Apology

by

Plato

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The Delphic Oracle Character Analysis

A priestess known as the “Pythian,” whom the god Apollo uses to communicate directly to humans at a shrine in Delphi (an area the Greeks believed to be the center of the world). During his apologia, Socrates explains that his friend, Chaerephon, traveled to Delphi and asked the Pythian if anyone is wiser than Socrates. In response, the Delphic oracle informed him that there is, in fact, no one wiser than Socrates, a message Chaerephon then relayed to Socrates himself. Upon hearing this, Socrates was quite confused, since he knows he isn’t wise. As such, he decided to test the Pythian’s claim by going around and speaking to the wisest Athenians he knows. Before long, he discovered that these men are not wise, but only think they are. In this way, he explains to the jury, he is wiser than these people, since he does not “think he knows something when he does not.” After coming upon this realization, Socrates tells the jury, he set out to encourage his fellow Athenians to recognize their own ignorance, believing that he was “assisting” Apollo by spreading this important idea. However, people like Meletus and Anytus took issue with this message, which is why they called Socrates to court.

The Delphic Oracle Quotes in Apology

The Apology quotes below are all either spoken by The Delphic Oracle or refer to The Delphic Oracle. 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 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:
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The Delphic Oracle Character Timeline in Apology

The timeline below shows where the character The Delphic Oracle appears in Apology. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Apology
Wisdom, Piety, and Belief Theme Icon
...the story he’s about to tell comes from “a trustworthy source.” “I shall call upon the god at Delphi as witness to the existence and nature of my wisdom, if it be such,” he... (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... (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... (full context)