"Socrates is guilty of criminal meddling, in that he inquires into things below the earth and in the sky, and makes the weaker argument defeat the stronger, and teaches others to follow his example."
"Socrates is guilty of corrupting the minds of the young, and of believing in deities of his own invention instead of the gods recognized by the state."
THE TRIAL OF SOCRATES. B.C. 399.
(From the " Euthyphron " and the " Apology " of Plato: translated by F. J.
Plato, the great Greek philosopher, was born in or near Athens, B.c. 429, the
year of Pericles' death. His name was Aristocles ; Plato ("Broady ") was a
nickname, probably from his figure. He began to write poems; but after meeting
Socrates at twenty he burnt them, became Socrates' disciple for ten years, and
was with him at his trial and death. Afterwards he traveled widely, and settled
at Athens as a teacher of philosophy; among his pupils was Aristotle. His
"Dialogues" are still the noblest body of philosophical thought in existence,
and of matchless literary beauty. Emerson says, " Out of Plato come all things
that are still written and debated among men of thought. . . . Plato is
philosophy, and philosophy Plato."
Socrates, on the eve of his trial for impiety, wishes to show that the popular
notions about piety and impiety, or holiness and unholiness, will not bear
Euthyphron — What in the world are you doing here at the archon's porch,
Socrates ? Why have you left your haunts in the Lyceum ? You surely cannot have
an action before him, as I have.
Socrates — Nay, the Athenians, Euthyphron, call it a prosecution, not an action.
Euthyphron — What ? Do you mean that some one is prosecuting you? I cannot
believe that you are prosecuting any one yourself.
Socrates — Certainly I am not.
Euthyphron — Then is some one prosecuting you ?
Socrates — Yes.
Euthyphron — Who is he ?
Socrates — I scarcely know him myself, Euthyphron; I think he must be some
unknown young man. His name, however, is Meletus, and his deme Pitthis, if you
can call to mind any Meletus of that deme, — a hook-nosed man with long hair,
and a rather scanty beard.
Euthyphron — I don't know him, Socrates. But, tell me, what is he prosecuting
you for ?
Socrates — What for ? Not on trivial grounds, I think. It is no small thing for
so young a man to have formed an opinion on such an important matter. For he, he
says, knows how the young are corrupted, and who are their corrupters. He must
be a wise man, who, observing my ignorance, is going to accuse me to the city,
as his mother, of corrupting his friends. I think that he is the only man who
begins at the right point in his political reforms : I mean whose first care is
to make the young men as perfect as possible, just as a good farmer will take
care of his young plants first, and, after he has done that, of the others. And
so Meletus, I suppose, is first clearing us off, who, as he says, corrupt the
young men as they grow up ; and then, when he has done that, of course he will
turn his attention to the older men, and so become a very great public
benefactor. Indeed, that is only what you would expect, when he goes to work in
Euthyphron — I hope it may be so, Socrates, but I have very grave doubts about
it. It seems to me that in trying to injure you, he is really setting to work by
striking a blow at the heart of the state. But how, tell me, does he say that
you corrupt the youth ?
Socrates — In a way which sounds strange at first, my friend. He says that I am
a maker of gods; and so he is prosecuting me, he says, for inventing new gods,
and for not believing in the old ones.
Euthyphron—I understand, Socrates. It is because you say that you always have a
divine sign. So he is prosecuting you for introducing novelties into religion;
and he is going into court knowing that such matters are easily misrepresented
to the multitude, and consequently meaning to slander you there. Why, they laugh
even me to scorn, as if I were out of my mind, when I talk about divine things
in the assembly, and tell them what is going to happen : and yet I have never
foretold anything which has not come true. But they are jealous of all people
like us. We must not think about them : we must meet them boldly.
Socrates — My dear Euthyphron, their ridicule is not a very serious matter. The
Athenians, it seems to me, may think a man to be clever without paying him much
attention, so long as they do not think that he teaches his wisdom to others.
But as soon as they think that he makes other people clever, they get angry,
whether it be from jealousy, as you say, or for some other reason.
Euthyphron — I am not very anxious to try their disposition towards me in this
Socrates — No, perhaps they think that you seldom show yourself, and that you
are not anxious to teach your wisdom to others; but I fear that they may think
that I am; for my love of men makes me talk to every one whom I meet quite
freely and unreservedly, and without payment: indeed, if I could, I would gladly
pay people myself to listen to me. If then, as I said just now, they were only
going to laugh at me, as you say they do at you, it would not be at all an
unpleasant way of spending the day, to spend it in court, jesting and laughing.
But if they are going to be in earnest, then only prophets like you can tell
where the matter will end.
Euthyphron— Well, Socrates, I dare say that nothing will come of it. Very likely
you will be successful in your trial, and I think that I shall be in mine.
Socrates — And what is this suit of yours, Euthyphron? Are you suing, or being
Euthyphron — I am suing.
Socrates — Whom ?
Euthyphron — A man whom I am thought a maniac to be suing.
Socrates — What ? Has he wings to fly away with ?
Euthyphron — He is far enough from flying; he is a very old man.
Socrates — Who is he ?
Euthyphron — He is my father.
[Then Euthyphron having stated that he was prosecuting his father for having
murdered a slave, Socrates asks him to define holiness. Euthyphron becomes
entangled, and Socrates points out that he has not answered his question. He
does not want a particular example of holiness. He wants to know what that is
which makes all holy actions holy. Euthyphron, at length, defines holiness as
"that which is pleasing to the gods." But Socrates, by a series of apparently
innocent questions, compels Euthyphron to admit the absurdity of his definition.
Euthyphron has no better fortune with a second and third definition, and he
passes from a state of patronizing selfcomplacency to one of puzzled confusion
and deeply offended pride.]
Socrates — Then we must begin again, and inquire what is holiness. I do not mean
to give in until I have found out. Do not deem me unworthy ; give your whole
mind to the question, and this time tell me the truth. For if any one knows it,
it is you ; and you are a Proteus whom I must not let go until you have told me.
It cannot be that you would ever have undertaken to prosecute your aged father
for the murder of a laboring man unless you had known exactly what is holiness
and unholiness. You would have feared to risk the anger of the gods, in case you
should be doing wrong, and you would have been afraid of what men would say. But
now I am sure that you think that you know exactly what is holiness and what is
not; so tell me, my excellent Euthyphron, and do not conceal from me what you
hold it to be.
Euthyphron—Another time, then, Socrates. I am in a hurry now, and it is time for
me to be off.
Socrates — What are you doing, my friend! Will you go away and destroy all my
hopes of learning from you what is holy and what is not, and so of escaping
Meletus ? I meant to explain to him that now Euthyphron has made me wise about
divine things, and that I no longer in my ignorance speak rashly about them or
introduce novelties in them ; and then I was going to promise him to live a
better life for the future.
Socrates defends himself before the Athenians.
Socrates — I cannot tell what impression my accusers have made upon you,
Athenians : for my own part, I know that they nearly made me forget who I was,
so plausible were they ; and yet they have scarcely uttered one single word of
truth. But of all their many falsehoods, the one which astonished me most, was
when they said that I was a clever speaker, and that you must be careful not to
let me mislead you. I thought that it was most impudent of them not to be
ashamed to talk in that way ; for as soon as I open my mouth the lie will be
exposed, and I shall prove that I am not a clever speaker in any way at all:
unless, indeed, by a clever speaker they mean a man who speaks the truth. If
that is their meaning, I agree with them that I am a much greater orator than
they. My accusers, then I repeat, have said little or nothing that is true ; but
from me you shall hear the whole truth. Certainly you will not hear an elaborate
speech, Athenians, drest up, like theirs, with words and phrases. I will say to
you what I have to say,
without preparation, and in the words which come first, for I believe that my
cause is just; so let none of you expect anything else. Indeed, my friends, it
would hardly be seemly for me, at my age, to come before you like a young man
with his specious falsehoods. But there is one thing, Athenians, which I do most
earnestly beg and entreat of you. Do not be surprised and do not interrupt, if
in my defense I speak in the same way that I am accustomed to speak in the
market place, at the tables of the money changers, where many of you have heard
me, and elsewhere. The truth is this. I am more than seventy years old, and this
is the first time that I have ever come before a Court of Law; so your manner of
speech here is quite strange to me. If I had been really a stranger, you would
have forgiven me for speaking in the language and the fashion of my native
country : and so now I ask you to grant me what I think I have a right to claim.
Never mind the style of my speech — it may be better or it may be worse — give
your whole attention to the question, Is what I say just, or is it not ? That is
what makes a good judge, as speaking the truth makes a good advocate.
I have to defend myself, Athenians, first against the old false charges of my
old accusers, and then against the later ones of my present accusers. For many
men have been accusing me to you, and for very many years, who have not uttered
a word of truth : and I fear them more than I fear Anytus and his companions,
formidable as they are. But, my friends, those others are still more formidable;
for they got hold of most of you when you were children, and they have been more
persistent in accusing me with lies, and in trying to persuade you that there is
wise man, who speculates about the heavens, and who examines into all things
that are beneath the earth, and who can " make the worse appear the better
These men, Athenians, who spread abroad this report, are the accusers whom I
fear ; for their hearers think that persons who pursue such inquiries never
believe in the gods. And then they are many, and their attacks have been going
on for a long time : and they spoke to you when you were at the age most readily
to believe them: for you were all young, and many of you were children: and
there was no one to answer them when they attacked me. And the most unreasonable
thing of all is that commonly I do not even know their names :
I cannot tell you who they are, except in the case of the comic poets.
But all the rest who have been trying to prejudice you against me, from
motives of spite and jealousy, and sometimes, it may be, from conviction,
are the enemies whom it is hardest to meet. For I cannot call any one of
them forward in Court, to cross-examine him : I have, as it were, simply to
fight with shadows in my defense, and to put questions which there is no one
to answer. I ask you, therefore, to believe that, as I say, I have been
attacked by two classes of accusers — first by Meletus and his friends, and
then by those older ones of whom I have spoken. And, with your leave, I will
defend myself first against my old enemies; for you heard their accusations
first, and they were much more persistent than my present accusers are.
Well, I must make my defense, Athenians, and try in the short time allowed
me to remove the prejudice which you have had against me for a long time.
Let us begin again, then, and see what is the charge which has given rise to
the prejudice against me, which was what Meletus relied on when he drew his
indictment. What is the calumny which my enemies have been spreading about
me? I must assume that they are formally accusing me, and read their
indictment. It would run somewhat in this fashion: —
an evil doer, who meddles with inquiries into things beneath the earth, and
in heaven, and who ' makes the worse appear the better reason,' and who
teaches others these same things."
That is what they say; and in the Comedy of Aristophanes you yourselves saw
a man calledSocratesswinging
round in a basket, and saying that he walked the air, and talking a great
deal of nonsense about matters of which I understand nothing, either more or
less. I do not mean to disparage that kind of knowledge, if there is any man
who possesses it. I trust Meletus may never be able to prosecute me for
that. But, the truth is, Athenians, I have nothing to do with these matters,
and almost all of you are yourselves my witnesses of this. I beg all of you
who have ever heard me converse, and they are many, to inform your neighbors
and tell them if any of you have ever heard me conversing about such
matters, either more or less. That will show you that the other common
stories about me are as false as this one.
[He is accused of being at once a wicked sophist who exacts money for
teaching and a natural philosopher. He distinguishes these characters, and
shows that he is neither. He is unpopular because he has taken on himself
the duty of examining men, in consequence of a certain answer given by the
Delphic oracle, " that he was the wisest of men." He describes the
examination of men which he undertook to test the truth of the oracle. This
has gained him much hatred : men do not like to be proved ignorant when they
think themselves wise, and so they call him a sophist and every kind of bad
name besides, because he exposes their pretense of knowledge.]
What I have said must suffice as my defense against the charges of my first
accusers. I will try next to defend myself against that " good patriot"
Meletus, as he calls himself, and my later accusers. Let us assume that they
are a new set of accusers, and read their indictment, as we did in the case
of the others. It runs thus. He says thatSocratesis
an evil doer who corrupts the youth, and who does not believe in the gods
whom the city believes in, but in other new divinities. Such is the charge.
Let us examine each point in it separately. Meletus says that I do wrong by
corrupting the youth : but I say, Athenians, that he is doing wrong ; for he
is playing off a solemn jest by bringing men lightly totrial,and
pretending to have a great zeal and interest in matters to which he has
never given a moment's thought. And now I will try to prove to you that it
Come here, Meletus. Is it not a fact that you think it very important that
the younger men should be as excellent as possible ?
Meletus— It is.
then: tell the judges, who is it who improves them ? You take so much
interest in the matter that of course you know that. You are accusing me,
and bringing me totrial,because,
as you say, you have discovered that I am the corrupter of the youth. Come
now, reveal to the judges who improves them. You see, Meletus, you have
nothing to say; you are silent. But don't you think that this is a
scandalous thing? Is not your silence a conclusive proof of what I say, that
you have never given a moment's thought to the matter? Come, tell us, my
good sir, who makes the young men better citizens?
Meletus— The laws.
excellent sir, that is not my question. What man improves the young, who
starts with a knowledge of the laws?
Meletus— The judges here,Socrates.
Socrates— What do
you mean, Meletus ? Can they educate the young and improve them ?
Socrates— All of
them? or only some of them?
Meletus— All of them.
Socrates— By Here-
that is good news ? There is a great abundance of benefactors. And do the
listeners here improve them, or not ?
Meletus— They do.
Socrates— And do
then, Meletus, do the members of the Assembly corrupt the younger men ? or
do they again all improve them?
Meletus— They too improve
Socrates— Then all
the Athenians, apparently, make the young into fine fellows except me, and I
alone corrupt them. Is that your meaning ?
Meletus— Most certainly ;
that is my meaning.
Socrates— You have
discovered me to be a most unfortunate man. Now tell me : do you think that
the same holds good in the case of horses ? Does one man do them harm and
every one else improve them ? On the contrary, is it not one man only, or a
very few — namely, those who are skilled in horses—who can improve them ;
while the majority of men harm them, if they use them, and have to do with
them ? Is it not so, Meletus, both with horses and with every other animal ?
Of course it is, whether you and Anytus say yes or no. And young men would
certainly be very fortunate persons if only one man corrupted them, and
every one else did them good. The truth is, Meletus, you prove conclusively
that you have never thought about the youth in your life. It is quite clear,
on your own showing, that you take no interest at all in the matters about
which you are prosecuting me.
[He proves that it is absurd to say that he corrupts the young
intentionally, and if he corrupts them unintentionally, the law does not
call upon Meletus to prosecute him for aninvoluntary
fault. With regard to the charge of teaching young men not to believe in the
gods of the city, he crossexamines Meletus and involves him in several
But in truth, Athenians, I do not think that I need say very much to prove
that I have not committed the crime for which Meletus is prosecuting me.
What I have said is enough to prove that. But, I repeat, it is certainly
true, as I have already told you, that I have incurred much unpopularity and
made many enemies. And that is what will cause my condemnation, if I am
condemned; not Meletus, nor Anytus either, but the prejudice and suspicion
of the multitude. They have been the destruction of many good men before me,
and I think that they will be so again. There is no fear that I shall be
their last victim.
Perhaps some one will say: " Are you not ashamed,Socrates,of
following pursuits which are very likely now to cause your death ? " I
should answer him with justice, and say: " My friend, if you think that a
man of any worth at all ought to reckon the chances of life and death when
he acts, or that he ought to think of anything but whether he is acting
rightly or wrongly, and as a good or a bad man would act, you are grievously
mistaken." According to you, the demigods who died at Troy would be men of
no great worth, and among them the son of Thetis, who thought nothing of
danger when the alternative was disgrace. For when his mother, a goddess,
addressed him, as he was burning to slay Hector, I suppose in this fashion,
" My son, if thou avengest the death of thy comrade Patroclus, and slayest
Hector, thou wilt die thyself, for ' Fate awaits thee straightway after
Hector's death ;'" he heard what she said, but he scorned danger and death;
he feared much more to live a coward, and not to avenge his friend. " Let me
punish the evil doer and straightway die," he said, " that I may not remain
here by the beaked ships, a scorn of men, encumbering the earth." Do you
suppose that he thought of clanger or of death? For this, Athenians, I
believe to be the truth. Wherever a man's post is, whether he has chosen it
of his own will, or whether he has been placed at it by his commander, there
it is his duty to remain and face the danger, without thinking of death, or
of any other thing, except dishonor.
When the generals whom you chose to command me, Athenians, placed me at my
post at Potidaea, and at Amphipolis, andat
Delium, I remained where they placed me, and ran the risk of death, like
other men : and it would be very strange conduct on my part if I were to
desert my post now from fear of death or of any other thing, when God has
commanded me, as I am persuaded that he has done, to spend my life in
searching for wisdom, and in examining myself and others. That would indeed
be a very strange thing: and then certainly I might with justice be brought
not believing in the gods : for I should be disobeying the oracle, and
fearing death, and thinking myself wise, when I was not wise. For to fear
death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise: for
it is to think that we know what we do not know. For anything that men can
tell, death may be the greatest good that can happen to them: but they fear
it as if they knew quite well that it was the greatest of evils. And what is
this but that shameful ignorance of thinking that we know what we do not
know ? In this matter too, my friends, perhaps I am different from the mass
of mankind: and if I were to claim to be at all wiser than others, it would
be because I do not think that I have any clear knowledge about the other
world, when, in fact, I have none. But I do know very well that it is evil
and base to do wrong, and to disobey my superior, whether he be man or god.
And I will never do what I know to be evil, and shrink in fear from what,
for all that I can tell, may be a good. And so, even if you acquit me now,
and do not listen to Anytus' argument that, if I am to be acquitted, I ought
never to have been brought totrialat
all; and that, as it is, you are bound to put me to death, because, as he
said, if I escape, all your children will forthwith be utterly corrupted by
if you were therefore to say to me, "Socrates,this
time we will not listen to Anytus : we will let you go ; but on this
condition, that you cease from carrying on this search of yours, and from
philosophy; if you are found following those pursuits again, you shall die :
" I say, if you offered to let me go on these terms, I should reply: "
Athenians, I hold you in the highest regard and love; but I will obey God
rather than you: and as long as I have breath and strength I will not cease
from philosophy, and from exhorting you, and declaring the truth to every
one of you whom I meet, saying, as I am wont, ' My excellent friend, you are
a citizen of Athens, a city which is very great and very famous for wisdom
and power of mind; are you not ashamed of caring so much for the making of
and for reputation, and for honor ? Will you not think or care about
wisdom, and truth, and the perfection of your soul ?' "
And if he disputes my words, and says that he does care about these
things, I shall not forthwith release him and go away: I shall question
him and cross-examine him and test him: and if I think that he has not
virtue, though he says that he has, I shall reproach him for setting the
lower value on the most important things, and a higher value on those
that are of less account. This I shall do to every one whom I meet,
young or old, citizen or stranger : but more especially to the citizens,
for they are more nearly akin to me.
For, know well, God has commanded me to do so. And I think that no
better piece of fortune has ever befallen you in Athens than my service
to God. For I spend my whole life in going about and persuading you all
to give your first and chiefest care to the perfection of your souls,
and not till you have done that to think of your bodies, or your wealth;
and telling you that virtue does not come from wealth, but that wealth,
and every other good thing which men have, whether in public, or in
private, comes from virtue. If then I corrupt the youth by this
teaching, the mischief is great: but if any man says that I teach
anything else, he speaks falsely. And therefore, Athenians, I say,
either listen to Anytus, or do not listen to him: either acquit me, or
do not acquit me : but be sure that I shall not alter my way of life;
no, not if I have to die for it many times.
[If the Athenians put him to death, they will harm themselves more than
him. The city is like a great and noble horse rendered sluggish by its
size and needing to be roused. He was the gadfly sent by God to attack
it. He explains why he has not taken part in public life. If he had done
so, he would have perished without benefiting the city, because no one
could make him do wrong through fear of death. His conduct on two
occasions shows this.]
Well, my friends, this, together it may be with other things of the same
nature, is pretty much what I have to say in my defense. There may be
some one among you who will be vexed when he remembers how, even in a
this, he prayed and entreated the judges to acquit him with many tears,
and brought forward his children and many of his friends and relatives
in Court, in order to appeal to your feelings ; and then finds that I
shall do none of these things,though
I am in what he would think the supreme danger. Perhaps he will harden
himself against me when he notices this : it may make him angry, and he
may give his vote in anger. If it is so with any of you — I do not
suppose that it is, but in case it should be so — I think that I should
answer him reasonably if I said : —
" My friend, I have kinsmen too, for, in the words of Homer, ' I am not
born of stocks and stones,' but of woman ; " and so, Athenians, I have
kinsmen, and I have three sons, one of them a lad, and the other two
still children. Yet I will not bring any of them forward before you, and
implore you to acquit me.
And why will I do none of these things? It is not from arrogance,
Athenians, nor because I hold you cheap : whether or no I can face death
bravely is another question : but for my own credit, and for your
credit, and for the credit of our city, I do not think it well, at my
age, and with my name, to do anything of that kind. Rightly or wrongly,
men have made up their minds that in some waySocratesis
different from the mass of mankind. And it will be a shameful thing if
those of you who are thought to excel in wisdom, or in bravery, or in
any other virtue, are going to act in this fashion. I have often seen
men with a reputation behaving in a strange way at theirtrial,as
if they thought it a terrible fate to be killed, and as if they expected
to live forever, if you did not put them to death. Such men seem to me
to bring discredit on the city : for any stranger would suppose that the
best and most eminent Athenians, who are selected by their
fellow-citizens to hold office, and for other honors, are no better than
women. Those of you, Athenians, who have any reputation at all, ought
not to do these things : and you ought not to allow us to do them : you
should show that you will be much more merciless to men who make the
city ridiculous by these pitiful pieces of acting, than to men who
But apart from the question of credit, my friends, I do not think that
it is right to entreat the judge to acquit us, or to escape condemnation
in that way. It is our duty to convince his mind by reason. He does not
sit to give away justice to his friends, but to pronounce judgment: and
he has sworn not to favor any man whom he would like to favor, but to
decide questions according to law. And therefore we ought not to teach
you to forswear yourselves ; and you ought not to allowyourselves
to be taught, for then neither you nor we would be acting righteously.
Therefore, Athenians, do not require me to do these things, for I
believe them to be neither good nor just nor holy ; and, more
especially, do not ask me to do them to-day, when Meletus is prosecuting
me for impiety. For were I to be successful, and to prevail on you by my
prayers to break your oaths, I should be clearly teaching you to believe
that there are no gods; and I should be simply accusing myself by my
defense of not believing in them. But, Athenians, that is very far from
the truth. I do believe in the gods as no one of my accusers believes in
them : and to you and to God I commit my cause to be decided as is best
for you and for me.
(He is found guilty by 281 votes to 220.)
I am not vexed at the verdict which you have given, Athenians, for many
reasons. I expected that you would find me guilty ; and I am not so much
surprised at that, as at the numbers of the votes. I, certainly, never
thought that the majority against me would have been so narrow. But now
it seems that if only thirty votes had changed sides, I should have
[Meletus proposes the penalty of death. The law allows a convicted
criminal to propose an alternative penalty instead. As he is a public
that he ought to have a public maintenance in the Prytaneum, like an
Olympic victor. Seriously, why should he propose a penalty? He is sure
that he has done no wrong. He does not know whether death is a good or
an evil. Why should he propose something that he knows to be an evil ?
Indeed, payment of a fine would be no evil, but then he has no money to
pay a fine with; perhaps he can make up one mina (about twenty dollars):
that is his proposal. Or, if his friends wish it, he offers thirty minae,
and his friends will be sureties for payment.]
(He is condemned to death.)
You have not gained very much time, Athenians, and, as the price of it,
you will have an evil name from all who wish to revile the city, and
they will cast in your teeth that you putSocrates,a
wise man, to death. For they will certainly call me wise, whether I am
wise or not, when they want to reproach you. If you would have waited
for a little while, your wishes would have been fulfilled in the course
of nature ; for you seethat
I am an old man, far advanced in years, and near to death. I am speaking
not to all of you, only to those who have voted for my death. And now I
am speaking to them still. Perhaps, my friends, you think that I have
been defeated because I was wanting in the arguments by which I could
have persuaded you to acquit me, if, that is, I had thought it right to
do or to say anything to escape punishment.
It is not so. I have been defeated because I was wanting, not in
arguments, but in overboldness and effrontery : because I would not
plead before you as you would have liked to hear me plead, or appeal to
you with weeping and wailing, or say and do many other things, which I
maintain are unworthy of me, but which you have been accustomed to from
other men. But when I was defending myself, I thought that I ought not
to do anything unmanly because of the danger which I ran, and I have not
changed my mind now. I would very much rather defend myself as I did,
and die, than as you would have had me do, and live. Both in a lawsuit,
and in war, there are some things which neither I nor any other man may
do in order to escape from death. In battle a man often sees that he may
at least escape from death by throwing down his arms and falling on his
knees before the pursuer to beg for his life. And there are many other
ways of avoiding death in every danger, if a man will not scruple to say
and to do anything.
But, my friends, I think that it is a much harder thing to escape from
wickedness than from death ; for wickedness is swifter than death. And
now I, who am old and slow, have been overtaken by the slower pursuer :
and my accusers, who are clever and swift, have been overtaken by the
swifter pursuer, which is wickedness. And now I shall go hence,
sentenced by you to death ; and they will go hence, sentenced by truth
to receive the penalty of wickedness and evil. And I abide by this award
as well as they. Perhaps it was right for these things to be so: and I
think that they are fairly measured.
And now I wish to prophesy to you, Athenians who have condemned me. For
I am going to die, and that is the time when men have most prophetic
power. And I prophesy to you who have sentenced me to death, that a far
severer punishment than you have inflicted on me, will surely overtake
you as soon as I am dead. You have done this thing, thinking that you
will be relieved from having to give an account of your lives. But Isay
that the result will be very different from that. There will be more men
who will call you to account, whom I have held back, and whom you did
not see. And they will be harder masters to you than I have been, for
they will be younger, and you will be more angry with them. For if you
think that you will restrain men from reproaching you for your evil
lives by putting them to death, you are very much mistaken. That way of
escape is hardly possible, and it is not a good one. It is much better,
and much easier, not to silence reproaches, but to make yourselves as
perfect as you can. This is my parting prophecy to you who have
[Having sternly rebuked those who have condemned him, he bids those who
have acquitted him to be of good cheer. No harm can come to a good man
in life or in death. Death is either an eternal and dreamless sleep,
wherein there is no sensation at all; or it is a journey to another and
better world, where are the famous men of old. In either case it is not
an evil, but a good.]
And you too, judges, must face death with a good courage, and believe
this as a truth, that no evil can happen to a good man, either in life,
or after death. His fortunes are not neglected by the gods ; and what
has come to me to-day has not come by chance. I am persuaded that it was
better for me to die now, and to be released from trouble : and that was
the reason why the sign never turned me back. And so I am hardly angry
with my accusers, or with those who have condemned me to die. Yet it was
not with this mind that they accused me and condemned me, but meaning to
do me an injury. So far I may find fault with them.
Yet I have one request to make of them. When my sons grow up, visit them
with punishment, my friends, and vex them in the same way that I have
vexed you, if they seem to you to care for riches, or for any other
thing, before virtue: and if they think that they are something, when
they are nothing at all, reproach them, as I have reproached you, for
not caring for what they should, and for thinking that they are great
men when in fact they are worthless. And if you will do this, I myself
and my sons will have received our deserts at your hands.
But now the time has come, and we must go hence ; I to die, and you to
live. Whether life or death is better is known to God, and to God only.
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