At a certain point in his defense, Socrates refers to himself as a gadfly as a way of representing the fact that his philosophical investigations are annoying but necessary to the moral health of Athens. To illustrate this point, he says, “I was attached to this city by the god […] 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’s worth noting here that although Socrates says the “horse” that the gadfly “stir[s]” is “somewhat sluggish,” he also suggests that it is “noble.” As such, he implies that the animal possesses great potential—potential that need only be reawakened. This, it seems, is what Socrates himself does for his fellow Athenians: he “rouse[s]” their virtue by forcing them to reckon with their own shortcomings. As such, they see him as a nuisance, a social gadfly that won’t leave them alone. By presenting this metaphor involving the gadfly and the horse, though, Socrates reminds the jury that his seemingly annoying behavior ultimately benefits society by forcing people to try harder to embody virtuousness.
The Gadfly Quotes in Apology
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.