Plato, The Apology (The Death of Socrates)
First of all, i clearly need more background than i have, about the Athenian legal system, about Greek mythology, and about ancient Greece in general. I will have to acquire this at my leisure, of which i have plenty. I do know that Juries in capital cases had 1001 to 1501 jurors, in addition to plaintiff(s), defendant(s) and their witnesses, there must have been a crowd of interested onlookers. Socrates mentions a dozen or more of his supporters who were present; and we can assume his accusers had many more than that. It must have been quite a noisy and chaotic scene! Socrates was convicted of blasphemy, immorality, and corrupting youth (which all amount to treason, i think). The vote was 530 to convict and 471 to acquit (or perhaps 780 to 721). Today we would call that a hung jury, but in Athens it was enough to convict (and kill).
What a remarkable text this is! And how much about Socrates' life and thought i get from it. That should be no surprise, but it was. It has been many years since i read The Apology, and i am not sure i ever read it in its entirely.
It occurred to me, perhaps it was already stated by amaebi, that the tone and pace of the speaking cannot be determined from the written text. The appearance of bullying interlocutors is reduced by reading the text aloud, slowly and leaving space (ten seconds, forty seconds, or ninety seconds) between unanswered question and first prompt. Ninety seconds would be a meditative pause giving an even semi-prepared interlocutor plenty of time to reflect on the question and a possible answer. Question, long pause, can you give me an answer, long pause, either give an answer or say you don't know. Short pauses would be bullying..
I get a feeling that we are reading a lot of the real Socrates here. I know this disagrees with Jowett (whose introduction i read after i read the Apology --i hesitate to say "dialogue" because there is almost no dialogue in the text). If he sounds too good to be real maybe this is our problem (and the problem of the Athenian jury) rather than Plato's. This is the testimony of a man admittedly possessed (he would have said "committed" but how do i tell the difference?). I have never been good enough at anything to think i was good, so how can i tell whether i person is a megalomaniac or simply a person who has taken a proper inventory of himself? Was anyone in fifth century b.c.e. Athens wiser than Socrates?
He admits that his foolishness is wiser than the wisdom of the foolish. (They are ignorant but think that they are knowledgeable; i am ignorant and know that i am ignorant), and reading his defense 2400 years later, i can't say he is wrong. Death is not the worst thing that can happen to a person; virtue is better than riches: you must know yourself before your knowledge of anything else can be worth much to you or others; We need self criticism and if we are not able to criticize ourselves, somebody else needs to do it for us. Poetry is the job of a poet but philosophy is the job of a human being.
Truth telling and a public life are, in my pessimistic opinion, as irreconcilable in modern America as they were in ancient Athens.
If the Apology had been written four hundred years after the Gospel According to St. John, i might have accused Plato of trying to make Socrates into a Christ figure, but our species has produced some truly remarkable people, perhaps Socrates was one of them.
If i had been on that jury, i would have voted, i hope, to acquit.