Chapter Two

Socrates' Evil Associates and the Motivation for his Trial and Condemnation

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy
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Chapter Two

Socrates' Evil Associates and the Motivation for his Trial and Condemnation

in Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy


  • 1 On the relationship between these "first" accusations to the formal charges made by Meletus, Anytus, and Lycon, see our paper, "The Formal Charges against Socrates," The Journal of the History of Philo- sophy 23.4 (1985) pp. 457-81. Mario Montouri, in Socrates: Physiology of a Myth (Amsterdam, 1981), pp. 233-36 also claims that there is a close correspondence between the "first" and the "later" accusations against Socrates. A.S. Ferguson ("The Impiety of Socrates," CQ 7 [1913] pp. 157- 75) also suggests this when he says that Meletus' interpretation of his own charges in Plato's Ap. betrays a commitment to the truth of the "first" accusations (pp. 170-71).

  • 2 For a reconstruction and discussion of Polycrates' speech, see A.-H. Chroust, Socrates: Man and Myth (Notre Dame, Indiana: 1957), esp. pp. 69-100. 3 Speeches in this genre are designed only to demonstrate their authors' rhetorical mastery; no commitment to the truth of their specific claims need be supposed. Indeed, the most effective advertisement of a rhe- torician's talents would perhaps be made in a convincing speech whose thesis the speaker could be presumed not to believe. 4 The quotation is from Bus. 5. That the speech is in response to Poly- crates is made explicit from the very first line. 5 Xenophon, Mem. 1.2.12. The first to argue that Xenophon's xaiityopo5 in this section of the Mem. is Polycrates was C.G. Cobet, Novae lectiones (Lugduni Batavorum, 1858), pp. 668-82. This is now the generally ac-

  • cepted view (see, e.g., Chroust, pp. 69 ff.). 6 Aischines, In Tim. 173. 7 Although the Symp. is a "middle dialogue" and hence cannot be counted as presenting anything of the philosophy of the historical Socrates, Alcibiades' speech in praise of Socrates (214e9-222b7) can safely be considered to refer to features of the actual relationship between the two. Some close relationship is implied as well in both Alc.1 I and Alc.11, but these are considered spurious by most scholars. 8 Critias also appears in the later dialogues, Ti. and Criti. 9 Charmides is also present in the Prt. (315al).

  • 10 John Burnet (Greek Philosophy Part 1: Thales to Plato [London, 1914], pp. 181-82), and Eduard Zeller (Socrates and the Socratic Schools, tr. Reichel [London, 1877], p. 195) explicitly say that Socrates' speech is no real defense. Though not stated explicitly in their accounts, this view is also plainly a consequence of what a number of others do say: see A.E. Taylor (Socrates [New York, 1933], p. 109), Paul Friedlander (Plato, vol. 2 [New York, 1957], p. 157), and Benjamin Jowett ("Introduction to the Apology," The Dialogues of Plato [New York and London, 1892], p. 106), for examples. 11 See "Irony, Arrogance, and Sincerity in Plato's Apology," New Essays on Socrates, Eugene Kelly, ed. (Lanham, New York, and London, 1984), pp. 29-46.

  • 12 See, for example, John Burnet, who takes this view (see Plato's Euthyphro, Apology of Socrates, and Crito, Oxford, 1924, note on 33a4). We are indebted to Mark McPherran for calling our attention to this issue. 13 Burnet himself points this out (see Burnet [1924] note on 33a4). 14 In fact in the other two cases in which Socrates refers to a set of accusers as "slanderers" (8�a(3a7��ovTeS), it appears that it is the "first" accusers to whom he refers (see 19b3, 23e3). Whenever he plainly refers to the "later" accusers, he uses some form of "xa-njyopo5 "

  • 15 See Peter Krentz, The Thirty at Athens (Ithaca, 1982), pp. 90-92. 161bid., p.79.

  • 17 Burnet (1924; p. 101) and J.W. Roberts (City of Socrates [London, Boston, Melbourne, and Henley, 1984], p. 245) have suggested that the Amnesty of 403 would have prevented the prosecution from any open references to Socrates' relations with Alcibiades and Critias. But even if this were the case, the Amnesty would not prevent Socrates from mentioning the bias such relationships may have aroused against him. In fact, however, we believe that Burnet and Roberts have misun- derstood the issue somewhat. The Amnesty provided for a complete revision and codification of the laws. All prior \If1Íqno¡'¡'a'ta were annul- led, and no offenses under the old laws could be prosecuted subsequent to its passage. Thus, Socrates could not be formally charged with break- ing any of the annulled laws, or with complicity in any of the more notorious acts of the two villains. But nothing in the Amnesty ruled out character assassination of the sort we can imagine Socrates suffering as a result of his associations and alleged influences. As Loening (for reference, see below) puts it, "It was permissible to cite the conduct of an individual under the oligarchy at scrutinies and other processes in the way of character evidence" (p. vii; repeated verbatim on p. 203), and if

  • one's activities during the oligarchy could be cited this way, so could one's activities prior to 403. Thus, for example, the Amnesty plainly did not prevent Lysias from associating the younger Alcibiades with the evils of his father (14.30-42). (For a list of the Lysanic corpus's other hostilities to Alcibiades, see K.J. Dover, Lysias and the Corpus Lysiacum [Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1968], pp. 53-54J The Amnesty declared which legal actions could and could not be taken. It did not in any way inhibit litigants from making ample and unmistakable refer- ences to events that antedated the restoration of the democracy in the way Burnet and Roberts seem to suppose. Nothing in the Amnesty, therefore, helps to provide the solution to the problems we are addressing in this paper. (Ancient sources on the reconciliation agreement of 403/2 and the Amnesty that was one part of it include: Andocides, Myst., 85-97; Arist. Ath. Pol. 39.1-6, 40.1-3; Diod. 14.33.5-6; Lys. Against Hippotherses 11.38-48; Nep. Life of Thrasyboulas (III); Xen. Hell. 2.4.38-39. The most reliable commentary on the subject may be found in Thomas Clark Loening, "The Reconciliation Agreement of 403/402 B.C. in Athens: Its Context and Applications," Diss. Brown University, 1981. Other discussions include: Paul Cloche, La restauration democratique a Athenes en 403 avant J.-C. [Paris, 1915]; A. Dorjahn, Political Forgiveness in Old Athens: The Amnesty of 403 B.C. [Evanston, 1946]; R. Grosser, "Die Amnestie des Jahres v. 403 Chr.," Diss. Minden, 1868; J.-H. Kuhn, "Die Amnestie von 403 v. Chr. in Reflex der 18 Isokrates-Rede," Wien. Stud. 80 (1967) pp. 31-73; J. Luebbert, "Die amnestia anno 403 a.c. ab Atheniensibus decreta," Diss. Kiel, 1881; and Douglas MacDowell, The Law in Classical Athens [Ithaca, 1978], pp. 46-48.)

  • 18 References can be found in the Nub. to the doctrines of Anaxagoras, Diagoras, Gorgias, and Prodicus (see William Arrowsmith, "Introduction," in The Clouds [Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1962], p. 3). Though one might wonder how Aristophanes could have succeeded in using a single figure to caricature both "natural philosophers" and sophists, the disparity between the two groups may easily be overrated. The most successful of the sophists, and those best known for the teaching of rhetorical skills, Protagoras, Gorgias, Prodicus, and Hippias, all wrote treatises that were presumably taught to their students, in which they attempted to explain such things as the nature of heavenly bodies and the causes of natural events. According to Diogenes Laertius, Protagoras' works included titles such as "On Sciences," "On the Original State of Things," and "Of Those in Hades," and there is good reason to suppose that he wrote a book "Concerning the Gods" (see G.B. Kerferd, The Sophistic Movement [Cambridge, 1981], p. 43). Gorgias wrote a book "On Nature" (see Kerferd, p. 45). Prodicus' titles include "On the Nature of Man" and perhaps "On Nature" and it is highly likely that he held a naturalistic view of physical change (see W.K.C. Guthrie, The Sophists [Cambridge, 1971], pp. 276-77). Hippias claimed virtually universal expertise and, hence, professed to be knowledgeable and able to teach in scientific areas such as astronomy, mathematics, and geometry (see Kerferd, p. 47). And though it goes beyond the

  • beyond the evidence available to us to say that all of the major sophists were generally thought to be skeptics or atheists, they did have sufficiently overlapping interests in their non-theistic explanations, together with their common profession in the teaching of rhetoric for pay, to make possible a stereotype of "the sophist." Even Socrates himself groups the best known living sophists together as if they all practiced the same thing (Ap. 19el-20a2). 19 The various ways in which the historical Socrates is specifically picked out for attack by Aristophanes' play are explored in admirable detail by Martha Nussbaum in "Aristophanes and Socrates on Learning Practical Wisdom," Yale Classical Studies vol. 26: Aristophanes: Essays in Interpretations, ed. J. Henderson [Cambridge, 1980], pp. 43-97, esp. 51-53, 66-67, 69-76, and 79-88.

  • 20 According to Nussbaum, "The Clouds...attacks Socrates on three counts: (1) his lack of attention to the necessary role, in moral educa- tion, of character and the habituation-training of irrational elements; (2) his lack of a positive program to replace what he criticized; (3) his openness to misunderstanding—his failure to make clear to his students the difference (if there is one) between his aloofness and the immoral- ism of Anti-Right" (p. 81). We none the less prefer our own analysis of the nature of Aristophanes' attacks, though we believe Nussbaum's items (2) and (3) are assimilable to the second of our two charges. We would accept her item (1), however, as one specification of a charge of intellectualism, which undercuts convention in favor of unrestrained (and thus dangerous) critical inquiry, with its commitment to reason as providing the only source of justification (as opposed to custom or tradition). (See Nussbaum, pp. 66-67, on this issue.) 21 See, for example, Burnet (1924), note on 18b3; MacDowell, p. 202; Montouri, pp. 167-68,177-86; Roberts, pp. 243-46; Gregory Vlastos, "The Historical Socrates and Democracy," Political Theory 2.4 (1983) pp. 495- 516 ; Alban Winspear and Tom Silverberg, Who was Socrates? [Rahway, New Jersey, 1939], esp. pp. 64-85; E.M. Wood and N. Wood, Class Ideology and Ancient Political Theory: Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle in Social Context (New York, 1978). Eduard Zeller (Phil. d. Gr., vol. 1 [Leipzig, 1922; reprinted, 1963], p. 217), hold that the prejudice against Socrates was only partly political. Zeller's view is supported by W.K.C. Guthrie (Socrates [Cambridge, 1971], pp. 62-63). Indeed, of the major commentators on the Ap., only Reginald Hackforth maintains that the prosecution was not politically motivated (The Composition of Plato's Apology [Cambridge, 1933], pp. 73-79).

  • 22 In addition to Plato's and Xenophori s, we know of at least six other "apologies of Socrates" supposed to have been written in antiquity, four of which are dated within the first decade or so after Socrates' death. To this literature, we may add the speech of Polycrates, to which so many of the other writings react. 23 Ar., Av., 1281-1284. 24 Xen., Mem., 1.2.9. 25 Vlastos, p. 497.

  • 26 Put. 319b3-d7. 27 See, e.g., Ap. 24e4-25cl, and esp. 31el-32a3; Cri. 47a2-4&6; Prt. 319c8- 320b3 ; Meno 93e3-94e2. The extent to which these sentiments are the results of Platonic exaggeration is, however, a matter of concern. 28 Though he has been accused of tyrannical aims (see Ps.-Andoc., Contra Alcibiadem 21-22, 25-32; Thuc. 6.16, 6.53). 29 In addition to what is said about Chairephon in the Ap. in connection with the Delphic oracle (21al; see also Xen., Ap. 14), Plato also por- trays him as a companion of Socrates in his appearances as one of the drnmatis personae in the Chrm. and the Grg. Confirmation of this association in Plato's accounts is to be found in Ar. Nub. and Av. (see esp. 1554-64), and Xen., Mem. 1.2.48 and 2.3. 30 In the Ap. Socrates reminds his jurors that Chairephon was a member of the democratic faction (21a1) who had gone into exile with many of the other democrats, and returned with them during the restoration of the democracy (21a2). We cannot accept Burnet's point (see his note on 21a2) that Socrates would have been better off not reminding the jury that he himself had not been one of those who went into exile. First, the jury would not have needed to be reminded of the fact, and secondly, although his mention of Chairephon is needed to explain Socrates' reputation for wisdom by the oracle story, it also serves to

  • remind the jury that among Socrates' life-long friends could be counted a man who had scrupulously served the democracy. 31 Laches praises Socrates' stand at Delion in La. (181bl-4), as does Alcibiades in the Symp. (220cl-221cl). Socrates' fighting at Poteidaia is also mentioned in the Chrm. 153b4-c4. Socrates himself refers to willingness to obey the commanders even in the face of death in the Ap. (28d6-e4). For other ancient sources that partially confirm Plato's account of Socrates' heroism in battle, see Guthrie, Socrates, p. 59. 32 An excellent review of the evidence for and against Socrates' anti- democratic sentiments may be found in Richard Kraut, Socrates and the State (Princeton, 1984), Ch. 7, pp.194-244. 33 In addition to the above quotation from Xenophon, evidence for Soc- rates' criticism of sortition may be found in Arist. Rh. 1393b3-8. On the way in which such criticisms might have been seen, see op. cit. 1365b30- 31. In fact, however, there is at least some reason to suppose that a criticism of selecting officials by lot would not suggest anything of particular consequence for partisan politics. According to Anaximenes Rhetor (Ars Rhet. [Ps. Arist. Rhet. Alex.] 2.14, 1424al7-20) the only appointments by lot even in democracies were to minor posts; the im-

  • portant ones were elected. Moreover, the same author contends that appointment by sortition was possible in oligarchies, as well (2.18, 1424a40-b3). If so, Socrates' criticism would apply to oligarchies no less than to democracies, and might only reflect the view that any public post would be important enough to elect. See G.E.M. de Ste. Croix, The Class Struggle in the Ancient Greek World (Ithaca, N.Y., 1981) p. 285, and L. Whibley, Greek Oligarchies: Their Character and Organization (London, 1896; reprinted: Chicago, 1975) pp.145-46, for discussions.

  • 34 In fact, as we shall subsequently argue, we think that it is entirely possible that Polycrates alone invented this charge, perhaps out of whole cloth. Its subsequent repetitions, we believe, may be in direct response only to his speech. (On this, see Chroust, esp. pp. 69 ff.; also, Victor Ehrenberg, From Solon to Socrates, 2nd ed. [London, 1973], p. 372.)

  • 35 plcibiades was prosecuted in absentia for profaning the Mysteries, and the one remaining fragment of work attributed by some to Critias, from the satyr play Sisyphus (see H. Diels and W. Kranz, Die Fragmente der Vorsokratiker, vol. 2, 6th ed. [Berlin, 1952], 88B25), expresses a decidedly atheistic account of the origins of religion. (See also Plut. De superst. 171b.) The evidence supporting the view that Critias was an atheist has been disputed, however. (See, for example, A. Dihle, "Das Satyrspiel 'Sisyphus'," Hermes 105 [1977] pp. 28-42; Harald Patzer, "Der Tyrann Kritias und die Sophistik," in Studia Platonica [festschrift for Hermann Gundert], Amsterdam, 1974, pp. 3-20; Dana F. Sutton, "Critias and Atheism," Classical Quarterly NS31 [1981] pp. 33-38.) 36 The name "Leon" appears only in Plato's account, and that of D. L.

  • (2.24), apparently following Plato. But other references to the Thirty ordering Socrates to arrest someone appear in Plato, Letter VII 234D- 325A, 325C, and Xen., Mem. 4.4.3. Yet other references to this event do not name Socrates as one of those ordered to make the arrest, but are compatible with what we find in the above passages in Plato and Xenophon. See Andoc., Myst. 94; Lys. 12.52 and 13.44; and Xen., Hell. 2.3.39. On the identity of Leon, see MacDowell, Andokides on the Mys- teries (Oxford, 1962), p. 133 (note on Myst. 94); W. James McCoy, "The Identity of Leon," American Journal of Philosophy 96 (1975), pp. 187-99. 37 Other reports of conflict between Socrates and Critias or the Thirty in general, not concerning the arrest of Leon, may be found in Xen., Mem. 1.2.29-38; and Diod. 14.5.1-3. Krentz, however, disputes the report in Diod., favoring that in Plut., Mor. 836f., in which it is Isocrates and not Socrates whose actions are reported (p. 77 n. 21). 38 Mem. 1.2.12-47.

  • 39 Alexander Sesonske ("To make the Weaker Argument the Stronger," Journal of the History of Philosophy 6 [1968] pp. 217-31) has argued that Plato's Socrates does not offer a direct refutation of the "first accusa- tion" that he makes the weaker argument appear the stronger, for "...'someone "makes the weaker argument the stronger asserts that the accused speaks in terms and forms quite different from those familiar within the tradition, and yet somehow compels assent. All of Plato's dialogues proclaim that this was true of Socrates!" (p. 224— Sesonske's emphasis). Thus, on Sesonske's view, " see the Apology clearly is to see that the whole of Socrates' defense is vitally concerned with this charge. In its entirety the first speech to the jury constitutes, paradoxically, both a refutation and a confirmation of the charge, allowing the jury to decide which to heed" (p. 222). Our claim that Socrates defends himself against "first accusations" requires no disagreement with Sesonske's view of this matter, since even Sesonske maintains that Socrates' first speech in at least some sense provides a refutation of this charge. In fact, there is much in Sesonske's discussion with which we disagree, but we allow that Socrates' whole manner of inquiry might have been seen as "making the weaker argument appear the stronger," and that his entire defense may have been seen by particularly traditional jurors as confirming this impression. Our disagreements with Sesonske derive from our view that Socrates in no way intended to contribute to this impression; rather, on our view, he did everything he could, within his principles, to disconfirm it. Our defense of this position is made in "Irony, Arrogance, and Sincerity in Plato's Apology" (see n. 11, above).

  • 40 The same can plainly be said for the much later, explicit responses of Libanius in his Apology of Socrates.

  • 41 This is how E. Dupreel reads it, for example (Le legende Socratique et les sources de Platon [Brussels, 1922], pp. 277-78), and though he rejects Isocrates' account, he does so precisely because he sees that it would entail that Polycrates invented the issue, which he cannot accept on (quite dubious) historical grounds (namely, that Plato's Prt. could not, in his opinion, have been written after Polycrates' pamphlet). Instead, he concludes that Plato and Aischines invented the relationship be- tween Socrates and Alcibiades, and that Polycrates was merely re- sponding to their fictions (p. 279)! On the other hand, we accept Dupre6l's dating of the Apology before Polycrates' pamphlet, and thus reject Ehrenberg's view that the former was one of the many things written in response to the latter (p. 372). It is plainly not irrelevant to this that nothing in Plato's Apology (or for that matter Xenophon's, which may thus also have antedated Polycrates' work) provides a direct response to Polycrates' most notorious charges.

  • 42 For the evidence that it would not have been unusual for Socrates to invite Meletus to speak again, see Burnet (1924) note on 34a5. In the same note, however, Burnet is skeptical of the possibility that Meletus could have used the opportunity to introduce new evidence on the ground that any legally permissible evidence at the trial would al- ready have had to introduced at the &v&Kpt(yt; or preliminary hearing, before the trial. Against such a restrictive view of what was legally permissible evidence, see A.W.R. Harrison, The Law of Athens: Procedure (Oxford, 1971) pp. 97-98. 43 Since the actual evidence against Socrates would have been restric- ted to allegations of crimes that took place after the Amnesty, and since the testimony of witnesses was obviously an important source of such evidence, the prosecutors may well have been reluctant even to attempt to produce a witness regarding Socrates' association with Alcibiades and Critias, even though Socrates invites them to do so. 44 For a full account of Socrates' commitment that the case be decided by the jury's best estimation of the truth, see our paper, "Irony, Arrogance, and Sincerity in Plato's Apology" (see n. 11, above).

  • 45 We are indebted to David Halperin, Arthur Madigan, Mark McPherran, Martha Nussbaum, Charles M. Reed, Henry Teloh, and Gregory Vlastos for comments on various earlier drafts of this paper. None of the above, however, may be presumed to agree with us.


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