41 Following


Currently reading

Taiga?s True Views: The Language of Landscape Painting in Eighteenth-Century Japan by Melinda Takeuchi (1994-06-01)
Melinda Takeuchi
The History of England, Vol 2
David Hume
The History of Scepticism: From Savonarola to Bayle
Richard H. Popkin
Cicero: On Moral Ends (Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy)
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Raphael Woolf, Julia Annas
Das Goldene Vlies: Dramatisches Gedicht in Drei Abteilungen
Franz Grillparzer
Euripides IV: Rhesus / The Suppliant Women / Orestes / Iphigenia in Aulis
Charles R. Walker, Frank William Jones, William Arrowsmith, David Grene, Euripides, Richmond Lattimore
Notes from Underground & The Double
Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Jesse Coulson
The World of Thought in Ancient China
Benjamin I. Schwartz
The Last Generation of the Roman Republic
Erich S. Gruen
The Legend of Gold and Other Stories
William J. Tyler, Jun Ishikawa, Ishikawa Jun
Apology - Plato, James J. Helm Perhaps the most famous of the Socratic dialogues, the Apology (in the sense of apologia or defense before a tribunal) presents Socrates (469-399 BCE) as he defends himself against charges that he corrupted the youth of Athens and did not honor the proper gods. It is probably not a spoiler to say that Socrates was convicted and condemned to death. Subsequently, many of Socrates' pupils wrote their versions of the events and of the words spoken, though most have been lost. The Apology is a recounting through Plato's (427-347 BCE) eyes. I am re-reading Benjamin Jowett's famous translation of this dialogue, for Socrates has been much on my mind recently.Just four years earlier, the tyrants imposed upon the Athenians by the Spartans at the end of the Peloponnesian War had been deposed, and the unique Athenian form of democracy had been reinstated, though, according to Plato, it was reinstated in a degenerate form. One aspect of Athenian democracy is that Socrates was not tried by twelve good men firm and true with one presiding judge, but by hundreds of judges and even more jurymen (probably 501). Since Socrates was very well known around the city, I imagine that everyone eligible who could cram themselves into the area set aside for the trial participated somehow. And so one must imagine Socrates looking out at the huge crowd of his judges and jury and recognizing everyone, his enemies and his friends.The "dialogue" is actually told entirely in the first person from Socrates' point of view, with the exception of his dismantling one of his accusers in a cross examination.(*) The actions and speeches of the other participants must be deduced from Socrates' words. As presented by Plato, Socrates first speaks in an artful directness that could not have failed to have the desired effect upon open minds. Alas, open minds were not what he could expect to find, since he had, inadvertently or not, made fools of many self-impressed citizens and had a lifetime of slander to overcome. As the Japanese say, the nail that sticks out gets hammered down. Socrates addresses these points head on, but acknowledges that he has little chance of changing closed minds and will not be the last good man to be brought down by jealousy and resentment.So he changes tack and provides an eloquent summary of the principles by which he lives. In the midst of this comes a passage which I must quote:For the fear of death is indeed the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom, being a pretense of knowing the unkown; and no one knows whether death, which men in their fear apprehend to be the greatest evil, may not be the greatest good. Is not this the ignorance of a disgraceful sort, the ignorance which is the conceit that a man knows what he does not know?He is convicted by a margin of 60 votes. In a passage that appears to me to be dripping in irony, he explains why, instead of the death penalty requested by his accusers, he should be given a light fine. It is death... Socrates warns his condemners that they will regret their decision. But more interesting is his reassurance to his friends that his death will be a good thing, not a bad one. He mentioned earlier that a voice, or oracle, from the gods guides him by forbidding incorrect actions, but that this voice had not made itself heard at any time during the trial. He then leaves that aside and argues, from a distinctly Greek point of view (**), that whichever of the two possible outcomes of death arrives, it will be better than most of life. I think it clear that he is trying to console his friends, but more on this when we get to the Crito .(*) While I'm at it, let me say that some of the arguments Plato has Socrates make in this dismantling are real and to the point, but others are rhetorical traps, pure and simple. So despite his protestations to the contrary (no surprise), Socrates' defense is not that of a plain speaking homeboy... In fact, such a protestation is a well known rhetorical ploy.(**) Christianity posits horrors without end as one of the two possible outcomes of death, and I would like to express my hearty thanks for this contribution to civilization. I find particularly gratifying the addendum made by Calvin and others that the outcome was chosen already at birth and that almost everyone will enjoy the horrors without end. An extra thanks for that...