Apology

by

Plato

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Apology can help.

Socrates Character Analysis

A philosopher living in Athens, Greece in the fourth century BC and the primary speaker in Apology. A clever thinker and shrewd conversationalist, Socrates is known for encouraging people to carefully scrutinize their beliefs. By asking a series of simple questions, he often tricks his interlocutors into unwittingly contradicting themselves, thereby revealing the flaws in their thinking. Unsurprisingly, this practice has gained him a number of enemies, which is why he is on trial in Apology. Defending himself against accusations of impiety and corruption made by Meletus, Anytus, Lycon, and a number of unidentified Athenians, Socrates delivers his apologia—or defense—by examining the contradictions that exist in his detractors’ logic. He upholds that the Delphic oracle has stated that no one is wiser than he is, explaining that this is simply because he understands—unlike the city’s other wise men—that he only has “human wisdom,” which is “worthless.” Because of this, he has tried to convince his fellow Athenians to embrace their own ignorance rather than pretending to understand things they don’t actually grasp. As a result, he has been brought to court, where he refuses to placate his accusers. Indeed, Socrates is a man with a strong sense of moral integrity, meaning that he’s unwilling to tell the jurors what they need to hear in order to find him innocent. Rather, he simply explains why his detractors have slandered him, insisting that the only reason he is defending himself is because he wants to help the jurors avoid wading into immorality by executing him. However, the jury ends up sentencing him to death, and though he disagrees with the verdict, he admits that he isn’t afraid of death, since it is an unknown. As such, he accepts his fate, merely warning the jurors that they’re acting against the gods by executing him.

Socrates Quotes in Apology

The Apology quotes below are all either spoken by Socrates or refer to Socrates. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Hackett edition of Apology published in 2002.
Apology Quotes

I do not know, men of Athens, how my accusers affected you; as for me, I was almost carried away in spite of myself, so persuasively did they speak. And yet, hardly anything of what they said is true. Of the many lies they told, one in particular surprised me, namely that you should be careful not to be deceived by an accomplished speaker like me. That they were not ashamed to be immediately proved wrong by the facts, when I show myself not to be an accomplished speaker at all, that I thought was most shameless on their part—unless indeed they call an accomplished speaker the man who speaks the truth. If they mean that, I would agree that I am an orator, but not after their manner, for indeed, as I say, practically nothing they said was true. From me you will hear the whole truth, though not, by Zeus, gentlemen, expressed in embroidered and stylized phrases like theirs, but things spoken at random and expressed in the first words that come to mind, for I put my trust in the justice of what I say, and let none of you expect anything else.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:

This is my first appearance in a lawcourt, at the age of seventy; I am therefore simply a stranger to the manner of speaking here. Just as if I were really a stranger, you would certainly excuse me if I spoke in that dialect and manner in which I had been brought up, so too my present request seems a just one, for you to pay no attention to my manner of speech—be it better or worse—but to concentrate your attention on whether what I say is just or not, for the excellence of a judge lies in this, as that of a speaker lies in telling the truth.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

What is the accusation from which arose the slander in which Meletus trusted when he wrote out the charge against me? What did they say when they slandered me? I must, as if they were my actual prosecutors, read the affidavit they would have sworn. It goes something like this: Socrates is guilty of wrongdoing in that he busies himself studying things in the sky and below the earth; he makes the worse into the stronger argument, and he teaches these same things to others. You have seen this yourself in the comedy of Aristophanes, a Socrates swinging about there, saying he was walking on air and talking a lot of other nonsense about things of which I know nothing at all.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Meletus, Aristophanes
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:

One of you might perhaps interrupt me and say: “But Socrates, what is your occupation? From where have these slanders come? For surely if you did not busy yourself with something out of the common, all these rumors and talk would not have arisen unless you did something other than most people. Tell us what it is, that we may not speak inadvisedly about you.” Anyone who says that seems to be right, and I will try to show you what has caused this reputation and slander. Listen then. Perhaps some of you will think I am jesting, but be sure that all that I shall say is true. What has caused my reputation is none other than a certain kind of wisdom. What kind of wisdom? Human wisdom, perhaps.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Meletus
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

I went to one of those reputed wise, thinking that there, if anywhere, I could refute the oracle and say to it: “This man is wiser than I, but you said I was.” Then, when I examined this man—there is no need for me to tell you his name, he was one of our public men—my experience was something like this: I thought that he appeared wise to many people and especially to himself, but he was not. I then tried to show him that he thought himself wise, but that he was not. As a result he came to dislike me, and so did many of the bystanders. So I withdrew and thought to myself: “I am wiser than this man; it is likely that neither of us knows anything worthwhile, but he thinks he knows something when he does not, whereas when I do not know, neither do I think I know; so I am likely to be wiser than he to this small extent, that I do not think I know what I do not know.” After this I approached another man, one of those thought to be wiser than he, and I thought the same thing, and so I came to be disliked both by him and by many others.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), The Delphic Oracle
Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally I went to the craftsmen, for I was conscious of knowing practically nothing, and I knew that I would find that they had knowledge of many fine things. In this I was not mistaken; they knew things I did not know, and to that extent they were wiser than I. But, men of Athens, the good craftsmen seemed to me to have the same fault as the poets: each of them, because of his success at his craft, thought himself very wise in other most important pursuits, and this error of theirs overshadowed the wisdom they had, so that I asked myself, on behalf of the oracle, whether I should prefer to be as I am, with neither their wisdom nor their ignorance, or to have both. The answer I gave myself and the oracle was that it was to my advantage to be as I am.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), The Delphic Oracle
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

As a result of this investigation, men of Athens, I acquired much unpopularity, of a kind that is hard to deal with and is a heavy burden; many slanders came from these people and a reputation for wisdom, for in each case the bystanders thought that I myself possessed the wisdom that I proved that my interlocutor did not have. What is proba­ble, gentlemen, is that in fact the god is wise and that his oracular response meant that human wisdom is worth little or nothing, and that when he says this man, Socrates, he is using my name as an example, as if he said: “This man among you, mortals, is wisest who, like Socrates, understands that his wisdom is worthless.” So even now I continue this investigation as the god bade me—and I go around seeking out anyone, citizen or stranger, whom I think wise. Then if I do not think he is, I come to the assistance of the god and show him that he is not wise.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), The Delphic Oracle
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

Either I do not corrupt the young or, if I do, it is unwillingly, and you are lying in either case. Now if I corrupt them unwillingly, the law does not require you to bring people to court for such unwilling wrong­ doings, but to get hold of them privately, to instruct them and exhort them; for clearly, if I learn better, I shall cease to do what I am doing unwillingly. You, however, have avoided my company and were unwill­ing to instruct me, but you bring me here, where the law requires one to bring those who are in need of punishment, not of instruction.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Meletus
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

Does any man, Meletus, believe in human activities who does not believe in humans? […] Does any man who does not believe in horses believe in horsemen’s activities? Or in flute-playing activities but not in flute-players? No, my good sir, no man could. If you are not willing to answer, I will tell you and these men. Answer the next question, however. Does any man believe in spiritual activities who does not believe in spirits? — No one.

Thank you for answering, if reluctantly, when these gentlemen made you. Now you say that I believe in spiritual things and teach about them, whether new or old, but at any rate spiritual things according to what you say, and to this you have sworn in your deposition. But if I believe in spiritual things I must quite inevitably believe in spirits. Is that not so? It is indeed. I shall assume that you agree, as you do not answer. Do we not believe spirits to be either gods or the children of gods? Yes or no? — Of course.

Then since I do believe in spirits, as you admit, if spirits are gods, this is what I mean when I say you speak in riddles and in jest, as you state that I do not believe in gods and then again that I do, since I do believe in spirits.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Meletus (speaker)
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

To fear death, gentlemen, is no other than to think oneself wise when one is not, to think one knows what one does not know. No one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all blessings for a man, yet men fear it as if they knew that it is the greatest of evils. And surely it is the most blameworthy ignorance to believe that one knows what one does not know. It is perhaps on this point and in this respect, gentlemen, that I differ from the majority of men, and if I were to claim that I am wiser than anyone in anything, it would be in this, that, as I have no adequate knowledge of things in the underworld, so I do not think I have. I do know, however, that it is wicked and shameful to do wrong, to disobey one’s superior, be he god or man. I shall never fear or avoid things of which I do not know, whether they may not be good rather than things that I know to be bad.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

[…] if you said to me in this regard: “Socrates, we do not believe Anytus now; we acquit you, but only on condition that you spend no more time on this investigation and do not practice philosophy, and if you are caught doing so you will die”; if, as I say, you were to acquit me on those terms, I would say to you: “Men of Athens, I am grateful and I am your friend, but I will obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I shall not cease to practice philosophy […].”

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker), Anytus
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:

Indeed, men of Athens, I am far from making a defense now on my own behalf, as might be thought, but on yours, to prevent you from wrongdoing by mistreating the god’s gift to you by condemning me; for if you kill me you will not easily find another like me. I was attached to this city by the god—though it seems a ridiculous thing to say—as upon a great and noble horse which was somewhat sluggish because of its size and needed to be stirred up by a kind of gadfly. It is to fulfill some such function that I believe the god has placed me in the city. I never cease to rouse each and every one of you, to persuade and reproach you all day long and everywhere I find myself in your company.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Gadfly
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

Quite apart from the question of reputation, gentlemen, I do not think it right to supplicate the jury and to be acquitted because of this, but to teach and persuade them. It is not the purpose of a juryman’s office to give justice as a favor to whoever seems good to him, but to judge according to law, and this he has sworn to do. We should not accustom you to perjure yourselves, nor should you make a habit of it. This is irreverent conduct for either of us.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 39
Explanation and Analysis:

Perhaps someone might say: But Socrates, if you leave us will you
not be able to live quietly, without talking? Now this is the most difficult
point on which to convince some of you. If I say that it is impossible for me to keep quiet because that means disobeying the god, you will
not believe me and will think I am being ironical. On the other hand,
if I say that it is the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day
and those other things about which you hear me conversing and testing myself and others, for the unexamined life is not worth living for men, you will believe me even less.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 41
Explanation and Analysis:

I was convicted because I lacked not words but boldness and shamelessness and the willingness to say to you what you would most gladly have heard from me, lamentations and tears and my saying and doing many things that I say are unworthy of me but that you are accustomed to hear from others. I did not think then that the danger I ran should make me do anything mean, nor do I now regret the nature of my defense. I would much rather die after this kind of defense than live after making the other kind.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

It is not difficult to avoid death, gentlemen; it is much more difficult to avoid wickedness, for it runs faster than death. Slow and elderly as I am, I have been caught by the slower pursuer, whereas my accusers, being clever and sharp, have been caught by the quicker, wickedness. I leave you now, condemned to death by you, but they are condemned by truth to wickedness and injustice. So I maintain my assessment, and they maintain theirs.

Related Characters: Socrates (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Apology LitChart as a printable PDF.
Apology PDF

Socrates Character Timeline in Apology

The timeline below shows where the character Socrates appears in Apology. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Apology
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates begins his apologia by calling the jury “men of Athens,” wondering aloud how his accusers... (full context)
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Socrates notes that if his accusers are insinuating that “an accomplished speaker” is someone who “speaks... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Socrates explains to the jury that he is going to address the accusations made against him... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Admitting the unfortunate fact that it will be difficult to persuade the jury, Socrates says he must nevertheless “obey the law and make [his] defense.” “Let us then take... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates insists that Aristophanes’s portrayal of him is inaccurate, since he doesn’t possess the knowledge that... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Socrates posits that one of the jurors might wish to ask him, “But Socrates, what is... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
As Socrates says this, the jurors begin to mumble and interrupt, but he tells them to calm... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Continuing his story about the Delphic oracle’s assertion that no one is wiser than him, Socrates tells the jury that he sought to “investigate” this information. To do this, he spoke... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Socrates tells the jury that he proceeded in this manner, methodically visiting the wisest people in... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
After visiting the poets, Socrates explains, he went to the craftsmen and found that they were more knowledgeable than him,... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
“As a result of this investigation, men of Athens, I acquired much unpopularity,” Socrates says. Indeed, people began to slander him because they assumed he “possessed the wisdom that... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Because he has dedicated himself to spreading the Delphic oracle’s message about wisdom, Socrates lives in poverty. All the same, a group of young men have started following him... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Turning his attention to the accusations presented to the jury by Meletus, Socrates restates the deposition, saying, “Socrates is guilty of corrupting the young and of not believing... (full context)
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
...that the jurors “improve” the Athenian youth. “All of them, or some but not others?” Socrates asks, to which Meletus responds, “All of them.” In turn, Socrates asks, “But what about... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Going on, Socrates asks if this same principal applies to horses. “[Do] all men improve them and one... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Continuing his examination, Socrates asks Meletus if “wicked” people harm others while “good” people improve the people around them.... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates upholds that if he is indeed spreading wickedness throughout Athens without meaning to, he shouldn’t... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Focusing on the claim that he doesn’t believe in the gods, Socrates asks if Meletus thinks he (Socrates) is an atheist, or someone who believes in “other”... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
“Do we not believe spirits to be either gods or the children of gods?” Socrates asks. “Of course,” Meletus replies. In keeping with this, Socrates points out that Meletus has... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Addressing the jury, Socrates posits that he has sufficiently defended himself against Meletus’s charges, though he’s cognizant that his... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Socrates insists that “wherever a man has taken a position that he believes to be best,... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
In keeping with the fact that he doesn’t fear death, Socrates tells the jury he will not change his behavior if he is acquitted, even if... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates reiterates that he isn’t afraid of death, saying that Meletus can’t possibly harm him. In... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates tells the jury that Athens will not easily find another man willing to encourage people... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates tells a story about the end of the Peloponnesian War, when Spartans won control of... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates says that if the jurors believe he has harmed or “corrupted” them, they should stand... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates says he thinks it’s wrong to “supplicate the jury” with tears and hysterics. “It is... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
After Socrates finishes his initial defense, the jury pronounces him guilty, and Meletus “asks for the penalty... (full context)
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Reminding the jury that he has tried hard to help Athenians improve themselves, Socrates suggests that what he really “deserve[s]” is not a penalty, but a reward. As such,... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Not wanting to ask for imprisonment because he knows it to be “evil,” Socrates considers the penalty of exile. This prospect, he explains, does not suit him either, since... (full context)
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Unwilling to accept imprisonment or exile as punishments, Socrates considers the idea of a fine, saying he would “assess the penalty at the amount... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Once again, the jury votes, this time sentencing Socrates to death, at which point Socrates is allowed to deliver his final remarks. “It is... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates tells the jurors who voted for his acquittal that he would be happy to talk... (full context)
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
Moral Integrity Theme Icon
Rhetoric, Persuasion, and the Truth Theme Icon
Democracy, Judgment, and Justice Theme Icon
Socrates once again considers the nature of death, saying it’s either a total lack of perception... (full context)