicitly validates Meletus’s accusation that Socrates believes in novel deities not of the Athenian pantheon.

Socrates says he never was a (paid) teacher, therefore, is not responsible for the corruption of any Athenian citizen. That if he corrupted anyone, he asks: why have they not come forward to bear witnesses? That if the corrupted Athenians are ignorant of having been corrupted, then why have their families not spoken in their behalf? In point of fact, Socrates indicates relatives of the Athenian youth he supposedly corrupted are present in court, giving him moral support.

Socrates concludes his legal defence by reminding the judges that he shall not resort to emotive tricks and arguments, shall not cry in public regret, and that his three sons will not appear in court to pathetically sway the judges. Socrates says he is unafraid of death and shall not act contrary to religious duty. That he shall rely solely upon sound argument and truth to present his case at trial.

Part two: The verdict of the jury

The jurors of the trial voted the guilt of Socrates by a narrow margin (36a). In the Apology of Socrates, Plato cites no numbers of votes condemning or acquitting the philosopher of the accusations of moral corruption and impiety;[11] although Socrates did say he would have been acquitted if thirty more jurors had voted in his favour.[12] In such cases — where the penalty of death might arise as legal sanction for the accusations presented — Athenian law required that the prosecutor and the defendant each propose an administrative penalty to punish the actions reported in the accusations.

Socrates antagonises the court by proposing a mild penalty — perpetual maintenance at public expense — as his punishment for corrupting Athenian youth and for impiety against the Athenian pantheon. He notes that the vote of judgement against him was close; thirty votes more in his favour would have acquitted him. In that vein, Socrates then engages in dark humour, suggesting that Meletus narrowly escaped a great fine for not meeting the statutory requirement of receiving one-fifth of the votes of the assembled judges in favour of his accusations against Socrates. In that way, Socrates published the financial consequence for Meletus to consider as plaintiff in a lawsuit — because the Athenian legal system discouraged frivolous lawsuits by imposing a financially onerous fine upon the plaintiff, if the vote of the judges was less than one-fifth of the number of judges required by the type of lawsuit.

As punishment for the two accusations formally presented against him at trial, Socrates proposed to the court that he be treated as a benefactor to the city of Athens; that he should be given free meals, in perpetuity, at the Prytaneum, the public dining hall of Athens. Receiving such public largesse is an honour reserved for Olympic athletes, for prominent citizens, and for benefactors of Athens, as a city and as a state.

Finally, after the court’s dismissal of his mild punishment at the Pyrtaneum, Socrates considers imprisonment and banishment, before settling upon a punishment fine of 100 drachmae. Given his poverty, a minor punishment compared to the death penalty proposed by the prosecutors, and encouraged by the judges of the trial. In defence of Socrates, his supporters increased the amount of money to pay as a fine, from 100 to 3,000 drachmae; nonetheless, to the judges of the trial of Socrates, a pecuniary fine was insufficient punishment for the philosopher Socrates, the social gadfly of Classical Athens.

Part three: The judgement of the court

In the Trial of Socrates, the judgement of the court was death for Socrates; most of the jurors voted for the death penalty (Apology 38c), yet Plato provides no jury-vote numbers in the text of the Apology of Socrates; but Diogenes Laërtius reports that 360 jurors voted for the death penalty and 140 jurors voted for a pecuniary fine for Socrates (2.42).[13] Moreover, the politically provocative language and irreverent tone of Socrates’s self-defence speech angered the jurors, and invited their punishment of him.[14]

Socrates responds to the death-penalty verdict by first addressing the jurors who voted for his death. He says that their condemnation of him resulted, not from a lack of arguments, but from a lack of time — and an unwillingness to pander for pity, as expected of a man condemned to death. Socrates repeats that the prospect of death does not absolve him from following the path of goodness and truth. He prophesies that younger and harsher critics shall follow in his stead, philosophers who will spur ethical conduct from the citizens of Athens, in a manner more vexing than that of Socrates (39d).

To the jurors who voted to acquit him, Socrates gives encouragement: That his supernatural daimonion did not interfere with his conduct of the legal defence, which he viewed as a sign that such a defence was the correct action. In that way, the daimonion communicated to Socrates that death might be a good thing; either death is annihilation (release from earthly worry) and not to be feared; or death is migration (higher plane of existence) to where reside the souls of personages and heroes, such as Hesiod and Homer and Odysseus. Socrates concludes his self-defence, by saying to the court that he bears no ill-will, neither towards his accusers — Lycon, Anytus, and Meletus — nor the jurors. and asks that they ensure the well-being of his three sons, so that they learn to live ethically.


See also


  1. Henri Estienne (ed.), Platonis opera quae extant omnia, Vol. 1, 1578, p. 17.
  2. "Socrates," Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 16 Sept. 2005. See: Doug Lindner, "The Trial of Socrates, "Univ. of Missouri-Kansas City Law School 2002.
  3. M. Schofield (1998, 2002), “Plato”, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, E. Craig, Ed. retrieved: 23 July 2008 from rep.routledge.com
  4. pp. 71–72, W. K. C. Guthrie, A History of Greek Philosophy, vol. 4, Cambridge 1975; p. 46, C. Kahn, Plato and the Socratic Dialogue, Cambridge 1996.
  5. T. Brickhouse & N. Smith, "Plato", The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  6. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (1966) p. 65.
  7. The Oxford Classical Dictionary (1966) p. 554.
  8. Adam, James. Platonis Apologia Socratis, Cambridge University Press 1916. p. xxvi.
  9. 1 2 Nails, Debra. The People of Plato (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., 2002), 188–9.
  10. The Trial and Death of Socrates (Third ed.). Hackett Publishing Company. p. 25. ISBN 978-0-87220-554-3. |first1= missing |last1= in Authors list (help)
  11. Burnet, John. Plato's Euthyprho, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, Clarendon 1924, pp. 150–151; p. 26, T. Brickhouse T., Smith, N. Socrates on Trial, Princeton 1989, p. 26. Diogenes Laertïus cites no total number of judges trying Socrates; Diogenes's account (2.41) is disputed, by scholars with different interpretations of the text of the Apology of Socrates; see Burnet ibidem. Without citing a source, Diogenes Laertïus reported 281 votes condemning Socrates; Burnet said that Diogenes’s report conflicts with Plato’s report in the Apology of Socrates (36a), because Socrates said that if only thirty more judges had voted in his favour, he would have been acquitted.
  12. See: Brickhouse & Smith, Socrates on Trial, p. 26.
  13. Brickhouse T., Smith N. Socrates on Trial, Princeton. 1989. pp. 230–231.
  14. MacDowell, Douglas M. The Law in Classical Athens. Ithaca, NY:Cornell University Press. 1978. p. 253.

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