DEFENSE OF SOCRATES
I have always considered the manner, in which Socrates behaved after he had been summoned to his trial, as most worthy of our remembrance; and that, not only with respect to the defense he made for himself, when standing before his judges; but the sentiments he expressed concerning his dissolution. For, although there be many who have written on this subject, and all concur in setting forth the wonderful courage and intrepidity wherewith he spake to the assembly; so that it remaineth incontestable, that Socrates did thus speak;—yet that it was his full persuasion, that death was more eligible for him than life at such a season, they have by no means so clearly manifested; whereby the loftiness of his style, and the boldness of his speech, may wear at least the appearance of being imprudent and unbecoming.
But Hermogenes, the son of Hipponicus, was his intimate friend; and from him it is we have heard those things of Socrates, as sufficiently prove the sublimity of his language was only conformable to the sentiments of his mind. For, having observed him, as he tells us, choosing rather to discourse on any other subject than the business of his trial; he asked him, “If it was not necessary to be preparing for his defense?” And “What!” said he, “my Hermogenes—suppose you I have not spent my whole life in preparing for this very thing?” Hermogenes desiring he would explain himself, “I have,” said he, “steadily persisted, throughout life, in a diligent endeavor to do nothing which is unjust; and this I take to be the best, and most honorable preparation.”
“But see you not,” said Hermogenes, “that ofttimes here in Athens, the judges, influenced by the force of oratory, condemn those to death who no way deserve it; and, not less frequently, acquit the guilty, when softened into compassion by the moving complaints, or the insinuating eloquence of those who plead their cause before them?
“I know it,” replied Socrates; “and therefore, twice have I attempted to take the matter of my defense under consideration: but the genius always opposed me.”
Hermogenes having expressed some astonishment at these words, Socrates proceeded:
“Doth it then appear marvellous to you, my Hermogenes, that God should think this the very best time for me to die? Know you not, that hitherto I have yielded to no man, that he hath lived more uprightly, or even more pleasurably than myself; possessed, as I was, of that well-grounded self-approbation, arising from the consciousness of having done my duty, both to the gods and men:—my friends also bearing their testimony to the integrity of my conversation! But now—if my life is prolonged and I am spared even to old age—what can hinder, my Hermogenes, the infirmities of old age from falling upon me? My sight will grow dim, my hearing, heavy: less capable of learning, as more liable to forget what I have already learnt; and if, to all this, I become sensible of my decay, and bemoan myself on the account of it, how can I say that I still lived pleasantly? It may be too,” continued Socrates, “that God, through His goodness, hath appointed for me, not only that my life should terminate at a time which seems the most seasonable, but the manner in which it will be terminated shall also be the most eligible: for, if my death is now resolved upon, it must needs be that they who take charge of this matter, will permit me to choose the means supposed the most easy; free, too, from those lingering circumstances which keep our friends in anxious suspense for us, and fill the mind of the dying man with much pain and perturbation. And when nothing offensive—nothing unbecoming, is left on the memory of those who are present; but the man is dissolved while the body is yet found; and the mind still capable of exerting itself benevolently; who can say, my Hermogenes, that so to die is not most desirable? And with good reason,” continued Socrates, “did the gods oppose themselves at what time we took the affair of my escape under deliberation; and determined that every means should be diligently sought after to effect it; since, if our designs had been carried into execution, instead of terminating my life in the manner I am now going; I had only gained the unhappy privilege of finding it put an end to by the torments of some disease, or the lingering decays incident to old age; when all things painful flow in upon us together, destitute of every joy which might serve to soften and allay them.
“Yet think not, my Hermogenes, the desire of death shall influence me beyond what is reasonable; I will not set out with asking it at their hands; but if, when I speak my opinion of myself, and declare what I think I have deserved, both of gods and men, my judges are displeased, I will much sooner submit to it, than meanly entreat the continuance of my life, whereby I should only bring upon myself many, and far greater evils, than any I had taken such unbecoming pains to deprecate.”
In this manner Socrates replied to Hermogenes and others; and his enemies having accused him of “not believing in the gods, whom the city held sacred; but, as designing to introduce other and new deities; and, likewise, of his having corrupted the youth,” Hermogenes farther told me that Socrates, advancing towards the Tribunal, thus spake:
“What I chiefly marvel at, O ye judges! is this: whence Melitus inferreth, that I esteem not those as gods whom the city hold sacred. For that I sacrificed at the appointed festivals, on our common altars, was evident to all others; and might have been to Melitus, had Melitus been so minded. Neither yet doth it seem to be asserted with greater reason that my design was to introduce new deities among us, because I have often said, ‘That it is the voice of God which giveth me significations of what is most expedient;’ since they themselves who observe the chirping of birds, or those ominous words spoken by men, ground their conclusions on no other than voices. For, who among you doubteth whether thunder sendeth forth a voice? or whether it be not the very greatest of all auguries? The Pythian priestess herself; doth not she likewise, from the tripod, declare, by a voice, the divine oracles? And, truly, that God foreknoweth the future; and also showeth it to whomsoever He pleaseth, I am no way singular, either in believing or asserting; since all mankind agree with me herein; this difference only excepted, that whereas they say, it is from auguries, omens, symbols and diviners, whence they have their notices of the future: I, on the contrary, impute all those premonitions, wherewith I am favored, to a Genius; and I think, that in so doing, I have spoken, not only more truly, but more piously, than they who attribute to birds the divine privilege of declaring things to come; and that I lied not against God, I have this indisputable proof; that whereas I have often communicated to many of my friends the divine counsels, yet hath no man ever detected me of speaking falsely.”
No sooner was this heard, but a murmuring arose among his judges; some disbelieving the truth of what he had said, while others envied him for being, as they thought, more highly favored of the gods than they. But Socrates, still going on, “Mark,” said he, “I pray; and attend to what is yet more extraordinary, that such of you as are willing may still the more disbelieve that I have been thus favored of the Deity. Chaerephon, inquiring of the oracle at Delphos concerning me, was answered by Apollo himself, in the presence of many people, ‘That he knew no man more free, more just, or more wise than I.’”
On hearing this the tumult among them visibly increased; but Socrates, still going on, “And yet, Lycurgus, the Lacedaemonian lawgiver, had still greater things declared of him; for, on his entering into the temple, the Deity thus accosted him, ‘I am considering,’ said he, ‘whether I shall call thee a god, or a man!’ Now Apollo compared me not to a god. This, indeed, he said, ‘That I by far excelled man:’ howbeit, credit not too hastily what ye have heard, though coming from an oracle; but let us thoroughly examine those things which the Deity spake concerning me.
“Say then, where have you ever known any one less enslaved to sensual appetite; whom more free than the man who submits not to receive gift or reward from the hands of any other? Whom can you deservedly esteem more just than he who can so well accommodate himself to what he hath already in his own possession as not even to desire what belongeth to another? Or how can he fail of being accounted wise who, from the time he first began to comprehend what was spoken, never ceased to seek and search out, to the very best of his power, whatever was virtuous and good for man? And, as a proof that in so doing I have not labored in vain, ye yourselves know that many of our citizens, yea, and many foreigners also, who made virtue their pursuit, always preferred as their chief pleasure the conversing with me. Whence was it, I pray you, that when every one knew my want of power to return any kind of pecuniary favor, so many should be ambitious to bestow them on me? Why doth no man call me his debtor, yet many acknowledge they owe me much? When the city is besieged, and every other person bemoaning his loss, why do I appear as in no respect the poorer than while it remained in its most prosperous state? And what is the cause that when others are under a necessity to procure their delicacies from abroad at an exorbitant rate, I can indulge in pleasures far more exquisite by recurring to the reflections in my own mind? And now, O ye judges! if, in whatsoever I have declared of myself, no one is able to confute me as a false speaker, who will say I merit not approbation, and that not only from the gods, but men!
“Nevertheless, you, O Melitus, have asserted that I—diligently applying myself to the contemplation and practice of whatever is virtuous—‘corrupt the youth;’ and, indeed, we well know what it is to corrupt them. But show us, if in your power, whom of pious I have made impious; of modest, shameless; of frugal, profuse? Who, from temperate is become drunken; from laborious, idle or effeminate by associating with me? Or, where is the man who hath been enslaved, by my means, to any vicious pleasure whatsoever?”
“Nay, verily!” said Melitus, “but I know of many whom thou hast persuaded to obey thee rather than their parents.”
“And with good reason,” replied Socrates, “when the point in question concerned education; since no man but knows that I made this my chief study; and which of you, if sick, prefers not the advice of the physician to his parents? Even the whole body of the Athenian people,—-when collected in the public assembly,—do not they follow the opinion of him whom they think the most able, though he be not of their kindred? And, in the choice of a general, do you not to your fathers, brothers, nay even to yourselves, prefer the man whom ye think the best skilled in military discipline?”
“Certainly,” returned Melitus; “neither can any one doubt of its being most expedient.”
“How then could it escape being regarded even by you, Melitus, as a thing deserving the highest admiration; that, while in every other instance the man who excels in any employment is supposed not only entitled to a common regard, but receives many, and those very distinguishing marks of honor, I, on the contrary, am persecuted even to death because I am thought by many to have excelled in that employment which is the most noble; and which hath for its aim the greatest good to mankind, by instructing our youth in the knowledge of their duty, and planting in the mind each virtuous principle!
Now, doubtless, there were many other things spoken at the trial, not only by Socrates, but his friends, who were most zealous to support him; but I have not been careful to collect all that was spoken, yet think I have done enough to show, and that most plainly, that the design of Socrates in speaking at this time was no other than to exculpate himself from anything that might have the least appearance of impiety towards the gods, or of injustice towards men. For, with regard to death, he was no way solicitous to importune his judges, as the custom was with others: on the contrary, he thought it the best time for him to die. And that he had thus determined with himself was still the more evident after his condemnation; for when he was ordered to fix his own penalty, he refused to do it, neither would he suffer any other to do it for him: saying that to fix a penalty implied a confession of guilt. And afterwards, when his friends would have withdrawn him privately, he would not consent; but asked them with a smile, “If they knew of any place beyond the borders of Attica where death could not approach him?”
The trial being ended, Socrates, as it is related, spake to his judges in the following manner:
“It is necessary, O ye judges, that all they who instructed the witnesses to bear, by perjury, false testimony against me; as well as all those who too readily obeyed their instructions, should be conscious to themselves of much impiety and injustice; but that I, in any wise, should be more troubled and cast down than before my condemnation, I see not, since I stand here unconvicted of any of the crimes whereof I was accused; for no one hath proved against me that I sacrificed to any new deity, or by oath appealed to, or even made mention of, the names of any other than Jupiter, Juno, and the rest of the deities, which, together with these, our city holds sacred; neither have they once shown what were the means I made use of to corrupt the youth at the very time that I was enuring them to a life of patience and frugality. As for those crimes to which our laws have annexed death as the only proper punishment—sacrilege, man-stealing, undermining of walls, or betraying of the city—my enemies do not even say that any of these things were ever once practiced by me. Wherefore I the rather marvel that ye have now judged me worthy to die.
“But it is not for me to be troubled on that account; for if I die unjustly, the shame must be theirs who put me unjustly to death; since, if injustice is shameful, so likewise every act of it; but no disgrace can it bring on me, that others have not seen that I was innocent. Palamedes likewise affords me this farther consolation; for being, like me, condemned undeservedly, he furnishes, to this very day, more noble subjects for praise than the man who had iniquitously caused his destruction; and I am persuaded that I also shall have the attestation of the time to come, as well as of that which is past already; that I never wronged any man or made him more depraved; but, contrariwise, have steadily endeavored throughout life to benefit those who conversed with me; teaching them, to the very utmost of my power, and that without reward, whatever could make them wise and happy.”
Saying this, he departed; the cheerfulness of his countenance, his gesture and whole deportment bearing testimony to the truth of what he had just declared. And, seeing some of those who accompanied him weeping, he asked what it meant? and why they were now afflicted? “For knew ye not,” said he, “long ago, even by that whereof I was produced, that I was born mortal? If, indeed, I had been taken away, when the things which are most desirable flowed in upon me abundantly, with good reason it might have been lamented, and by myself as well as others. But if I am only to be removed when difficulties of every kind are ready to break in upon me, we ought rather to rejoice, as though my affairs went on the most prosperously.”
Apollodorus being present, one who loved Socrates extremely, though otherwise a weak man, he said to him, “But it grieveth me, my Socrates, to have you die so unjustly!” Socrates, with much tenderness, laying his hand upon his head, answered, smiling, “And what, my much-loved Apollodorus! wouldst thou rather they had condemned me justly?”
It is likewise related that on seeing Anytus pass by, “There goes a man,” said he, “not a little vainglorious on supposing he shall have achieved something great and noble in putting me to death because I once said, ‘that since he himself had been dignified with some of the chief offices in the city, it was wrong in him to breed up his son to the trade of a tanner;’ but he must be a fool,” continued Socrates, “who seeth not that he who at all times performs things useful and excellent is alone the hero. And truly,” added Socrates, “as Homer makes some who were near the time of their dissolution look forward into futurity, I, likewise, have a mind to speak somewhat oraculously. Now it happened I was once for a short time with this same son of Anytus; and plainly perceiving he neither wanted talents nor activity, therefore I said it was not fitting that the young man should continue in such a station. But continuing as he still doth, destitute at the same time of any virtuous instructor to guide and restrain him within the bounds of duty, he must soon fall a prey to some evil inclination that will hurry him headlong into vice and ruin.”
And in thus speaking Socrates prophesied not untruly; for the young man delighted so much in wine that he ceased not drinking whether night or day; whereby he became perfectly useless to his country, to his friends, and even to himself. The memory of Anytus was likewise held in the highest detestation; and that not only on the account of his other crimes, but for the scandalous manner in which he had educated his son.
Now it cannot be doubted but Socrates, by speaking thus highly of himself, incurred the more envy, and made his judges still the more eager to condemn him: yet I think, indeed, he only obtained that fate which the gods decree to those they most love: a discharge from life when life is become a burthen; and that, by a means, of all others the most easy. Yet here, as well as on every other occasion, Socrates demonstrated the firmness of his soul. For although he was fully persuaded that to die would be the best for him, yet did he not discover any anxious solicitude, any womanish longings for the hour of his dissolution, but waited its approach with the same steady tranquillity and unaffected complacency with which he afterwards went out of life. And truly, when I consider the wisdom and greatness of soul, so essential to this man, I find it not more out of my power to forget him than to remember and not praise him. And if among those who are most studious to excel in virtue there be any who hath found a person to converse with more proper than Socrates, for promoting his design, verily we may well pronounce him the most fortunate of all mankind.