Crito Summary



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Crito Summary

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Crito is a dialogue written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. In this case, a “dialogue” refers to an early form of drama, consisting of a staged conversation between two characters. It takes place between the earlier Greek philosopher Socrates, who has been sentenced to death for heresy, and his wealthy friend Crito who wishes to break him out of prison. Crito believes that Socrates has been condemned unjustly, and further argues that there is no justice in following an unjust law. Socrates, however, thinks that injustice may not be answered with another injustice, and refuses his friend’s offer of an escape. This dialogue discusses themes of justice, injustice, and the appropriate response to injustice. Perhaps most notably, it is the first major work containing a discussion of the social contract theory of government: the belief that a stable and free government can only work if all its citizens abide by its laws. Considered one of the earliest great works of literature, Crito continues to be read widely by scholars of ancient Greek literature. Its themes and details heavily influenced the modern play Socrates on Trial, by Andrew David Irvine.

The entirety of Crito takes place in Socrates’ prison cell, where he is awaiting execution at dawn for the crime of heresy. He is visited during the night by his old friend Crito, a wealthy man with many connections. Crito has made arrangements to smuggle Socrates out of prison and deliver him to a place where he can live safely in exile. Socrates, however, does not seem interested in this plan. Crito proceeds to lay out his arguments for why Socrates’ death must be avoided. He states that Socrates’ death will reflect badly on his friends, as people will think they did nothing to save him. He also states that Socrates must not worry about risk or financial cost to his friends, as they have arranged everything for him. He will have a pleasant life in exile. Finally, Crito appeals to Socrates’ ethical nature, stating that if he allows himself to be executed, he will be aiding his enemies’ unjust ruling and will therefore be acting unethically himself. He finally reminds Socrates that he will leave his sons without a father. Socrates begins his responses, saying that no one should worry about public opinion, but instead listen only to wise advice from experts. Thus, Crito shouldn’t worry about how his or Socrates’ reputations will suffer after the execution. They should only concern themselves with doing what is right.

The only question Socrates will entertain is whether it would be just and right for Socrates to escape. If it is, he will go with Crito, but if he can prove it is not just, Crito will let him remain in prison and await execution. Socrates then introduces the Laws of Athens, an unconventional third character in this dialogue. The laws, anthropomorphized for effect, speak to Socrates and proceed to explain why attempting an escape would be unjust. The laws exist as one entity, and to break one would be to break them all. Thus, by attempting an escape, Socrates would cause them to be harmed. The citizen is bound to the laws like a child is subject to his parent, and Socrates states that to break a law would be like striking one’s parent. Socrates believes that rather than breaking the law and escaping, he must make one last attempt to persuade the laws to let him go. The laws present the duty of a citizen in the form of a social contract, and by living in Athens, the citizen is essentially endorsing the laws and agreeing to abide by them. Socrates, who is held in high esteem, knows he must continue to follow the laws as he has lived a full 70 years happily in Athens under these same laws. Thus, Socrates states, he has consistently validated the social contract with his whole life. If he was to break from it now, he would be seen as an outlaw and would never be welcome in any other civilized state for the rest of his life. In addition, he believes he would be harshly judged in the underworld for this crime against the social contract. With this final argument, Socrates convinces Crito of the rightness of his decision, and Crito agrees to let Socrates stay in prison and await his fate in the morning.

Plato was a philosopher in Classical Greece and was the founder of the Academy in Athens, commonly thought to be the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. He is considered to be the most pivotal figure in the development of philosophy, and it is believed that virtually all his work is still intact after 2,400 years. A student of Socrates (the subject of Crito) and Aristotle’s teacher, Plato’s works on religion and spirituality are also believed to have influenced the development of Christianity hundreds of years later. He wrote over forty dialogues, on subjects ranging from government, to justice, to studies of ancient Greek figures. His works remain widely read today and are considered essential to any understanding of Ancient Greek culture or the development of philosophy.