Socrates and Money

The Translation of Plato, Apology 30b2-4

in Mnemosyne
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The controversy over the translation of Plato, Apology 30b2-4 began officially with the publication of John Burnet’s Oxford edition and commentary in 1924. The aim of the present paper is to prove that the standard translation rejected by Burnet is both preferable on linguistic grounds and is also an accurate reflection of Socrates’ philosophical position in the Apology. In the first part of the paper, I present an augmented version of the argument of De Strycker and Slings and then provide three novel arguments of a philological nature based on linguistic parallels and popular usage in support of the standard translation. In the second part I examine the immediate context of the aphorism and conclude that Socrates held money to be a good for mankind (albeit a contingent good) when it is produced ex aretês, that is by the truly virtuous individual or state.

Socrates and Money

The Translation of Plato, Apology 30b2-4

in Mnemosyne



BassettS.E. ὙΣΤΕΡΟΝ ΠΡΟΤΕΡΟΝὉΜΗΡΙΚΩΣ Cicero Att. 1,16,1 HSPh 1920 31 39 62

BrickhouseT.C.SmithN.D. Plato’s Socrates 1994 Oxford

BrickhouseT.C.SmithN.D. RobinsonT.M.BrissonL. Making Things Good and Making Good Things in Socratic Philosophy Plato: Euthydemus Lysis Charmides 2000 Sankt Augustin 76 87

BurnetJ. Plato’s Euthyphro Apology of Socrates and Crito 1924 Oxford

BurnyeatM.F. Apology 30B2-4: Socrates, Money, and the Grammar of γίγνεσθαι JHS 2003 123 1 25

BurnyeatM.F. On the Source of Burnet’s Construal of Apology 30B2-4: A Correction JHS 2005 125 139 142

CooperJ.M. ScottD. Socrates and Philosophy as a Way of Life Maieusis: Essays in Ancient Philosophy in Honour of Myles Burnyeat 2007 Oxford 20 43

GriffinD. Socrates’ Poverty: Virtue and Money in Plato’s Apology of Socrates AncPhil 1995 15 1 16

GulleyN. The Philosophy of Socrates 1968 London

GuthrieW.K.C. A History of Greek Philosophy 1975 vol. 4 Cambridge

Hammond TaylorJ. Virtue and Wealth According to Socrates. (Apol. 30b) CB 1973 49 4 49 52

McCoyM. Plato on the Rhetoric of Philosophers and Sophists 2008 Cambridge

RoweC. Plato and the Art of Philosophical Writing 2007 Cambridge

SeagerR. Thrasybulus, Conon and Athenian Imperialism, 396-386 b.c. JHS 1967 87 95 115

SkardE. Zwei religiös-politische Begriffe: Euergetes-Concordia 1932 Oslo

StokesM. Plato Apology of Socrates 1997 Warminster

de StryckerE.SlingsS.R. Plato’s Apology of Socrates: a Literary and Philosophical Study with a Running Commentary 1994 Leiden


Burnet 1924124. Burnet certainly misled here. Socrates as he stated at 23b and 31b was poor due to his acceptance of his divine mission and not as the result of his being virtuous. For Plato and his Socrates there was no virtue in being poor for its own sake. See also nn. 52-53 below. The original source for the translation adopted by Burnet is discussed by Burnyeat 2005. From the time of Marcilio Ficino who in 1484 published the first translation into Latin of Plato’s works and who had the support of the Byzantine Greek tradition [docens non ex pecuniis virtutem sed ex virtute pecunias aliaque bona omnia et privatim et publice hominibus provenire] most translators of the Apology have opted for the standard translation of the passage. Judging from Burnyeat’s 2003 paper in jhs however there would seem to be a revival of Burnet’s version. See Burnyeat 2003 2-3 with references to which we may now add the translation by Christopher Rowe in the Penguin Classics series 2010. J. Hammond Taylor (1973 49-50) makes the interesting distinction between translators who generally opt for the standard translation and commentators who reject it on philosophical grounds. Hammond Taylor (op. cit. 51) accepts Burnet’s translation but concedes that if he is correct “. . . Plato did not write a luminously clear sentence here.” M. Stokes (1997 150) also accepts Burnet’s reading while noting “it is not without difficulties”. T.C. Brickhouse and N.D. Smith (1994 20 n. 33 108 n. 11) formerly accepted the standard translation and followed Burnet as to the meaning but have now rejected both Burnet’s translation and interpretation. See below n. 23. Drew Griffin (1995 3-5) provides a more comprehensive summary of the history of the debate.


Burnyeat 2003. The quotation occurs on p. 3. See also p. 8 where he explains that “a good in its own right” means a good “irrespective of the character of its possessor”.


See De Strycker and Slings 1994334.


Burnyeat 20038-24.


Burnyeat 200324.


Compare Cooper 200741n. 24 who observes that the standard translation must not be taken to imply that money and the other things “reliably do come from virtue”.

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