The Apology of Socrates to the Jury (Greek: Ἀπολογία Σωκράτους πρὸς τοὺς Δικαστάς), by Xenophon of Athens, is a Socratic dialogue about the legal defence that the philosopher Socrates presented at his trial for the moral corruption of Athenian youth; and for asebeia (impiety) against the pantheon of Athens; judged guilty, Socrates was sentenced to death.
Xenophon’s literary rendition of the defence of Socrates evinces the philosopher’s ethical opinion about a sentence of death: that it is better to die before the onset of senility than to escape death by humbling oneself to an unjust persecution.
The Apology of Socrates to the Jury is Xenophon’s literary contribution to the many apologia written to explain the trial of Socrates (399 BC) to the Athenian public. Each book was the author’s literary perceptions and interpretations of the guilty-verdict against the public man Socrates. The author Xenophon presents Socrates’s megalēgoria (boastful manner of speaking) at trial, as a tactic of legal defence against being a corrupt and impious man who is harmful to the Athenian polity. The principal event in the Apology of Socrates to the Jury is Socrates’s rejection of an attack upon his character, by Anytus.
In the year 399, Xenophon was soldiering with the Greek mercenary army of the Ten Thousand (cf. Anabasis); hence he was not in Athens for the trial of Socrates. As an author, Xenophon’s primary source for the Socratic dialogue is the philosopher Hermogenes, who attended the trial. Nonetheless, in the literature of the trial of Socrates, Plato features Hermogenes in Phaedo (as a witness to the death of Socrates) but not in the Apology of Socrates. In literary comparison, Xenophon’s interpretation of Socrates’s megalēgoria (boastful speaking-manner) as defence-at-trial is compared and contrasted with the interpretation of the legal defence presented the Apology of Socrates, by Plato.
In the literary production of Xenophon of Athens, the final chapter of Memorabilia contains some of the apology text, which are the opening paragraphs of the Apology of Socrates to the Jury. The textual repetitions in the books, indicate that the Apology was Xenephon’s original conclusion to the Memorabilia.
Contrast with Plato's Apology of Socrates
The stylistic differences between the Socratic dialogues the Apology of Socrates to the Jury, by Xenophon, and the Apology of Socrates, by Plato, is in the literary descriptions of the philosopher, by the Oracle at Delphi; in Xenophon's dialogue, the Oracle said that there was no man “more free, more just, or more sound of mind” than Socrates; in Plato’s dialogue, the Oracle said that there was no man “wiser” than Socrates. Moreover, the narrative differences in the dialogues indicate that Xenophon avoided direct attribution of “wisdom,” the term suggesting that Socrates was accurately characterized as a natural philosopher and an atheist; as he is portrayed in the comedy The Clouds (423 BC), a play by Aristophanes. As portrayed by Xenophon, Socrates does not claim to be wise “from the time when I began to understand spoken words . . . [I] have never left off seeking after and learning every good thing that I could.”
Moreover, in Xenophon's Apology of Socrates, the philosopher’s daimonion (divine sign) is described as giving positive indications about what to do (12), whereas the philosopher Socrates portrayed by Plato consistently and explicitly describes the daimonion as meant to “turn me away from something I am about to do,” but “never encourage me to do anything.”
A further difference between Plato and Xenophon is that whereas Plato has Socrates finally suggest a thirty-mina penalty for himself, the Xenophon/Hermogenes version says that he refused to suggest any and refused to allow his friends to do so, claiming that to do otherwise would imply guilt.
Finally, whereas Socrates' willingness to face the death penalty is in Plato's Apology explained by Socrates' unwavering commitment to his divinely appointed mission to keep philosophizing at all costs, it is explained in the Xenophon/Hermogenes version by the claim that it is better for him to die now than to face the pains and limitations of advanced old age.
- Xenophon. Apology of Socrates to the Jury, 1–2
- Xenophon, Apology of Socrates to the Jury, 1–8
- Xenophon, Memorabilia, 4.8.1–4.8.8.
- Todd, O., Xenophon IV: Memorabilia, Oeconomicus, Symposium, Apology. Harvard U. Press 1923. p. 639.
- Xenophon, Apology of Socrates to the Jury, 14.
- Plato, Apology of Socrates, 21a.
- Burnet, John. Plato: Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, Crito, Clarendon (1924) pp. 90–91. For “wisdom” as characteristic of atheist, natural philosophers, see Plato's Apology of Socrates 18b-c and 19c.
- Xenophon, Apology of Socrates to the Jury, 16.
- cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.8.1.
- Plato, Apology of Socrates, 31d.
- Plato, Apology, 38b
- Xenophon, Apology, 23
- Plato, Apology, 29c-30c
- Xenophon, Apology, 6-8, 27, 32
- Cf. Xenophon, Memorabilia 4.8.1 and 4.8.8.