The Apology of Socrates to the Jury, 15–21

Xenophon  translated by O. J. Todd

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15When the jurors, naturally enough, made a still greater tumult on hearing this statement, he said that Socrates again went on: “And yet, gentlemen, the god uttered in oracles greater things of Lycurgus, the Lacedaemonian law-giver, than he did of me. For there is a legend that, as Lycurgus entered the temple, the god thus addressed him: ‘I am pondering whether to call you god or man.’ Now Apollo did not compare me to a god; he did, however, judge that I far excelled the rest of mankind. However, do not believe the god even in this without due grounds, but examine the god’s utterance in detail. 16First, who is there in your knowledge that is less a slave to his bodily appetites than I am? Who in the world more free,—for I accept neither gifts nor pay from any one? Whom would you with reason regard as more just than the one so reconciled to his present possessions as to want nothing beside that belongs to another? And would not a person with good reason call me a wise man, who from the time when I began to understand spoken words have never left off seeking after and learning every good thing that I could? 17And that my labour has not been in vain do you not think is attested by this fact, that many of my fellow-citizens who strive for virtue and many from abroad choose to associate with me above all other men? And what shall we say is accountable for this fact, that although everybody knows that it is quite impossible for me to repay with money, many people are eager to make me some gift? Or for this, that no demands are made on me by a single person for the repayment of benefits, while many confess that they owe me a debt of gratitude? 18Or for this, that during the siege,[4] while others were commiserating their lot, I got along without feeling the pinch of poverty any worse than when the city’s prosperity was at its height? Or for this, that while other men get their delicacies in the markets and pay a high price for them, I devise more pleasurable ones from the resources of my soul, with no expenditure of money? And now, if no one can convict me of misstatement in all that I have said of myself, do I not unquestionably merit praise from both gods and men? 19But in spite of all, Meletus, do you maintain that I corrupt the young by such practices? And yet surely we know what kinds of corruption affect the young; so you tell us whether you know of any one who under my influence has fallen from piety into impiety, or from sober into wanton conduct, or from moderation in living into extravagance, or from temperate drinking into sottishness, or from strenuousness into effeminacy, or has been overcome of any other base pleasure.” 20“But, by Heaven!” said Meletus: “there is one set of men I know,—those whom you have persuaded to obey you rather than their parents.” “I admit it,” he reports Socrates as replying, “at least so far as education is concerned; for people know that I have taken an interest in that. But in a question of health, men take the advice of physicians rather than that of their parents; and moreover, in the meetings of the legislative assembly all the people of Athens, without question, follow the advice of those whose words are wisest rather than that of their own relatives. Do you not also elect for your generals, in preference to fathers and brothers,—yes, by Heaven! in preference to your very selves,—those whom you regard as having the greatest wisdom in military affairs?” “Yes,” Meletus had said; “for that is both expedient and conventional.” 21“Well, then,” Socrates had rejoined, “does it not seem to you an amazing thing that while in other activities those who excel receive honours not merely on a parity with their fellows but even more marked ones, yet I, because I am adjudged by some people supreme in what is man’s greatest blessing,—education,—am being prosecuted by you on a capital charge?”

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  • [4] The blockade of Athens by the Spartans in the last year of the Peloponnesian War.