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This article argues for two theses: first, that Plato’s Apology is not directed to the Athenian public in general, but to an elite audience. Second, that because of this fact, the argument advanced by Vlastos that the Apology must be close to the historical defence of Socrates, because Plato could not present a fictional Socrates to his compatriots, is not compelling. The paper looks at the way Plato’s Socrates responds to the religious charges and concludes that he successfully refutes the charge of atheism (Apology 26b–27a) but evades the charge of heterodoxy. Although sufficient from a legal point of view and from the perspective of a highly educated audience, Socrates’ defence against the religious charges is actually ineffective from the point of view of the average Athenian. Burnyeat is therefore right to say that the Athenians correctly convicted Socrates of heterodoxy. This fact, along with Ledger’s recent stylometric evidence which places the Apology in 387 BC, effectively making it a middle dialogue, indicates that the work may never have been meant as a reasonably close reiteration of what Socrates said in his trial. On the question of the historicity of the Apology, then, the only reasonable response is to remain agnostic.

In: Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek and Roman Political Thought