Xenophon-e1515436007120

Part I  | Part III

Hermogenes also reported what Socrates said at the trial, showing “that his boastful speech fitted his purpose” (§2). We expect to hear arrogant boasting at trial, but it’s not entirely clear from the record what qualifies, and whether there is more than one purpose in so speaking.

Let’s briefly review the record:

After the charges against Socrates were stated (§10), first, regarding impiety (§§ 11-18), Socrates said:

(a) how can Meletus “say that I do not believe in the gods in whom the city believes” when everyone can “see me sacrificing” in public? (§11);

(b) how am I bringing in strange daimonia, when others do the same thing but just use different names for the sounds by which they counsel? (§§12-13);

(c) when reporting the counsel of the god to friends, I never spoke falsely (§13).

When the jurors clamored loudly, Socrates said:

(d) when Chaerephon asked about me at Delphi, “Apollo responded that no human being was more free, more just, or more moderate than I” (§14).

When the jurors clamored loudly again, Socrates said:

(e) the god did not compare me to a god, but “judged that I surpassed many human beings” (§15); who is “less enslaved to the desires of the body,” freer, and has no need of others’ possessions?

(f) How could anyone deny that I am wise? From the time I began to understand speeches I never ceased “learning whatever good thing I could” (§16);

(g) citizens and foreigners who aim at virtue “prefer to associate with me rather than with anyone else” (§17);

(h) during the siege, when others pitied themselves, I was not worse off than when the city was happiest (§18);

(i) while others procure delights from the marketplace, I enjoy “delights from the soul”– without expense (§18);

(j) in all of the things I have said about myself, “how would I not justly be praised both by gods and by human beings?” (§18).

Second, regarding corrupting the young (§19-22), Socrates said:

(k) Meletus asserts that I corrupt the young, but “who, under my influence, has gone from piety to impiety, or from moderation to insolence, or from temperate to extravagance, or from measured drinking to drunkenness, or from love of toil to softness…” (§19)? Meletus replied: You have persuaded them “to obey you rather than their parents!” (§20)

(l) Regarding education, yes. While “the most excellent” are preferred in many things, although I am judged to be best concerning “the greatest good for human beings, namely education,” I am being prosecuted on a capital charge (§21).

Not all the dozen or so statements count as “big talk,” and they would be heard differently by different audiences or judges. The assertions that Socrates is freer, more just, and more moderate (§14), is superior to many human beings (§15), and that both gods and human beings justly praise him (§18) may have vexed the jurors and caused envy. At the heart of his defense, however, is his pride in learning (§16-17), in being the best with regard to education. For whom might this boastful claim sound less offensive and more like an invitation to consider the greatest good for human beings?

Socrates alerted us to his purpose before the trial. His good opinion of himself (his own and his friends’ judgment) is based on his noble possessions and the good things he has learned. He is not willing to remain silent about his superior life. Anyone who has ever met an arrogant intellectual (or an arrogant buffoon) can understand why the jurors might want to teach him a lesson, as they say. But the uncomfortable invitation to reflect on our lesser lives can lead either to resentment or to courageous inquiry and the recognition of someone who may in fact be the best when it comes to education. After the trial, near the end of his life, Socrates can be judged by other standards.

by Jason Happel

(Please note: We welcome your thoughtful comments on this or any other post. Please drop us a line at symposiumsa@gmail.com, and it will be posted. -Ed.)
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