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No less wonderful is it to me that some believed the charge brought against Socrates of corrupting the youth. In the first place, apart from what I have said, in control of his own passions and appetites he was the strictest of men; further, in endurance of cold and heat and every kind of toil he was most resolute; and besides, his needs were so schooled to moderation that having very little he was yet very content. [2] Such was his own character: how then can he have led others into impiety, crime, gluttony, lust, or sloth? On the contrary, he cured these vices in many, by putting into them a desire for goodness, and by giving them confidence that self-discipline would make them gentlemen. [3] To be sure he never professed to teach this; but, by letting his own light shine, he led his disciples to hope that they through imitation of him would attain to such excellence. [4] Furthermore, he himself never neglected the body, and reproved such neglect in others. Thus over-eating followed by over-exertion he disapproved. But he approved of taking as much hard exercise as is agreeable to the soul;1 for the habit not only insured good health, but did not hamper the care of the soul. [5] On the other hand, he disliked foppery and pretentiousness in the fashion of clothes or shoes or in behaviour. Nor, again, did he encourage love of money in his companions. For while he checked their other desires, he would not make money himself out of their desire for his companionship. [6] He held that this self-denying ordinance insured his liberty. Those who charged a fee for their society he denounced for selling themselves into bondage; since they were bound to converse with all from whom they took the fee. [7] He marvelled that anyone should make money by the profession of virtue, and should not reflect that his highest reward would be the gain of a good friend; as though he who became a true gentleman could fail to feel deep gratitude for a benefit so great. [8] Socrates indeed never promised any such boon to anyone; but he was confident that those of his companions who adopted his principles of conduct would throughout life be good friends to him and to one another. How, then, should such a man “corrupt the youth”? Unless, perchance, it be corruption to foster virtue. [9]

But, said his accuser, he taught his companions to despise the established laws by insisting on the folly of appointing public officials by lot, when none would choose a pilot or builder or flautist by lot, nor any other craftsman for work in which mistakes are far less disastrous than mistakes in statecraft. Such sayings, he argued, led the young to despise the established constitution and made them violent. [10] But I hold2 that they who cultivate wisdom and think they will be able to guide the people in prudent policy never lapse into violence: they know that enmities and dangers are inseparable from violence, but persuasion produces the same results safely and amicably. For violence, by making its victims sensible of loss, rouses their hatred: but persuasion, by seeming to confer a favour, wins goodwill. It is not, then, cultivation of wisdom that leads to violent methods, but the possession of power without prudence. [11] Besides, many supporters are necessary to him who ventures to use force: but he who can persuade needs no confederate, having confidence in his own unaided power of persuasion. And such a man has no occasion to shed blood; for who would rather take a man's life than have a live and willing follower?

But his accuser argued thus. [12] Among the associates of Socrates were Critias and Alcibiades; and none wrought so many evils to the state. For Critias in the days of the oligarchy bore the palm for greed and violence: Alcibiades, for his part, exceeded all in licentiousness and insolence under the democracy. [13] Now I have no intention of excusing the wrong these two men wrought the state; but I will explain how they came to be with Socrates. [14] Ambition was the very life-blood of both: no Athenian was ever like them. They were eager to get control of everything and to outstrip every rival in notoriety. They knew that Socrates was living on very little, and yet was wholly independent; that he was strictly moderate in all his pleasures; and that in argument he could do what he liked with any disputant. [15] Sharing this knowledge and the principles I have indicated, is it to be supposed that these two men wanted to adopt the simple life of Socrates, and with this object in view sought his society? Did they not rather think that by associating with him they would attain the utmost proficiency in speech and action? [16] For my part I believe that, had heaven granted them the choice between the life they saw Socrates leading and death, they would have chosen rather to die. Their conduct betrayed their purpose; for as soon as they thought themselves superior to their fellow-disciples they sprang away from Socrates and took to politics; it was for political ends that they had wanted Socrates. [17]

But it may be answered: Socrates should have taught his companions prudence before politics. I do not deny it; but I find that all teachers show their disciples how they themselves practise what they teach, and lead them on by argument. And I know that it was so with Socrates: he showed his companions that he was a gentleman himself, and talked most excellently of goodness and of all things that concern man. [18] I know further that even those two were prudent so long as they were with Socrates, not from fear of fine or blow, but because at that time they really believed in prudent conduct. [19]

But many self-styled lovers of wisdom may reply: A just man can never become unjust; a prudent man can never become wanton; in fact no one having learned any kind of knowledge can become ignorant of it. I do not hold with this view.3 I notice that as those who do not train the body cannot perform the functions proper to the body, so those who do not train the soul cannot perform the functions of the soul: for they cannot do what they ought to do nor avoid what they ought not to do. [20] For this cause fathers try to keep their sons, even if they are prudent lads, out of bad company: for the society of honest men is a training in virtue, but the society of the bad is virtue's undoing. As one of the poets says:

““From the good shalt thou learn good things; but if thou minglest with the bad thou shalt lose even what thou hast of wisdom.”

And another says:

““Ah, but a good man is at one time noble, at another base.”


My testimony agrees with theirs; for I see that, just as poetry is forgotten unless it is often repeated, so instruction, when no longer heeded, fades from the mind. To forget good counsel is to forget the experiences that prompted the soul to desire prudence: and when those are forgotten, it is not surprising that prudence itself is forgotten. [22] I see also that men who take to drink or get involved in love intrigues lose the power of caring about right conduct and avoiding evil. For many who are careful with their money no sooner fall in love than they begin to waste it: and when they have spent it all, they no longer shrink from making more by methods which they formerly avoided because they thought them disgraceful. [23] How then can it be impossible for one who was prudent to lose his prudence, for one who was capable of just action to become incapable? To me indeed it seems that whatever is honourable, whatever is good in conduct is the result of training, and that this is especially true of prudence. For in the same body along with the soul are planted the pleasures which call to her: “Abandon prudence, and make haste to gratify us and the body.” [24]

And indeed it was thus with Critias and Alcibiades. So long as they were with Socrates, they found in him an ally who gave them strength to conquer their evil passions. But when they parted from him, Critias fled to Thessaly, and got among men who put lawlessness before justice; while Alcibiades, on account of his beauty, was hunted by many great ladies, and because of his influence at Athens and among her allies he was spoilt by many powerful men: and as athletes who gain an easy victory in the games are apt to neglect their training, so the honour in which he was held, the cheap triumph he won with the people, led him to neglect himself. [25] Such was their fortune: and when to pride of birth, confidence in wealth, vainglory and much yielding to temptation were added corruption and long separation from Socrates, what wonder if they grew overbearing? [26] For their wrongdoing, then, is Socrates to be called to account by his accuser? And does he deserve no word of praise for having controlled them in the days of their youth, when they would naturally be most reckless and licentious? Other cases, at least, are not so judged. [27] For what teacher of flute, lyre, or anything else, after making his pupils proficient, is held to blame if they leave him for another master, and then turn out incompetent? What father, whose son bears a good character so long as he is with one master, but goes wrong after he has attached himself to another, throws the blame on the earlier teacher? Is it not true that the worse the boy turns out with the second, the higher is his father's praise of the first? Nay, fathers themselves, living with their sons, are not held responsible for their boys' wrongdoing if they are themselves prudent men. [28] This is the test which should have been applied to Socrates too. If there was anything base in his own life, he might fairly have been thought vicious. But, if his own conduct was always prudent, how can he be fairly held to blame for the evil that was not in him? [29]

Nevertheless, although he was himself free from vice, if he saw and approved of base conduct in them, he would be open to censure. Well, when he found that Critias loved Euthydemus4 and wanted to lead him astray, he tried to restrain him by saying that it was mean and unbecoming in a gentleman to sue like a beggar to the object of his affection, whose good opinion he coveted, stooping to ask a favour that it was wrong to grant. [30] As Critias paid no heed whatever to this protest, Socrates, it is said, exclaimed in the presence of Euthydemus and many others, “Critias seems to have the feelings of a pig: he can no more keep away from Euthydemus than pigs can help rubbing themselves against stones.” [31] Now Critias bore a grudge against Socrates for this; and when he was one of the Thirty and was drafting laws with Charicles, he bore it in mind. He inserted a clause which made it illegal “to teach the art of words.” It was a calculated insult to Socrates, whom he saw no means of attacking, except by imputing to him the practice constantly attributed to philosophers,5 and so making him unpopular. For I myself never heard Socrates indulge in the practice, nor knew of anyone who professed to have heard him do so. The truth came out. [32] When the Thirty were putting to death many citizens of the highest respectability and were encouraging many in crime, Socrates had remarked: “It seems strange enough to me that a herdsman6 who lets his cattle decrease and go to the bad should not admit that he is a poor cowherd; but stranger still that a statesman when he causes the citizens to decrease and go to the bad, should feel no shame nor think himself a poor statesman.” [33] This remark was reported to Critias and Charicles, who sent for Socrates, showed him the law and forbade him to hold conversation with the young.

“May I question you,” asked Socrates, “in case I do not understand any point in your orders?”

“You may,” said they.

“Well now,” said he, [34] “I am ready to obey the laws. But lest I unwittingly transgress through ignorance, I want clear directions from you. Do you think that the art of words from which you bid me abstain is associated with sound or unsound reasoning? For if with sound, then clearly I must abstain from sound reasoning: but if with unsound, clearly I must try to reason soundly.” [35]

“Since you are ignorant, Socrates,” said Charicles in an angry tone, “we put our order into language easier to understand. You may not hold any converse whatever with the young.”

“Well then,” said Socrates, “that there may be no question raised about my obedience, please fix the age limit below which a man is to be accounted young.”

“So long,” replied Charicles, “as he is not permitted to sit in the Council, because as yet he lacks wisdom. You shall not converse with anyone who is under thirty.” [36]

“Suppose I want to buy something, am I not even then to ask the price if the seller is under thirty?”

“Oh yes,” answered Charicles, “you may in such cases. But the fact is, Socrates, you are in the habit of asking questions to which you know the answer: so that is what you are not to do.”

“Am I to give no answer, then, if a young man asks me something that I know? — for instance, ‘Where does Charicles live?’ or ‘Where is Critias?’”

“Oh yes,” answered Charicles, “you may, in such cases.” [37]

“But you see, Socrates,” explained Critias, “you will have to avoid your favourite topic, — the cobblers, builders and metal workers7; for it is already worn to rags by you in my opinion.”

“Then must I keep off the subjects of which these supply illustrations, Justice, Holiness, and so forth?”

“Indeed yes,” said Charicles, “and cowherds too: else you may find the cattle decrease.” [38]

Thus the truth was out: the remark about the cattle had been repeated to them: and it was this that made them angry with him.

So much, then, for the connexion of Critias with Socrates and their relation to each other. [39] I venture to lay it down that learners get nothing from a teacher with whom they are out of sympathy. Now, all the time that Critias and Alcibiades associated with Socrates they were out of sympathy with him, but from the very first their ambition was political advancement. For while they were still with him, they tried to converse, whenever possible, with prominent politicians. [40] Indeed, there is a story told of Alcibiades, that, when he was less than twenty years old, he had a talk about laws with Pericles, his guardian, the first citizen in the State. [41]

“Tell me, Pericles,” he said, “can you teach me what a law is?”

“Certainly,” he replied.

“Then pray teach me. For whenever I hear men praised for keeping the laws, it occurs to me that no one can really deserve that praise who does not know what a law is.” [42]

“Well, Alcibiades, there is no great difficulty about what you desire. You wish to know what a law is. Laws are all the rules approved and enacted by the majority in assembly, whereby they declare what ought and what ought not to be done.”

“Do they suppose it is right to do good or evil?”

“Good, of course, young man, — not evil.” [43]

“But if, as happens under an oligarchy, not the majority, but a minority meet and enact rules of conduct, what are these?”

“Whatsoever the sovereign power in the State, after deliberation, enacts and directs to be done is known as a law.”

“If, then, a despot, being the sovereign power, enacts what the citizens are to do, are his orders also a law?”

“Yes, whatever a despot as ruler enacts is also known as a law.” [44]

“But force, the negation of law, what is that, Pericles? Is it not the action of the stronger when he constrains the weaker to do whatever he chooses, not by persuasion, but by force?”

“That is my opinion.”

“Then whatever a despot by enactment constrains the citizens to do without persuasion, is the negation of law?”

“I think so: and I withdraw my answer that whatever a despot enacts without persuasion is a law.” [45]

“And when the minority passes enactments, not by persuading the majority, but through using its power, are we to call that force or not?”

“Everything, I think, that men constrain others to do ‘without persuasion,’ whether by enactment or not, is not law, but force.”

“It follows then, that whatever the assembled majority, through using its power over the owners of property, enacts without persuasion is not law, but force?” [46]

“Alcibiades,” said Pericles, “at your age, I may tell you, we, too, were very clever at this sort of thing. For the puzzles we thought about and exercised our wits on were just such as you seem to think about now.”

“Ah, Pericles,” cried Alcibiades, “if only I had known you intimately when you were at your cleverest in these things!” [47]

So soon, then, as they presumed themselves to be the superiors of the politicians, they no longer came near Socrates. For apart from their general want of sympathy with him, they resented being cross-examined about their errors when they came. Politics had brought them to Socrates, and for politics they left him. [48] But Criton was a true associate of Socrates, as were Chaerophon, Chaerecrates, Hermogenes, Simmias, Cebes, Phaedondas, and others who consorted with him not that they might shine in the courts or the assembly, but that they might become gentlemen, and be able to do their duty by house and household, and relatives and friends, and city and citizens. Of these not one, in his youth or old age, did evil or incurred censure. [49]

“But,” said his accuser, “Socrates taught sons to treat their fathers with contempt: he persuaded them that he made his companions wiser than their fathers: he said that the law allowed a son to put his father in prison if he convinced a jury that he was insane; and this was a proof that it was lawful for the wiser to keep the more ignorant in gaol.” [50] In reality Socrates held that, if you clap fetters on a man for his ignorance, you deserve to be kept in gaol yourself by those whose knowledge is greater than your own: and such reasoning led him frequently to consider the difference between Madness and Ignorance. That madmen should be kept in prison was expedient, he thought, both for themselves and for their friends: but those who are ignorant of what they ought to know deserve to learn from those who know it. [51]

“But,” said his accuser, “Socrates caused his companions to dishonour not only their fathers, but their other relations as well, by saying that invalids and litigants get benefit not from their relations, but from their doctor or their counsel. [52] Of friends too he said that their goodwill was worthless, unless they could combine with it some power to help one: only those deserved honour who knew what was the right thing to do, and could explain it. Thus by leading the young to think that he excelled in wisdom and in ability to make others wise, he had such an effect on his companions that no one counted for anything in their estimation in comparison with him.” [53] Now I know that he did use this language about fathers, relations and friends. And, what is more, he would say that so soon as the soul, the only seat of intelligence, is gone out of a man, even though he be our nearest and dearest, we carry out his body and hide it in the tomb. [54] Moreover, a man's dearest friend is himself: yet, even in his lifetime he removes or lets another remove from his body whatever is useless and unprofitable. He removes his own nails, hair, corns: he lets the surgeon cut and cauterize him, and, aches and pains notwithstanding, feels bound to thank and fee him for it. He spits out the saliva from his mouth as far away as he can, because to retain it doesn't help him, but harms him rather. [55]

Now in saying all this, he was not giving a lesson on “the duty of burying one's father alive, or making mincemeat of one's body”: he meant to show that unreason is unworth, and was urging the necessity of cultivating sound sense and usefulness, in order that he who would fain be valued by father or by brother or by anyone else may not rely on the bond of familiarity and neglect him, but may try to be useful to all those by whom he would be valued. [56]

Again, his accuser alleged that he selected from the most famous poets the most immoral passages, and used them as evidence in teaching his companions to be tyrants and malefactors: for example, Hesiod's line:

““No work is a disgrace, but idleness is a disgrace.”

Hes. WD 309
He was charged with explaining this line as an injunction to refrain from no work, dishonest or disgraceful, but to do anything for gain. [57] Now, though Socrates would fully agree that it is a benefit and a blessing to a man to be a worker, and a disadvantage and an evil to be an idler — that work, in fact, is a blessing, idleness an evil — “working,” “being a worker,” meant to him doing good work; but gambling and any occupation that is immoral and leads to loss he called idling. When thus interpreted there is nothing amiss with the line:

““No work is a disgrace, but idleness is a disgrace.”

Hes. WD 309
[58] Again, his accuser said that he often quoted the passage from Homer, showing how Odysseus:

““Whenever he found one that was a captain and a man of mark, stood by his side, and restrained him with gentle words: ‘Good sir, it is not seemly to affright thee like a coward, but do thou sit thyself and make all thy folk sit down...’ But whatever man of the people he saw and found him shouting, him he drove with his sceptre and chid him with loud words: ‘Good sir, sit still and hearken to the words of others that are thy betters: but thou art no warrior and a weakling, never reckoned whether in battle or in council.’”9

This passage, it was said, he explained to mean that the poet approved of chastising common and poor folk. [59] But Socrates never said that: indeed, on that view he would have thought himself worthy of chastisement. But what he did say was that those who render no service either by word or deed, who cannot help army or city or the people itself in time of need, ought to be stopped, even if they have riches in abundance, above all if they are insolent as well as inefficient. [60] But Socrates, at least, was just the opposite of all that: he showed himself to be one of the people and a friend of mankind. For although he had many eager disciples among citizens and strangers, yet he never exacted a fee for his society from one of them, but of his abundance he gave without stint to all. Some indeed, after getting from him a few trifles for nothing, became vendors of them at a great price to others, and showed none of his sympathy with the people, refusing to talk with those who had no money to give them.10 [61] But Socrates did far more to win respect for the State in the world at large than Lichas, whose services to Sparta have made his name immortal. For Lichas used to entertain the strangers staying at Sparta during the Feast of the Dancing Boys;11 but Socrates spent his life in lavishing his gifts and rendering the greatest services to all who cared to receive them. For he always made his associates better men before he parted with them.

Such was the character of Socrates. [62] To me he seemed to deserve honour rather than death at the hands of the State. And a consideration of his case in its legal aspect will confirm my opinion. Under the laws, death is the penalty inflicted on persons proved to be thieves, highwaymen, cutpurses, kidnappers, robbers of temples; and from such criminals no man was so widely separated as he. [63] Moreover, to the State he was never the cause of disaster in war, or strife or treason or any evil whatever. Again, in private life no man by him was ever deprived of good or involved in ill. [64] None of these crimes was ever so much as imputed to him. How then could he be guilty of the charges? For so far was he from “rejecting the gods,” as charged in the indictment, that no man was more conspicuous for his devotion to the service of the gods: so far from “corrupting the youth,” as his accuser actually charged against him, that if any among his companions had evil desires, he openly tried to reform them and exhorted them to desire the fairest and noblest virtue, by which men prosper in public life and in their homes. By this conduct did he not deserve high honour from the State?

1 Cyropaedia I. vi. 17.

2 Cyropaedia I. iv. 21.

3 Cyropaedia VII. v. 75. Against Antisthenes.

4 IV. ii. 1.

5 i.e. the practice of “making the worse appear the better argument.” In Plato, Apol. 19b, Socrates makes Aristophanes (Clouds) author of this charge against him. Aristotle in the Rhetoric (B 24, 11) associates the practice with the name of Protagoras: cp. Diog. Laert. ix. 51.

6 Cyropaedia VIII. ii. 14.

7 Cyropaedia VI. ii. 37.

8 Hes. WD 309

9 Hom. Il. 2.188; Leaf's translation.

10 Aristippus especially is meant.

11 According to Eusebius this festival, which was held in the summer, was instituted in honour of the Spartans who fell fighting against the Argives for the possession of Thyrea.

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  • Commentary references to this page (1):
    • Sir Richard C. Jebb, Commentary on Sophocles: Ajax, 475
  • Cross-references to this page (11):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), CI´VITAS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), ENDEIXIS
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), EXAGO´GES GRAPHE´
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), HIEROSY´LIAS GRAPHE
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), HOSPI´TIUM
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter IV
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter V
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter VI
    • Smith's Bio, A'nytus
    • Smith's Bio, Cri'tias
    • Smith's Bio, So'crates
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