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Apology Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Plato's Apology. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Plato

Plato’s father Ariston descended from Codrus, the last King of Athens, and his mother Perictione had ties to Solon, one of the creators of the Athenian Constitution. Plato planned a political career until 404 BC, when Athens shifted to an Oligarchy controlled by wealthy men. After democracy was restored in 403 BC, Plato again considered politics until Socrates, Plato’s mentor, was accused of impiety and corruption and subsequently put to death in 399 BC. Responding to this gross display of injustice, Plato abandoned politics for philosophy. He ultimately produced a volume of work that has heavily influenced western thought and provided the world with a record not only of his own philosophical thoughts, but also historical documentation of Socrates’s influential years in Athens. Concerned with justice, beauty, and equality, he influenced many important thinkers by founding the Academy, a philosophy school where Aristotle was a student for twenty years before establishing his own institution when Plato died in 348 or 347 BC.
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Historical Context of Apology

After Sparta defeated Athens in the Peloponnesian War in 404 BC, Spartans overtook the city and installed an oppressive oligarchy made up of thirty men. This group became known as “the Thirty” or “the Thirty Tyrants,” quickly gaining notoriety for their violent ways, as they killed 1,500 Athenians during their short nine-month rule. In his apologia, Socrates references the Thirty, explaining that they “summoned” him and four other Athenians and ordered them to capture a well-known Athenian general and bring him to “the Hall” to be executed. Because his “whole concern is not to do anything unjust or impious,” though, Socrates refused to capture the general, instead going home while the other four Athenians carried out the task. “I might have been put to death for this, had not the government fallen shortly afterwards,” Socrates says, referencing the fact that the Thirty Tyrants were overthrown within the year by Athenian rebels who restored the city’s democratic system. Socrates uses this as an example of his unwillingness to undermine his values. 

Other Books Related to Apology

Early in his apologia (or defense), Socrates mentions a play called The Clouds by Aristophanes. Produced in 423 BC, this was a satirical play that parodied Sophists and intellectuals in Athens, specifically singling out Socrates as a greedy and fraudulent teacher who manipulated rich people. Socrates references the play in his defense to illustrate that the jury might be biased against him, since he upholds that Aristophanes’ representation of him is entirely inaccurate. After all, he says, he does not accept money from people in exchange for knowledge, and—in any case—doesn’t even think he knows enough to be a teacher in the first place. On another note, it’s worth considering Plato’s other dialogues that concern Socrates, namely Euthyphro, Crito, Meno, and Phaedo, all of which showcase Socrates’s practice of dialectical questioning—the very practice that leads to his trial in Apology.
Key Facts about Apology
  • Full Title: Apology
  • Where Written: Ancient Greece
  • When Published: Sometime in the decade proceeding Socrates’s trial in 399 BC.
  • Literary Period: Ancient Greek Philosophy
  • Genre: Philosophy, Philosophical Dialogue, Fiction
  • Setting: Athens, Greece in 399 BC
  • Climax: Having made his defense, Socrates is sentenced to death.
  • Antagonist: Meletus
  • Point of View: Although Socrates speaks in the first-person for the vast majority of Apology, the document is technically presented as a dialogic transcript.

Extra Credit for Apology

Socrates & Democracy. Experts debate whether or not Socrates believed in democracy, since he disparages the system in Plato’s The Republic but apparently respects it in Apology. Citing the fact that Plato—who was himself deeply critical of democracy—wrote The Republic long after Socrates died, many uphold that the text is not an accurate reflection of the man’s political beliefs, ultimately suggesting that Socrates’ attitude toward democracy in Apology is probably the more authentic portrayal of his views.

Influence on Christianity. In addition to Aristotle, Plato taught people like Plotinus and Proclus, Neoplatonists who developed his ideas and eventually laid the groundwork for early Christian thinkers like Saint Augustine.