Saturday, December 29, 2007

Selection 15 - The Apology

Reference: Apology (Plato) Wikipedia Entry

Source: The Apology at Project Gutenberg


Audio: Librivox

Background: The second dialogue in the first tetralogy of Plato's Socratic Dialogues, The Apology is the recitation of Socrates defense of himself before the citizens of Athens.

Discussion: The Apology starts with Socrates introducing his accusers and relating the charges against himself. (Corrupting Youth, Not believing in the states gods and creating new ones, and making the worse appear the better). After this the dialogue divides into three parts.

In the first part of the dialogue Socrates immediately starts out by telling his audience that they aren't smart enough to judge him on the facts and that they will be swayed by his accusers and by others such as Aristophanes, who criticized Socrates in his play the clouds a number of years earlier. Claiming he will not try and convince his jurors with rhetoric, but with plain truth he then proceeds with his defense.

He starts his defense by relating the story of some guy who asked the oracle at Delphi if Socrates was the wisest man in Athens, and is told there are none wiser. He professes astonishment because he doesn't consider himself wise so he starts questioning people who are considered wise and finds out (and I am paraphrasing here) they are a bunch of dumbasses. Discovering this Socrates concludes that what the oracle was saying was Socrates may be an idiot but so is everyone else in Athens.

After insulting his entire jury Socrates then examines Meletus (one of his accusers) and gets him involved in the traditional dialogue, trips him up and like Joe Peschi in "My Cousin Vinnie" declares "I got no more use for this guy".

The rest of this section is just Socrates pointing out that if any youth were corrupted that it was as much society's and the parent's faults as his. Again not a moved designed to encourage love among the jury.

Of course he is found guilty, I mean how could they not being just a bunch of emotional morons incapable of rational thought, and that brings us to the second of the three parts.

In the second part of "The Apology" Socrates pushes even more buttons and proposes that what he does is more important to Athens than those they routinely consider heroes (athletes, politicians, generals etc.) and therefore they really should punish him by giving him free room and board. You know because they have had the pleasure of his company and his sharing his wisdom and all. Realizing that isn't going over real well he then proposes a fine of about $2500 (100 drachmae). That is also a bomb so his supporters up the sum to $75000. Also not a popular option and the jury votes to make him drink hemlock. (Although at this point I am betting that a few were holding out for stuffing a live racoon up his butt.)

After being told of the punishment the 3rd pase of the Apology begins and Socrates again calls everyone emotionally overwrought retards and tells them that they are just opening themselves up for harsher examination by others that will follow.

OK so that is the apology in a nutshell and I see why it is recommended. It show a Socratic Dialogue in action. It lays out Socrates basic beliefs and thus the foundations that others like Aristotle started from, but at the same time it makes me doubt the accuracy of the dialogues Plato relates. I want to be flip and say no real person in such a situation could possibly be that annoying but that isn't all of it. It is just that the dialogue feels contrived. I don't know if Plato made it up out of whole cloth (I doubt it because there is another account by Xenophon that talks about Socrates Apology) or paraphrased or what but it just feels off.

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1 comment:

Dr. T said...

Actually, there's pretty good evidence that this is accurate. Plato wrote it shortly after it occurred -- it's a very early dialogue -- meaning it had to be accurate if Plato was writing it to defend Socrates and show what happened, as there were a lot of people there who saw what happened. Socrates really was that annoying -- which is why he got brought to trial. We can see this spirit of Socrates in the rest of Plato's dialogues, even if over time the dialogues became more and more Plato and less and less Socrates.