Summary of Plato’s Apology

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Yannis Simonides, in a dramatization of Plato’s “The Apology of Socrates,”

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Important Context

Ancient History

Presocratics (6th and 5th c.BCE)

Ancient Demagogues 

Appeal to the passions and appetites of the people, not to reason.

  • Aristides the Just
  • Cleon
  • Alcibiades

Ancient Legislators, Rulers, Tyrants

Ancient Democracy

  • 507 BCE, Cleisthenes institutes new form of government: Democracy
  • Pre-Socratic – Anaxagoras (c. 500–428BCE) natural scientist

Achaemenid/Persian Empire (550 BCE-330BCE)

Greco-Persian Wars (499BC-449BCE)

  • 490 defeat Persians in Battle at Marathon
  • 480 defeat Persian Invasion at Salamis
  • 479 defeat Persians at Plateaea and Mycale

Golden Age of Athens:  478 BCE Athenian Naval Superpower and formation of Delian League fending off Persia, ruling the area, and collecting tribues from over 300 cities, and becoming a bullying Empire.

Socrates (469-399 BCE)  Friendships with Alcibiades and Critias


Life and Rule of Pericles (ruler/cultural patron) (495-429 BCE)  – Acropolis, Parthenon, Funeral Oration:

Peloponnesian War (c.460-446 and 431-404 BCE) (Alcibiades switches sides a couple of times)

  • Death of Pericles and birth of Plato (429)
  • Aristophanes (460/50-386/380BCE) The Clouds (423BCE)

End of 100 years of democracy since Cleisthenes

  • 405 BCE Sparta with money from Persia destroys Athens
  • 404 BCE Sparta allows Athenian election of 30 Tyrants (led by Critias) who execute 5% of the population, exile democrats, and confiscate their property for 13 months until Critias is assassinated and they are overthrown.
  • Restoration of weakened democracy
  • Poverty, continued civil conflict, and low morale
  • Socrates’s physical ailments

Why is Socrates in this situation? What is his defense? Does he give a good defense? Why or why not? Is he guilty? What is the point of the story of the Oracle? In what way does Socrates discover he is wise? What is Socrates’s goal? Does he achieve it?

Plato’s Apology

  • Opening Remarks
  • Defense against 1st Accusers
  • Defense against Later Accusers
  • Conclusion of Defense
  • Verdict
  • Alternate Penalties
  • Sentence
  • Speech to those Condemning
  • Farewell to Friends


  • Opening Remarks
    • Truth, lies, persuasion, manner of speaking, fair judgment
  • 1st Accusers
    • Socrates Explains why he is so unpopular:  Since their childhood, anonymous “shadows” against whom he cannot defend himself rumored that Socrates was an unjust meddler, a wise man studying the sky and under the earth, making the worse argument appear stronger, and teaching this to others.
    • Socrates Defense:
      • Pythia or the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi said there is no one wiser than I am. But I only have human knowledge, not certain and divine knowledge of the most important things, like virtue. So, I set out in to prove the God wrong, sure that I would find someone wiser, interrogating politicians, poets, craftsmen, yet finding none of them wise enough to know the limits of their own knowledge, like me, who knows and can admit, at least, that I am ignorant. And I help them and the God by proving him right. After all it’s better to find out you are wrong, rather than go about spouting falsehoods. I’m doing them a favor.
      • The Clouds by Aristophanes – He mistakes me both for a sophist (relativist persuader like Protagoras) and a Presocratic (natural scientist like Anaxagoras). I am poor because of my service to the god.
  • Defense Against Later Accusers
    • The Plaintiffs:  Meletus for poets, Anytus for craftsmen, and Lycon for orators.
    • First Charge:  Socrates is Unjust. Socrates Defense against the charge of Corruption of the Youth: Meletus says that I am the only corrupting force on the youth. But Meletus is unjust because he doesn’t actually know or care about the improvement or corruption of young men. If he did, he’d know that they are corrupted by the many and improved by a few experts, like horses with horse trainers are. Also wise men know that corrupting them might lead to their own harm. Since I’m wise and care about myself, I could only have corrupted them unknowingly. The god orders me to life a philosophical life. So either I didn’t corrupt them, or I did so unknowingly. And if I did it unknowingly, then I should have been instructed, not taken to court. So Meletus lies.
    • Second Charge:  Socrates is Impious. Socrates Defense against the charges that he is an atheist and Introduces new Gods:
      • Meletus confuses me with Anaxagoras.
      • Anyone who believes in divine things, believes in divinities. I believe in divine things, so I believe in divinities, and I sometimes talk about my conscience as divine.
      • Meletus contradicts himself when he says that I am both an atheist and introducing new divinites.
      • I rest my case. Anyone convinced by this argument to convict me just dislikes me.
  • Conclusion of Defense
    • My Life and Death: Risk of death should concern one less than living a just life. I held my post and fought against Sparta at risk of death, I refused to rat on Leon of Salamis to the 30 Tyrants though they could have killed me. To fear death is to think one knows what one does not know.
    • My Practice of Gadfly Philosophy: God commands me the be fly biting your horse’s ass. I’ll never stop bugging people to care for their souls. If you kill me, you’re just hurting yourself. A better man can’t be harmed by a worse one.
    • My Involvement with Public Affairs: My divine sign (daemonion/conscience) won’t let me get involved with politics, or criminal behavior. I have never been anyone’s teacher, and I never charged a fee to speak with anyone. The god assigned me the task of examining those who think themselves wise.
    • My Followers:  There were no volunteers to be witnesses for the prosecution, though lots of people here know me.
    • My Conduct here In Court: I made no appeals to arouse your pity, but have tried instead to act nobly, justly, and piously.
  • Verdict:  A jury of roughly 500 finds him guilty by a margin of 30 votes.
  • Alternate Penalties:  Well, I deserve something good. I propose you give me free meals for life in the Prytaneum for all that I have done for you. Watching Olympic athletes makes you seem happy, but I actually make you happy. The best thing you can do is talk everyday about virtue and other things. The unexamined life is not worth living. I can’t stop or I’d be disobeying the god. I never intentionally hurt anyone so it would be unjust for me to impose a penalty on myself. But, I can pay a fine with some money my friends gave me.
  • Sentence: Death by drinking hemlock.
  • Speech to those Condemning: People will revile Athens for killing me. I will die, but you are unjust, and my followers will continue to examine and reproach you for failing to live your lives correctly.
  • Farewell to Friends: My divine sign didn’t tell me not to stop today, so maybe this is a good thing.