The World's Famous Orations/Volume 1/In His Own Defense
IN HIS OWN DEFENSE.
Born about 470 B.C., died in 390; for a time followed his father's art as a sculptor; served in three campaigns; President of the Pyrtanes in 406 and opposed the Thirty Tyrants; his philosophical precepts, as those of the wisest man of his time, known to us only in the writings of his disciple, Plato.
I know not, O Athenians, how far you have been influenced by my accusers; for my part, in listening to them I almost forgot myself, so plausible were their arguments; however, so to speak, they have said nothing true. But of the many falsehoods which they have uttered I wondered at one of them especially, that in which they said you ought to be on your guard lest you should be deceived by me, as being eloquent in speech. For that they are not ashamed of being forthwith convicted by me in fact, when I shall show that I am not by any means eloquent, this seemed to me the most shameless thing in them, unless indeed they call him eloquent who speaks the truth.
For if they mean this, then I would allow that I am an orator, but not after their fashion; for they, as I affirm, have said nothing true; but from me you shall hear the whole truth. Not indeed, Athenians, arguments highly wrought, as theirs were, with choice phrases and expressions, nor adorned, but you shall hear a speech uttered without premeditation, in such words as first present themselves. For I am confident that what I say will be just, and let none of you expect otherwise; for surely it would not become my time of life to come before you like a youth with a got-up speech.
Above all things, therefore, I beg and implore this of you, O Athenians, if you hear me defending myself in the same language as that in which I am accustomed to speak both in the forum at the counters, where many of you have heard me, and elsewhere, not to be surprised or disturbed on this account. For the case is this: I now for the first time come before a court of justice, tho more than seventy years old; I am, therefore, utterly a stranger to the language here. As, then, if I were really a stranger, you would have pardoned me if I spoke in the language and the manner in which I had been educated, so now I ask this of you as an act of justice, as it appears to me, to disregard the manner of my speech, for perhaps it may be somewhat worse, and perhaps better, and to consider this only, and to give your attention to this, whether I speak what is just or not; for this is the virtue of a judge, but of an orator to speak the truth.
Perhaps, however, some one may say, 'Are you not ashamed, Socrates, to have pursued a study from which you are now in danger of dying?' To such a person I should answer with good reason: You do not say well, friend, if you think that a man, who is even of the least value, ought to take into the account the risk of life or death, and ought not to consider that alone when he performs any action, whether he is acting justly or unjustly and the part of a good man or bad man.
I then should be acting strangely, O Athenians, if, when the generals whom you chose to command me assigned me my post at Potidaæ, at Amphipolis, and at Delium, I then remained where they posted me, like any other person, and encountered the danger of death, but when the deity, as I thought and believed, assigned it as my duty to pass my life in the study of philosophy, and in examining myself and others, I should on that occasion, through fear of death or anything else whatsoever, desert my post. Strange indeed would it be, and then in truth any one might justly bring me to trial, and accuse me of not believing in the gods, from disobeying the oracle, fearing death, and thinking myself to be wise when I am not.
For to fear death, O Athenians, is nothing else than to appear to be wise without being so: for it is to appear to know what one does not know. For no one knows but that death is the greatest of all goods; but men feareth as if they well knew that it is the greatest of evils. And how is not this the most reprehensible ignorance, to think that one knows what one does not know?
But I, O Athenians, in this perhaps differ from most men; and if I should say that I am in anything wiser than another, it would be in this, that not having a competent knowledge of the things in Hades, I also think that I have not such knowledge. But to act unjustly, and to disobey my superior, whether God or man, I know is evil and base. I shall never, therefore, fear or shun things which, for aught I know, may be good, before evils which I know to be evils. So that even if you should now dismiss me, not yielding to the instances of Anytus, who said that either I should not appear here at all, or that, if I did appear, it was impossible not to put me to death, telling you that if I escaped, your sons, studying what Socrates teaches, would all be utterly corrupted; if you should address me thus, 'Socrates, we shall not now yield to Anytus, but dismiss you, on this condition, however, that you no longer persevere in your researches nor study philosophy, and if hereafter you are detected in so doing, you shall die,'—if, as I said, you should dismiss me on these terms, I should say to you:'O Athenians, I honor and love you; but I shall obey God rather than you; and as long as I breathe and am able I shall not cease studying philosophy and exhorting you and warning
And if any one of you should question my assertion and affirm that he does care for these things, I shall not at once let him go, nor depart, but I shall question him, sift and prove him. And if he should appear to me not to possess virtue, but to pretend that he does, I shall reproach him for that he sets the least value on things of the greatest worth, but the highest on things that are worthless.
Murmur not, O Athenians, but continue to attend to my request, not to murmur at what I say, but to listen, for, as I think, you will derive benefit from listening. For I am going to say other things to you, at which perhaps you will raise a clamor; but on no account do so. Be well assured, then, if you put me to death, being such a man as I say I am, you will not injure me more than yourselves. For neither will Miletus nor Anytus harm me; nor have they the power; for I do not think that it is possible for a better man to be injured by a worse. He may perhaps have me condemned to death, or banished or deprived of civil rights, and he or others may perhaps consider these as mighty evils; I, however, do not consider them so, but that it is much more so to do what he is now doing—to endeavor to put a man to death unjustly.
Now, therefore, O Athenians, I am far from making a defense on my own behalf, as any one might think, but I do so on your behalf, lest by condemning me you should offend at all with respect to the gift of the deity to you. For, if you should put me to death, you will not easily find such another, tho it may be ridiculous to say so, altogether attached by the deity to this city as to a powerful and generous horse, somewhat sluggish from his size, and requiring to be roused by a gad-fly; so the deity appears to have united me, being such a person as I am, to the city, that I may rouse you, and persuade and reprove every one of you, nor ever cease besetting you throughout the whole day. Such another man, O Athenians, will not easily be found; therefore, if you will take my advice, you will spare me.
But you, perhaps, being irritated, like drowsy persons who are roused from sleep, will strike me, and, yielding to Anytus, will unthinkingly condemn me to death; and then you will pass the rest of your life in sleep, unless the deity, caring for you, should send some one else to you. But that I am a person who has been given by the deity to this city, you may discern from hence: for it is not like the ordinary conduct of men that I should have neglected all my own affairs and suffered my private interest to be neglected for so many years, and that I should constantly attend to your concerns, addressing myself to each of you separately, like a father or elder brother, persuading you to the pursuit of virtue. And if I had derived any profit from this course, and had received pay for my exhortations, there would have been some reason for my conduct; but now you see yourselves that my accusers, who have so shamelessly calumniated me in everything else, have not had the impudence to charge me with this, and to bring witnesses to prove that I ever either exacted or demanded any reward. And I think I produce a sufficient proof that I speak the truth, namely, my poverty.
Perhaps, however, it may appear absurd, that I, going about, thus advise you in private and make myself busy, but never venture to present myself in public before your assemblies and give advice to the city. The cause of this is that which you have often and in many places heard me mention: because I am moved by certain divine and spiritual influence, which also Miletus, through mockery, has set out in the indictment. This began with me from childhood, being a kind of voice which, when present, always diverts me from what I am about to do, but never urges me on. This it is which opposed my meddling in public politics: and it appears to me to have opposed me very properly. For be well assured, O Athenians, if I had long since attempted to intermeddle with politics, I should have perished long ago, and should not have at all benefited you or myself. And be not angry with me for speaking the truth. For it is not possible that any man should be safe, who sincerely opposes either you or any other multitude, and who prevents many unjust and illegal actions from being committed in a city; but it is necessary that he who in earnest contends for justice, if he will be safe for but a short time, should live privately, and take no part in public affairs.
Do you think, then, that I should have survived so many years if I had engaged in public affairs, and, acting as becomes a good man, had aided the cause of justice, and, as I ought, had deemed this of the highest importance? Far from it, O Athenians: nor would any other man have done so. But I, through the whole of my life, if I have done anything in public, shall be found to be a man, and the very same in private, who has never made a concession to any one contrary to justice, neither to any other, nor to any one of these whom my calumniators say are my disciples. I, however, was never the preceptor of any one; but if any one desired to hear me speaking and to see me busied about my own mission, whether he were young or old, I never refused him. Nor do I discourse when I receive money, and not when I do not receive any, but I allow both rich and poor alike to question me, and, if any one wishes it, to answer me and hear what I have to say. And for these, whether any one proves to be a good man or not, I cannot justly be responsible, because I never either promised them any instruction nor taught them at all. But if any one says that he has ever learned or heard anything from me in private, which all others have not, be well assured that he does not speak the truth.
But why do some delight to spend so long a time with me? Ye have heard, O Athenians. I have told you the whole truth that they delight to hear those closely questioned who think that they are wise but are not: for this is by no means disagreeable. But this duty, as I say, has been enjoined me by the deity, by oracles, by dreams, and by every mode by which any other divine decree has ever enjoined anything to man to do. These things, O Athenians, are both true, and easily confuted if not true. For if I am now corrupting some of the youths, and have already corrupted others, it were fitting, surely, that if any of them, having become advanced in life, had discovered that I gave them bad advice when they were young, they should now rise up against me, accuse me, and have me punished; or if they were themselves unwilling to do this, some of their kindred, their fathers, or brothers, or other relatives, if their kinsmen have ever sustained any damage from me, should now call it to mind.
Many of them, however, are here present, whom I see. I could mention many to you, some one of whom certainly Miletus ought to have adduced in his speech as a witness. If, however, he then forgot to do so, let him now adduce them, I give him leave to do so, and let him say it, if he has anything of the kind to allege. But quite contrary to this, you will find, O Athenians, all ready to assist me, who have corrupted and injured their relatives, as Miletus and Anytus say. For those who have been themselves corrupted might perhaps have some reason for assisting me; but those who have not been corrupted, men now advanced in life, their relatives, what other reason can they have for assisting me, except that right and just one, that they know that Miletus speaks falsely and that I speak the truth.
Well then, Athenians; these are pretty much the things I have to say in my defense, and others perhaps of the same kind. Perhaps, however, some among you will be indignant on recollecting his own case, if he, when engaged in a cause far less than this, implored and besought the judges with many tears, bringing forward his children in order that he might excite their utmost compassion, and many others of his relatives and friends, whereas I do none of these things, altho I may appear to be incurring the extremity of danger. Perhaps, therefore, some one, taking notice of this, may become more determined against me, and, being enraged at this very conduct of mine, may give his vote under the influence of anger. If then any one of you is thus affected—I do not, however, suppose that there is—but if there should be, I think I may reasonably say to him: 'I too, O best of men, have relatives; for to make use of that saying of Homer, I am not sprung from an oak, nor from a rock, but from men, so that I too, O Athenians, have relatives, and three sons, one now grown up, and two boys; I shall not, however, bring any one of them forward and implore you to acquit me.' Why then shall I not do this?
Not from contumacy, Athenians, nor disrespect toward you. Whether or not I am undaunted at the prospect of death, is another question, but out of regard to my own character, and yours, and that of the whole city, it does not appear to me to be honorable that I should do anything of this kind at my age, and with the reputation I have, whether true or false. For it is commonly agreed that Socrates in some respects excels the generality of men. If, then, those among you who appear to excel either in wisdom, or fortitude, or any other virtue whatsoever, should act in such a manner as I have often seen some when they have been brought to trial, it would be shameful, who, appearing indeed to be something, have conducted themselves in a surprising manner, as thinking they should suffer something dreadful by dying, and as if they would be immortal if you did put them to death. Such men appear to me to bring disgrace on the city, so that any stranger might suppose that such of the Athenians as excel in virtue, and whom they themselves choose in preference to themselves for magistracies and other honors, are in no respect superior to women.
For these things, O Athenians, neither ought we to do who have attained to any height of reputation, nor, should we do them, ought you to suffer us; but you should make this manifest, that you will much rather condemn him who introduces these piteous dramas, and makes the city ridiculous, than him who quietly awaits your decision.
But reputation apart, O Athenians, it does not appear to me to be right to entreat a judge, or to escape by entreaty, but one ought to inform and persuade him. For a judge does not sit for the purpose of administering justice out of favor, but that he may judge rightly, and he is sworn not to show favor to whom he pleases, but that he will decide according to the laws. It is therefore right that neither should we accustom you, nor should you accustom yourselves to violate your oaths; for in so doing neither of us would act righteously.
Think not then, O Athenians, that I ought to adopt such a course toward you as I neither consider honorable, nor just, nor holy, as well, by Jupiter, on any other occasion, and now especially when I am accused of impiety by this Miletus. For clearly, if I should persuade you, and by my entreaties should put a constraint on you who are bound by an oath, I should teach you to think that there are no gods, and in reality, while making my defense, should accuse myself of not believing in the gods. This, however, is far from being the case: for I believe, O Athenians, as none of my accusers do, and I leave it to you and to the deity to judge concerning me in such way as will be best both for me and for you.
- Delivered in Athens in 390 B.C., as reported by Plato in the 'Apology.' Translated by Henry Cary. Abridged.