Apology Summary



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Apology Summary

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A native of Athens, Greece, Plato lived from approximately 428 B.C. to 348 B.C. His Apology of Socrates is a telling of the events at the 399 B.C. trial during which the philosopher Socrates defended himself against charges of the corruption of the young people of Athens and of believing in gods that were not recognized by the State. The Apology recreates the speech that Socrates made during the trial.

The term “apology” as used in the times of Socrates and Plato differs from the common modern usages of the word. In the case of Plato’s text it comes from the Greek “apologia” which means a defense, or a speech which has as its objective presenting a defense. Thus, Socrates should be seen as trying to justify his actions and to defend himself. The intent was not an attempt to apologize for anything. The language used by Socrates is accessible and conversational in nature. From the onset he admits to having no experience with courts of law so will not be speaking in a way representative of such venues. He explains that he will remain true to his normal way of speaking which is honest and direct. He further explains that his actions were prompted by a prophecy of the Oracle of Delphi.

When Socrates realized that he knew very little about worldly affairs, he reached the conclusion that because he recognized that which he does not know, he must be wiser than other men who refuse to be aware of their own ignorance. He then felt it was his responsibility to share this wisdom with others and to question those who were considered wise,all in an effort to show that what they possessed was false wisdom or ignorance. The young people of Athens came to admire Socrates for these types of thoughts but, as might be expected, those he attempted to expose as ignorant reacted with anger. He pointed to their hatred of him as the reason the trial was taking place.

Meletuswas the man responsible for the trial of Socrates. At the trial Meletuswas questioned by Socrates in what represents the only time in The Apology that a cross examination, or elenchus, is conducted. This is somewhat ironic in that the method is generally quite common and expected in Platonic dialogues. This method of inquiry was not used here in the typical manner. It seems that Socrates was less concerned with unravelling the truth than he was with making Meletus feel embarrassed. Socrates later talked of the importance of his presence to Athens. He metaphorically presented the State as a lazy horse and himself as a gadfly stinging the animal. Without him, he said, the State, like the horse without the fly, could lapse into a deep slumber.Even though Socrates’ ways were annoying to some, he believed he could prompt virtuous actions and productivity with them.

When Socrates was declared guilty by a small margin, he was asked to suggest a penalty to be imposed upon himself. He answered facetiously that in order to get what he deserved, there should be a great feast in his honor as he has been of such a great service to the State. Then becoming serious, he suggested being fined a sum of money rather than face a term in prison or in exile. The jury does not accept this proposal and instead sentenced him to death. Socrates was unemotional as he accepted his fate. Once again he applied logic to the situation and said that there is nothing for him to fear since only the gods know what awaits man after death and only a fool would fear the unknown. He went on to tell the jurors who voted against him that by silencing him rather than listening to him, they were the ones who were harmed much more than he.

Throughout the work of Plato, Socrates is presented as being skilled at the questions and answers technique that becomes the Socratic Method. He is adept at leading his opponents into being confused and/or having them contradict themselves. In The Apology, Socrates attributes the embarrassment that he has caused some others to the message he received from the oracle. In trying to figure out the accurate meaning of the message, he felt himself destined to expose those who hold onto their false ideas of what true wisdom is. He sees this as being of service to others and to the gods, adding that gaining the respect of the people of Athens or amassing fortune and the lifestyle that it brings were not among his goals. He considers himself a citizen who follows the law and is simply happy to be in the company of interesting people and to hear their thoughts.