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Socrates and Plato - Track 403

The irony here is: If anybody claims that he can teach human beings that will be marvellous because nobody can teach any human beings that was his belief. Socrates believed that to teach any human being is tremendously difficult thing but here are so many who are keen to teach young people and they believe they can teach. So if there was somebody like Elanus who charges twenty guineas, I must say it must be a very small fee because to teach somebody is a very difficult thing; and only twenty guineas is nothing. Here perhaps one of you might interrupt me and say but what is it that you do Socrates, how is it that you have been misrepresented like this. Surly all this talk and gossip about you would never have arisen if you had confined yourself to ordinary activities. But only if your behaviour was abnormal, tell us the explanation if you do not want us to invent it for ourselves.  This seems to me to be a reasonable request and I have tried to explain to you what it is that has given me this false notoriety, so please give me your attention, perhaps some of you might think I am not being serious but surely I am going to tell you the whole truth.

Now he tries to explain why Socrates has come to be misrepresented. I have gained this reputation, gentlemen from nothing more or less than a kind of wisdom. Now he claims, I am a wise man because I am a wise man, I have been disreputed. This is again an irony because he wants to prove actually that he is not a wise man. But he starts by saying: Look I am a wise man and therefore I have been misrepresented. Now he explains the mystery of this claim. I read again.  I gained this reputation gentlemen from nothing more or less than a kind of wisdom. What kind of wisdom do I mean? Human wisdom, I suppose. It seems I really am wise in this limited sense, presumably the geniuses whom I have mentioned just now are wise in a wisdom that is more than human, I don’t know how else to account for it. I certainly have no knowledge of such wisdom and anyone who says that I have is a liar and wilful slanderer. Now gentlemen please do not interrupt me if I seem to make an extravagant claim for what I am going to tell you is not my own opinion. I am going to refer you to an unimpeachable authority. (Unimpeachable means that which cannot be challenged) I am going to refer you to an unimpeachable authority. I shall call as witness to my wisdom such as it is the God at Delphi. …….. (Now he says I am going to give witness to my claim that I am wise that witness is not an ordinary witness but God himself.) he says: I shall call as witness to my wisdom the God at Delphi. (The God at Delphi is the sun God, in the the Apollo. Now he tells the story.)  You know Chaerephon, of course. He was a friend of mine from boyhood and a good democrat who played his part with the rest of you in the recent expulsion and restoration. (This is a story of 404BC. This was just a few years before this trail. This trail is taking place in which year? ...........Socrates was born in 469 BC and he died in 399BC, just after the trail. So this trail is taking place in 399 BC. So he says, he refers to an event which took place in 404 BC. What had happened at that time in Greek history, the Athenian history? Fifty oligarchs had taken the possession of the government. I deliberately used this word so that you ask this question. ……oligarchy refers to who? Like monarchy. You know the word monarch……. Rule of one, mono is one. Monarchy means rule of one. Now olig is some, this is different from democracy, demos means people, rule of all people is called democracy, rule of one is called monarchy, rule of some is called oligarchy.

Now Athens was famous for democracy and Sparta, I told you about Sparta yesterday. Sparta was famous for oligarchy. In 404BC, Sparta defeated Athens. I spoke yesterday of a war between Sparta and Athens which lasted for how many years? 27 years. That war Peloponnesian War lasted for 27 years and Sparta won the war. So Sparta believed in oligarchy, Athens believed in democracy. But since Sparta won, Sparta imposed oligarchy in Athens. So fifty people took over the government and they acted high–handed with so many people until Athens rose against them. They put them off and democracy was again restored, so Athens had now again become democratic and this entire trail is held under democracy, where so many people are present. The whole population of Athens was allowed to be present in this court because of democracy.

Now this friend Chaerephon he had resisted the oligarchs and he had helped in the restoration of democracy. …………..

The recent exclusion etc. refers to the event of 404 when the oligarchs seizing power murdered a large number of political opponents these under the leadership of Thrasybulus presently jailed and sitting in Attica visited oligarchs and restored democracy in the following year. So he refers to this friend of his who had also participated in the overflow of the oligarchs and the restoration of democracy.

You know Chaerephon, of course. He was a friend of mine from boyhood, and a good democrat who played his part with the rest of you in the recent expulsion and restoration. And you know what he was like; how enthusiastic he was over anything that he had once undertaken. Well, one day he actually went to Delphi and asked this question of the god — as I said before, gentlemen please do not interrupt — he asked whether there was anyone wiser than myself. The priestess replied that there was no one. As Chaerephon is dead, the evidence for my statement will be supplied by his brother, who is here in court.

Please consider my object in telling you this. I want to explain to you how the attack upon my reputation first started. When I heard about the oracle's answer, I said to myself "What does the god mean? Why does he not use plain language? I am only too conscious that I have no claim to wisdom, great or small; so what can he mean by asserting that I am the wisest man in the world? He cannot be telling a lie; that would not be right for him."

After puzzling about it for some time, I set myself at last with considerable reluctance to check the truth of it in the following way. I went to interview a man with a high reputation for wisdom, because I felt that here if anywhere I should succeed in disproving the oracle and pointing out to my divine authority "You said that I was the wisest of men, but here is a man who is wiser than I am."

Well, I gave a thorough examination to this person — I need not mention his name, but it was one of our politicians that I was studying when I had this experience  and in conversation with him I formed the impression that although in many people's opinion, and especially in his own, he appeared to be wise, in fact he was not. Then when I began to try to show him that he only thought he was wise and was not really so, my efforts were resented both by him and by many of the other people present. However, I reflected as I walked away: "Well, I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know."

After this I went on to interview a man with an even greater reputation for wisdom, and I formed the same impression again; and here too I incurred the resentment of the man himself and a number of others.

From that time on I interviewed one person after another. I realised with distress and alarm that I was making myself unpopular, but I felt compelled to put my religious duty first; since I was trying to find out the meaning of the oracle, I was bound to interview everyone who had a reputation for knowledge. And by God, gentlemen! (for I must be frank with you) my honest impression was this: it seemed to me, as I pursued my investigation at the god's command, that the people with the greatest reputations were almost entirely deficient, while others who were supposed to be their inferiors were much better qualified in practical intelligence.

I want you to think of my adventures as a sort of pilgrimage undertaken to establish the truth of the oracle once for all.


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