As for his claim that he was forewarned by “the deity” what he ought to do and what not to do, some may think that it must have been a delusion because he was condemned to death. But they should remember two facts. First, he had already reached such an age, that had he not died then, death must have come to him soon after. Secondly, he escaped the most irksome stage of life and the inevitable diminution of mental powers, and instead won glory by the moral strength revealed in the wonderful honesty and frankness and probity of his defence, and in the equanimity and manliness with which he bore the sentence of death. [2]

In fact it is admitted that there is no record of death more nobly borne. For he was forced to live for thirty days after the verdict was given, because it was the month of the Dêlia,1 and the law did not allow any public execution to take place until the sacred embassy had returned from Delos. During this interval, as all his intimate acquaintances could see, he continued to live exactly as before; and, in truth, before that time he had been admired above all men for his cheerfulness and serenity. [3] How, then, could man die more nobly? Or what death could be nobler than the death most nobly faced? What death more blessed than the noblest? Or what dearer to the gods than the most blessed? [4]

I will repeat what Hermogenes, son of Hipponicus, told me about him. “When Meletus had actually formulated his indictment,” he said, “Socrates talked freely in my presence, but made no reference to the case. I told him that he ought to be thinking about his defence. His first remark was, ‘Don't you think that I have been preparing for it all my life?’ And when I asked him how, he said that he had been constantly occupied in the consideration of right and wrong, and in doing what was right and avoiding what was wrong, which he regarded as the best preparation for a defence. [5] Then I said, ‘Don't you see, Socrates, that the juries in our courts are apt to be misled by argument, so that they often put the innocent to death, and acquit the guilty?’ ‘Ah, yes, Hermogenes,’ he answered, ‘but when I did try to think out my defence to the jury, the deity at once resisted.’ [6] ‘Strange words,’ said I; and he, ‘Do you think it strange, if it seems better to God that I should die now? Don't you see that to this day I never would acknowledge that any man had lived a better or a pleasanter life than I? For they live best, I think, who strive best to become as good as possible: and the pleasantest life is theirs who are conscious that they are growing in goodness. [7] And to this day that has been my experience; and mixing with others and closely comparing myself with them, I have held without ceasing to this opinion of myself. And not I only, but my friends cease not to feel thus towards me, not because of their love for me (for why does not love make others feel thus towards their friends?), but because they think that they too would rise highest in goodness by being with me. [8] But if I am to live on, haply I may be forced to pay the old man's forfeit — to become sand-blind and deaf and dull of wit, slower to learn, quicker to forget, outstripped now by those who were behind me. Nay, but even were I unconscious of the change, life would be a burden to me; and if I knew, misery and bitterness would surely be my lot. [9]

“‘But now, if I am to die unjustly, they who unjustly kill me will bear the shame of it. For if to do injustice is shameful, whatever is unjustly done must surely bring shame. But to me what shame is it that others fail to decide and act justly concerning me? [10] I see that posterity judges differently of the dead according as they did or suffered injustice. I know that men will remember me too, and, if I die now, not as they will remember those who took my life. For I know that they will ever testify of me that I wronged no man at any time, nor corrupted any man, but strove ever to make my companions better.’” [11]

This was the tenor of his conversation with Hermogenes and with the others. All who knew what manner of man Socrates was and who seek after virtue continue to this day to miss him beyond all others, as the chief of helpers in the quest of virtue. For myself, I have described him as he was: so religious that he did nothing without counsel from the gods; so just that he did no injury, however small, to any man, but conferred the greatest benefits on all who dealt with him; so self-controlled that he never chose the pleasanter rather than the better course; so wise that he was unerring in his judgment of the better and the worse, and needed no counsellor, but relied on himself for his knowledge of them; masterly in expounding and defining such things; no less masterly in putting others to the test, and convincing them of error and exhorting them to follow virtue and gentleness. To me then he seemed to be all that a truly good and happy man must be. But if there is any doubter, let him set the character of other men beside these things; then let him judge.

1 See Plato, Phaedo, p. 58 b. The festival was held in the month Thargelion, our May.

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  • Cross-references to this page (2):
    • A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities (1890), DE´LIA
    • William Watson Goodwin, Syntax of the Moods and Tenses of the Greek Verb, Chapter IV
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